Monday, May 30, 2011

Spotted Dove in full speed flight

This medium sized dove (total length of 12 inches) ranges in all major Philippine islands. The black collar with white spots at its nape is probably the source of its name. It actually reminds me of a bar code…. maybe these birds scan the collar to recognize one another?

I was shooting water birds at Manila Bay when I noticed this bird flying very fast in a straight trajectory towards my position. I fired a long 10 fps burst, and one frame caught the bird’s wings in a photogenic downstroke pose, showing the overwing patterns and diagnostic spotted collar pretty well.


Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis, resident)

Habitat – Open country and agricultural areas, forages on the ground.

Shooting Info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, September 27, 2010, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

Brown Shrike

Here’s a simple portrait of a Brown Shrike, a common and widespread migrant, showing the delicate feather detail of its back. This one was a male (the female has barring on breast and flank).

It would’ve been more exotic sounding to say that I saw this in a remote location after travelling  and hiking many hours, but I actually captured this photo in my garden.

The bird’s habit of perching at a conspicuous spot  for extended periods was perfect for a fully manual focusing and exposure technique, a necessary workflow when shooting 1120 mm with AF not workable. The subject was in the shade, while the out-of-focus grasses in the background were illuminated by an overcast sky.  With a total length of 7-1/2 inches, the bird is slightly larger than lifesize when viewed with 96 dpi screens. The Sigmonster’s image quality impresses, even with a 1.4x TC!


Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus, migrant, male)

 Habitat – Common in all habitats at all elevations.

Shooting Info – Paranaque City, Philippines, September 27, 2007, Canon 40D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG) + Sigma 1.4x TC, 1120 mm, f/13, 1/50 sec, ISO 640, manual focus via Live View, manual exposure, 475B/3421 support, remote switch.

Some footage of the Brown Shrike.

Going home aboard a metallic bird

After a brief sortie during my early birding years, I was walking on the tarmac of Bacolod City airport to board my flight to Manila when an amazing display unfolded before my eyes.

The sunset was breathtaking.

I couldn’t resist opening my carry-on bag, bringing out my 300D + kit lens and taking some snapshots of the spectacle.  The couple on the right are my friend William and his wife, who walked ahead of this birdnut. A maintenance guy ran in front of the plane to do some task.

Sometimes, the shooting gear doesn’t matter much. It seems to me any bird, whether metallic or feathered, can look good under such sweet light.

Bacolod City Airport, Philippines, April 26, 2004, Canon 300D + EF-S 18-55, 18 mm, f/13, 1/125 sec, ISO 100, hand held, jpeg capture, near full frame.

Brahminy Kites of Binmaley (Pangasinan)

A business trip to La Union on April 2010 brought me within striking distance of this interesting town of Pangasinan province, where a restaurant built over a fishpond serves the best grilled catfish I’ve tasted so far.

The bigger reason though for my visit wasn’t the tasty catfish, nor the little fat crabs and juicy oysters.

I’ve discovered a few years back that this is one spot where a few Brahminy Kites linger for hours feeding on the contents of the fishponds. Of the 5 or 6 times that I’ve been there, the raptors always showed themselves. I talked to the local folks and they confimed the daily visit by the Kites.

So, in between bites of good food, I shot bursts at the fish-eating raptors in flight.


Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus, resident)

Habitat – Open areas often near water, and also in mountains to 1500 m.

Shooting Info - Binmaley, Pangasinan, Philippines, April 22, 2010, Canon 7D + EF 400 2.8 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 560 mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/2500 sec, 475B/3421 support, manual exposure in available light, near full frame.

Plain Bush-Hen strutting in golden light

This medium large bird (12 inches total length) is found only in the Philippines. It is shy and more often heard than seen.

Based on my previous observations at Candaba wetlands, it appears to stay in one general territory. So I thought the key in capturing it well is to stake out a known spot where the bird is seen often and wait patiently for an appearance.

And this I did way back in 2005.

I fully retracted the legs of my tripod and mounted my camera low for a more pleasing shooting angle. I waited and puffed on numerous sticks of lung-busters and waited more. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, a couple of these birds started crossing the wetlands trail back and forth. On one such crossings, a downy young even  joined the parents!

I got several sharp photos of the family bathed in the late afternoon golden light. This is my favorite of the set because of the bird’s cocky strut.


Plain Bush-Hen (Amaurornis olivaceus, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Drier grasslands and scrub, nests on wetter areas.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, April 18, 2005, Canon 300D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 687 mm, f/8, /1800 sec, ISO 200, jpeg capture, 475B/3421 support.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Philippine Duck in flight

I have many captures of the endemic Philippine Duck in flight, but this one should be my favorite. I just like the way the wings were frozen in the full downstroke position, and the angle of light  was just right to show the iridescence of the speculum *  well.

(* colorful patch on the wing)

That herons and egrets can fly is not too impressive to me – their large wing area and light slender bodies allow them to soar even in the slightest wind. Duck flight is a different matter though. Beneath the streamlined curves of the duck’s body, there are hints of powerful flight muscles that enable this relatively heavy bird to get to the air even with stubby wings.

Quackers fly by sheer muscle power, and when they come in to land on the pond water (belly-flop, actually), they drop almost like a rock  as soon as their wingbeats slow down.

This frame came from the middle of a burst of over half a dozen shots, most in good focus and each shows a different wing position.  The background was out-of-focus pond water with some vegetation. Amazing what modern autofocus technology and fast frame rates can do at birds-in-flight photography.


Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica, a Philippine endemic) 

Habitat – Freshwater marshes, shallow lakes and ricefields.

Shooting Info - Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, April 3, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/1600 sec, 475B/3421 support, near full frame, manual exposure in available light.

A breeding Pheasant-tailed Jacana in flight

In some places, jacanas are called the “Jesus bird” because they can walk seemingly on water. In reality however, their overly long toes can spread their weight over a large area and this allows them to walk on floating or emergent vegetation near the water surface. This gives the illusion of walking on water.

When in breeding plumage, the Pheasant-tailed Jacana sports an elongated tail and the nape turns from pale yellow to golden yellow. Such adornment makes this bird an ornately beautiful subject to photograph, particularly when it’s in the air where the long tail, thin feathertips of the wings and very long toes are very visible.

It’s a shy customer though, so it’s not easy to approach and capture well. I’ve been wanting to photograph it in flight each time I visit Candaba wetlands, but luck wasn’t on my side always.

My fortune changed for the better on July 2008. I saw this particular individual making numerous trips between its presumed nesting site in the middle of the pond and an area in the adjoining ricefield. An earth dike ran in between the two places.

As soon as I saw it land in the ricefield, I immediately hid myself on the earth dike and waited in an ambush position along the expected flight path back to the pond. Sure enough, the bird rose above the rice plants after a few minutes and headed my way. My 1D MII had no trouble locking focus on the contrasty target, given a plain sky as background.  I probably filled my RAW buffer to capacity, and this particular shot was my pick because of the good wing position and eye contact.


Pheasant-Tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus, resident, breeding plumage)

Habitat – In wetlands with floating or emergent vegetation.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, July 22, 2009, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/2000 sec, 475B/3421 support, manual exposure in available light.

A banking Black-crowned Night-Heron

Once considered uncommon as listed in the Kennedy Guide, these Night-Herons have increased their numbers impressively and are now almost everywhere, even in urban areas. The same book lists this species as migrant, but it has been documented that it’s now breeding locally. This is a medium sized waterbird, with a length of 0.56 m and a wingspan of about 1.12 m.

I was tracking this flying bird at Manila Bay’s Coastal Lagoon through my 1D MIV’s viewfinder when it suddenly executed an abrupt banking maneuver. I immediately fired a short burst to catch the flight surfaces in a photogenic full spread.

The camera’s AF and 10 fps frame rate didn’t disappoint.


Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax, resident/migrant)

Habitat – Variety of wetlands from ricefields to mangroves.

Shooting Info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, September 13, 2010, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/6.3, ISO 400, 1/2000 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.
Footage of a Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Green on green: Portrait of a young grasshopper

Although this young grasshopper stayed motionless atop a leaf, my hand holding was introducing some camera movement and that was messing with the precise placement of focus for one-shot AF.

I switch to spot AI servo for this shooting condition to mitigate my hand holding movement.  The Canon 7D’s ISO 800 RAW files clean up pretty well while retaining good detail when converted with the latest ACR.

Shooting Info - Paranaque City, Philippines, July 24, 2010, Canon 7D + EF 100 2.8 USM macro, f/7.1, 1/200 sec, ISO 800, hand held, manual exposure in available light, spot AI servo, uncropped full frame.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Collared Kingfisher flips its prey

Amidst the pollution along the coast of Manila Bay, many species of wild birds try to survive. This kingfisher had just caught a small fish and perched on a rock to enjoy its meal. When the bird flipped its prey for easier swallowing, I let go of a long 10 fps burst with my 1D MIV to catch the decisive moment.


Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris, resident)

Habitat – Coastal areas to open country, seldom in forest.

Shooting info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, September 17, 2009, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

A short video of Collared Kingfishers filmed at Manila Bay.

Smallest RORO craft in the world?

This watercraft ……..random arrangement of wooden planks was inching towards our side of the mighty Cagayan river to fetch our two-car convoy for a birding sortie at Malasi Lake  a few kilometers beyond. This place is over 500 km north of Manila.

Supported by two wooden boats each with its own 4-cylinder diesel engine, the platform of the raft can carry 3 small cars or tricycles. I initially hesitated to risk the crossing, but when I looked at the faces of drivers that crossed before us, it looked like doing so is the most ordinary thing in the world. Well, the prospect of bagging quite a few lifers swayed me to go for it.

Shooting Info - along the banks of Cagayan River, Cabagan, Isabela, Philippines, January 20, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 100-400 IS, 235 mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/500 sec, hand held, manual exposure in available light, near full frame.

Whew…. we made it across the river.

My brother Jeff (driving the lead car) and I heave a sigh of relief as our vehicles make it across the Cagayan River, and he was just too happy to drive to terra firma. I couldn’t imagine the nightmare of the raft capsizing and God forbid, losing my Sigmonster, 500 f4 IS and other gear stowed in the vehicle.

Oh…. the things we do for love!

Shooting Info - along the banks of Cagayan River, Cabagan, Isabela, Philippines, January 20, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 100-400 IS, 100 mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/640 sec, hand held, manual exposure in available light, uncropped full frame.

Luzon Hornbill

This male Luzon Hornbill was hopping from branch to branch, feeding on the fruits of a balete tree (local fig tree) at Mt. Makiling in 2007.

I was following it through the Canon 20D’s viewfinder (my camera was in portrait orientation), wishing that it pauses for a moment. My shutter speed was at 1/80 sec because I wanted to use a maximum of ISO 400 for better processability of the RAW files later. But this shutter speed was way too slow for an active subject…. the bird better stop moving otherwise I wouldn’t get a chance. Even bumping the ISO to 800 and opening the aperture to f/5.6 from f/6.3 would only yield 1/200 sec – still slowish to stop subject motion.

The birding gods must have heard my wish.

For a couple of seconds, the hornbill stopped hopping and feeding and briefly stared at me. That was enough window of opportunity to get a shot that I like - with strong eye contact, good detail even with the slow shutter and a “well groomed” branch/foliage surrounding the subject.


Luzon Hornbill (Penelopides manillae, a Philippine endemic, male)

Habitat – Forest and edge up to 1500 m.

Shooting info – Mt. Makiling, Laguna, Philippines, Canon 20D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/6.3, 1/80 sec, ISO 400, manual exposure in available light, near full frame, 475B/3421 support.

The skulking Red-crested Malkoha


Preference to skulk in the dense foliage of the forest understory.

Low light that precludes the use of motion-stopping fast shutter speeds.

Dark plumage contrasting with the bright bill.

All prime ingredients for a classic tough bird shot.

In-habitat wild bird photography in our islands, sans the use of calls and baits (such technique won’t work on this species anyway), is probably among the most difficult in the world. This is a well known fact among local birdnuts. And maybe known as well to many visiting foreign photographers who try (often unsuccessfully) to get good captures of the most number of species in a limited period.

The key to getting decent captures of tough-to-shoot local birds is simply to go out in as many sorties as possible. Sooner or later, a birdnut breaks through the tough technicals imposed by the difficult conditions, and be able to grab a decent shot.  It’s simply beating the odds by doing many, many attempts.

Such is my case with this species. I’ve seen it a lot of times in Mt. Makiling and other places, but it was at Subic rainforest in 2005 when I was finally able to get a useable image.  The fine feather detail was reasonably sharp even with the slow shutter speed of 1/60 sec. It might not be as aesthetically pleasing as I wish for especially if we go by tame birds or set-up standards, but this image knocked the Red-crested Malkoha many notches down my most wanted list.


Red-crested Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus superciliosus, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Lowland forest, edge and second growth.

Shooting Info – Subic rainforest, Bataan, Philippines, August 22, 2005, Canon 20D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 648 mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/60 sec, 475B/3421 support, near full frame, available light.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Philippine Cuckoo-Dove

This colorful endemic dove was captured in the foothills of Antipolo mountains in 2009. A birdshooter friend ( Ding C.)  informed me that these birds were frequenting a certain fruiting tree beside his house. I immediately convinced Ding to “invite” me to his abode. He did just that and I “accepted” the invitation pronto.

The challenge in capturing decent photos of this species in-habitat is how to find a fruiting tree they feed on. Once the feeding area is known, it becomes a pretty easy job – just go to the spot before sunrise and wait for the doves to come in and feed in the early morning golden light.

Many thanks to Ding for the hospitality, the sumptuous breakfast and the exciting birding tales. Ding’s very nice house is situated at a hillside, surrounded by bird-laden vegetation and trees, and overlooking Metro Manila.


Philippine Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia tenuirostris, a Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Lowland forest to montane mossy forest.

Shooting Info – Antipolo City, Philippines, February 4, 2009, Canon 5D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, f/8, ISO 320, 1/500 sec, 475B/3421 support, manual exposure in available light.

A Yellow Bittern’s decisive moment

Lighting and shooting angle were pretty bad on this one, but it’s not often that I get the chance to catch extreme action like this - just milliseconds after the Bittern’s bill has speared the gourami fish.

The spearing motion was so quick that 1/800 sec wasn’t fast enough to fully freeze the bird’s head and neck, though quite good enough to stop the wriggling fish and the water droplets. 

The clear plastic-like dome at the lower right was actually the frozen splash of the luckier second gourami which jumped and dove back to the safety of the water, while its schoolmate was destined for lunch.


Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis, resident)

Habitat – Freshwater wetlands.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, Canon 5D MII + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/800 sec, manual exposure, 475B/3421 support.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cinnamon Bittern in flight

I got this Cinnamon Bittern as it was flying with a slightly upward trajectory over Candaba’s ricefields in 2009.

The 5D MII’s AF using the center point with surrounding assist works very well for flight shots, even with a 1.4x TC on the 500 f4 IS.  The camera actually has the same reach as my old 20D in terms of pixel density.  What’s deficient in the 5D MII for BIFs is the slow 3.9 fps frame rate. I  was just extremely lucky to get a good wing position in this shot despite the anemic fps.


Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus , resident)

Habitat: Ricefields, marshes and mangroves.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, January 29, 2009, Canon 5D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/1600, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.  

Click here for some video clips of this species.

A bee up close

This unidentified bee (or is it a fly?) was resting on a leaf and I had to mount 37 mm worth of extension tubes to be able to focus closer and make the tiny subject (between 10 – 15 mm long) bigger in the frame.

Shooting Info - Paranaque City, Philippines, May 26, 2008, Canon 40D + EF 100 2.8 USM macro + stacked EF 12/25 extension tubes, near MFD, tripod/geared head, remote switch, MF via Live View, near full frame, built-in flash at - 1 1/3 FEC.

Supermoon hides behind the clouds

I was waiting ready with my big birding glass for the supermoon to rise above the urban horizon last March 19th. But the heavens were not cooperating – cloudy skies made it impossible to shoot highly detailed captures of the lunar event.

On the brighter side, such bad seeing also gave the opportunity to get an unusual, perhaps eerie-looking moonshot.

Shooting Info - Paranaque City, Philippines, Match 19, 2011, Canon 7D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 1/25 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, manual exposure, remote switch, 475B/516 support, uncropped full frame resized to 800 x 533.

A Quick Trip to the Moon (some moon footage).

Pied Fantail

So common a bird.

So few decent photos I’ve captured so far (in fact, this maybe my only one).

This fantail, with a 7.5-inch total length, ranges in all major Philippine islands. It is conspicuous and noisy in many places, including urban residential areas and parks. It is easily seen and in many instances can be approached closely. However, its continuous tail fanning and constant movement among branches make it probably among the toughest common birds to photographed well.

This individual was captured inside the campus of the University of the Philippines at Diliman, Quezon City. I hand held my 1D MII + 100-400 IS + 1.4x TC so I could follow the active bird better.  I might have only one useable photo of this species, but I’m glad it was under golden, late afternoon light. Even with a 1.4x TC and shot wide open, the optics of my 100-400 IS perform quite well.


Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica, resident) 

Habitat: Common in parks, residential areas, thickets, early second growth and mangroves.

Shooting Info – UP Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, November 20, 2006, Canon 1D MII + EF 100-400 IS + Sigma 1.4x TC, 560 mm, f/8 (wide open), ISO 400, 1/320 sec, hand held.  

Footage of this species continuously fanning its long tail.

Grey-tailed Tattler in flight

A common migratory waterbird, the Grey-tailed Tattler flies low over the water when flushed or when transferring from one feeding spot to another. It’s medium sized, with a total length of 250 mm.

Its neutral plumage moving fast against a background of contrasty water surface is an autofocus nightmare even for the best DSLRs on the planet. Acquiring and tracking a white egret  in flight against the busiest and contrastiest background are child’s play in comparison.

One has to pan well and maintain focus lock by keeping the AF bead on the fast flying bird at all times during shooting. Otherwise, the focus can easily jump to the shimmering water surface. I have a very small percentage of sharp shots of this species in the air, specially if it’s flying low and there’s a very short distance separating the bird and the water surface.

This instance was among the few ones when my panning worked decently enough, resulting to a sharp capture.


Grey-tailed Tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes, migrant)

Habitat – Along coast on exposed mud, sand and coral flats, on rocks, and also ricefields.

Shooting Info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, September 20, 2010, 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

Click here for some footage of this bird feeding along the shore of Manila Bay.


Ranging only in the Philippines, the Guaiabero is a plump parrot with a short tail. It’s about 6.5 inches in length and found in Luzon, Mindanao, Samar and Leyte islands. The Kennedey Guide describes its flight as “very fast bullet like.”

I’ve seen it munching guavas (see video link below) in Tarlac, hence I suspect its name was originally derived from “guayaba” which is Spanish for guava.  “Guaiabero”  perhaps meant guava-eater. The Philippines was of course under Spanish rule for over three centuries.

This individual was nibbling at buds of a macopa tree in Mt. Makiling way back in 2006.


Guaiabero (Bolbopsittacus lunulatus,  Philippine endemic)

Habitat – Forest and forest edge, usually below 1000 m.

Shooting Info – Mt. Makiling, Laguna, Philippines, May 10, 2006, Canon 20D + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, f/5.6, ISO 800, 1/80 sec, 475B/3421 support.

Short video of a Guaiabero eating guavas.

A spreading Philippine Coucal

I chanced upon this endemic Philippine Coucal spreading and drying its wings in the open, along a trail at Subic rainforest in 2006. This bird has an average length of 17 inches and it ranges in all major Philippine islands except the Palawan group.

Like other coucals, this one is normally shy. It skulks in dense vegetation, where a clean shot is nearly impossible. This is compounded further by the difficulty of exposing a dark bird in dim light.

I used my vehicle as a blind to get close to this individual.


Philippine Coucal (Centropus viridis,a Philippine endemic )

Habitat – Common from grasslands to forest up to 2000 m.

Shooting Info – Subic rainforest, Zambales, Philippines, July 28, 2006, Canon 20D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/320 sec, manual exposure in available light, hand held.

A Marsh Sandpiper duel

Whenever two birds start acting hostile to each other, I get excited and immediately set my gear ready to catch some action.

One of these Marsh Sandpipers was foraging at a fishpond when the other flew in to share the bounty. The first bird apparently didn’t welcome the incursion and a feathered fight is on. I let go of a burst until the 20D’s RAW buffer was full.  The duel lasted just a few seconds and all I saw in the viewfinder were flashes of bright feathers and splashing water.

It was only when I reviewed the shots on the camera’s LCD that I noticed one of the frames caught the combatants in a peak moment – one bird’s toe was caught in the other’s beak.

These birds are uncommon migrants to our islands. They are of medium size, with a length of circa 9.5 inches.


Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis, migrant) 

Habitat – Uncommon, in marshes, ricefields, and fishponds in shallow water rarely on exposed mud and coral flats.

Shooting Info – Sta. Cruz, Zambales, Philippines, March 7, 2006, Canon 20D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 800 mm, f/9, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

The amazing Indigo-banded Kingfisher

This little bird is among the most colorful of  the kingfishers found only in the Philippines. At 5.5 inches length, it is also among the smallest.

I got close to this individual at a nature resort in Tiaong, Quezon province, in 2009.  The single breast band indicates this is female (the male has two breast bands).

The bird’s habit of perching in one spot for a few minutes allowed me enough time to manually focus with precision. To make it bigger in the 5D2′s frame I had to shoot at a focal length of 1374 mm (Sigma 300 – 800 DG + 2x TC).  The bird was in low light, so I slowed down my shutter to 1/6 sec for sufficient exposure and I tried to shoot  in between the bird’s head-bobbing movement (see video below).

If I were to choose the most technically challenging shot I ever executed, this is probably the front-runner. The reward of surmounting the difficulties is a 21-MP capture, tack-sharp at the pixel level, that’s printable to really big sizes (24″ x 36″ and beyond).


Indigo-banded Kingfisher (Alcedo cyanopecta , a Philippine endemic, female)

Habitat – Uncommon, restricted to clear fresh water streams up to at least 1500 m.

Shooting Info – Tiaong, Quezon, Philippines, March 20, 2009, Canon 5D MII + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG) + Canon 2x TC, 1374 mm, f/18, ISO 640, 1/6 sec, 475B/3421 support, uncropped full frame, manual focus, manual exposure in available light.

Special thanks to Carmela B. of Villa Escudero for the support during filming.

Collared Kingfisher in flight

The Collared Kingfisher normally takes to the air only when swooping at a prey or transferring from one perch to another. There it usually stays for many minutes,  with its head constantly bobbing, and its eyes looking for potential meal.

This bird was flushed from its rock-perch at Manila Bay by a shell-gatherer who was walking along the shore .  The bird whizzed by me and it flew just above the seawater surface towards another rock-perch.  I got lucky…. I was able to acquire  the subject fast enough during the short flight for this shot.


Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris, resident)

Habitat: Coastal areas to open country, but seldom in forest.

Shooting Info – Coastal Lagoon, Manila Bay, Philippines, September 17, 2010, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

The colorful Common Kingfisher

It is not easy to fill the frame with this colorful migrant, given its shyness and small size (6 inches total length).  This kingfisher is found all over the Philippine islands from late August to June, but it’s not as common as its name implies.

An effective way to get close is to look for fishponds where the kingfisher is used to seeing people around, then stake out near a favorite perching spot. This was what I did at San Juan, Batangas, in 2008. I used the trunk of a coconut tree as cover and hand held the 1D MII + 700 mm from a kneeling position.


Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis, migrant)

Habitat – Along coasts, fish ponds and open rivers.

Shooting Info – San Juan, Batangas, Philippines, September 29, 2008, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/8, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, hand held.

Northern Shoveler in flight

The distinctive large bill of this uncommon migratory duck makes identification in the field quite easy. This female was flying full speed in a slightly upward trajectory when I caught it at Candaba wetlands. The background was out-of-focus pond water and vegetation.

This duck is medium large (19 inch length and 31 inch wingspan). When coming in to land as a group, their swift flight makes an audible swoosh sound as their wings slice through the air. They feed by swimming with their neck outstretched and lower mandible below the water, sifting floating vegetation.


Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata, migrant, female)

Habitat – Uncommon in fresh water marshes and shallow lakes.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, March 5, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 320, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

The moon kisses a mountain top

While on a birding trip to the Cordillera mountains of North Luzon in 2008, I got up at dawn and proceeded to my target birding spot half an hour drive away from the place where I spent the night.

The cool mountain air felt refreshingly good on my cheeks as it rushed in through my open car window. As I casually glanced westward, I noticed  a developing spectacle in the distance – the setting moon was rushing to meet one mountain top!

I immediately stopped my vehicle and parked by the side of the mountain trail. I didn’t have time to mount a longer teleconverter nor set up my tripod, so I plopped my bean bag on the hood, and proceeded to take some bursts with my ready 700 mm combo. I was just in time to capture the scene a few seconds before the moon kissed the mountain top, till it disappeared below the distant tree line.

The moon appeared very warm to my naked eyes, so I took the liberty to desaturate it in post process to make it appear more neutral.

Shooting Info - Elev. 1595 m ASL, Mt. Polis, Banaue, Ifugao, Philippines, Canon 40D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/8, ISO 250, 1/200 sec, manual exposure, bean bag.

ISS over Manila (April 18, 2011)

The International Space Station was scheduled to pass directly over Manila this April 18th, with a magnitude of -3.8 and an altitude of about 348 km.

With the skies over our islands virtually cloudless the last few days and nights, there was a good chance of clear seeing on this pass, especially since the space bird would do its fly-by at dawn when the atmosphere over our urban area is not as turbulent as at other times of the day. 

I was encouraged to get out of bed a couple of hours before sunrise to set up my gear in my backyard. In between puffs of smoke from my favorite mentholated lung-buster, I gazed at the stars in the dawn sky and I was happy to note that the seeing conditions were quite decent.

I opted to stack 5.6x worth of teleconverters on my supersharp 400 2.8 IS for a focal length of about 2263 mm. This should make the tiny subject a bit larger in the 7D’s frame. I pre-focused manually on the setting moon minutes before the pass. Acquiring the streaking ISS through such a narrow angle of view was tough, but I eventually caught the subject in the viewfinder a few seconds after it appeared above the NNW skyline.

This frame was the sharpest among 121 shots I took.

ISS Over Manila - April 18, 2011 (04:47:48 local time), max. mag. - 3.8, min. dist. @ 348 km, Canon 7D + EF 400 2.8 IS + Canon 2x II + Sigma 2x + Sigma 1.4x, 2263 mm, f/22, ISO 3200, 1/640 sec, manual exposure, pre-focused manually, 475B/516 support, 100% crop.

White-breasted Waterhen in flight

The White-breasted Waterhen is a very common bird found in all major Philippine islands. It is more conspicuous than most rails and can be found even in city parks and grassy areas. It is often seen foraging on the ground, always close to cover where it runs to when disturbed. Both male and female look alike, and it is  medium large in size (11 inches total length).

This bird takes to the air in short, low flights. It is not photographed often while airborne because of the tough challenge of catching it in such brief moments.

I have many detailed captures of the bird while it is foraging on the ground. But this one in flight, with out-of-focus pond water and vegetation in the background, is probably my favorite because of the difficulty of capture.


White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus, resident)

Habitat – Wetter areas like grasslands, marshes and mangroves.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, July 29, 2008, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1000 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B tripod/ 3421 support.

Clamorous Reed-Warbler in golden light

This noisy, medium large warbler (7 inches total length)  seldom comes out in the open, preferring to sing from the cover of grasses or reeds. Hence, I was very pleased when this individual came out of its usual lair while I was field-testing my days old Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG) way back in 2005. 

I particularly like the photogenic cobweb-laden perch and strong eye contact. The background was nicely melted by the thin DOF of such a long focal length shot at a relatively close subject, while the late afternoon light was heavenly sweet.

If I recall correctly, it was the very first keeper of my then new monster lens. The impressive feather detail shows the fine optics of this big glass.


Clamorous Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus stentoreus, resident)

Habitat – In tall grass, bamboo thickets in open country, and in reed beds where it sings from cover.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, April 9, 2005, Canon 300D + Sigmonster (Sigma 300-800 DG), 687 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/200 sec, available light, 475B/3421 support.

Video clips of this species filmed at Candaba wetlands.

Black Bittern in flight

This uncommon waterbird is secretive and solitary.  It is medium size, being 23 inches in total length, and a resident at all major Philippine islands.

The Black Bittern’s shy nature and dark plumage make it tough to see when in cover. It took me several years of birding at Candaba wetlands to get a good glimpse of the bird.

This one was flying low over the grasses of the wetlands when I chanced upon it. My manual exposure settings were priorly set for mid-toned birds, so I quickly reduced my shutter speed from 1/1600 sec to 1/1000 sec for a 2/3 stop boost in the illumination of the dark subject. The 1D MII’s AF did a great job of locking focus on the dark plumage despite the featured surroundings.


Black Bittern (Dupetor flavicollis, resident)

Habitat – Uncommon in wetlands from ricefields to mangroves.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, July 29, 2008, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1000 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B tripod/ 3421 support.

An ‘H-Bomb’ over the South China Sea

I was shooting surfers at San Juan, La Union, Philippines, last February 2011 when the sun got so low there wasn’t enough light to freeze the waveriders. Seeing no clouds obstructing my view of the South China Sea, I quickly mounted 2.8x worth of TCs to get a bigger sun.

It would appear as if an H-Bomb had exploded to the west in this shot taken just as the setting sun was about to touch the horizon. The two spots in the center of the sun’s disk were sunspots no. 1161 and 1162.

Shooting Info - San Juan, La Union, Philippines, February 19, 2011, Canon 7D + EF 500 f4 IS + stacked 2x/1.4x TC II, 1400 mm, f/16, 1/400 sec, ISO 200, manual exposure, 475B/516 support, single exposure, no filters, uncropped full frame resized to 800x533.

Cattle Egret

A medium small egret (19 inch length), this white bird is very common locally. It stays close to cattle or carabao to catch insects the larger animals disturb.

This bird was foraging at a ricefield being prepared for planting at the Iwahig Penal Colony (Palawan). As it flipped the insect for better swallowing position, I pressed the shutter button for a short burst. One of the frames got the prey in the air between the mandibles.


Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis, resident/migrant)

Habitat: Common in pastures, ricefields and marshes.

Shooting Info – Iwahig, Puerto Princesa, Palawan, February 10, 2007, Canon 20D + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TCII, 700 mm, f/9, ISO 100, 1/500 sec, manual exposure in available light, A328/3421 support.

Purple Heron in flight

A Purple Heron glides over dense vegetation as it comes in to land at one of the ponds in Candaba wetlands. Despite the featured background and the incoming flight trajectory, my 1D MII’s AF had no trouble catching the target.

Light was not as bright as I wish for birds in flight, and I was forced to slow down the shutter speed to 1/640 sec at the risk of camera  shake or subject motion. I got lucky in panning and the feather detail turned out decently sharp.

These large birds (length of 1.145 m and wingspan of 1.90 m) are fairly common residents all over our islands, and they are a guaranteed catch at Candaba wetlands at any time of the year. They are so slow in the air that I sometimes refer to them as ships-in-flight.

My website’s banner photo above is a composite of 5 frames from a burst at this species.


Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea, resident)

Habitat – Fairly common in all types of wetlands.

Shooting Info – Candaba wetlands, Pampanga, Philippines, April 10, 2007, Canon 1D MII + EF 500 f4 L IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/6.3, ISO 400, 1/640 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/3421 support.

A Pied Bushchat near a nuke plant

About three years ago, I and several birdnuts were allowed access inside the fenced compound of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant through the recommendation of the Provincial Tourism Office of Bataan. There are quite many species of birds inside the restricted area  because of its lush vegetation and secured nature. No hunter or poacher can enter and do harm to the feathered creatures here.

The nuclear plant itself is mothballed, still unfueled, and I hope it remains non-operational forever. 

This male Pied Bushchat was foraging in a grassy area near the nuke plant. I used my vehicle as a mobile blind to get very near this normally shy bird, which is found in all major Philippine islands. It is a mere 5 inches in total length, so it is about lifesize as posted when viewed through 96 dpi displays.

The female is mostly  mottled grey brown in color and looks very different from the all black male. Here are some video footage of a female fimed in-habitat at Candaba wetlands.


Pied Bushchat (Saxicola caprata, resident, male)

Habitat – Drier open country, grasslands and cultivated areas.

Shooting Info – Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, Morong, Bataan, Philippines, Canon 40D + EF 500 f4 IS + Canon 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/8, ISO 250, 1/250 sec, manual exposure in available light, bean bag.

Green Imperial-Pigeon in flight

At 17.5 inches total length, the Green Imperial-Pigeon is among the largest pigeons in our islands. It ranges all over the Philippines.

I observed this individual gathering nesting materials from a specific spot at Subic rainforest and flying along a predictable direction, presumably to its nesting area, then back again. I positioned myself with my hand held 20D + 400 5.6 L along its expected flight path, taking care to have the morning sun behind my back.

Sure enough, the bird emerged shortly from its nesting materials gathering area and flew right in front of me with a photogenic twig in its beak. My ancient 20D’s AF was good enough to catch the fast pigeon, given the plain sky background.


Green Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula aenea, resident)

Habitat – Lowland and middle elevation forest.

Shooting Info – Subic rainforest, Zambales, Philippines, February 16, 2005, Canon 20D + EF 400 5.6 L, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/2000 sec, hand held.

Some documentary video footage of this large pigeon.

Ospreys of Sta. Cruz (Zambales)

From September up to April, the vast fishponds of Sta. Cruz ( Zambales province, Philippines) are a favorite spot of migratory birds gorging on easy-to-catch farmed fish.

I dropped by the area yesterday (April 26, 2011)  to check out the visiting birds. There are still quite many migrants around, but I ignored the waterbirds and instead concentrated on catching a raptor species that’s a fishpond regular – the Osprey.

These are the closest captures I’ve ever taken of the Osprey. I counted at least 5 individuals of this migratory bird of prey, fishing all day and presumably trying to stock up on fuel for the forthcoming long migratory flight to their breeding grounds.


Osprey (Pandion haliaetus, migrant)

Habitat – Associated with water both along coast and inland.

Shooting Info - Sta. Cruz, Zambales, Philippines, 2011, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 IS + 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/516 support.

Shooting Info – Sta. Cruz, Zambales, Philippines, 2011, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 IS + 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/516 support.

Shooting Info - Sta. Cruz, Zambales, Philippines, 2011, Canon 1D MIV + EF 500 f4 IS + 1.4x TC II, 700 mm, f/7.1, ISO 400, 1/1600 sec, manual exposure in available light, 475B/516 support.


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