We went on a birding sortie recently at the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) in Paranas, Samar – site of the country’s few remaining primary and secondary forests today.

It was my 3rd time to be there in recent months in what always turns out to be a most enjoyable nature-trip sojourn.

The first time we went there was to experience for ourselves the Ulot River Rapids Torpedo Boat Adventure (fun!) The second time was to sample Samar’s enormous avian wealth, together with experienced birders (such as the Dutch Ambassador – an avid birder).

I have to confess I am a complete newbie in this department. Birding or bird photography is a pastime which only a few can indulge in. It’s because it entails getting expensive long camera lenses and other equipment; having the needed patience and the luxury of time to travel, the physical stamina to endure hiking/trekking into the wilderness, and the willingness to update one’s stock knowledge and learn more about the avian world.

Hence, please bear with me; my Canon 70-200mm (even with a 1.4X extender) can barely reach for a medium shot of a bird perched on a tree 20 meters away. I need to really creep slowly and get real close to them to be able to get fairly decent shots of these fascinating flying wonders.

The ultimate satisfaction one gets in bird photography is when you’re able to get a perfect, close-up shot of a rare or hard-to-find bird.  The ensuing natural high one gets is beyond words. Definitely more than just WOW!

Here are some of the birds we saw at SINP in the heartland of Samar, last February 24 & 25, 2011.

1.) An Everett’s White-eye (Zosterops everetti), one of several comprising a merry barkada of tiny birds barely 3 inches in size. They fly and eat in groups quickly descending on berry-bearing trees boisterously and then just as quickly fly away.

Source: Wikipedia

2.) The Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops superciliosus/philippinus)

This is a bird which breeds in sub-tropical open country, such as farmland, parks or ricefields. Like other bee-eaters it predominantly eats insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets.

They look out for suitable prey from a tree branch or high wire (about 7m and above) then swoop down onto it and snap up their victims. To get rid of the sting, the insect is vigorously whacked against the perch or simply squeezed to get rid of the venom.

Source: Wikipedia & Sungei Buloh

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We had the chance to visit Ormoc City recently and had a quick tour around some of its not-oftentimes seen points of interests.

Among the sites visited: the Leyte Geothermal Production Field (LGPF) in Tongonan – the world’s largest wet steamfield – now owned and managed by the Energy Development Corporation of the Lopezes;  Lake Danao National Park, and the Sabin Larrazabal Pineapple Plantation.

Here’s a quick rolling tour of Ormoc City showing some early morning street scenes and night scenes on a fine, generally nondescript day…

Sunrise at Sabin Hotel

A fastcraft on an early morning trip to Cebu City

The streets are still empty at 6 in the morning…

Tractors troop to the farm…

The view from high up in the mountains showing Ormoc City and Ormoc Bay

The Leyte Geothermal Production Field (LGPF) in Tongonan – providing electricity power to consumers all over the country

At Lake Danao National Park

A Naked-faced Spiderhunter is spotted at Lake Danao National Park.

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Whew!

Kalanggaman Island!

Finally!

I first heard about this island in the late 90′s when the family used to spend Holy Week at Duwahon Island in Villaba, Leyte. I remember Jun Burgos, a close friend, mention Kalanggaman (also spelled, Calanggaman) but not without a forewarning – the island, he said, is farther west and crossing can be dangerous during non-summer months when the sea gets rough. Moreover, the island is bare, with hardly any vegetation or trees for shade; no water source, nothing but white sand and crystal clear waters around it. Jun hastened to add, Kalanggaman then was a mere stop-over point for fishermen…

On two occasions on a trip to Malapascua, Cebu (first, coming from Villaba and on the second trip, from Tabango, Leyte) the pumpboat we took passed by near Kalanggaman, but not that close – all I was able to see from afar was the white sand, and yes, there was vegetation after all – a couple of coconut trees.

Years later, I would hear stories about more and more camping enthusiasts able to get to Kalanggaman and they all had common things to say: Paradise. Unspoiled and crystal clear waters. White powdery sand.

I was full of envy.

I knew it, though, that someday I would have the chance to see for myself Kalanggaman.

And the day finally came, unplanned like out of nowhere, and I was invited to go with an assessment team commissioned by the Department of Tourism Head Office from Manila to go visit the island.

We went there yesterday, Tuesday, February 22, 2011.

Indeed, the island is simply beautiful.

Kalanggaman Island is a sitio of Palompon, Leyte and its LGU (Local Government Unit) led by the mayor currently manages the place.

It lies about 15 kms from Palompon, which is on the western coast of Leyte, and less than midway between Leyte and Bogo City of the island of Cebu.

We took a big enough pumpboat which was a good thing as the water started to get rough 10 minutes out from Palompon. It was an hour’s trip – a rough ride most of the time, but nothing to be scared of. It was a “normal” thing, as one of the boat’s crew members sheepishly remarked.

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After the seemingly unceasing rainy days of recent weeks that saw several provinces in Eastern Visayas being declared under a state of calamity, the clouds broke up early last week and things seemed to get sunny once again eliciting one giant collective sigh of relief from everybody.

I was extra blessed this passing week with my spotting of two sunbirds – one, a favorite of mine, the Siwit, the local name for the Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) also called Yellow-breasted Sunbird; Yellow-bellied Sunbird;  and, secondly, a not-so-common bird called Naked-faced Spiderhunter – a lifer (first time to view at its natural habitat) for me! – at Lake Danao in Ormoc City, Leyte.

The sunbirds and spiderhunters are a family, Nectariniidae, of very small Passerine birds (perching birds/ songbirds).

I missed seeing the Siwit at our veranda during the incessant rains I began to wonder whether she’d moved on and found a better refuge.

Then just a couple of days ago, I heard her familar call!

She was back!

At Lake Danao in Ormoc City, Leyte last Friday, February 11, 2011, I was again in luck. Gee, the lake goddess surely loves me!

About 2 months ago it was there where I was able to spot several lifers and seldom seen ones, among them a Samar Tarictic Hornbill (Penelopides samarensis) and an Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis). (See previous post: http://callezaragosa.com/gerryruizphotoblog/?p=1013)

This time I was more than fortunate to have spotted what I initially thought was another ordinary sunbird. It was immediately identified by birder friends as a Naked-faced Spiderhunter – not yet classified as an endangered species, but certainly a rare, hard-to-find one.

A quick search in the internet mentions sightings and photographs of it only in Mindanao and at La Mesa Dam Eco Park in Quezon City. There’s no mention of sightings nor a photo taken of it in Leyte!

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