by Fr. Auckhs Enjaynes, OP
WBCP member Fr. Auckhs Enjaynes who is Vice-rector of Letran Bataan was visited by many Manila-based WBCP members throughout February after he reported an explosion of Green-faced Parrotfinches in the Letran campus! The WBCP group that did the AWC in Balanga, Bataan saw 1000 parrotfinches in the campus on 23 January, but they held back the announcement of the sighting for a week until Fr. Auckhs’s schedule opened up and he could accommodate visitors to Letran Bataan. It’s a good thing the birds were still around and many WBCP members got to see the birds. Very little is known about them beyond their habit of showing up unexpectedly when bamboo is in bloom.
It was in January of 2013 when I had my first encounter with the rare and endemic Green-faced Parrotfinch Erythrura viridifacies. I happened to be one of the lucky members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) that got to twitch on this lifer, on my first day as a Club member. And it took place in Samal.
When I learned that this parrotfinch feeds on flowering bamboos, I became very hopeful. I thought to myself, “someday, I will see you in Letran…when our bamboos flower.” Yes, we have bamboos inside the campus, similar to that of Samal where the sighting of the parrotfinch explosion occurred. Besides, my hope was backed up by the fact that Samal is very proximate to our campus. Only a canyon lies in between us. Since then, I kept an eye on our bamboos.
Early morning of June 20, 2014, I started birding inside our campus. At around 6, I spotted on what I thought were a couple of “Munias” perched on a bamboo stalk. I took quick photos. I have observed that they were randomly picking on bamboo flowers, perhaps testing the level of “edibility.” That familiar behavior made me suspicious. As soon as they left, I reviewed my pictures. Lo and behold, the Green-faced Parrotfinches were in my memory card! I could not describe how I felt, realizing that finally, “they are here!” I sweeped the area hoping to see more of them, but that was all for the day. I just had to be content with the fact that I was able to make the first recorded sighting of the Green-faced Parrotfinch in Letran Bataan.
The following week, June 29, I saw this bird again. This time, it was solitary, mixed with a flock of Munias (Scaly-breasted and White-bellied) feeding on bamboo flowers. I took a couple of quick photos. Then I tweaked my camera for optimum setting. Just when I was about to press the trigger, a Yellow-vented Bulbul flushed the lonesome parrotfinch out and claimed its territory. The poor parrotfinch disappeared into the late afternoon sky. It was nowhere to be found. But later I realized it was only temporary.
The Green-faced Parrotfinch explosion phenomenon in Bataan has occurred once again. This time, inside the campus of Letran in Abucay, Bataan!
The parrotfinches came “back to my senses” only after I was able to take a photo (for ID) of their large flock in flight. I have seen them flying around our campus as early as mid-January. But I thought they were just those “Munias,” like the large flocks I see in Balanga. However, I easily noticed 3 differences in their flight – speed, coordination, and altitude. These got me interested. So I figured I needed to have a photo of them. It took me a hard time to document these birds because they were really fast! Just when the camera was able to acquire focus, the flock has already left the frame by the time I pressed the shutter button! Anyhow, as soon as the photo ID was confirmed, that was when I started sharing the information about the presence of these parrotfinches in our campus.
It was such a unique privilege to observe these birds up close (just a few steps from our dormitory) on a regular basis. Bird enthusiasts (birders, photographers, scientists), both local and foreign, came for some twitching. Our very own students also took part in this rare sighting. And most of the time, I was there with them, a witness to a variety of emotions freely evoked when one is given that moment to experience the flock. And oh, observing the birds, I have noticed a few of their routine. They would come at around 6:45 in the morning. Their presence is signaled by an initial sight of a solitary “lead scout” or “field observer,” sometimes a couple, (or more), doing a visual inspection of the feeding area which is the flowering bamboo. A little later, smaller flocks begin to appear in the sky as if patrolling the area as a group. Then they would converge into a larger flock, and perch on the tallest part of the bamboo all at the same time in just a blink of an eye. I realized the wisdom of this routine – safety! Some are tasked to ensure their safety. There is safety in numbers. And they should, especially that the Brown Shrike would also station itself in the feeding area, and take the opportunity to ambush an unsuspecting little prey. Once perched, they would just stay motionless, wait for the sun to rise, until the golden glow of morning light would warm them up. In normal terms, it was as if they were taking their morning dose of coffee. Or better yet, in religious terms, as if saying their morning prayers. But that is just my personal interpretation. After getting enough sun, the feeding frenzy would then commence. Depending on the situation, feeding would last for an hour, at most. But that only happened in the morning. In the afternoon, the longest feeding time observed was only half an hour. And the latest time that they were seen was at 5:30 PM.
Having been able to witness this phenomenon, I was able to gather a considerable amount of materials, in photos and videos, about these parrotfinches. I learned a lot in fact! But there is this one recurring question that everyone is asking about these birds – what happens in between flowering bamboo season? To many, including myself, the Green-faced Parrotfinch remains a mystery. The only clue to this bird is the flowering bamboo. That is perhaps the reason why in local terms, this bird is called Mayang Kawayan. But aside from flowering bamboo, it is as if this bird does not exist. According to Kennedy Guide, there is no breeding information. So I asked myself this simple question – where do they roost? I needed some kind of revelation. One day, I got my answer – I saw the flock roosting into the bamboos, slowly disappearing from my sight…and I realized, it was only a dream. The question got into me so much that even in my dream, I was absorbed with its mystery.
With the explosion of Green-faced Parrotfinches in Bataan, I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to marvel and enjoy a glimpse of their beauty here in our very own Letran campus. The experience may have provided us additional clues about them, but we hope to know more. Someday, we’ll have our answers.