Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Eagles, part 2

Having been excited about spotting the pair of eagles, we determined to monitor them.  One morning last week we headed back to their favorite area, and as we were rounding the curve uphill from Battery Way, we were astounded to see a deer trotting toward us on the road.  We have now lived here for over four years, and have heard from several people that there are deer living on the island, but we had never seen one.  They are rarely seen, quite shy, and usually come out near the roadways only well after sunset.  But here it was, nine-thirty in the morning, and we see a large stag coming to an abrupt stop right in front of our jeep.  He was at least as startled as we were.  We estimate he weighed at least 100 kilos (220 pounds) appearing to be as large as the largest deer we used to see in our yard in Michigan.  He was about a twelve-point, although this variety has a rack that is more compact than a whitetail’s, thicker overall, and bumpy or ribbed especially at its base.  Steve reached for the camera, but just that quickly, the buck scooted off into the jungle.  Oh, if we could only play back our mental images into a video!
After the disappointment of being unable to photograph the deer, we were lucky enough to spot the eagles’ nest during this outing.  We took a bunch of pictures, and when we got back to the house and examined them closely on the laptop screen, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the nest contained two eggs.  At one point Marcia was pretty sure she was seeing one of the eagles – thanks to its bright-white head and legs – perched in a high tree in the cliff-face several hundred feet from our position.  She took a few telephoto shots aimed at that spot, and again, when we examined the photos on the computer, we found not one, but both adult eagles in the photo.  So we’ve included some long shots along with close-up crops so you have an idea of what we’re seeing through our 320mm camera lens.
Every couple of days we’ve gone back to see if there has been any change in the status of the nest.  On one visit we noted that an eaglet had hatched.  You can see it alongside a parent who is keeping a sharp lookout.  A couple of days later – interrupted by a full day of rain despite the fact that we are in dry season – the second eaglet had hatched.  If you look closely at the photo of the two babies, you will also see a small fish lying at the left side of the nest.  More to come… 
On Saturday we hosted a United States Congressional delegation which was led by Jeff Miller of Florida’s 1St district.  Miller is chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.  Jeff, whom we had previously hosted, was accompanied this time by his wife, Vicki.  Other congressmen in the delegation were Gus Bilirakis of Florida’s 12th, vice chair of the committee, along with his son Teddy; Mike Michaud of Maine’s 2nd District; Tim Walz of Minnesota’s 1st; and Jo Bonner of Alabama’s 1st, accompanied by his wife, Janee.  The group also included several staff, security, and embassy personnel, one of whom currently serves with the 4th Regiment of the U.S. Marines.  His comments led to some good discussion about Generals MacArthur and Wainwright and the surrender of Corregidor, matters traditionally rife with strong and differing opinions.
It was a very friendly group, and all were interested in the story of Corregidor’s role in WW II as well as the part played by Steve’s father, Walter, during the defense of Bataan and Corregidor.  We were honored that each of the congressmen bought a copy of Steve’s book.  The following email arrived Sunday from the woman who coordinated the trip for the U.S. Embassy.
Steve and Marcia,
On behalf of the US Embassy, I cannot thank you enough for donating your time this Saturday to lead an insightful tour. The Congressional Delegation felt they were receiving the red carpet treatment and were reading your book on the ferry ride back to Manila.
It was a pleasure to meet you in person.
Best regards,
We have now had the pleasure and privilege of hosting 11 United States Congressmen, as well as many other VIPs.  We hope to be able to continue to serve them and Corregidor, long into the future.
In addition, we have had several visitors this month of February, some “old friends” and others new.  We’ve met Mike from California, Mike from Nebraska, Jerry from Michigan (close to our old home area of Lansing), Rose from Metro-Manila – friend of a family-friend of Jerry, and then we spent a couple days with returnees Joe and Melissa from California.  We also had a visit from Mikey, originally from California, who now lives in Subic Bay.  While near Kindley Field on Tailside, Steve and Mikey spotted two whales swimming close to shore.  They were at least 20 feet long but mostly stayed underwater, so the pictures Steve took were, not surprisingly, a disappointment.  Nevertheless it was quite a thrill to see whales in the wild for the first time.
Finally, on Sunday we quietly and gratefully celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary.  We were married in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on a day following a medium snowstorm.  We’ve now spent five consecutive anniversaries here on Corregidor, with much warmer temperatures, no snow to shovel, and clear blue skies.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The White-Bellied Sea-eagles

There are two kinds of eagles we’ve seen on Corregidor.  The more common are the Philippine Serpent-eagles.   They soar over the Middleside area around the house, and we often see and hear them, but they are so high that we have never been able to get a decent picture.  Our bird book says that their “overall size” can reach 51 cm (20 in).
Recently, however, we have been fortunate enough to find a spot where two White-bellied Sea-eagles perch and hunt.  The first time we saw them we were hiking with a new friend, Mike from San Diego, California.  (Mike actually came out for a day-trip, a first-time visit arranged for him by Valor Tours of San Francisco, and he loved the place so much that he came back a couple days later for an overnight stay to allow for hiking time with us.)  The second eagle-spotting occurred about a week later when Marcia joined long-time Corregidor hikers Julia and Jill for a trail walk, and they saw the eagles in the same place.  In both cases the eagles took off when they heard us approach, quickly soaring too far away to photograph with the pocket-size cameras we had with us.
So we decided to take a chance and go back by ourselves the next morning, taking our good camera and the telephoto lens.  We tried to sneak up on them, being very quiet and staying behind cover.  We slowly approached the cliff ledge overlooking their perches, hoping to get photos of them in the trees.  You’ve heard the expression, “eagle-eyed.”  In fact we used it in our last newsletter, satirically referring to Steve as “Old Eagle Eye” when he almost stepped on a ten-foot long python that was sunning and digesting at the edge of the trail near Battery Hanna.  Well, these eagles are indeed eagle-eyed and apparently ‘eagle-eared’ as well, because as soon as we spotted them at least 100 feet below us, they took to the air.  Fortunately Steve had the camera ready to go, and shot the sequence of photos that we include, showing of one of the pair circling above their home area.  Not all are in sharp focus, unfortunately, thanks to distance and motion.  After that, the two eagles decided to stay at greater distance and height, making good pictures impossible.
According to our little book, “Birds of the Philippines” by Tim Fisher and Nigel Hicks, these eagles are huge – 76 cm (30 in) – and “uncommon but widespread,” and live in coastal areas where they feed on fish and sea-snakes.  Despite their large size, on our first sighting we saw one of the eagles being harassed by two Brahminy Kites, of which there are many all around the island and which the book puts at 43-51 cm (17-20 inches) in size.  Watching the kites ‘dive-bombing’ the eagle was when Marcia was shocked to realize just how large the eagle was – kites look plenty big when we watch them circling over the house, but these two looked small when flying close to the eagle, less than half of its wingspan.
Most evenings we stay outdoors in our dirty kitchen after dinner, as long as the insects are not too bothersome.  Sunset is about 6 P.M. now, and it gets dark very soon thereafter.  We sometimes light mosquito coils, which remind Steve of family camping trips more than 50 years ago, but they only repel mosquitos.  They are no help with the many other insects that come to buzz around us and our lights.  Sometimes we are visited by bug eliminators, namely lizards and frogs.  The lizard in the photo is called a gecko, or tuko, and is 10-12 inches from nose to tail.  Both of its names are similar to the sound that geckos make.  The frog in the following photo has been staying close to our dirty kitchen for a couple weeks now, often not moving for days.
We hope you enjoy the photos, by no means professional quality, but the best we’ve been able to obtain so far.  To paraphrase General MacArthur, “We shall return” to the eagle area, hoping for better ones.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Aussie Bill Borg

January marks a time of year when people like to stay for a while on Corregidor.  The temperatures are moderate, there is usually a breeze, and the chance of rain is slight.  Following the visit by Steve’s sisters, we had a short break before being visited by Aussie Bill Borg.  Bill is married to a Filipina, and the two live in Brisbane, at least until “the Boss,” as Bill refers to his wife, retires later this year.  Then they plan to spend much more time in the Philippines, where the cost of living is lower.
Bill is a font of knowledge on Australian military history, and acts as a volunteer at Fort Lytton in Brisbane.  One of the most interesting things about his background is that Bill’s father was from Malta.  Many consider Corregidor to have been the second-most bombed island in the world, with Malta holding “first place,” and Bill’s father was there during that bombing.  Also, Bill’s mother was from Coventry, England.  She lost most of her family when Winston Churchill made the difficult decision that to warn the Coventry inhabitants of the impending aerial assault on their city would alert the Germans that the British had cracked the Enigma code.

Bill first came to Corregidor in 1983, and he provided us with a number of pictures taken at that time.  The roads were unpaved and there were not nearly the improvements or operations that are evident nowadays thanks to the Corregidor Foundation, Inc., and Sun Cruises, Inc.  He has come back on several other occasions, and we met during his last visit two years ago.  Bill contacted us and wondered if we wouldn’t mind spending some time with him, for company and as guides to places he had yet to see.  As with Della and Paula’ visit, Bill ate his breakfasts at the Corregidor Inn, treated us to lunches at MacArthur’s CafĂ©, and we provided the dinners, which were expertly prepared by our helper, Gilbert.
We spent time walking through areas of Malinta Tunnel, and climbed to the top of Malinta Hill.  Not only is there a great view, but it also contains the easiest location for exploring a searchlight position.  We also went into what we call the RJ43 Tunnel, so named because it is near what once was called “Road Junction 43.”  You may recall that a couple of years ago Steve almost stepped on a very passive, very large cobra inside that particular tunnel.  This time we encountered no such snake, which is by far the norm in all of the many tunnels here.

One day the three of us hiked on Morrison Hill and saw the only Japanese AA gun remaining in its original position on the island.  Four others were moved to the Japanese Memorial Garden on Tailside.

Bill at the Japanese AA gun on Morrison Hill

Another day, Bill borrowed Steve and Gilbert’s motorcycle and drove around the island.  He eventually worked his way to James Ravine, where he struggled down the rocky beach and eventually made it to Rock Point.  This is something that we personally have never done, but after seeing his pictures, decided that we will have to give it a shot one day.

Bill on Steve and Gilbert's motorcycle

Bill's photo of Rock Point

On our last day together we went to Battery Hanna.  We explored the nearby tunnel.  Then we headed out toward Battery Cheney.  “Old Eagle Eye” Steve led the way, at least until Marcia, in second spot, told him that he had just walked right next to what appeared to be a very large, possibly dead snake body.  Since the snake was right on the trail, we thought it best to see if in fact the snake, which upon quick observation was about a ten-foot long python, was alive.  Steve prodded it with a stick – a long stick – at which the seemingly dead snake raised its head, opened its mouth very wide, and lunged in Steve’s direction.  Although Steve had made sure he was well out of the snake’s reach, he was still a bit startled for a couple of seconds.

The python had obviously fed recently, since its belly bulged.  We estimated that its belly was about the size of Marcia’s mid-forearm, or about 9 inches around.  We took a few pictures – after that initial lunge, it was very docile – and then we went on our way.  Unfortunately, the camera did not capture the blue coloring at the level that our eyes did.  You can get a hint of it in the photo if you look along the sides of the python’s body in the foreground.  We did not immediately report the sighting, since pythons are not venomous, and this part of the trail is very seldom used and quite remote so this one represented no concern to island residents or visitors.
We want our readers to know that we are usually available to accompany them around Corregidor should they decide to stay overnight.  Just give us fair warning so that we can add you to our calendar.  We have had people plan Corregidor trips before consulting with us, and then learn, too late to reschedule, that we would be unavailable at the time they chose to come.  We love having visitors, and hope that some of you will join us here for a special look at Corregidor, whether you’ve been here before or not.
In our most recent newsletter we sent a photo of Steve and his two sisters standing beside the Middleside Barracks.  There was purposely something a little “different” about the picture, but few of you seemed to have noticed.  Look at the three similar pictures that we are attaching and see if you can remember which one it was that we sent with the last newsletter.  You might be surprised at what you see.

Was it this one?

Or this one?

Or this one? 

Did you notice it the first time?  Almost no one did!

Steve and Marcia on the Rock