Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

On Sunday we attended our fourth consecutive Memorial Day ceremony at the American Cemetery in Manila.  Attached are a number of pictures taken before, during and after the ceremony, which was well attended by Americans, Filipinos, and other nationalities.
Since Ambassador Harry K. Thomas will be stepping aside soon, this may be our last time to see him.  We will certainly miss his warm-hearted friendship.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Things are "looking up"

In our March 12 newsletter, we passed along an email from Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz, in which he promised to honor the 25th anniversary of the death of Steve’s father Walter.  True to his word, Walz gave a one-minute, fact-packed speech on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.  All of us in the family are deeply honored and grateful for this.  One of Walz’s aides sent us an internet link, and we are pleased to share it with you.  We invite you to honor Walter by viewing it, too, at
One of our main reasons for living on Corregidor is to honor the thousands of Filipinos and Americans who served here during WW II.  We hope that people continue to look up to those men and women who sacrificed so much, tens of thousands giving their very lives. It just so happens that many of the photos we’ve recently taken are upward focused, so the theme for this newsletter is “looking up.”
Marcia continues to have fun trying to get photos of new-to-her bird species on the island, many of whom visit the trees around the house.  The three included this time are frequently heard, often seen in flight, and difficult to capture by camera when perched because they tend to hide in the foliage. 
Sulphur-crested cockatoos are not native to the Philippines – there is a Philippine cockatoo, but not resident on Corregidor.  Our best guess is that the sulphur-crested ones living here are descended from the days of the aviary’s demise.  The photo was taken late in the afternoon, just as the cockatoo took off to fly over the house, so the edge of the roof cuts into the upper right corner of the picture. 
We have seen hundreds of Black-naped orioles during our time on the island, usually swooping across the roads or trails, but this is the first time either of us has gotten a half-way decent photo of one.  This one landed atop a tall tree in the yard, staying just long enough for Marcia to snap two quick pictures before it took off again.  She was already in position trying to capture another bird species in the neighboring tree, so she was ready when it flew to its momentary perch.
The Olive-backed sunbirds were the intended targets when the oriole photo was obtained, but they proved uncooperative that day.  The next afternoon Marcia got a photo showing a female sunbird to the right and a male to the left.  They are feeding on nectar from tamarind blossoms, staying mostly in the highest and outermost branches of the tree.  The camera was focused on the female, and we didn’t realize until the picture was on the laptop that her mate was included.
During one of her attemps to capture a shot of a sunbird, Marcia noted an area of high activity in that same tamarind tree.  Thinking it was a bird feeding, she snapped a series of high-speed pictures.  Much to our surprise, when we loaded them onto the laptop, it turned out to be a very large bee – about the size of a Michigan hummingbird – happily buzzing around in the blossoms.  She just happened to catch it in flight, our favorite shot of the day.  We include the original as well as the cropped close-up to give you some kind of idea of just how large these bees are.  Maybe someone can identify them for us.
We had a recent surprise visit from hiking friends Jill and Julia.  While at the house before setting out on a trek with Marcia, Jill noticed what she thought was a red damselfly perched on the clothesline.  Having done a little research, it appears that it is in fact a dragonfly based on the wing position when at rest.  The camera with the telephoto lens happened to be close at hand, so Marcia was able to get several good shots of it basking in the sunshine.  Isn’t the facial detail amazing?  It looks like it is wearing white stage-makeup, or a bizarre mask. 
With rainy season beginning to show its face, we are hearing more and more thunder in the area, especially over the nearby provinces of Bataan and Cavite.  Early one morning Steve noticed a beautiful cumulus cloud forming toward Manila, backlit by the rising sun.  Because cameras tend to compensate for lighting, none of the pictures he took did justice to the actual coloring.  Steve played around some with Photoshop and was able to make the photo more like the reality.
Steve and our friend “Diver Dan” were out on Manila Bay several days ago when Steve noticed what looked like an inverse rainbow; in other words, the ends of the rainbow arched upwards.  Once again, the photo cannot do justice to the brilliance of the real thing, but at least you can get an idea.  There was apparently something unusual happening in the upper atmosphere, because the following day an even more striking phenomenon was evident.  Steve is very proud of his “circle around the sun” photo.  This rainbow halo lasted for a couple hours, varying in intensity and percentage of full-circle visibility depending on the clouds.  Does it remind anyone else of an eyeball?
On Monday we celebrated Steve’s 61st birthday with a few island friends and Diver Dan.  Thursday, May 23, marks the 71st anniversary of the day when most of the American and Filipino prisoners of war from the May 6th surrender were transferred from their temporary POW camp on Corregidor to Manila by their Japanese captors.  These were the men who had defended the fortified islands of Manila Bay: Corregidor (Fort Mills), Caballo (Fort Hughes), El Fraile (Fort Drum, “the concrete battleship”), and Carabao (Fort Frank).
Sunday morning we plan to be at the American Cemetery in Manila for the Memorial Day ceremonies.  We hope to see some of you there.
Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

More birds and important anniversaries

In our last newsletter we captioned each of the pictures.  Because of the number of photos (37) we thought it would make it easier for you to understand each one.  We do not expect to do this very often, as it turned out to be technically far more difficult than expected, and thus rather time-consuming.  So we will save that for special occasions and go back to our normal format, which is to title the photos and refer to them in the text.
For those who have been enjoying our bird watching reports, we have some good news as well as a few more birds to share with you.  The good news – we are very pleased to note that the sea-eagles are still in the cove where we first observed them.  This gives us hope that they will have a more successful family-raising experience next time.
The photo of the Philippine serpent-eagle was taken as it soared over the house early one morning – quite a challenge for Marcia to track its flight path with the telephoto, but well worth the results.  The white band you can see through wings and tail make it easy to identify.  Serpent-eagles are not as large as sea-eagles, being about 20 inches/50 centimeters in length compared to 30 inches/75 centimeters.
Mangrove blue flycatchers have appeared in the blog once already, having had two pairs fly into the glass front door of the house several years ago.  Marcia was excited to capture a photo of one in the wild this time, especially one that was willing to pose for about 10 minutes before flying off into the jungle.  They remind us of the bluebirds in the Midwestern US.
The Lowland white-eye is a cute little high-activity bird, somewhat difficult to photograph because it seems to be in constant motion while feeding on fruit and insects in the trees.  It tends to travel in a small flock, chattering away as the group leap-frogs from branch to branch and tree to tree.  This one was so well camouflaged in the leaves that we were not even sure it would appear in the photo.  It stopped in a tree just behind the house while we were having lunch one day.  Marcia just watched for the center of activity amidst the leaves, and snapped pictures one after another, hoping to get something that we could see later on the laptop.  You can see that her strategy worked, although the cropping gives a soft-focus effect.  Without cropping, the picture would be like the “Where’s Waldo?” fad that was recently popular.
May 6 marked the 71st anniversary of the Fall of Corregidor.  It was Steve’s seventh time to attend the memorial ceremony, and Marcia’s sixth.  In fact, it was ten years to the day that Marcia first set foot on Corregidor, having not come with Steve on his first visit in 2002.
Unlike last year’s ceremony, which was attended by President Aquino and a much larger audience, this year’s was once again small but powerful.  Before we began, Steve noticed an older gentleman resting on one of the tranvias, and asked him where he was from.  When he said Colorado, Steve told him about the significance of May 6 and asked him if he would like to join us.  His daughter Diane said that her father, Tom Cummins, was a veteran who had served in the Tacloban area on Leyte right after the war ended.  So Steve invited Tom to be one of the wreath presenters.
Since the majority of the attendees were Filipinos, Steve asked if there were people present whose fathers or grandfathers had fought in World War II, and several raised their hands.  Three volunteered to offer the second wreath.  After an introduction by Lt. Col. Art Matibag, the Executive Director of the Corregidor Foundation, Inc., the wreaths – one provided by CFI and the other by F.A.M.E. (Filipino-American Memorial Endowment) – were offered, followed by a moment of silence.  Steve then gave a short talk about the importance of May 6, and his father’s role at Battery Way during that final morning before the surrender.
Of even more personal significance to us, May 8 of this year marks the 25th anniversary of Walter’s passing.  We had seen him less than two months before, and although he had suffered a minor stroke the previous year, his sudden death from a heart attack came as a shock to all of us.  Mary Anne had been away at a national bowling tournament and Walter had spent the week with their two daughters (Steve’s two sisters) Della and Paula, in the Minneapolis area.  When Mary Anne returned on Saturday, they stayed at Paula’s house.  Walter seemed to have known his time was short, but managed to stay alive long enough to see Mary Anne one more time.  He passed away the following morning, Mother’s Day.  Twenty-five years, and we all still miss him, especially every Mother’s and Father’s Day.
We’ve included a photo of Walter taken in late 1945 in front of his house on top of the hill in Duluth, Minnesota, USA.  It’s hard to believe that it was taken less than four months after his release from 40 months of starvation, torture, disease, and humiliation suffered in prison camps at the hands of the Japanese.  One of the final two photos is from Walter’s funeral in 1988 at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the other was taken last year at his gravesite which overlooks the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Steve’s book, “Honor, Courage, Faith: A Corregidor Story” which goes into much more detail about Walter, has been submitted by Anvil Publishing Company in the Lit-Biography Category of the 32nd National Book Awards, which will be announced in November.  Also, more good news, we were recently informed that the book is going into a second printing.