Text by Nikki Dyanne Realubit | Photos by Willem van de Ven
Situated just an hour’s drive outside of Metro Manila, the Masungi Georeserve covers 1500+ hectares of limestone rocks along the Marcos Highway on the way to Infanta, Quezon. These limestone rocks are unique in that they are of the Paleocene and Eocene period, which normally in other parts of the country would be under the sea. In the late 1990’s, the Masungi Georeserve and its surrounding area were overridden by large-scale illegal loggers and was continuously under the threat of mining, quarrying and land grabbing activities. With the core commitment of conservation and environment protection, the Blue Star Construction & Development Corporation and the foundation body of Masungi Georeserve initiate conservation efforts, working alongside with the communities of Pinugay, Cuyambay, and Tandang Kutyo to set up a sustainable ecotourism site. After 10 years, the vegetation has recovered, trails have been created and guides have been trained, and the Masungi Georeserve is now ready to accept visitors.
But wait, before accepting visitors to the area, Ann Dumaliang of Masungi Georeserve sent an invite to the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines for us to assess the birding potential of the place. As it was just around my neighborhood, together with fellow members Willem, Linda, Brian E, Nina, Diuvs, Genesis, Doc Lolet we went to Masungi Georeserve, a.k.a. Garden Cottages in eBird, expecting the normal run-of-the-mill subdivision bird species set with maybe a chance to see some species from the Sierra Madre mountain range just across the road.
We definitely got what we expected and so we came back for more. After the initial birding ocular trip, there have been a total of five Club trips to Masungi. Currently, birding around the different areas in Masungi Georeserve (subdivision, 600 steps, and discovery trail) has running list of 51 bird species. My personal highlights include a flock of Luzon Tarictics in a feeding frenzy, two Black-chinned Fruit Doves squished against each other, the visiting Narcissus Flycatcher, and the super close encounter with the Scale-feathered Malkoha. I’ve also been lucky to have the chance to do a bit of herping in the area (like birding in the morning but looking for frogs, lizards, and snakes at night), and we’ve encountered the Philippine Pit-viper, Flying Dragon Lizard, and Emerald Tree Skink to name a few.
Of course, let’s not forget the reason why thousands of people have been clamouring to go to this ecotourism site. The giant hammock, aptly named duyan, is proof to the ingenuity of the MG team in coming up with structures that will blend in with the environment, providing breathtaking views that is not often seen by tourists. Willem, Ann, and I spent ten minutes identifying what we named as “splotchy tit” when we realized that we were just seeing an Elegant Tit from the top instead of the usual side view profile. The spider web, also logically named as sapot, was built not as an end in itself but was built because the MG team needed a platform so that visitors can have a 360° view of Sierra Madre Mountains on one side and Laguna de Bay on the other side. Their hanging bridge is so stable that I think the MG team should go around the country to fix all hanging bridges, and the view decks of Tatay, Nanay, and Ditse make you feel the “I’m flying” Titanic-feel without the “OMG I’m going to fall into oblivion” anxiety.
Even more than this list, what truly impresses me is how the trail is laid out and the harmony of meandering steps with the actual limestone outcrop. There are areas along the discovery trail that I can’t figure out where the limestone ends and the actual cement steps start. The details along the trail also fit the exquisite theme of biodiversity and working with the environment with leaves etched in stone, snails around a water basin, local names of wildlife and generally leaves you a feeling of connectedness to nature without being physically assaulted with a hard hike or ascent which is what I think ecotourism should be. Other experiences like this I’ve only felt in other countries like Malaysia, Australia, and Poland where there was a real focus on bringing an ecotourism experience that will showcase the uniqueness of the place instead of pandering to what is commercially available as tourism products. I think what has been done in Masungi Georeserve is a testament to what a group of like-minded people can do provided that they have the passion to drive environmental change. The continuous challenge to bring sustainably-developed ecotourism areas to the Philippine tourist public is a big responsibility shared by Masungi Georeserve and Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. So, let’s keep on birding and hope to see you in the next Club trip.