Ocular for the 12th Philippine Bird Festival
Tacurong City, SoCCSKSArGen
by Willem Van de Ven
It is with great pleasure that I can announce, though many of course already know, that we will be having the 12th Philippine Bird Festival on May 12-13 2018, in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, and in fact the rest of region 12!
Baras, Tacurong, has of course been hosting their own festival already for the past 3 years, ever since they attended the PBF in Zamboanga. The LGU of Tacurong, together with the regional Department of Tourism, thought it was time to scale it up a bit and bid for the next PBF.
Upon invitation, Nikdye and I visited the sites in September to do an ocular, especially to look at some concerns that were previously raised regarding options for suitable venues and accommodations of the site to host the PBF, as well as security questions. Not only were these addressed, these concerns were swept from the table! We spent 3 wonderful days in the SoCCSKSarGen Region; yes those are 2 c’s, then an ‘s’ followed by a ‘k’ and another ‘s’, as it stands for South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City, Sox for short, or region 12. We were toured around all over the region, shown all the sites and tasted all the foods (no hungry birders there).
We flew to General Santos City, famed for its tuna and boxing champion. Apparently more so because of the tuna, there are a surprisingly large number of flights going to and from GenSan airport, from Cebu and Manila every day. Even though there might not always be enough people flying in and out, there is always a cargo full of fresh fish flying back to the capital and beyond. We arrived with the dawnflight on Friday September 22 and were met at the airport by Tacurong City’s Department of Tourism champion Emelie Jamorabon, and immediately carted off for a tuna belly breakfast at the Sarangani Highlands, where we enthusiastically started our bird list with Chestnut Munias, Red Turtle Doves and Olive-backed Sunbirds. We were only allowed to leave again after being thoroughly stuffed.
Having previously visited Ozamiz for family matters, and with the ongoing martial law in effect, I was expecting quite a bit more security, however we encountered nothing; no roadblocks, no armed guards along the airport or streets, no empty streets in the towns. Having previously experienced plain-clothes as well as regular security people trailing me around Zamboanga, we were left blessedly alone here. It was just me, Nikdye, Emelie and a driver, and the Marawi siege might as well be happening in another country. As we were constantly reassured by the DoT before; there are no security issues in region 12. We had a bit of a stopover along the road when the smartcar’s black box mysteriously stopped working, and immediately went birding along the ricefields along the road (Javan Pond Herons, Zebra Dove and a very thin Brown Shrike).
Broad roads in good condition and with little traffic reminds us that we are, in fact, in Mindanao, and after a short trip we are in Koronadal, the transport hub of the area where east/west roads meet the north/south ones, and where most decent hotels are located. We checked out the venues and hotels and of course approved of all the restaurants that served us (waaaay too much) delicious food.
By the time we arrived at Baras Bird Sanctuary (links to previous articles?) it started to rain, hard… We waited it out for a while and saw the promotional videos while being commentated by the founder of the sanctuary, and when the rain decreased a bit went for a walk around the park. It is impressive; even with the rains, in the wrong season, at the wrong time of day, there are still egrets walking around on the floor, night herons stalking around and other birds calling out from the canopy. We even saw a Sailfin Lizard, as the sanctuary is bordered by a river. In the evening we met with Mayor Lina of Tacurong, who was just as enthusiastic as us about the birds, the sanctuary and the festival
Day 2 saw more venues and restaurants, it was an ocular after all, but we also visited the T’Boli cultural village, where not only were we invited to see the show and go a cup of local coffee, Nikdye actually joined in the dancing. We could have left her there and no one would have noticed the difference; she’s a natural 😉
Arriving in the evening at Lake Sebu, we didn’t see much of the actual lake as it was already dark. We left again early early morning, to go birdwatching, finally getting a good view from all the way above. Birdwatching around Lake Sebu is highly recommended. Many endemics in the surrounding forests. Unfortunately we only had the one morning sneaked into our otherwise busy schedule, so we went looking for hornbills. We eventually tracked them down all the way at the end of the trail, where the real forest began and no more trails lead further in. We also heard the Rufous Hornbills calling in the distance (other birds were Amethyst Brown Dove, Buff Spotted Flameback, Scaarlet Minivet and others). We forfeited the zipline, though did visit some of the 7 falls that are one of the main attractions of the area, and actually encountered Tarictic Hornbills right there are the tourist site. In the afternoon we visited another possible birding and ecotourism site in Tupi, the Tarsier Sanctuary. After climbing the second mountain of the day, I was glad to be able to have a rest in the car back to GenSan, buying up what looked like all of Mindanao’s available fruit harvest from local vendors along the way.
However we weren’t finished yet. Our last evening also coincided with the farewell dinner of the Budayaw Festival, an international cultural exchange festival with hundreds of participants from the region and other parts of Mindanao, as well as from Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. The dinner was hosted by, and in the style of, the Maguindanao region, meaning we all got to sit on the floor and dinner was presented under colorful covers and specific food stalls, while we watched a show by performers from Tawi Tawi. We got to talk a bit more with DoT regional director Nelly Dillera, as well as the head of the Malaysian delegation of EAGA-BIMP, the consortion of ASEAN nations hosting the event there, and started discussing other exciting bird related activities, which I’ll get to some other time. We flew back the day after, laden with tuna, lanka, cookies and souvenirs, completely exhausted but very elated and with the guarantee to come back.
Altogether, SOX is certainly capable and very enthusiastic to host the next PBF. The Department of Tourism or region 12, together with the LGU Tacurong and the Baras Bird Sanctuary are sure to make this a wonderful festival. We hope you’re as excited to volunteer and attend as we are to organize it!