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Birdwatching in La Vista The First Time Around

by Georgie R. Encanto

The idea of bird watching in La Vista had come up several times in the course of our La Vista Newsletter meetings but it was only recently that a confluence of events made it possible to actually go "birding" right here in our own environs. Felice Santamaria would often mention that there were a lot of birds in her garden and that a house guest had even identified a rare kind of bird that she spotted while visiting her house on Ilongot Street. llita Logarta said that Ruby Benitez, another resident, spotted a bird in her house which was green and red so she called it "the Christmas bird." without much prodding, nature lover Llita wrote 2 articles on birds in the August 2003 and May 5 2004 issues of La Vista Newsletter. Felice, who dreams of identifying all the birds in La Vista gave Lita a copy of Birds of the Philippines by Robert Kennedy, et al for her to read and write a book review on.

In the meantime, while having a leisurely lunch in a Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant with Patty Adversario, a faculty member in the College of Mass Communication Journ Department where I teach, sometime in April, I mentioned that some La Vista residents were interested in bird watching. Patty said she had been bird watching for five years and had gotten into it in Singapore while she was based as a reporter for Straits Times. She offered to put me in touch with Mike Lu, the president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP).

Before I knew it, Mike and I were communicating via our cell phones and I had become a broker for the La Vista would-be birdwatchers. He suggested that we have an initial reconnaisance tour of La Vista to determine the sites where they can be found. I texted Aida Josef, Treasurer of La Vista Ladies to ask if the La VIsta Ladies Association was interested in sponsoring the bird watching but she said most of the officers were out of the country so she said it would not be possible for the association to sponsor any activity in the summer.

But since we wanted to avail of the offer of Mike Lu to guide La Vista residents and teach us how to bird watch, we set the recon tour on Saturday, May 8. Mike said the real birdwatching could take place sometime in June. Patty Adversario got my email address and sent me some tips for first time birdwatchers, like what attire to wear and how to behave during the "birding". The tips seemed obvious enough but the way they were phrased still greatly amused me. According to the 5 Behaviour Basics of Birdwatching, the first tip was "Be quiet. Birds have very good hearing, and are startled by loud noises. Try and keep any talking to a low murmur, but don't whisper. Birds hear high-pitched noises like whispers better than they hear our normal voices." The second tip was to "wear dull-coloured clothes" as birds "have excellent color vision. Bright colours, such as reds and yellows can alarm birds and make them harder to see. Wear dark blues, browns or greens instead." Tip no. 3 was to "move slowly. Like people, birds' eyes are attracted to sudden movement. If you move slowly and steadily, you are more likely to have good view of birds." Tip no. 4 exhorted birdwatchers to "use your eyes and YOUR ears. You will see a lot more if you listen to bird calls, or for birds moving in the bushes." That was a revelation to me because although I often hear birds chirping, warbling, and even apparently answering each other in song while I struggle up Cardiac Hill daily, I did not realize that one could identify birds by their birdcalls. And tip no. 5 admonished first time birdwatchers not to "destroy the environment." In no uncertain terms, that guideline said: "This means: don't bushbrack, break branches, litter or otherwise damage the surrounding bush while birdwatching. You are just visiting, but it's the birds' home." That guideline certainly did not mince words as it puts things in the right perspective !

Patty Adversario kept on texting me Wednesday and Thursday to ask me how many La Vista residents were going to join the birdwatching. I had no way of determining that so I told her probably four or five. The assembly place was la Vista Clubhouse at 6 AM. For some reason, I couldn't get to sleep the night before and was up in the wee hours of the morning. I did'nt dare fall asleep because I wanted to be in the clubhouse ahead of time to welcome Mike Lu, Patty Adversario and other members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines who were coming over to La Vista so I was a bit groggy and this probably explains why I was not at all alert while we were birdwatching.

To our pleasant surprise, no less than eleven eager birdwatchers (one of them a balikbayan) showed up at the clubhouse. They included La Vista Homeowners' Association VP Floy Aguenza, LVHA Treasurer Kiko Josef, his wife Aida and her sister Emi Cruz from Canada, Ronnie and Marisa Romero, Andy and Felice Sta. Maria, Annie Guerrero, Lisa Gatmaitan and me. The WBCP birders were Mike Lu, Kitty Arce, Jeanette Bagaman, Patty Adversario, Alice Villa-real, Crysta Rara and Greg Yan.

Mike Lu only had a few binoculars to rent, but one of the other WBCP birders brought some more. He then gave a brief orientation to the group, emphasizing the "amazing diversity of birds found in the Philippines." He said that there were as many as 500 in the entire country. He also mentioned which birds we would probably see in La Vista.

He then divided the group into two and suggested we concentrate on opposite directions of the greenery just in front of the La Vista Clubhouse. It took some time for us to quiet down and even figure out which group we belonged to ! One or two had bright colored clothing which meant they had not gotten the birdwatching tips we'd circulated via e-mail. But after some time with help of the more adept birdwatchers like Mike Lu, Greg Yan and Kitty Arce, we learned how to look out for movement in the bushes or trees, to observe or listen to the birdcalls. I clumsily tried to focus my binoculars on the birds but by the time I was able to spot them, they had flown away already !

Among the first birds we were able to spot were the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (maya), and the Yellow-vented Bulbuls (malipago), which would perch on the branches and later on the electricity lines. Greg Yan would mimic the birdcalls of the birds we spotted and they sounded like whistling to me. But I would not for the life of me be able to recognize them again or tell which bird they belong to.

At some point, Mike spotted a colasisi which we learned was the smallest of the Philippine parrots. He explained that the colasisi hangs on tightly to the branches which feed them and can even hang upside down on them. Amused by the explanation, some of the La Vista ladies laughed and said, "no wonder, mistresses are referred to as kulasisi. Malakas kumapit kay Mister !"

From the La Vista Clubhouse, the group decided to explore another area near Gaddang. We had to pass through the Ifugao Park which, we discovered had rail bridges abd walkways through which one could pass. That was my first time to see that area which I realize, some other esidents (one of them the former La Vista association Manager Mrs. Fe Arcinas) had tried to develop into a park but which few residents visited and was now threatening to deteriorate because of the exposure to the elements of the bridges and walkways. It was close to eight and we first time bird watchers were starting to sweat heavily while the veteran birdwatchers still seemed to have a lot of stamina and continued to point out birds they spotted.

I was later to learn from the report of Mike Lu that he had once spotted four Barred Rails or tikling last year when he was in this exact area with his friend Philip Marin. This time, he saw a White-collared Kingfisher with aquamarine wings, an Olive-backed Sunbird or Tamsi, a Chestnut Munia or Mayang Bukid in flight, and a Brown Shrike or Tarat which everyone was able to admire.

Having reached the other end of the road in front of the house of Tats Manahan, we trained our binoculars on some more birds, and this time, I shouted out in glee because I finally got to see the yellow in the Yellow-vented Bulbul ! For me, that was enough to call it a day. We started to walk back to Ifugao Street while the other ladies headed by Floy Aguenza who had the foresight to instruct her driver to bring her car over to where they were (on Gaddang Road), got into the car and headed for 74 Ifugao Street where breakfast was waiting for the birders.

When they entered my garden, Mike Lu and the veteran birdwatchers continued to identify the birds which often perch on the windowsills at the back of my house, according to my very reliable neighbors Ronnie and Marisa Romero. The Romeros and the Encantos have the good fortune to enjoy the sight and sounds of many birds whose names we do not know, whether we are in our respective gardens or sitting together sharing an al fresco breakfast ! Over breakfast, the La Vista birders happily discussed what fruit trees to plant to make our resident birds happy and feel well-appreciated by their human neighbors.

Later in the day, Patty Adversario who had religiously been taking down notes and even recording when a particular bird was spotted, emailed me a copy of the report that she and Mike Lu had prepared, she explained that the birders who belong to their club are trying to be as scientific as possible by mapping out the areas where they see birds, even recording the exact time and how many they spotted.

She also texted me that they had spotted eleven bird species in La Vista and by some coincidence, there were also eleven participants that day. Was that a gentle reminder that every La Vista resident has to take responsibility for at least one bird ? Although I did not spot all of those birds and did not have the patience to keep on looking out for those nimble-footed creatures, I have become more observant of the birds in La Vista, their colors and movements, and thankful that they continue to uplift our days just by being here.