The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

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Manila's Feathered Charms


The original story can be viewed at http://mobilemediaph.com/escape2004/index.html. The article is entitled Manila's Feathered Charms, with pictures from Romy Ocon's gallery.

By Albert Ramos, MD

We've all seen birds -- through our windows at home and in the office, or probably glimpsed them in the trees while taking a walk, or spotted them on electric poles. If you live in Metro Manila, chances are you think these birds are mayas.

Well, not everything you see flying here are mayas, and the birds of your grandmother's stories are all around you in Manila if you only knew where to look. I came across the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) last year when its president, Mike Lu, posted an invitation to a local e-group for photographers to join one of their trips. Since most of the trips (or "birdwalks" as they call them) were held on weekends in Metro Manila, I took time out to join them for the first time at the American War Cemetery in Taguig (just beside Fort Bonifacio) in October 2003.

Hardly a few minutes have gone by when I saw through my binoculars my first wild bird, a white-collared kingfisher. The sight of such a wonderful creature right in the middle of the city instantly won my heart that I immediately signed up for membership.

I have since joined the group in places such as the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, the Ateneo de Manila University, the Old Nayong Pilipino, the Libingan ng mga Bayani and the La Mesa Watershed.

The desire to see more birds has now brought me to more distant locations like Laguna and Batangas. An hour or two of driving out of the city is really worth the effort for the charms you will find, and there is an endless list of birds to see. In 2003, the club recorded an astonishing number of 120 species in Metro Manila alone!

Nine months and ten birdwalks later, the kingfisher still counts for me as the most beautiful winged creature, and I see it in each trip that I join. Right now, I include among my friends a pair of pied fantails that I see daily through my bedroom window and whose songs I first hear when I wake up in the morning. Several yellow-vented bulbuls also fly around my terrace in the afternoons. I also get occasional visits from a few zebra doves and olive-backed sunbirds, and some white-breasted wood-swallows do make fly-bys while I'm hard at work washing my car in the driveway.

All these without having to step out of our gate, and I live in the middle of Quezon City! It's hard to imagine that I once thought these animals only existed in National Geographic and Discovery Channel simply because I didn't know how to differentiate them from the mayas.

Before I actually met them, I expected the people from the Wild Bird Club to be of the very serious and the academic type. A birding trip is not all serious and scientific stuff. We actually do crack jokes (clean and otherwise) while looking for the birds.

Some members simply walk with the others, looking at the birds as they come and go. Some take matters to heart a little more and take notes of the birds that they see. Still others dig a little deeper and actually record the exact spot where they saw the animals and what these were doing when seen.

The Wild Bird Club has a varied mix of members, from ordinary students and employees to the more unusual geographer and astronomers. We also have photographers, artists, information technologists, teachers, writers and a few in the broadcast and print media. There are businessmen and people from the corporate and banking world. Aside from several scientists, there is also a psychologist and a veterinarian. I once thought I was the only doctor in the group until someone reminded me that my wife is also a member. As of the moment, we are still waiting for an astronaut to join us but that may be out-of-this-world! (no pun intended).

STARTING OUT
Bird watching (or birding for short) is a very inexpensive hobby. At the barest minimum, all you actually need are your pair of eyes, which of course come free with you. If you want to see the birds up close, then a pair of binoculars is a must. These are inexpensive and locally available.

If you become a member, the club can lend you a pair of binoculars (bins for short) if you haven't acquired one yet. For those who haven't signed up yet, the club can rent them out for just PhP50 per use.

A bird guide is also a very helpful tool and there are several good ones available in most bookstores starting at only a little over PhP300. You may also want to browse the Internet for pictures and descriptions and there are several Web sites catering to local birds (search in google.com).

When you sign up for membership for only PhP300, you get free guided trips and free use of the club's binoculars. It's very rare to find someone who just saw a pied triller and a bright-capped cisticola through a pair of bins for the first time have second thoughts of signing up as a member.

Bird watching is for everybody. For the health conscious, think of birding as a very ideal low -impact exercise. Without noticing it, several hours have passed and the distance you've actually walked is more than what you thought you could do.

For the sports-minded, go ahead and make a game out of it. Check out who made the highest number of confirmed sightings and identifications, or who covered the farthest distance within the shortest period. For the outdoor guy or girl, you can include bird watching the next time you go rock-climbing or hiking. For the naughty ones, we have birds that are actually called bulbuls, tits and flowerpeckers! For those in love with nature, it's one of the best ways to get closer to it and actually immerse yourself in its beauty. For the environmentally vigilant, you can in fact make these birds a barometer of the conservation efforts in each locality. For those who are still stuck in comics and cartoons, there's nothing like meeting Woody Woodpecker in person (and we do have woodpeckers here in the city).

To actually see a roadrunner will need a little more luck, however. For those who simply love to have good, clean fun, well, I dare you to come up with a more wholesome activity than this!

You may want to simply look at them and appreciate their beauty, or you may want to keep track of your sightings by
recording the types you have seen and watch your list grow every time you go out. Or, you may want to be a little more thorough and actually note the time you saw them, the exact place where you found them and what they were doing then. You may choose to go to the extreme and bring several equipment with you such as a GPS receiver and an altimeter to take down the coordinates of each spot and a thermometer, barometer and hygrometer to note the exact conditions of the environment you are in. I haven't met anybody who does this yet for we simply want to have fun and escape from the daily hassles of life. We do keep records of our sightings, however, and we are serious when it comes to these.

Initially, you may have a little difficulty identifying the creatures. Not to worry, the more experienced members will help you out on this.

Later on, your skills will develop such that you can already identify the birds simply by listening to their calls or even by looking at their flight patterns. I have read of instances where the more hardcore birders can identify the species based on their footprints or fallen feathers. I have yet to hear anyone, though, who can identify species based on their droppings! But I won't be surprised if one day I meet someone who can actually do this.

Nothing is impossible. After all, in bird watching. To say the least, this is one hobby where the sky is literally the limit!