August 10, 2004
By Mark Villa
Young Blood Section, p. 3
Philippine Daily Inquirer
have taken up bird watching as a hobby for about a year now
and what I have learned about birds and continue to learn
about them are just remarkable. Birds come in all sorts, from
small metallically colorful sunbirds to the majestic eagles.
are excellent singers, rendering some of the sweetest
tunes in nature, while others are such characters, exhibiting
some of the most interesting behaviors known to nature.
Of all their characteristics, I think what is most fascinating
about birds is their ability of flight, and the seeming
effortlessness with which they travel.
travel long distances, humans have invented the aircraft,
but birds' morphological features like their feathers,
a lightweight skeleton, and a highly efficient circulatory
and respiratory systems among others, have enabled them
to transcend geographical boundaries
surprisingly, they have used these features to their advantage.
Every year, across the world, people witness the incredible
phenomenon of bird migration. In preparation for the cold
weather, when food, such as insects, become scarce, birds
across the northern hemisphere stock up and migrate, traveling
thousands of miles to reach their winter homes in the tropics.
I learned last year, birds from as far north as Siberia and
northern China winter in the Philippines. As early as August,
the birds begin to arrive, and one of their favorite sites
is the Tambo Mud Flats.
along Macapagal Boulevard in Tambo, Parañaque, Tambo
was one of my first birding sites. I got wind of the place
through the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), a group
of nature and bird
enthusiasts that regularly monitors the birds there.
drive by in their cars everyday without knowing that
just beside the road is a haven in the city, where birds
take refuge. The Tambo site has an expanse of tall grasses
and shrubs about the size of two football fields. Upon
reaching the place, the call of the resident grassbirds
and cisticolas could already be heard. Walking through
the trail, dozens of munias would flit by, as if to
greet us. Complementing the grasslands are dense bushes,
thick vegetation, mangrove plants and narrow stretches
of estuarine canals that double as a mud flat when the
tide is low. The mudflats provide the water birds a
habitat and feeding area.
In less than a year, our group has recorded over eighty species
in all, over forty of which are migratory species. There are
white terns flying low over the water; small plovers and sandpipers
running about the mud, hundreds of which could sometimes be
seen flying simultaneously as if choreographed. Aptly named
rubythroats hop on the ground like stout sparrows while bright
blue-green and orange kingfishers dive to the water. Occasionally
too, we see rare birds --like the common ringed-plover, which
despite its name, has only been sighted in the country twice,
or the Chinese Egret, an endangered species, which number
only a few thousands in the world.
call the Tambo a haven is to call a squatter's house a mansion.
Tambo does not resemble a park where people can stroll and
enjoy a Sunday afternoon. Colored plastic bags float on the
canal, garbage litters the mud flats, and the water is almost
black. It is a wonder that there are fish at all, but the
presence of tall, white egrets and stocky, yellow bitterns
indicate that there must be fish. I once asked my friend how
the birds could possibly feed on such polluted water. I suppose
that the acids in their digestive systems are stronger than
Tambo looks like a dump or not, an estimated thousand individual
birds cannot be wrong. With the absence of any other suitable
alternative, I surmise the birds have learned to settle with
what is available to them.
big problem, though, is what is available now may not be available
in the near future. There are plans to reclaim the tidal mud
flats for industrial and other infrastructure developments.
We see changes happening all the time. Nearby land areas are
already under construction and mechanical cranes dominate
the landscape. One site is set to become The Mall of Asia,
said to rival the biggest malls in the world.
recent survey from the Environment Research Center
of Hokkaido University came out with findings that
the population of several species of migratory birds
have rapidly declined including that of the Brown
Shrike, one of the most common migrant birds found
in the country. They believe that degradation or loss
of habitat at the wintering countries maybe the cause
of the declines. This is not surprising, since birds
depend heavily on their wintering sites for food and
habitat, without which birds are unlikely to be able
to migrate back north.
Tambo Mud Flats is ecologically linked to the 380
hectares of coastal lagoons and mangroves at the nearby
Coastal Road, Parañaque. Together with the
coastal wetland of Tanza in Navotas, the coastal tidal
areas and mangroves of Tambo, make up the largest,
but also the LAST, mangrove and tidal areas left in
this, there should be no reason why it should not be protected.
The WBCP participated early this year in the Asian Waterfowl
Census and estimated that the two Parañaque wetlands
support at least a daily minimum of 4,000 birds. Thousands
of birds depend on these areas to survive. Our club ornithologist,
Arne Jensen, believes that the waterbirds are treating the
areas as one area. During low tide, they use the mud flats
of Tambo as feeding area but they are fully dependent on the
presence of high tide roosts in and around the mangroves of
Freedom Island in the Coastal Lagoon during high tide. Conservation
of the said areas will be of huge importance for the birds
and for the environment.
do us a great service. They are extremely efficient insect-
eaters and keep their numbers at bay. They are also strong
indicators of the general health of an environment. The absence
of birds in an area says a lot about the deterioration of
the environment. If that is not economically important enough,
there is a huge potential on birding and bird sites as a tourist
attraction. People from around the world would travel to see
birds in their natural habitat.
the amount of help birds give us, I think they deserve at
least a decent place to stay for the winter. Besides, do we
really need another mall, or whatever it is that they are
planning to build? It will be a big loss if there comes a
time when there would be too few birds to continue the wonder
of migration. Discovery Channel always says that there is
only one place we call home, only one earth to protect. I
say there is only one Tambo Mud Flats. Let us protect it.
Villa is a member of the WBCP and a recent graduate of Ateneo
de Manila University. To learn more about bird watching and/or
the Tambo Mud Flats, please visit the Wild Bird Club of the
Philippines (WBCP) website at www.birdwatch.ph.
photos taken on-site, courtesy of WBCP bird-photographer Romy
Ocon. To see more photos, click www.pbase.com/liquidstone