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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Not Just For The Birds

Text by Raoul J. Chee Kee
(printed with permission from the BusinessWorld Weekender)

Those of us who grew up in the city would be hard-pressed to name another type of bird aside from the maya. Yes, Eurasian tree sparrows are all many of us are familiar with.

However, I do remember gazing out the windows of my third year high school classroom during particularly boring lectures and seeing small green birds with long tail feathers. I never took the time out to find out what kind of birds they were since we were always too busy with geometry or chemistry or some other school-related task.

It is this mentality that members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines want to address and, hopefully, change.

Michael C. Lu, one of the club's founding members said that when he started bird watching a few years ago, he also thought that all the birds in his neighborhood were mayas.

"I've lived my whole life in Manila and I thought that that was the only species that thrived in this environment. However, since we set up the club last year, we've listed over 100 species. From one species, the list has 'grown' to over 120 just because people started looking around and taking down notes."

Edward Dennis P. Liuag, a senior assistant manager at Planters Development Bank, is also a bird fanatic.

WBCP co-founder Carmela Espanola
WBCP co-founder Carmela Espanola showing first-time birders illustrations in the guide book

Long before anybody thought of putting up an e-group (internet-based group) dedicated to bird sightings, he had been gazing up at the skies.

In an article he wrote for the Planters Bank News, the company's in-house magazine, a couple of months ago, Mr. Liuag recounted how his earliest memories of birds were of raptors.

A BIRD'S PASSAGE

"[My mother] always pointed them out [as they soared] above the house on hot summer afternoons in San Pablo [Laguna]," he wrote. "Though I was born in the Year of the Snake, I like to think that it was the kali (Brahminy Kite) that
chose itself for me. I remember its passage directly overhead, putting me in its shadow for a brief yet life-changing moment. [Since] then, the presence of the kali has been a source of comfort and assurance."

Few of us would consider a bird's flight a life-changing moment, but from that day on, Mr. Liuag was hooked. He spent countless mornings and afternoons looking out for birds. Now, as a new father to a young daughter, he makes it a point to share with Sasha and his wife his love for the outdoors.


WBCP member Tim Fisher leads the birders at
the American War Memorial


Striated Heron
Striated Heron seen at the
Tambo mudflats in Paranaque

"Where we live in Bangkal, Makati, I often see terns, night herons, kingfishers, swallows and fantails despite it being a very congested neighborhood."

Mr. Liuag finds it easy to list the different types of birds because he started bird watching quite early. By joining some of the club's bird walks and taking down notes in a notebook, it won't be long before one can tick off some of the birds one may come across.

The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines was officially launched on July 14, 2003 but it actually started out as two informal groups that freely exchanged information on wild bird sightings and other related information.

"James McCarthy who lives in Silang, Cavite, is an experienced birder and he was the one who brought up the idea of formalizing the group," Mr. Lu said. "He said that having an official group would give credibility to our reports."

A second more pressing reason for the formation of the club was in order to facilitate requests to check out other possible bird habitats.

"Whenever we wanted to visit a certain place, we would invariably be asked what organization we were from. Wala kaming maibigay na sagot (We couldn't give them a straight answer). Once the club was formed, we didn't have as hard a time as before," Mr. Lu said.

Still, Mr. Liuag admitted that he continues to have "run-ins" with policemen and security guards who cannot fathom why anyone would choose to linger on the marshy, reclaimed land near Roxas Boulevard, waiting for a flock of birds to appear.

DOING THEIR BIT FOR SCIENCE
While going around listing the types of birds spotted during a bird walk might appear to serve no higher purpose than bragging rights, Mr. Lu said that bird watchers actually help contribute to science.

"For example, the Cebu flower-pecker that was believed extinct in the 1960s was recently 'rediscovered' by a foreign bird watcher. Apparently, it had never disappeared. It's just that nobody had taken the time to take notes until then," he said.

"When we talk about bird watching, we are asked if [Mr. Lu] and I have degrees in science and I say that we do, 'He has a science degree in computer science and I have a science degree in commerce,'" Mr. Liuag said.

"I say that to drive home the point that one doesn't have to be a scientist to be a birdwatcher. While one needs to be scientific, anyone can be a birdwatcher if one is enthusiastic enough about the hobby."

Before the club was formed, the Philippines used to be a black hole of knowledge when it came to the migratory patterns of birds of prey.

"Thousands of birds of prey travel from Japan, Siberia and Taiwan towards the Philippines and the equator. Every year, people in Taiwan count the number of birds and there are literally thousands," Mr. Liuag said.

"Pagdating ng boundary ng Philippines and Taiwan, wala na. Lalabas na lang ulit sila sa Malaysia (When they reach the boundary of the Philippines and Taiwan, the birds 'disappear.' They are only 'spotted' again when they pass through Malaysia)."

"It's like a black hole of data," Mr. Lu said.

To aid them in identifying certain bird species, Mr. Lu said that they rely on The Guide to Birds of the Philippines by Robert S. Kennedy et al. Aside from the book which costs roughly PhP1,600, the only other item to invest in is a pair of
binoculars.

Mr. Liuag said one can buy a good pair of locally made 8 x 40 binoculars for PhP2,400 or less while the imported ones go for PhP12,000 to PhP16,000.


A White-Collared Kingfisher perches on a
branch in the American War Memorial

While the annual membership in the club is PhP300, Mr. Lu said one can only become a member after joining at least one bird walk.

"We hold monthly guided tours that are open to the public. Those who are interested in becoming members should try and join at least one tour. Since these tours are easily filled, interested parties can check out the website (www.birdwatch.ph) for the next scheduled trip."

The tours are usually held early morning and last around two hours. Mr. Liuag gave a list of areas in the metropolis where one can see a variety of birds.

The list includes the American War Cemetery and the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig; the UP Diliman campus, especially the area around the Math and NIGS buildings or around the Lagoon; the Ateneo de Manila University, in particular the edges of the Observatory and near the Church of the Gesu, among other locations; the Tambo wetlands just off Macapagal Boulevard, jump-off is the Coastal Mall; the Arroceros Park; the Ninoy Aquino Park in Quezon City; and Nayong Pilipino in Pasay City, although one needs a permit to go there.

Asked what he got out of watching our feathered friends, Mr. Lu put it succinctly when he replied, "It's like hunting without the blood."