for the Planet : Rare Bird Adds More Feathers
to His Cap
Ross Harper Alonso
Inquirer News Service
Date: August 7, 2005
Page Q4, Philippine Daily Inquirer
4:30 Sunday morning and while the rest of the city
sleeps, businessman Mike Lu quietly loads his car
with heavy duty rubber boots, binoculars and a Bushnell
spotting scope donated by a Canadian birder. Today
he's taking a band of merry birders to the reclamation
area behind the Coastal Mall of Tambo, Paranaque.
The birding site is a threatened piece of grassland
with mudflats where rubythroats, peregrine Falcons,
ruddy-breasted crakes and more than a hundred other
bird species have made their home. It is the highest
number of species recorded in Metro Manila.
are surprised to see these birds thriving in this
wasteland," says Mike, who distributes industrial
hand tools for a living. " I have to remind
them that not all birds nest in trees. Different
species live in different habitats." Adds the
amiable 40-year old bachelor. "It's also a
shame that people don't realize how they can witness
birds flying in from the North from here. My first
sighting was flock of 60 egrets flying around Manila
Bay towards Cavite. On later trips, we would see
smaller birds like terns and plovers by the hundreds.
Once, I and Arne Jensen, a Danish ornithologistand
co-founder of the bird club, watched about 8,000
whiskered terns flying out in the bay. Grouping
themselves like a cloud, they suddenly swooped down
on the water like a passing rain shower."
awe of birds
certified bird watcher, Mike recalls how he came
to this hobby. "I've stood in awe of birds
since I was three. My grandparents have a one hectare
compound in Pasay with large acacia trees. As a
boy, my cousins and I could look up and watch birds
fly in V formation or listen to the quacking of
passing ducks headed out to Manila Bay."
it was childhood
memories like these that moved Mike, the eldest
of three siblings, to help organize the country's
first and only wild bird club on July 14, 2003.
" I didn't think we needed to set up something
formal," he says good-naturedly. " We
were a small group of birdwatchers who formed the
Birdwatch Philippines e-group just to keep in touch
and pass information. A few months later, we started
a website to share our sightings and photos."
They wanted to educate the public about the country's
incredible avifauna and even offered to work with
the Environment Department and the Pasig River Rehab
but were turned away and given the runaround.
Mike with a chuckle: "I don't blame them since
we must've looked like a bunch of crazy bird lovers
with no direction and organization to represent."
However, he adds," this experience did motivate
Ned Liuag, kitty Arce, James McCarthy, Jon Villasper,
Mads Bajarias, LuAnn Fuentes, Ricky de Castro, Arne
Jensen, Tina Alejandro and myself to finally file
our incorporation papers with the Securities and
club members and directors are as diverse as the
species they seek. They're an interesting blend
of bankers, astronomers, graphic artists and people
with interests ranging from photography to butterfly-
and dragonfly-watching. Single handedly, the group
has put together an impressive database of Philippine
bird sightings, providing the scientific community
with valuable information that would have otherwise
cost them millions of pesos to gather.
a rare bird for the first time is an experience,
but adding new species to our records is even more
fulfilling," Mike points out. "We've already
recorded more than 140 species spotted in Metro
Manila and last week, I added two more to the list.
It doesn't make much sense to claim we're working
to save our environment if we don't know the feathered
creatures in the forest, marshland and grassland."
lack of apppropriate textbooks in his elementary
years prompted Mike as well to contribute his bit
to ornithology. " Back then, my textbooks only
had pictures of American birds. I never of the Luzon
bleeding-heart, the Philippine cockatoo or the great
Rufous Hornbill. To this day, some still think our
national bird is the common brown scavenger we see
foraging through trash. Those are Eurasian tree
sparrows; they're practically mice with wings. The
real national bird before it was changed to the
Philippine Eagle is the Chesnut Munia with a black
head and reddish brown body," he adds.
concedes that the public's level of awareness
has increased since a tourism group up North
invited them to identify the birds in their
area. " But we'd like to encourage local
environmental organizations to contact us
group's selfless service and dedication to
converse the country's wildlife was recognized
last month by the World Bank's Philippine
Environmental Monitor. The Wild Bird Club
of the Philippines received the Environmental
Champion Award for their pioneering efforts.
Mike: " Of course I was ecstatic but I was
very surprised we were even nominated since the
club is barely two years old. I also felt humbled
standing beside awardee, Raul Zapatoz, the forest
guard who stood up to a mayor involved in illegal
the beautiful glass trophyis a feather on his cap
but Mike isn't about to rest on his laurels. In
fact he's working even harder to get more children
and their parents involved in the club. " We
go to a variety of sites. the Candaba Marsh in Pampanga
is hard core. One is literally surrounded by birds
during the migratory season, while the American
Cemetery is a serene and peaceful urban teeming
with birds we never thought we'd see in the city."
Bird Club relies solely on membership fees, binocular
rentals of P50 and book sales. Tour participants
only need to rent binoculars. There are no fees.
For tour schedules, call MIke Lu, 0917-3350325 or
log on to http://birdwatch.ph