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Rare Bird Adds More Feathers To His Cap

People for the Planet : Rare Bird Adds More Feathers to His Cap

by Ross Harper Alonso
Inquirer News Service
Date: August 7, 2005
Page Q4, Philippine Daily Inquirer

It's 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.

"People 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."

In awe of birds

A 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."

Perhaps 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.

Says 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 Exchange Commission."

Diverse Species

Today, 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.

"Seeing 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."

The 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.

Increased Awareness

Mike 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 for assistance."

The 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 Lu

 

Says 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 logging."

True, 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."

The 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