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Living in Westgrove is like always on Vacation

Living at Westgrove is like always being on vacation
By Julie Cabatit-Alegre
The Philippine STAR 08/26/2006

On a good day, Leni Sutcliffe sees or hears an average of 20 birds and bird calls on a leisurely two-hour morning walk around her home at Ayala Westgrove Heights in Silang, Cavite, about 2.5 kilometers from Sat. Rosa, Laguna. Leni is a member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), which is a small group of weekend birdwatchers that aim to promote birdwatching and responsible enjoyment of nature. They also involved in environment and conservation issues.

"We have many birds that are endemic to the Philippines, " Leni says. "You can go birdwatching all year round, and you don't have to go very far." In Metro Manila, 150 species of birds have been identified. The club has organized bird-watching trips to the Coastal Lagoons in Paranaque as well as the American War Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio.


Common Kingfisher
Common Kingfisher

Leni is fortunate since she can watch birds right in her own backyard. Leni and her artist husband Peter Sutcliffe moved to Westgrove three and a half years ago. They were among the first 36 residents at Westgrove. Leni was formerly with the UN office in Geneva while Peter, who is British, was with the International Labor Organization (ILO).

"Around 100 species of birds have seen in or flying above Westgrove," she relates. " Just the other day, I heard a calling, and l recorded it. I sent the recording to an expert abroad, who identified it as the call of a Hooded pitta, which was a black head, green and blue body, and a scarlet lower breast. But I've only heard it and have yet to see it."

A more familiar sound is the chirping of the mayas or tree sparrows, which perch on the branches of ipil-ipil trees. A soft trilling call comes from the black and white Pied triller, while the black and white Oriental magpie
obin whistles, its alarm call a rasping sound. The loud and pleasant Ekee-yaow‚ of the bright yellow Black-naped orioles is a familiar sound at Westgrove. Some of the noisiest birds are the Brown shrikes, which fly in from northern Asia to avoid the winter cold. Other winter visitors from Japan and Taiwan are the Kingfishers: the white-throated Kingfisher, the
white-collared Kingfisher, and the common Kingfisher.

Other birds spotted at Westgrove are the Barred rail or tikling, the White-eared brown dove, the Yellow-vented Bulbuls with their bubbling calls, and the Olive-backed Sunbird with their metallic call and long, curved bill, used for getting nectar from the flowers. The Philippine pygmy woodpecker taps on trees in search of insects for their food, while the Red-keeled
flower pecker, which is black and white with a red spot on its breast, loves the green fruit of the aratalis, which becomes red when ripe. The mango tree is home to the small Golden-bellied flyeater, which, with its loud songs, is
more often heard than seen.

Golden-bellied Flyeater
Golden-bellied Flyeater

To enjoy bird watching, all you need is patience. "You have to have the ability to be quiet and to keep still. And you must love nature," Leni says. Residents live very close to nature at Westgrove, a high-end residential development by Ayala Land Premier in what used to be a 400-hectare mango grove. The mango trees have been preserved – 1,500 of them – resulting in
irregularly cut lots, measuring from 400 to 1,100 square meters, all of which conform to the rolling terrain.

"Ayala Land Premier has an enlightened policy of reserving 50 percent of the development to open spaces," Leni observes. The nature walks, lagoons, and green parks make Westgrove an ideal bird sanctuary. "Even the long grass on
the steep slopes have been left alone as these serve as nesting places for the birds such as the Philippine coucals," Leni points out. The Tawny gassbird or tisuk lives there, while the Scaly-breasted munias often feed on the grass seeds. Another familiar resident of the tall grass is the Grass owl or Kwagong talahib.

"We have also built bird boxes that we installed in Westgrove's trees, " Leni says. " One already has a pair of Oriental magpie robins nesting in it."

On Saturday, August 26, several bignay kalabaw seedlings will be planted by the Westgrove residents. The bignay's small berries are ingested by the birds that help in their propagation.

"We plan to plant more trees," says Robert Lao, Ayala Land Premier division manager for land and houses. "We avoid cutting down existing trees, even as we open more phases in the development."

Ayala Westgrove Heights celebrates its eighth anniversary with the opening of its eighth phase. At present, there are 83 families residing at Westgrove.
Red-keeled Flowerpecker
Red-keeled Flowerpecker

"Everybody here knows everybody, unlike where we used to live where we did not know even our neighbors," says Pilot Chan, wife of Ayala Westgrove Homeowners Association president Bobby Chan and chairperson of the cooking club. "It is really a very informal club," Pilot says of the cooking club. "It’s open to all residents. One time, we had a cooking demonstration where
we invited a non-resident, Mike Lorza, who cooked fabada, while a resident, Pia Garriz, baked butter braid bread. All the husbands joined us when it was time to eat!"

More cooking demos are planned for the future with another resident, Pauline D. Lagdameo, a chef who teaches at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management on Katipunan Avenue. She received her associate degree in culinary arts from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont.

Pauline drives all the way from Silang to Katipunan every day for her class. "The only adjustment I really had to make was having to wake up early every day," she says, "but then, there’s less traffic to contend with on the road. I’m more relaxed."

Pauline’s mom, Chingay, says, "It was not easy to uproot our family from our home in Forbes where we raised our three children." Chingay Diaz Lagdameo is the former dean of Assumption College, and wife of former DOTC Secretary Amadeo Lagdameo Jr. "Our personal history resides in Forbes where we lived for 35 years. When we first moved to Westgrove, we had a transition room in our new house that looked exactly like our den in Forbes," Chingay relates.

Even after her retirement, Chingay continues to keep a busy schedule. She is the executive director of the Metro Manila Community Orchestra (MMCO), which aims to bring music to the grassroots. Under her leadership, the Ayala Westgrove Heights Symphony Series, a touring concert series with the MMCO, has performed in different villages in Metro Manila for different fund-raising occasions.

"Living at Westgrove means country life in an urban setting," says Chingay who discovered Ayala Westgrove Heights serendipitously with her sister, Didit Diaz.

"Some say Westgrove is far," Didit remarks, "but far from what? It’s just a matter of adjustment. I do my shopping in Alabang. There is SM and Robinsons in Sta. Rosa, and Rustan’s nearby. We have St. Scholastica’s College; Don Bosco and De La Salle University-Canlubang are not far."

Didit is active in church where she is a member of the Bible group and the liturgical committee. "We have organized the church choir where the members are the househelp of Westgrove residents," she says.

"Westgrove is not only for empty nesters," says Robert Lao. "It is a good place to raise children with its fresh air and open spaces, and countless opportunities for family activities. Many parents are willing to sacrifice the long commute to work rather than live in a crowded condo, which may be near their place of work, but the children suffer."

At 250 meters above sea level, Westgrove residents get a good view of Laguna de Bay on the west and Mt. Makiling on the east. "At night, Westgrove takes on a different personality," Chingay says, "with the lights of Laguna below and the silhouettes and shadows of trees inside the village. And on weekends, we can see the fireworks display at Enchanted Kingdom."

For Pauline, "Living at Westgrove is like always being on vacation." * * *
The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) is sponsoring the 2nd
Philippine Bird Festival themed "Endemik: Dito Lang sa Pinas" to be held on
September 22 to 23 at the Crossroad 77 Convenarium, Mother Ignacia Ave.
corner Scout Reyes St., QC.