By Margaux Ortiz
Last updated 06:54am (Mla time) 05/31/2007
MANILA, Philippines - White-collared Kingfishers, black-naped orioles
and blue-tailed bee-eaters. Who says you can't see any of these spectacular feathered
beauties in the busy, polluted metropolis?
White-collared Kingfisher, the "blue bird"
that got WBCP VP Alice Villa-Real into bird watching
Contrary to what most city dwellers believe, there's more to the
urban eye than the once ubiquitous maya-which has also been noticeably disappearing
from the streets.
According to Michael Lu, president of the Wild Bird Club of the
Philippines, there are actually more than 100 species of birds in Metro Manila alone.
"These birds, wary of humans who trap and hurt them, are very shy
and thrive in selected areas in the metropolis," Lu told the Inquirer.
He explained that the club has identified good birding sites in Metro
Manila, and these are located on school campuses of the University of the Philippines
in Diliman and Ateneo de Manila University on Katipunan Avenue, graveyards like the
American Cemetery in Taguig City and undeveloped reclamation sites in Parañaque City.
"We identified these areas shortly after forming the club in 2003,"
Lu explained. He recalled that it was by taking out a map and identifying the green
areas in the metropolis that they were able to discover the wealth of feathered species
still thriving despite the rife urbanization.
"We also found out that there are many, many kinds of birds in the
Philippines which are not shown in our school textbooks," Lu said.
WBCP members bird watching in Olango Island, Cebu
There are actually 580 species of birds in the country, 30 percent of
which are endemic or found nowhere else in the world, according to Lu.
"Sadly, if you show their pictures to people, they cannot identify
these birds," he added.
Lu, a businessman, said he was inspired to form a bird watching club
after he came by chance upon a book, "The Birds of the Philippines," showcasing the
country's feathered wildlife five years ago.
"As a child, I was a nature lover. I was baffled why there were not
that many wild animals in the provinces I went to during summer," Lu recalled,
"I was surprised to learn that there were actually pelicans in Laguna
Lake in the early 1900s," Lu said. "I wondered if I would ever see these birds. It was
then that I decided to join an environmental organization," he added.
But Haribon Foundation's annual bird watching activity was not enough
for Lu. With another companion from the organization, he decided to explore Metro Manila
for possible birding sites.
Their first bird watching "expedition" at Ateneo amazed Lu. He and
his companion found out that there were at least 10 species of birds on the campus.
"I remember listening to my friend in disbelief when she excitedly
told me about a woodpecker sighting," Lu said with a laugh.
Keen on finding other bird enthusiasts, Lu searched the Internet and
was disappointed to find out that most articles about local birds were written by
foreigners. However, he felt a glimmer of hope when he chanced upon an online bird
watching forum where some Filipinos were participants.
"I sent e-mails to all the Filipino participants, asking them if they
wanted to go bird watching with me," Lu said. A year after, the Wild Bird Club was
"We realized that we had to form an organization for people to talk
to us and treat us seriously especially whenever we would go to other places," Lu said,
adding that he was also encouraged to form the club by British bird watchers.
From only a few members, the club eventually expanded as word about
their activities spread. The organization now has more than 100 members, with ages
ranging from 8 to 80, according to Lu.
Club vice president Alice Villa-Real, a human resource development
officer, said she joined the organization after an accidental encounter with a blue
bird in the countryside.
Villa-Real, who is also into astronomy as a hobby, was fiddling with
her refracting telescope in Batangas when she saw an astonishing sight.
"The bright blue bird was just flying around, practically within
reach. I had never seen anything like it," she recounted. It was a pivotal moment for
Villa-Real, who at that moment became a bird enthusiast.
Upon reaching home, she immediately went to a bookstore and looked up
books on the subject. In "The Photographic Guide to Philippine Birds," she learned the
name of the beautiful bird she had just spotted-a white-collared kingfisher.
Not contented, she searched the Internet for related topics and found
the club's web site. She immediately became a member after contacting Lu, she said.
"Bird watching is a good way to relax and appreciate the wealth of
bird species we have in the country," Villa-Real said.
Aside from weekly bird watching trips for all the members, the club
also conducts a guided trip for the general public once a month.
"The trip is free; interested bird watchers only need to pay a P50
rental fee for the binoculars if they do not have their own," Lu said.
The club also maintains records of the number and kind of bird
species seen on each of their trips, according to its president.
"At first, our maintenance of a bird database was just for fun," the
Wild Bird Club president said. He explained that they would take note of the migratory
and resident birds seen on each bird watching activity.
However, what started as a hobby eventually became
a serious task for the bird watchers. Lu said that an inquiry
with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)
a few years ago showed that the government has no records of bird
populations in Metro Manila.
“We just wanted to cross-check our data on Manila Bay birds
with the DENR but they said they had no information on birds thriving
in the area,” Lu recalled, adding that the club then contributed
their first data on birds found in Navotas and Parañaque.
He added that the DENR had kept records of bird species in 70
sites throughout the country but none in Metro Manila.
“Apparently, people never identified Metro Manila as a possible
bird habitat,” Lu said. “They were surprised when
we told them that the average number of birds we have seen in
Parañaque was 5,000 in one morning.”
Lu said the mangrove island behind Coastal Mall in Parañaque
is a rich bird habitat. At low tide, a variety of birds would
perch on the mudflats and feed on crabs, shells and fish.
“Between the Coastal Mall, Macapagal Boulevard and that
area, I was surprised to note more than 100 species, 70 percent
of which are migratory,” Lu said. He explained that the
migratory birds flock to the Philippines to escape from the cold
winters in China or Siberia.
The club’s database on birds again proved invaluable when
they were asked to provide data to the DENR on the coastal lagoons
of Las Piñas and Parañaque.
“Last March, we wrote Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes
and asked him to help save the lagoon,” Lu said.
WBCP VP Alice Villa-Real and President
Mike Lu in a discussion
with DENR Sec. Angelo Reyes during the 2nd Philippine Bird Festival
Last April 20, Lu said the DENR chief called up the Protected
Areas and Wildlife Bureau and asked them to make the proper documentation
on the birds thriving in the particular site.
“On Earth Day, April 22, President Macapagal-Arroyo declared
the lagoons a protected area,” Lu said, smiling.
With the proclamation, the 175-hectare area spanning the two southern
Manila cities will be known as the Las Piñas-Parañaque
Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area.
Lu said it was an award that the club received from the World
Bank as an “environmental champion” in 2004 that prompted
them to create other important activities such as the annual Philippine
Bird Festival and the Raptor Watch.
The annual festival, first held in November 2005, was conceived
to educate children and the general public on the different species
of birds in the country and the importance of preserving their