Birdwatching in the City
June 03, 2007
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Birders or bird watchers
are a strange lot. They hike through forests, trudge on landfills,
and stroll in cemeteries armed with bins (binoculars), water and
crackers. Moving slowly, they look for birds.
"Birdwatchers hike through forest, trudge on landfills,
and stroll through cemeteries"
They wear light clothing, sensible shoes and
hats. The wiser ones slather sun block all over their bodies.
They bring a field guide, a little book with
loads of information on birds with corresponding pictures. Highly
recommended but increasingly difficult to find is “The Guide
to the Birds of the Philippines,” by Robert S. Kennedy et.
al., published by Oxford Press.
This is how birders do it: They see a bird (with
the naked eye or with bins), they identify it, and they write
it in their journal. If they can’t identify the bird, they
look it up in the field guide. If it’s not there, they make
notes, a rough sketch of the bird or even take a picture for future
Beginners usually go with seasoned birders, or
if they can afford it, hire a guide. Ironically enough, the renowned
bird guide in the Philippines is British and his clients are foreign
Call of the wild
Another option is to join the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
(WBCP), a fun bunch of diverse people (businessmen, teachers,
students, IT professionals, even bums) brought together by the
beauty of Philippine birds in their natural habitat.
"WBCP, a fun bunch of diverse people ..."
To promote bird watching, WBCP conducts free monthly
guided bird walks on weekends around the metropolis. Monthly destinations
are posted on www.birdwatch.ph.
There are more than 570 species of birds in the
Philippines and no fewer than 180 species are endemic or found
only in the archipelago, according to WBCP president Mike Lu.
Unfortunately, 10 are endangered, and 11 are critically endangered
and in peril of extinction.
The most famous endemic species is the critically endangered Philippine
A new bird species, the Calayan Rail, was discovered in 2004 in
the Babuyan Island group between Batanes and Northern Luzon, and
faces a "high risk of extinction in the wild."
Toys for birders
While most bird watchers are happy with a reasonably priced Hahn
8 x 42 binoculars, the serious birders prefer Leica or even Swarovski
bins which cost between $1,500 and $ 2,500.
Another toy is the spotting scope and tripod which cost around
$1,000. A telescope is a steadier instrument that allows a birder
to see a bird, say, the Colasisi up close.
The Colasisi is the smallest Philippine parrot with bright green
feathers, a red head and rump.
There's also "digiscoping" or taking photographs of your favorite
bird using a digital camera and the scope as a telephoto lens.
This is how most of the pictures on this page were taken.
If you plan to bird watch in North America, there is a gizmo called
the National Geographic's Handheld Birds PDA (Personal Digital
Assistant) which cost about $400. It is a digitized field guide
with over 1,600 images of birds, and a searchable database of
867 North American bird species. It also features four hours of
song and bird call audios.
There is also a birdpod, which stores strictly bird calls in a
neat little package.
Bird watching "is a quest," according to WBCP, and it is a most
gratifying hobby because "you set out to see birds (and) the prize
you come back with can only be described as happiness."
If you "just watch, (and) don't catch," which is the ethical battlecry
of bird watchers worldwide, you're safe.
Dennis P. Liuag, a founding member of WBCP, says that if people
follow the basic rules of "staying away from sick birds; never,
ever handle dead ones; or capture ones from the wild," then the
danger of contracting bird flu is remote.
Arne Jensen, a Danish ornithologist, who is also a member of WBCP,
has come up with a code for good birdwatching:
1. Dress to suit the weather. Wear light clothes of natural colors,
preferably khaki and green. Be prepared to sweat and to get muddy.
An umbrella is useful in case it rains and for sun protection.
Wear a cap.
2. Bring water, sun block, food and a notebook. Pack them in a
small backpack and don't leave them in the car.
3. The best time for bird watching is from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and
from 5 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
4. Always keep your binoculars clean and dry.
5. Make as little noise as possible and speak in low voices or
whisper so you don’t scare the birds away.
6. Walk around slowly and make no sudden movements so you don’t
scare the birds away.
7. Hide in vegetation or stand next to a tree while observing
the birds, so you can get a closer look.
8. Do not stay near birds’ nests and never take their young
or their eggs.
9. Report illegal wildlife trade to accredited institutions and
NGOs like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources
(DENR) and Haribon-BirdLife.
10. Report rare and unusual birds to the Wild Bird Club Records
The WBCP has been helping the DENR in its task of collecting data
for the Asian Waterbird Census, which is a part of an annual global
survey of water birds.
As part of the government’s educational campaign under the
extensive Avian Influenza Protection Program, the Avian Influenza
Task Force has been issuing warnings against the dangers of hunting
and capturing migratory and other wild birds.
For more information on bird flu, visit www.da.gov.ph
or www.doh.gov.ph. The Department
of Health bird flu hotline is 711-6808 while the Department of
Agriculture bird flu hotline is 925-9999.
(Mata, a cat lover, is an amateur bird watcher.)