The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

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Birdwatching in the City

Birdwatching in the City
June 03, 2007
Elvira Mata
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
"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 reference.

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 bird watchers.

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 Eagle.

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.

Gratifying

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."

Bird flu

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 Committee.

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.)