How the (bird) race was won
By Elvira Mata
First Posted 11:33pm (Mla time) 12/16/2007
MANILA, Philippines--THE POET Pablo Neruda
wrote, "Bird by bird I've come to know the earth."
I am not a fan of Neruda
or of bird watching but I do admire bird watchers because
they can go on and on--like Energizer bunnies.
But first a definition of terms: Bird watching is a
hobby where you observe birds in their natural habitat.
A bird race is where teams of three to four bird watchers
compete against each other in spotting, identifying
and recording the most number of bird species within
a given area. Like in golf, the honor system is used.
The best time to bird watch in Metro Manila
is between October and early December because migratory birds
from as far away as Siberia fly to the Philippines to escape
the cold weather, according to Mike Lu, president of the Wild
Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) and bird race organizer.
Ten teams, with four
members each (two must be WBCP mem bers and one must
be a newbie in bird watching) met at the ROX building
on Bonifacio High Street, Taguig City, in the afternoon
of Dec. 1. Each team was named after a Philippine bird.
There was Team Pipit, Labuyo, Kulasisi and so on. Newbie
bird watchers were raffled off to each of the teams
and the birding site for that day was announced--the
National Institute of Geological Sciences and the Hardin
ng mga Rosas on the University of the Philippines Diliman
As soon as they finished writing their team name on
their banner, they clocked in, ran to the parking lot,
jumped into their cars and drove like the wind--traffic
Group photo at the ROX Fort Bonifacio
Teams were given a list of 165 bird species
sighted in Metro Manila. At the end of the day, they were
supposed to tick the species they had spotted and how many
of each they had seen.
First-timers taking a quiz after the race |
Participants were armed
with the basic bird watching equipment: binoculars,
a field guide ("The Guide to the Birds of the Philippines"
by Robert S. Kennedy), paper and pen, hat, water and
nuts or a PowerBar for energy. Most wore hiking shoes,
cargo pants and long-sleeved shirts for protection from
insects, razor-sharp grass and sunburn.
Many of the teams left on or around 3 p.m., arriving
at record speed on the UP Diliman campus at 3:30 p.m.
This was where some teams spotted the rare Eurasian
Krestel. The most common bird species seen was the Eurasian
tree swallow popularly known as maya. Birders then called
it a day at dusk.
While the first day was a walk in the park, the second day
started at 6 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m. It was hot and it turned
out to be hell, at least for me, since I didn't get enough
sleep and didn't bring enough water.
This time, there were
three sites: The Tambo grasslands behind Coastal Mall
at the end of Roxas Boulevard, the Freedom Island mudflats
off the Cavite Coastal Road and the area behind the
Manila Film Center at the Cultural Center of the Philippines
Bird watching is best done in the late afternoon or
early morning, because this is when birds feed. So it
came as no surprise that one team was at the Tambo grasslands
at 5 a.m. waiting for the grass owl. Sorry, the bird
was a no show.
Another team took note of the tides, because more birds
would come out to feed during low tide.
Judges deliberate on sightings
At the outset, the teams were competitive, but on the second
day, everyone was having a good time, birding together as
Participants on the lookout for birds at the Tambo grasslands |
Did you see the Philippine
duck? asked one team of the other. No? Well, they flew
over that way. And the other team would start scouring
the sky and the bushes.
The Philippine duck is a threatened species found only
in the country (thus, the name). They have been sighted
around Freedom Island, which is why the area was declared
by President Macapagal-Arroyo as a Critical Habitat
and Ecotourism Area in April this year.
The birds I saw using the marshal's spotting scope were:
Common sandpiper, Asian golden plover, Common moorhen,
Grey herons, Great egrets, Little egrets, Whiskered
tern, the Black-crowned Night heron, Yellow bittern
and a White-collared kingfisher.
Of course, the bird watchers saw more.
At noon, we all drove to the Manila Film Center, where surprise,
surprise--the teams brought food to share. Someone even brought
brown rice and adobo. Another brought a carton of Gatorade,
which hit the right spot after six hours of birding.
And the winners are Team Lawin with members
Melanie Tan, a member of an environmental nongovernment organization;
Nielsen Donato, veterinarian of Vets in Practice, and Esteven
Toledo, a veterinarian assigned at the environment department's
Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. Their adopted newbie
is Jose Maria Paras, a senior UP law student. Collectively,
they saw 45 bird species.
How did they do it? Donato said they concentrated on the common
species while the other teams were looking for rare birds.
Teams Syokot and Kulasisi tied for best teamwork while the
most promising new birders were Carol Donato, Cynthia de Jesus
and Ricky Nunez.