By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:21:00 10/22/2008
Whenever I have visitors coming in from other
countries, I email them to ask if there's anything in particular
that they want to do or see in the Philippines. Last year,
with one particular American visitor, I was surprised when
he emailed back and said he wanted to see birds.
Fortunately, it was an interest I had as
well. Only a few months earlier, I had joined two bird-watching
tours organized by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines so
I was able to arrange for the bird-watching quite quickly.
Conveniently, one of the best birding sites in the country
is the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon
City, where my visitor, Jim, was staying. This year, when
Jim came visiting again, he joined another birding tour organized
by the club.
I would like to think Jim will be one of
many foreigners visiting the Philippines in the years to come,
coming to enjoy our eco-tourism activities. Bird-watching
will undoubtedly be a major attraction since we have 600 different
bird species, 200 of which are endemic, meaning, they are
found only in the Philippines.
Birdwatching in the Philippines, Volume 1 Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano is convinced
that we can build bird tourism, and he’s walked the
talk by supporting the publication of what will be a series
of manuals, “Birdwatching in the Philippines.”
Volume 1 was launched last September, produced within a few
months by the Department of Tourism in cooperation with the
Wild Bird Club and the Recreational Outdoor Exchange. The
manual was written by Carlos M. Libosada Jr., and Robert Alejandro
handled the book design. Arnel Telesforo did the illustrations;
many photographs came from a team of professional photographers,
all bird-watchers themselves.
The manual is a guide to several bird-watching
sites: Puerto Princesa City’s Subterranean River National
Park; Rasa Island (Narra, Palawan); Hundred Islands National
Park; Bangrin Marine Protected Area (Bani, Pangasinan); Subic
Bay Freeport Zone; Balanga City (Bataan); Candaba Marsh (Pampanga);
Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat; Mt. Palay-Palay
National Park (Ternate, Cavite); Villa Escudero (Tiaong, Quezon),
Alcoy Forest (Cebu); Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary (Lapu-Lapu
City) and the Philippine Eagle Center (Davao City).
I intentionally named all the sites to show
that there’s bound to be a good bird-watching site near
you. When the other volumes come out, I’m hoping we’ll
have a guide to the University of the Philippines (UP) in
Diliman and nearby Ateneo de Manila University. Yes, the rivalry
between the two schools runs all the way up to birds, and
so far UP Diliman has chalked up almost a hundred bird species.
(We’ll leave the basketball rivalry with Ateneo to De
La Salle University for now.)
Now that I’ve gotten you excited about
the manual, I have some bad news: it’s not available
yet in our bookstores. Apparently, tour operators bringing
in foreigners have been given priority. I got my copy through
the Wild Bird Club, which had a few copies available for its
I’m hoping that eventually not just
the tourism department but also other government agencies,
and NGOs can pitch in to make bird-watching and bird tourism
for Filipinos. After my American friend Jim got back from
his UP bird-watching, I was almost embarrassed as he named
all kinds of birds that he had seen, birds with which I wasn’t
familiar. In the tourism department’s manual, several
sites are listed with a note that local guides are not available,
which means the bird-watchers will have to rely on the manual
or one of the other guides, produced mainly by foreigners.
(The best one, published by Oxford, is “A Guide to the
Birds of the Philippines” by Robert S. Kennedy, Pedro
C. Gonzales, Edward C. Dickinson, Hector C. Miranda Jr. and
Timothy H. Fisher. I got my copy from a Powerbooks bookshop
a few years ago.)
Promoting bird-watching shouldn’t be
an activity for foreigners alone, or for the upper classes
with leisure time to spare. Bird-watching should be part of
education on science and the environment. Biology textbooks
usually refer to the birds of the Galapagos Islands, whose
different kinds of beaks showed how diverse bird species adapted
to the environment. Only after I joined the bird-watching
tours did I integrate photographs of our local birds to explain
evolution and adaptation, which become so much more real as
students appreciate why the “maya” has such a
short beak as compared with the kingfisher.
With so many kinds of birds in the Philippines—woodpeckers,
herons, sunbirds, flycatchers, eagles, hawks, sparrows—there’s
so much biology that can be taught painlessly, pointing out
differences in feathers, colors, legs, wingspan, even socialization
Bird-watching isn’t some imported western
fad. Birds are impossible to ignore and all cultures, including
our own, have observed these amazing creatures, naming them,
imitating them in song and dance and, sadly, capturing them
for their plumage, their beaks (the “kalaw,” or
hornbill), their eggs, their meat.
How do we revive the more benign pleasures
that come with bird lore? Children’s books and TV programs
can resurrect the birds from our folklore, from songs and
riddles to epics. We’ve even made up mythical ones like
Learn to appreciate the folk science around
birds. Their names alone tell us how intensely the birds were
observed. Recognizing the variations in environment, we have
pipit cogon, pipit “gubat” [forest], pipit “parang”
[meadow], for example. The blue rock-thrush is called “solitaryo,”
telling us this bird isn’t the sociable type.
From the “ti-ok” (white-breasted
waterhand) to the “ta-ta-li-lik” (Philippine woodpecker),
many bird names are onomatopoeic, taken from their calls.
The noise from one bird gave it a local name, “rak-rak-it”
as well as the English clamorous reed-warbler.
My social science side makes me wonder at
times about how we keep vacillating about a national bird.
At one time it was the tiny “maya,” or sparrow,
which led social commentators to ask if it reflected our tendency
to think small. So we shifted, almost as if to compensate,
to the fierce monkey-eating eagle. Does it say something about
WBCP VP Alice VIlla-Real conducts a
Enough of pop psychology for now. I did want
to plug Bird Season, a photographic exhibit of Philippine
birds at the UP Vargas Museum in Diliman. These are stunning
photographs of birds, from close-ups to birds in flight, many
almost as if the birds were posing for the photographers.
The exhibit was supposed to end early October but has been
extended to the 26th, so you only have this week left.
outside the Vargas Museum
You can also still sign up for one more guided
bird-watching expedition at UP Diliman, to be held this Saturday
at 6 a.m. Joining one such birding makes you eligible to join
the Wild Bird Club. For more information, contact the Vargas
Museum itself at 928-1927, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you can look at the Wild Bird Club website: