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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Keeping an eye on the birds

Reader's Digest Asian Edition
November issue
Keeping an Eye on the Birds
By Ross Harper Alonso

Mike Lu

Mike Lu always loved nature. As a young boy, he watched Tarzan movies to see the animals and spend his weekends outdoors, listening to the quacking of wild ducks and watching birds fly over his grandparent's Manila home.

Lu's fascination with birds never left him and, after growing up and joining his family's industrial hand tool business, he founded the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines in 2003.

At first the club was very informal, doing little more than exchanging information among its 11 members. Soon, he realised that the club could play a role in educating Filipinos about their country's abundant bird life. A turning point came when Lu took a group of rural public school teachers on a bird-watching tour near Manila Bay.

"They were ecstatic to see even the most common birds," he recalls. "Their reaction both surprised and disturbed me since they come from forested provinces. I soon learned the science textbooks used in many schools still did not say much about Philippine wildlife."

The club's site, www.birdwatch.ph, has photos and information about the country's birds. Lu, as club president, started offering monthly guided birdwatching trips to the public and giving lectures in elementary schools. Two Manila universities later invited him to conduct bird-watching classes.

In November 2006 the Wild Bird Club took Anni Salinas, an environmental science instructor at the Philippine Military Academy, and her class of 60 to the Candaba Marsh, a major stopover point for 50 species of migrating water fowl north of Manila. "I teach military cadets who will one day be deployed to forests and remote mountain areas," says Salinas. "It is important they know to respect the environment and identify the birds so they can be role models and teach the locals."

Since 2003 club members and their guests have been documenting their trips. Photographs and details of bird sightings are added to the club's database, which is kept on its website. "If the sightings of a particular species started to lessen, it could go unnoticed if birdwatchers did not keep and compare past data," Lu explains.

The club's data collection is starting to make a difference. In 2004, Lu discovered that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had no information about bird sightings in wetlands within Metro Manila to contribute to the Asian Waterbird Census, a programme coordinated by Wetlands International in the Netherlands that monitors the status of wetlands and waterbird populations.

Lu jumped at the opportunity to help fill the gap. In January 2005 club members collected data from Coastal Lagoon in Manila Bay. "We recorded 2500 birds belonging to 25 waterbird species. It has become the club's annual project."

In April 2007, the census findings helped support the Department of Natural Resource's recommendation to conserve the mangroves and mudflats around Coastal Lagoon, and covinced President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to declare the site a critical habitat and ecotourism area.

"Because of Mike's clear vision and the member's commitment to teach the public to appreciate our birds, the Department of Tourism now recognises the potential of bird-watching in the country and has funded the first Philippine bird-watching guidebook," says Bebet Gozun, former Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Today the Wild Bird Club has more than 200 members. While Lu is pleased with what the club has accomplished, he knows there is a lot of work left to do. "We owe it to succeeding generations to eliminate environmental threats by making sure our environmental laws are enforced now," he says.