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Migrant birds lead tourists to Balanga

Malaya
September 17, 2009

BY GENIVI FACTAO

The once sleepy city of Balanga first awoke to the sounds and sights of migratory birds. Next came the tourists.

Ribbon-cutting during the Dedication Ceremony at the Balanga City Wetland Park (L-R) Mike Lu, Anna Gonzales, Mayor Joet Garcia, Vice Mayor Noel Valdecanas
Ribbon-cutting during the Dedication Ceremony at the Balanga
City Wetland Park (L-R) Mike Lu, Anna Gonzales,
Mayor Joet Garcia, Vice Mayor Noel Valdecanas

The city east of Bataan is a perfect spot for bird watching of migrant shorebirds and waterfowls which come from all over the country and the northern hemisphere, said Manuel Banzon III, of Balanga served as our tourist guide.

Bataan Peninsula lies along what is known as the East Asian -Australian flyway, where many birds undertake an annual North-South migration pattern all over the world. Balanga is an ideal stop over to migrating forest and water birds from Russia , China , Japan , Korea , Siberia and as far as Canada .

Mayor Joet Garcia said there are about 15,000 birds with 35 species that visit Balanga. They include Little Egrets, Purple Herons, Brahminy Kites, Peregrine Falcon, Chestnut Checked Starling, White Breasted Waterhens, Rails, Wood Sandpiper, Rufous Necked Stint, Grey Heron and species of Kingfishers, flower peckers and Sandpipers.

Since Balanga has preserved thick mangrove forest, grassland and wetland, it served as a favorable roosting for crows, waterhens, kites, falcons, hawks, pigeons, herons, and egrets.

"They are best spotted at 6 in the morning and in the afternoon during the months starting October to March," Garcia said.

He said bird watching is educational and at the same time promotes tourism, and which when fully utilized, its potentials can bring investment opportunities and profit for the local government.

He added that this ecotourism activity can attract tourists from different parts of the world. At the recently concluded 5th Bird Festival held by the city, there were at least 60 foreign tourists from Malaysia , Singapore , Taiwan , Hong Kong and Korea .

The European market, tagged as one of the high-spending tourism segments, is targeted for its preference of adventure tourism like bird watching.

"Bird watching has a big market and in the United Kingdom alone, there are more than a million bird watchers," Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said.

Durano said Balanga, is where he he saw his "first love"-- the Black Winged Stilts, to which he gushed "wow legs", because it’s a red long- legged bird. As an amateur bird watcher, I spotted Egrets, Terns and Black Winged Stilt, in the seaside village of Tortugas .

I learned at the 5th Philippine Bird Festival Balanga, that Egret is a common species, usually easily seen feeding in shallow water or drier habitats, spearing fish, frogs or insects.

The Great Egret (Egretta alba) is a large bird with all white plumage that can reach 101 cm in height and weigh up to 950 g.

The Great Egret is partially migratory, with northern hemisphere birds moving South from areas with cold winters. It breeds in colonies in trees close to large lakes with reed beds or other extensive wetlands. It will often wait motionless for prey, or slowly stalk its victim.

Balanga is a unique city that thrives by promoting education, culture, tourism, technology and environmental awareness.

Perspective of the Balanga City Wetland Park Information Center by Arch't Anna Gonzales
Perspective of the Balanga City Wetland Park Information
Center by Arch't Anna Gonzales

Mayor Garcia said their Balanga Wetland Park project, with a land area of about 2 hectares, require investments amounting to P20 million to P30 million.

He said the thick mangrove forest, wetland, grassland, mudflats and sand flat of Balanga are unique characteristic that makes it a home to rare birds endemic to the Philippines .

The local chief said there are few hotel investors in the province that have seen a potential boom in the industry.

"We have already poured in P5 million for the Infocenter in our Wetland Park and construction is going on with the help of Wild Bird Club who made the design. No fees were being collected from bird watchers, but they are encouraged to plant in mangrove area to help in the development of the land," he said.

He added that after they have completed the park, they would realize some income for the city government.

"We can also set up boats going to the wetland, which can be a good source of revenues. We only have small hotels here with less than 500 rooms, so we encouraged those who have big houses to have them rented or offer bed and breakfast facility for tourists. Our thrust is less structure to make it more natural, the better," he added.

The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, a leading conservation organization in the United Kingdom assisted the Department of Tourism and other agencies in the preservation and promotion of wetlands for wildlife habitat.