tourism soars to greater heights
By JACKY LYNNE A. OIGA
October 17, 2009, 3:04pm
Aves en vuelo. Birds in flight.
The moist wetlands serve as a natural
for transient wildlife. (Photo by RUDY LIWANAG)
The splendor of white winged aves would seem
elusive to the naked eye, but witnessing their flight creates
a symphony in the mind - of perpetuity, freedom, space and
The art of bird watching may vary among different
people. Bird watching at its best is a sport, a fervent hobby
to spot wild birds through sensory skill and long patience.
At its worst, it is a mad rush to sanctuaries, and birds ticked
off by the sound of gun shots that force them out from hiding.
But bird watching, in its simplest sense,
entails more than that. It is the art of discovering how birds
live, the painstaking study of each bird’s unique features,
a first row ticket to nature’s timeless act.
It is neither a haughty pastime nor a hunting
fixation, but it has become the fastest growing outdoor activity
in the UK and North America and a lot of their most sought-after
species – may it be migratory or endemic (species exclusively
native to a certain place) – can be found in the Philippines.
The Bataan Peninsula lies at the East Asian-Australian
Flyway where a massive number of wintering shorebirds and
waterfowl embark on an annual north to south migration pattern
during the months of September to March. As these birds travel,
they make a stopover in Balanga, Bataan to find refuge in
its thick mangrove forest, mudflats, and vast wetlands.
In the Asian Bird Census of January 2009,
more than 15,000 migratory birds with 35 different species
arrived in Balanga’s Sibacan and Tortugas sites including
the rare Chinese Egret, Grey Heron, Whiskered Terns, sandpipers
and plovers. These birds annually flock to Balanga to linger
in the city’s moist wetlands that serve as a natural
habitat for transient wildlife.
However, aside from providing shelter for
wintering birds, the Balanga wetlands also serve as nesting
grounds to endemic bird species – making it one of the
biggest bird watching sites in the country.
With hopes to raise the bar of awareness
about the bird life of the islands and to drum up public support
for the conservation of the Balanga wetlands, the Wild Bird
Club of the Philippines (WBCP) together with the provincial
government of Balanga and the Department of Tourism (DoT)
opened the 5th Philippine Bird Festival, the country’s
largest celebration of bird lore awareness and avifaunal diversity
Bird watchers, conservationists and nature
enthusiasts from London, Taiwan , Singapore , Hong Kong, and
Malaysia trooped to Balanga to attend the Bird Festival last
October 9 that marked the arrival of the wintering shorebirds
from mainland Asia and Japan .
Tourism Secretary Ace Durano believes that Balanga presents
a strong potential to become a major eco-tourism site for
western tourists with bird watching at the forefront.
“Bird watching is the fastest growing
hobby in the west. It has a big market of long staying tourists
specifically from the UK. Balanga is not actually a traditional
tourist destination but if we can preserve the wetlands and
develop a world class wetland park, bird watching can propel
Balanga to the mainstream tourism traffic,” Durano explained.
Durano added that the biggest bird watching
festival in Asia is usually held in Taiwan which is very unfortunate,
he pointed out, since the Philippines has the most number
of wild birds in Asia with over 600 species, of which 200
are endemic to the country.
Balanga is the latest bird watching site
in the Philippines to be promoted worldwide by DoT and Balanga’s
Mayor Jose Enrique Garcia III was pleased to announce that
the city government has started the construction of the Nature
and Wetland Park in Tortugas to cater to the international
bird watching market.
“Currently we are constructing a wetland
park on a one hectare area which is a part of the Manila Bay
coast line. The spot is perfect for a wetland development
site because it is surrounded by fishponds and mangroves.
The WBCP is helping us design the park and create more public
green spaces,” Mayor Garcia said.
But the importance of bird life and avifaunal
diversity doesn’t stop with tourism development alone.
According to Bird Festival Committee chair Alice Villa-Real,
the more species of birds found in a location, the better
the state of environment.
“The population of birds in the country
is directly proportional to the Filipinos’ quality of
life. Their absence in the environment reflects the denudation
of forests or wetlands that serve as nesting grounds to endemic
species and migratory birds,” Villa-Real said.