The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
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Japanese scientists work with PHL birdwatchers on birds of prey study

GMA News
August 24, 2013

Open forum with Carmela Espanola, Tatsuyoshi Murate,
Toru Yamazaki

Japan-based Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network (ARRCN) chose a group of local bird-watching enthusiasts, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines,to partner with in a research project from September to November this year.

The research effort aims to study the flight patterns of raptors – or birds of prey – that pass through the Philippine skies or stop over in our lands before continuing their flight south during winter seasons.

Among the birds they will be monitoring are the Grey-faced Buzzard, the Oriental Honey Buzzard, the Chinese Sparrowhawk, and the Japanese Sparrowhawk.

This three-week project is funded by the Japanese Fund for Global Environment.

For five days each week, a team of biologists and enthusiasts will track and identify several species of raptors in three choke points in Palawan, Rizal, and Davao Oriental.

It is the first formally organized research effort to study raptor migration in the country.

Hobbyists and scientists

“The Philippines is very complicated,” said ARRCN president and founder, Dr. Toru Yamazaki. Because of the spread out islands and erratic terrain, the raptors seem to disperse to several routes.

The ARRCN asked the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines to check the country’s terrain and hypothesize the most probable choke points where raptors fly in flocks.

This preparation, which was lead by Alex Tiongco, hobbyist and member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, took half a year.

Tiongco and a few other members accumulated all data available and scouted the terrain for possible choke points. This year, they found three: Balabac, Palawan, Tanay, Rizal, and Mati, Davao.

“We're starting small, and eventually we can add more sites,” said Dr. Carmela Española, wildlife ecologist and University of the Philippines professor.

The team composed of members from both ARRCN and the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines plans to first check the arrival of the raptors in northern part of the Philippines, look at possible dispersal points in Tanay and Balabac, and check one exit point that is Mati, Davao.

Symposium at the CSLAB Auditorium,
University of the Philippines

Knowledge gaps

The Philippines is a “black hole” when it comes to raptor migration patterns, said Española.

As winter approaches northern parts of Asia like Mongolia and Taiwan, raptors migrate to the south where there is abundance of food and ideal weather to hatch their young.

Raptors who follow the East Asian-Australasian Flyway – one of the main flight routes of birds – pass by the Philippine skies. Researchers count the number of raptors that leave the north and arrive in the south.

Most of the time, their numbers don’t balance out. “Minsan ang daming umaalis ng north, tapos kakaunti lang ang dumarating sa south. We don’t know where a significant number of them go,” Española explained.

“Minsan naman, kakaunti lang yung pumapasok [sa Philippines]. Pag labas nila sa may Mindanao, napakarami naman,” she said. “So saan nanggaling yung nadagdag na iyon?”

“What we know is very incomplete,” she said.  “Wala talagang gumagawa ng ganitong study formally and thoroughly.”

“[Unlike] other countries in southeast Asia, the Philippines does not have proper research [efforts on] raptor habitat, conservation, and migration,” said Tiongco.

“Citizen science” leads

Most raptor studies in the Philippines are done by enthusiasts and hobbyists: people with day jobs or flexible time schedules who spend their weekends searching the skies for raptors in flight.

The 230 members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, for instance, range from elementary, high school and college students, policemen, lawyers, priests, and so on.

But since they are not full-time raptor researchers, studies that should be done continuously throughout a month are only done during weekends by a limited number of people.

Yet, they have systems put in place and a database that contains all the members’ reports.

Some members are biology students, ornithologists, and people from the academe who teach their fellow members how to properly identify and record raptor species.

“May systems in place naman once you join the club,” said Lu-ann Fuentes, one of the founding members.

The club has been working on a database where all reports of bird citing are recorded since its informal founding in 2003.

They have a rigid records committee that scans and reviews the members’ reports. “Matindi ang aming records committee,” said Española.

"People actually submit reports. People actually go out to watch birds,” said Española.

Birds as barometers

Raptors are at the top of the local food chain.

“They're the top predators. If you remove [them], it will cause an imbalance in the system. The whole flow of nutrients, mag-iiba,” said Española.

It will cause an imbalance in the food chain and will eventually affect human society.

“But the extent as to which it affects us, we don't know because we have not studied the ecology of it,” she said.

A clearer picture of their ecology will give us better insight on their effect on human lives.

There are 30 species of raptors in the Philippines, Tiongco said. Six are endemic or found only in the Philippines.

Out of all the 30, only the Philippine Eagle has been studied in detail.

“That's the shining glory [of our country] and that's very, very well studied,” he said.  — ELR, GMA News