By Ross Harper Alonso
ZSCMST Tourism students birdwatching in the
Photo by Cristina Cinco
“I was dismayed beyond belief!” recalls Gina Mapua, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines when she saw the first footages last Septmber of the Zamboanga City siege on the news. “I was so sad for our club members and our local partners who were working so hard to prepare to celebrate the bird festival in Zamboanga on October 4 and 5.”
The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines was organized in July 2003 to promote birdwatching to the general public and to keep bird sightings records for the country. Since 2005, the WBCP has hosted annual bird festivals as an educational and awareness raising event. The festivals offer guided birdwatching tours, a chance for participants and local partners to display products and share information of their bird sightings. The number of local and foreign participants from the East Asian region has grown steadily through the years, making it one of the largest ecological festivals in the country today. “The primary aim of the bird festival is to increase awareness of the value of wild birds and conservation of their natural habitat,” explains Mapua. “But because it also makes an economic contribution to the communities that host the festival, especially those involved in ecotourism, everyone works to maintain a healthy balance between the two.”
In December 2012 the Department of Tourism Region IX and the Department of Natural Resources IX expressed interest to promote Pasonanca Park in Zamboanga as a birdwatching destination. The Pasonanca Park was one of the birdwatching sites the WBCP highlighted in the book Birdwatching in the Philippines, a project headed by former DOT secretary Ace Durano because of the Zamboanga Bulbul, a Mindanao endemic bird found only in the Zamboanga peninsula.
In February 2013 members of the WBCP flew to Zamboanga City to conduct an ocular tour to assess birdwatching sites. “We were astounded by the diversity of ecosystems in Zamboanga,” says Mike Lu, a founding member of WBCP. “We felt we found hidden treasure troves of endemic birds and wildlife. From the fern-laden forests in Mt Baluno, the city’s Intake Watershed in Pasonanca to the fishponds teeming with nesting egrets and herons of the Zamboanga State College for Marine Sciences and Technology (ZSCMST), to hundreds of thousands of Barn Swallows in downtown to the mangrove-lined lagoons of Sta Cruz Grande. These were all amazing discoveries,” he adds. Clearly smitten by Zamboanga City’s people, flora and fauna, the WBCP announced the 9th PBF would be held in Zamboanga City in October 2013. It was happy and exciting news for everyone. “ It was not a difficult decision to make,” shares Mapua. “We decided on Zamboanga for many wonderful reasons. First, the city is blessed with intact natural environments. A short walk from Paseo del Mar and you have the mangroves and fishponds of the Zamboanga State College of Marine Sciences and Technology (ZSCMST). These were already perfect venues because we won’t have to travel far to see the birds and introduce them to students and visitors. But there were even more bird sanctuaries close by. Great Egrets are migratory but we found them breeding within the city limits. Certain streets in the city also serve as roosts for thousands of Barn Swallows and Pacific Swallows. Just 20 minutes from the city center is the Pasonanca Watershed, a lush forest noisy with bird song and the beautiful rush of clean and pure water.”
Invitations were immediately sent out after the formal launch held in Manila in July to local and foreign conservation organizations to participate in the PBF.
A pair of Great Egrets in breeding plumage
at the ZSCMST fishponds
WBCP received positive responses from Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Thailand and locally from Philippine Eagle Foundation (Davao), Katala Foundation (Palawan), Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (Negros Occidental), Penagmanakki (Negros Oriental), amongst others. DOT Usec Ma. Victoria Jasmin sent out a memorandum to all regional offices endorsing the PBF.
Just 2 weeks before the battle between the military and MNLF broke out, members of the WBCP flew to Zamboanga City again to finalize the activities. They were touched to see students had eagerly taken to birdwatching on their own as if a new world had just been open for them. The festival partners presented the WBCP with more pleasant surprises.
ZSCMST president Dr. Milavel Nazario displayed a blue print of the viewing deck the school intended to build in time for the bird festival. DOT Region IX Director Mary June Bugante showed the layout of the festival venue with booths to resemble huts to create a barrio fiesta atmosphere. The city government shared their plans for a parade of exhibitors and schools as part of the Opening Ceremonies for the PBF. The Camera Club of Zamboanga was getting ready to mount a photo exhibit of the flora and fauna found within the city. Everything was more than perfect till September 6.
Since the war broke out, the members WBCP and participants of the Bird festival watched in horror as the fighting raged on for weeks. With broken hearts, the WBCP has decided to cancel the 9th Philippine Bird Festival this year but they are determined to hold it in Zamboanga in February next year, back-to-back with the Dia de Zamboanga festivities.
View of the heronry at the ZSCMST fishponds
The WBCP urges the Zamboanguenos not to forget the festival’s bright logo of the barn swallow, a migratory bird that roosts in the hundreds of thousands in downtown Zamboanga but more importantly its theme, “ Pajaros: Bula sin miedo, sin lingasa (Birds: Fly without fear, without worry) “We vow to go back. We cannot give up on this jewel of a city,” promises Mapua.” “See you all again very soon!”