Business World, June 19, 2014
THE PHILIPPINES is one of the top five countries in the world blessed with endemic bird species. Out of the country’s more than 600 bird varieties, more than 200 are found only in the Philippines.
A branch full of Palawan Hornbills at an El Nido resort. Photo by Jamie Dichaves
“As an archipelago, the Philippines boasts of islands of endemics. There are many species only found in Palawan. Moreover, because of its proximity to Borneo, some Borneo birds are also found in the El Nido Resorts (in Palawan). Filipinos need not travel to Borneo to see some of these birds. Palawan enables you to see some of the Borneo birds here as well as Philippine birds,” said birder Maia Tañedo, vice-president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.
She herself once spotted the Pin-striped Tit-babbler, which thrives in Southeast Asia, but not commonly seen in the Philippines, in Lagen’s low vegetation.
Lagen, one of the four properties of El Nido Resorts (ENR) in Palawan, can be counted as one of the world’s best birding sites, and its feathered residents keep the guests company all day. As one nears the island, one may see Eastern Reef Egrets skimming the water. Upon arrival at the Lagen pier, one may be regaled by Glossy Swiftlets or Pacific Swallows in an aerial dance. As guests walk towards their accommodations, they are likely be welcomed by the colorful Stork-billed Kingfisher posing on a branch in front of the limestone cliffs that embrace the resort -- no need for binoculars to take a good look at it.
When foreigners, mostly members of other bird watching clubs in other countries, specifically book for a birding itinerary, Ms. Tañedo and other bird watchers and bird guides take them to locales which make for rewarding watching. They can look at the birds up closely, study their markings and habits. During summer, when the populace bursts, more species are flapping around and preening for their mates.
“Unfortunately, there are places that are not appreciative of wildlife and their role in the ecosystem. Birds and animals are hunted in these areas. On the other hand, where birds, insects and native trees thrive, such as Lagen, a birder can just sit in one place and birds will suddenly appear,” said Anna Gonzales, Ayala Land, Inc. sustainability manager and avid bird watcher.
The diversity of Lagen’s bird population and the friendliness of the birds are attributed to the protection of the islands of Bacuit Bay where three of the four ENR are located. The properties, named after the islands where they are located, are: Miniloc, Lagen, Pangulasian. The fourth ENR, Apulit, is in Taytay Bay.
The Palawan Hornbill, with its black plumes and white casque and tail and trademark “kaaw,” is often spotted in groups on the fruit trees in Lagen’s forests.
The White-vented Shama, a black bird with a white tail, is often seen sitting in one of the lower tree branches, breaking out in song. Lagen’s Shamas are so friendly one can easily see them without the help of binoculars. Kingfishers can be seen in the mangroves and cliffs. Eastern reef egrets glide above the low tide. Among a flight of mixed birds, the Palawan tits stand out for their olive and yellow backs and contrasting striped tails.
“ENR resorts are very unique. They were developed and are managed so that a guests’ stay is enhanced by a heightened awareness of the environment, while afforded the best resort experience,” said Ms. Gonzales. “People are more protective of what they know and, what they appreciate, they grow to love. This mind-set is adopted by practically every employee of El Nido Resorts, with the resorts’ activities, staff and environmental officers sharing their accumulated knowledge of the ecosystem in fun ways.”
Last year, ENR won the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards (TTA), the “Oscars” of global ecotourism awards. TTA winners have proven that they can successfully balance business and environmental practices while benefiting the host community.
Recently, ENR President Laurent Lamasuta committed the four resorts to uphold the World Tourism Organization’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism. The code is a fundamental frame of reference for responsible and sustainable tourism and includes 10 principles that cover the economic, social, cultural and environmental components of tourism.
ENR staff are trained not only to pamper guests but also to educate them on the bird species, fish and marine invertebrates that flourish in the properties.
In addition to scuba divers and marine enthusiasts, ENR has been attracting local and international birders to its nature reserves. Keen on getting better acquainted with our local birds, they subsequently extend their trips or become repeat visitors.
“Birders open people’s eyes to the beauty of the Philippines. Birding is an opportunity to know the country better,” says Ms. Tañedo.
Ms. Gonzales points out that birds such as the Hornbill can plant more trees than human beings as they help to germinate and fertilize the seeds. They also reduce the population of insects, which may become pests if their numbers are left uncurbed.
“Birds are basically managers of our ecosystems. If we just allow birds to be free, they will continue to plant and maintain vegetation and the population of insects that may potentially be pests. This is how they sustain the balance in nature. Last, but certainly not the least, birds are also very beautiful and could really make one’s travels more meaningful,” said Ms. Gonzales.