DOG DAZE By Kathy Moran | Philippine Star November 9, 2014 - 12:00am
Tagaytay Highlands and the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines seal their partnership through an exchange of tokens led by Lenrick Marcelo, Tagaytay Highlands events manager; Phillip Medina, Tagaytay Highlands marketing director; Claire Kramer, Tagaytay Highlands general manager; Gina Mapua, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines president; Dinggay Cinco, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines secretary and Tagaytay Highlands member; and Willem Van de Ven, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines vice president.It was a Saturday. A perfect day to go birdwatching, I was told.
I hopped into the car and drove off to Tagaytay Highlands. I got to Tagytay in time for lunch, but was told that it was not the best time to catch the birds as it was too hot for them to be flying about.
"The birds, just like people, must be taking a break," said Gina Mapua, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines president. "But perhaps you can watch our presentations first and then at about 5 p.m. we can go check out the birds here at the Highlands."
"Isn't birdwatching, er, boring?" I asked, a little timidly, not wanting to offend.
"Not at all. It is very exciting for us birders because we get to see birds in their natural habitat. There are many migratory birds, too," said Gina. "It is also a good form of exercise because we do a lot of walking. And in order to get to see a rare bird, it is necessary that we are quiet."
Gina shared with me that the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines was formed to provide a place for people who share an interest in watching wild birds in the Philippines, and to provide support and records to other groups with similar interests.
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If you are one of those people who, like me, have seen only a handful of birdwatchers in your lifetime, then you are aware that these folks go around with binoculars, a camera and a notebook. The notebook is to keep a record of the birds that they see. This way, the many sightings of what might be considered rare bird finds go into the records of the club. And yes, there are lots of people who really enjoy birdwatching and writing down in their little notebooks their experiences and sightings of the rarest birds they find.
"Through the activities of the club, we are able to do our own share in the protection of the habitat of the wild birds. By doing this, we help sustainable management of both the flora and fauna of the Philippines," said Gina.
Just like Gina, I believe that birds should fly free — not be caged as pets or exhibits. It is a sad day for me when I see birds — obviously caught in the wild — being sold in the streets. Sadder still when people actually stop to buy these birds.
For any one interested in birdwatching, here's a list of the most frequently asked questions about the subject:
• What's the difference between birding and birdwatching?
Birding and birdwatching mean the same thing — the activity of observing wild birds. Birds in cages or any form of captivity don't count.
• What do people do when they go birding?
Birdwatchers observe wild birds in their natural habitat. Birdwatching means learning to identify the birds and understanding what they are doing.
• Where do you watch birds?
Birding is something you can do in your own backyard (it's a habitat too), your local park, anywhere you travel, or on trips you take specifically to see birds that live in a certain environment, such as in a marshland in Candaba, or in the old-growth forests of the Northern Sierra Madre or in a more urban setting such as UP Diliman.
• Who watches birds?
People of all ages watch birds. It's an activity you can keep doing all your life, in any part of the world.
Birding is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in America. According to a survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 51.3 million Americans report that they watch birds. And more are taking it up all the time.
Here in the Philippines, foreigners continue to visit remote forests to see birds that are only found in our country, such as the Philippine Eagle.
• Why birds?
Birds have always delighted people all over the world with their beauty and their power of flight.
Historically, they used to be considered omens. The ancient Romans believed that the flights and calls of birds could foretell the future.
Today, modern science still uses birds as a kind of oracle. Changes in bird populations can reflect the health of the environment.
Some birds are indicator species. They forecast environmental conditions. The knowledge of birds can help us plan a better, more sustainable relationship with nature.
• What's in it for me if I start birding?
Fun. Big fun. Something deep seems to get fulfilled. A connection is made with the immense beauty of nature.
Satisfaction. Birding invokes our primeval hunting instincts. It delivers all the satisfaction of the hunt, even though the prey itself escapes unharmed. Birding is the perfect sport for the coming century.
Health. Birding gets you vertical. It gets you outside and walking. But it's effortless, because your attention is on the birds. Nevertheless, after a little birding, you've usually covered quite a bit of ground.
Family. Birding unites people across generations. By taking up birding, parents or grandparents can introduce their children to an interest in nature that will stay with them all their lives.
Companionship. Birding is the ideal social activity. A birder need never be lonely. Nearly every community has a birding club of some sort. Well, at least in other countries. We can always start our own, you know. And because birders love to share their knowledge, newcomers are always welcome.
Solitude. Birding is also the ideal solitary sport. There's a special pleasure in going out alone to bird. Your mind settles down. Your senses open up, and all nature seems to become your friend. Birding is a sport of many moods, and it serves the causes of companionship and solitude equally well.
• Does birding contribute to science?
Birding also fulfills another basic instinct — the quest for knowledge. Birding is about acquiring knowledge. Not just about birds' names, but also about their songs, their behavior, and how they relate to the rest of nature. It's a perfect opportunity to enjoy a unique human pleasure — the successful exercise of lore.
In fact, amateur birders often get to make real contributions to scientific knowledge. Today, much of what ornithology knows about birds has come from the observations of ordinary but dedicated birders.
• What do I need to start birding?
Not much. A pair of binoculars, a field guide, and a hat. Maybe a little notebook you carry in your pocket.
• What kind of binoculars do I need?
Any binoculars are better than none. You can start with whatever you have.
• Can I share binoculars with a friend?
Every birder has to have his or her own binoculars. Sharing means one person doesn't get to see the bird before it flies away. This is hard on friendships.
• What's a field guide?
A field guide is a little book that's packed with information about birds. It's the next best thing to an expert birder by your side. It describes and shows pictures of the birds, and it tells you which details of each bird to look for.
• Should I wear a hat?
Any old hat will do. Birding is not a fashion contest. But it should shade your eyes and not interfere with using your binoculars.
• What's the notebook for?
For your birding field notes. It lets you record what you see. It actually helps you to see, because when you try to write a description of a bird that encourages you to observe carefully.
• Is birding expensive?
Compared to other sports, birding is not expensive. A notebook, a field guide, and binoculars, all together will cost around the same as that of a good pair of athletic shoes. And they'll take a lot longer to wear out. We assume you have a hat.
• How do I get started with birdwatching?
Well, you can always contact BirdWatch Philippines (www.birdwatch.ph) and ask about the next birding trip that is being planned. Or you can just get your things and head out into the woods or the coast.
So, the next time you look out your window at home or perhaps when you catch yourself looking up in the sky — remember that birds help in keeping the balance of nature intact. So, we humans should do our part in helping them, right?