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Birding the Arboretum:
The Last "Rainforest" in Metro Manila

A day before the actual birding activity, I went to the UP Arboretum to do "reconnaissance birding" and to ask permission from security guards protecting the area. It was actually my first visit to theArboretum in my 9-year stay at UP. To make this event more memorable I decided to cross the 6-lane Commonwealth Avenue instead of using the overpass. After asking permission, I was warned by the guards about the illegal settlers who began arriving last month near the Hydraulics Center. After they were driven away from the area, they established a new community Near Area 2 (see attached map) where several blue tents can be seen at present. The threat of the illegal settlers to disrupt peace and order in the community was the very reason why Mads did not post the activity in the e-groups.

Before I go to my birding report, I would like to share some information about the UP Arboretum taken from the article "Shattered Sanctuary" by Mr. Jo Florendo Lontoc:

Before UP took control of the UP Arboretum in the 1960s, the area was the tree nursery of the government's Forestry Administration Agency. A survey conducted in 1997 revealed that as much as 5,000 trees are spread on the 12-hectare land, consisting of more than 170 species. In 1997, UP documents referred to the Arboretum as the "only natural rainforest in Metro Manila". This distinction was bestowed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources because of its diverse flora and fauna, enough rainfall to sustain life and that "it doesn't need reforestation since the trees are growing naturally and surviving on their own". This distinction was contested by some people, since the trees were planted by man and that the annual rainfall is less than 100 inches to classify it as a rainforest. The confusion doesn't stop here. Inside the Arboretum is an abandoned open dumpsite where the UP Community used to dump its garbage.

A census conducted several years ago reported the presence of 258 families at the Arboretum, including the squatters who began building their homes in the early 1980s. With the increasing number of illegal settlers in the area, so do the number of trees relentlessly cut down for residential space and the complexity of the issues hounding this endangered sanctuary.

Date: March 8 (Saturday) Mads, Luan and Allan
Birding time: 7:00 — 9:00 am

After asking permission (again) from the guard and telling them what we are to do, Mads, Luan and I went to the nearest possible birding area designated in the map as Area 1, a topographic low (depression) compared to the surrounding area. Area 1 is hidden from the main road by large trees and is traversed by a stream in the middle section, which is planted with "gabi" and other root crops. Following the trail from the main road, we started to search the area of birds.

The first bird that we saw was an unidentified dovespecies, which Luan saw perched on a leafless tree with an ear lobe- shaped fruit. After minutes of observing the bird and looking at bird books for identification, we finally gave up. Going towards the central portion of Area 1, we encountered bulbuls, brown shrikes and pied fantails. Pied fantails, to my surprise, are very common in the Arboretum. Children in the community call fantails as "paypay", obviously due to its tail movements. In the central portion, among the leafless trees, I noticed something unusual. We were about 50m away, but the form is unmistakable — I am looking at a very big bird.

Mads identified the bird as a black-crowned night heron! The heron's camouflage was perfect, blending well with the trees. After staying for a few minutes admiring the heron's beauty, we went out of the trail and proceeded to Area 2, which is near the area being claimed by the illegal settlers. Area 2 is some sort of a botanical garden that doubles as a tree nursery. Unfortunately, we were not able to observe any birds in the area. For whatever reason this could be, your guess is as good as mine.

Going out of Area 2, we followed the road towards Area 3, which is near the former dumpsite. In this area, common birds includebulbuls, fantails, brown shrikes and lots and lots of sparrow. Luan saw an olive-backed sunbird and I saw a white-collared kingfisher.Mads pointed to us a grey wagtail. This reminded me of the unidentified bird we saw a few weeks before at the MSI-Math-Science area. Other birds observed in the area include purple needle tail andbarn swallow. Near Area 3, across the main road, we saw arcticwarblers.

Going out of the main road again, we went further andencountered a community where not much trees are left. Despite this,
we saw white-collared kingfishers larger in size than the ones observed in the MSI-Math-Science area. These kingfishers, we learned from the kids, are being hunted by their elders. From here, we walkedback to where we have started thinking about the future of the birds in the Arboretum. We ended our birding at McDonalds PHILCOA — Madsand Luan ate fried chicken for breakfast. (",)

Date: March 11 (Tuesday) Allan, Hillel and Xsa
Birding time: 6:00 — 8:30 am

The NIGS Group went back to the Arboretum to conduct mapping, birding and at the same time to interview people regarding the present situation in the area. We were disheartened by what we've heard — the illegal settlers are now cutting trees in Area 2. Because of limited time, we only visited Area 1 and portions of Area3. We did not saw the heron in Area 1, but we saw 2 pairs of barred rails. Just like the previous birding, we observed fantails, bulbuls, brown shrikes, sparrows and arctic warblers.

BIRD LIST(March 9, March 11):
1. Black-crowned night heron 1 -
2. Brown shrike 3 2
3. Grey wagtail 1 -
4. Olive-backed sunbird 1 -
5. Arctic warbler 2 1
6. White-collared kingfisher 3 2
7. Purple needletail 1 -
8. Pied fantail 10 5
9. Yellow vented bulbul 3 5
10. Sparrow common common
11. Barn swallow 1 -
12. Barred rail - 4