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Report from Tibanglan in Kalayaan, Laguna

Date: April 10 to 12, 2003
Lala Española

Kalayaan is an hour's drive from Los Baños and Tibanglan, a hilly village where I spent two nights (April 10-12), can be reached after an hour's hike. The trail to Tibanglan is easy going during the dry season. The site is at the southernmost tip of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. The hills as far as my eyes can see are covered in green although many areas in the immediate vicinity are planted to coconut and other agricultural crops. The most pressing environmental issue in this upland district is carabao logging. As early as 6:00 am, four carabaos towing four logs each were seen passing our small cottage. The procession continued throughout the day with different groups of carabaos passing at about an hour's interval each. The trails where carabaos pass everyday with the precious hard wood cargo have become very deep and narrow channels filled with water. Near the foot of the mountain, I counted around a hundred logs 7 ft long and at least 30 cm in diameter stacked and waiting for distribution in the black market. I felt appalled at the rate at which the loggers were draining the lifeblood of the forest. One can hardly blame them. Trees are a source of fast cash to these people. When the military campaign against the NPAs (New People's Army) started in the district, people gained access into the hinterlands. Kaingin or slash-and-burn farming became the most prevalent form of agriculture. I have nothing against utilizing the resources of the forest to feed people. For centuries people have done shifting cultivation without adverse impacts on the environment. It is my conviction that there is a way of harvesting the produce of the forest without taking too much from what belongs to the future generation.

My friend Liza Dans whose family owns 75 hectares in this village invited a mutual friend Renee and I to check out their farm. Liza has plans to offer a nature trek and birdwatching adventure package at a reasonable fee with most of the proceeds going to the rehabilitation of the area. The project hopes to involve local hunters and loggers for field guides. Recently the Dans family established a tree nursery for the community. We are thinking that if the people commit themselves to planting fast growing trees they will be able to harvest these in ten years. This we hope will ease the pressure on the dwindling resources of the forest. Garbage segregation and composting is being practiced in the farm and this supports lush vegetable gardens that are productive throughout the year. We are hoping that the community will learn to plant their own vegetable gardens in their own backyards. It is our dream that they will become self-sufficient and will contribute to the rehabilitation of their forest. While there, I visited the local elementary school to check the venue for our planned conservation education campaign. My bird watching jaunt was limited because we had work to do in the farm.


BIRD LIST:

The following are the birds that I have personally heard or seen. Some of the calls that were not familiar to me and were identified by the local hunters.
1. White-eared Brown-dove "Bato-bato" - heard only with call similar to a Coucal's coo but faster. The call was identified by a hunter.
2. White-collared Kingfisher (2) - seen perched on a tree in an open area.
3. Coucal "Sabokot" - seen flying away and alighting on a thicket in the middle of a cultivated area. It's most probably a Lesser Coucal with call a descending series of coos/hoots. Ng' Zaldy, a local hunter, taught me the call using my hands.
4. Philippine Eagle-Owl (at least 3) - heard only with call a loud, long, wailing woooh or hoooo believed to be a harbinger of bad luck.
5. Philippine Frogmouth "Kuwao" - heard only with call identified by the local hunter
6. Nightjar "Tagkaro" (at least 10) - it was already dark when they came out swooping low after insects so I wasn't able to identify which species it was.
7. Yellow-vented Bulbul - many seen in small trees bordering rice paddies.
8. Philippine Bulbul - many seen and heard along the trail
9. White-browed Shama - heard only along trail in a dense thicket
10. Elegant Tit (3) - seen along the trail and looking rather fat for tits (breeding?).
11. Tailorbird - many heard but not seen along the trail in a partially covered secondary forest
12. Blue-headed Fantail (2) - seen along a ridge in a nice patch of secondary forest. They respond positively to "pishing" by coming closer to investigate.
13. Black-naped Oriole (1) - seen among coconut trees near the rice paddies.
14. Balicassiao (3) - first heard its distinctive musical calls then seen flitting from branch to branch.
15. Large-billed Crow (2) - seen flying while making its harsh deep call.
16. Brown Shrike (1) - seen sallying for insects from atop a large rock in a clearing.
17. Bicolored Flowerpecker (1) - also seen feeding on Jade Vine flowers; the mate was probably hiding nearby. I first thought it was a Buzzing Flowerpecker but the distribution was off. The color was white on the underparts and dark brown/black on the back.
18. Purple-throated Sunbird (2) - seen feeding on a flowering Jade Vine.
19. Lowland White-eye (5) - flock was seen flying off to a small tree across a creek.

I heard more than I have seen but my birdcall vocabulary is not that good. I believe there are a number of owl species in the area since there were several different kinds of hoots and wooos heard that were softer and faster than that of the Philippine Eagle-Owl. Residents also informed me that Tarictic hornbills are sometimes seen feeding on large fig trees in the area. I'm inviting birders, biologists, and nature enthusiasts to come and support the conservation effort in Tibanglan.

For more information, please contact Michael Lu at myckle@thenet.ph.