Discovering a Whole New World With Binoculars
by Mijon Tangye
My love for birds started with literally hating their sounds at first. Whenever I wake up in the morning, I would always get mad at the “black bird with a white stripe on its wing” because it was so noisy, singing different notes, and they would hurt my ears! Sir Henry Calilung, our Life Science Research track mentor, visited our subdivision at that time and had a bird-watching activity. I discovered that there is more to these birds than just their noisy alarm-clock-like sounds. I fell in love with the Philippine Coucal, because it wasn’t a common sight to see for an average person, but it quickly changed when I saw the Rough-Crested and the Scale-Feathered Malkoha. I nearly cried when I saw a Scale-Feathered just in front of our terrace, staring right back at me! This fascination for birds led me to choose the Life Science Research track in my school. The Grade 11 Life Science Research students of HEDCen (Holistic Education and Development Center) were invited by Centre for Sustainability (CS) to stay in the Cleopatra’s Needle forest for four days and three nights.
“Teenagers in a critical habitat? What a crazy idea!” Cleopatra’s Needle is 41,350 hectares of forest land declared to be a critical habitat in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. After months of planning, fundraising (we earned money by singing in school!), and begging our parents to allow us, it turned to be a fun-filled educational immersion trip!
Once we set up camp and were resting, I already noticed a noisy bird that had been chirping nearby us. I asked Teacher Nikki what the species was, and it was a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. It continued to chirp while we were preparing for an ocular. It was hard for me to distinguish what birds make these calls, because we were in a totally different habitat!
During the ocular, I heard a high-pitched call above the forest canopy, near the mountain. We then saw a Serpent Eagle making about two circles before it disappeared to the forest. Sir Othoniel from Centre for Sustainability, joked that it was a “fierce dragon.” The next day, I started to notice the dawn chorus while inside the tent. So many beautiful sounds being created by beautiful species. I had to go out the tent. Laughs from bulbuls, cries from kingfishers (specifically the Collared Kingfisher), and the occasional bullying of the crows. We then went birdwatching. I got to see a male Asian-Fairy Bluebird perched just above a branch. At first, I thought it was the Common Hill Myna, because it was against the light, but it looked to the right and we saw the blue-ish color. We also got to see the Palawan Hornbill! Sir Othoniel pointed at a shadowy figure up a tree. It stayed there for a few seconds, and then glided, disappearing into the forest. I got to see its white “horn” for a bit.
Also, while just washing my Tupperware after lunch, a Stork-Billed Kingfisher flew by the river! The Kingfisher we saw looks a lot like the White Throated Kingfisher but has a light brown body and a light orange beak. It flew by the river and Mariah and I saw it. There were so many species that we saw and heard, and we only were bird watching for two mornings! There were so many colorful birds and noisy bird calls, and sometimes it lasts until lunch time!
After the terrestrial part of our trip, we hiked for about 2 hours, stayed at the Batak Center for a while, and rode a van to the Binduyan marine camp. When taking breaks, I liked to take pictures of birds flying by. I usually see the flowerpeckers, sunbirds on a Palawan Cherry Blossom and a baby Brown Shrike perching. There were so many Asian Glossy Starlings flying just a few minutes ago, and I discovered that they stayed in this house near our restroom! There were about more than 50 of them there, and they were so noisy! Teacher Jessa of Centre for Sustainability said that these starlings are the “Mayas of Palawan.” And of course, there were many swiftlets flying up high in the air. It is very hard to distinguish the different species, so most of the time, people would write “Swiftlet sp.” It’s really easy to know if the swiftlet is a Pygmy Swiftlet though, because it has a thick white line near the tail, and it smaller than most swiftlets.
I stayed by the beach and took lots of pictures of birds and objects like shells, flowers, and beautiful rocks. I also observed a Collared Kingfisher, I saw it going to the sea, hunting fish, and going someplace else, and going back to the spot where it could see the fish. I also saw three Black-Naped Orioles playing around, and they were so noisy! Birds are truly magical creatures!