by Trinket Constantino with photos from Tinggay Cinco, Adri Constantino, and Gwen So
When Jelaine asked me if I was interested in assembling a team for the 2nd WBCP Bird Race, I immediately answered in the affirmative! I had also taken part in the 1st WBCP bird race way back in 2007 – and it was such a fun event that I was happy to get the chance to do it again!
Joni completed our team – Team Bird Stalkers, and in the wee hours of the morning of March 9, we were driven by a sleepy Adri (our unofficial team coach!) to Caylabne Bay Resort. Caylabne Bay Resort and the surrounding area of Mt. Palaypalay is a very special site to me as a birder. When I started birdwatching and had just joined the bird club in 2005, it was a favorite go-to place for roadside forest birding. Innumerable trips to this site with Mike, Adri, Patty, Lydia, Robert, and many others of the then members of the club gave me most of my Luzon lowland forest lifers. But since the highway and the Kaybiang Tunnel were completed in 2013, I had hardly been back there to bird.
When we arrived at the designated start site for the race before 6am, we were already the last team to arrive! The four other teams: team Falconet (Anna, Redi, Ramon), team KJ (Karen, Jessa and Jasmin), team Pato (Art, Riza and Hannah) and team Trogon (John, Beng and MJ) were already being briefed. The Marshals: Babie, Bayani, Jon, and Tinggay; organizers Gwen and Gina and safety and emergency team Rocco and Monique, were all present and seemed as excited as all the competitors.
As soon as the race began, the teams all went their separate ways! Some of us headed towards the small retention pond area (which used to be the garbage dump so many years back!) and were treated with a sighting of a couple of Luzon Hornbills! How appropriate that they were chosen as the race mascot and logo! Jelaine, Joni, and I stood at the edge of the cleared area to try to spot the birds that were calling loudly from the forest: Balicassiaos, Black-naped Monarchs, Guaiaberos, Colasisis, Stripe-headed Rhabdornises were all easy to spot with some patience. Philippine Bulbuls and Yellow-vented Bulbuls proved no challenge at all as they came into view calling loudly.
In the first few minutes of the race, I realized this was going to be a much different race than the one held back in 2007 – the teams were truly competitive! Quiet whispering among team mates, furtive glances at other teams and distances kept from the others: it looked like everyone was super serious about winning! While it seemed everyone tried to keep their sightings a secret, especially in the first hour of the race, some birds put on quite a show for everyone and were hard to miss, including a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles soaring high in the sky and a noisy group of White-throated Kingfishers.
As we moved on towards the private casitas, we ran into Jon who excitedly told us of a non-avian sighting he and some of the other teams had – a family group of 10 wild boar crossing the road, complete with little striped piglets! How exciting!
With Caylabne being a relatively small area, we were always in sight of another team, so we tried our best to explore areas which the other teams did not. A short walk down an overgrown path past the river bridge gave us a few unique sightings; a flushed Spotted Buttonquail, a Common Sandpiper in the small strip of sand, and a view of a Common Kingfisher hidden from the larger beach by the breakwater.
While expected Philippine Ducks could not be seen from the casitas’ side of the river (we could not see them but we could hear their noisy quacking!), walking through the wooded area from the opposite side revealed over a hundred of them swimming in the water and preening on the river bank. As we peered through our binoculars, we were all surprised to see a lone Garganey swimming across our limited field of view!
Some birds would be quite elusive to us: we came across Philippine Coucal which would show themselves only to one team member (rules said that at least 2 members should see the bird for it to be counted!), a Red Jungle Fowl crowed and clucked but remained hidden (no heard only’s!) and even the more common birds would prove to be hard work! Lowland White-eyes and Asian Glossy Starlings were nowhere to be seen and we had to circle the restaurant and villa areas twice just to get a glimpse of 2 Eurasian Tree Sparrows! It was comical to see all the teams trying their hardest to get the city-ubiquitous ETS on their lists (I heared only 2 teams eventually got the ETS)! In the end, these “common” birds were instrumental to team standings! Lesson to everyone: never take them for granted!
As the designated end of the race time of 10am approached, it was getting warmer and warmer and teams began heading for the restaurant for one last check of their lists before submission. Stories and sightings were exchanged, with questions of “Where did you see that?” and exclamations of “What? We don’t have that on our list!” being usual conversation. Gina, Tinggay, and Gwen were going through everyone’s lists quite seriously, tallying and even calling the teams in to ask some confirmatory questions regarding sightings. As everyone waited for the results, we all enjoyed some shared snacks and prepared lunch.
After the meal, Gina was ready to announce the results and award the winners. And… our team won! With 45 species, team Bird Stalkers won a visit to the Masungi Georeserve! We were just three species ahead of team KJ who won an overnight stay at Angelfields, Silang. The other teams also scored quite close to each other with Team Falconet, Team Trogon, and Team Pato getting 37, 35, and 34 species respectively! All teams received cash prizes and got to choose from assorted goodies on the table which included bags from Primer, Walden’s Hornbill, and Asian Bird Fair shirts, notebooks, bird books, ecobags, and a pair of sun glasses.
In the end, everyone had a good time birding and everyone was a winner. The challenge of getting the most birds on the list was only secondary to getting good views of the birds and having fun with all the birders – whether marshals, organizers or competitors. I was surprised that only 5 teams had joined the race – I hope that with future activities like this organized by the club, more members will take the opportunity to join. It was a great chance to get to know the members of the club, sharpen birding skills, and have fun at the same time.
Thanks to the organizers of the bird race: Gina, Gwen, and Ruth; the marshals and emergency team members, and those who helped in soliciting prizes: George & Manette (for the Angelfields sponsorship) and Ramon (for the Decathlon chairs and binoculars used during the race).