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Spark Bird: Your One-Way Ticket to Birding

by Vincent Alinan

There’s more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done

– Elton John, “The Circle of Life”

As someone who has lived most of his adult life as toy collector, anime fan and video gamer, I felt the need to go out and take up an outdoor hobby. I’ve always had a great appreciation of nature because I’ve loved dinosaurs ever since I was a kid. I chose the birding hobby because birds are pretty much today’s dinosaurs, and birding has great flexibility in terms of when, where, and who you bird with.

January 5, 2019, I tried out taking photos of the Eurasian Tree Sparrows and signed up for the eBird website. This was the very first time I purposefully observed birds, but it was not until the 30th of January 2019 that I would see my “spark bird.”

One typical morning heading to work in urban Makati City, I looked up and saw some birds perched on trees and power lines. They were definitely not the usual Eurasian Tree Sparrow. After I got out of work, I found them again and took photos with my handy superzoom camera, confident that a few shots would enable me to identify them. Curious passers-by looked upwards to see what I was pointing my camera at.

After transferring the silhouette-like photos to my camera, I went and did a quick post-process. Dark green feathers and red eyes. It was totally unique to my inexperienced eyes. Then I went online and found a name that matches these birds that I just saw.

Asian Glossy Starling. Aplonis panayensis. Their feathers have this brilliant gloss to them, hence the name. And that’s when I felt the spark.

From this moment, any veteran birder would have predicted my reaction.

“I didn’t know that birds like this exist!”

It was an exciting revelation to the big world of avifauna. It was life-changing, to say the least. After a month, I joined the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines and eventually bought my own binoculars. It was newfound freedom and purpose. Once again, I’ve become an advocate of wildlife conservation, something I have not done since I wrote my college thesis on Manila Zoo.

Now I hardly look at my phone while I’m in vehicles. Instead I look out of the window like Morgan Freeman at the end of Shawshank Redemption, excited about what birds I’ll see on future adventures.

As for the Asian Glossy Starlings, I’m glad that they’re everywhere. Although I must say it feels best seeing them near my workplace during the morning when the sunlight shows their glossy plumage at their finest. I’m truly glad that I found a spark bird, and I hope that you would find yours too!

“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”

– Red, The Shawshank Redemption

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