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My Palawan Birding Experience

by Ash Joshua P. Adeva
Gr. 12 Life Science and Research Track student

Being a part of the Senior High School Life Science and Research track in Holistic Education & Development Center (HEDCen) changed who I am as a person. One of the most defining experiences I had in my life was my first birding fieldwork in Cleopatra’s Needle Palawan.

 It’s a funny story because I never really planned on studying birds for my Gr. 12 thesis. At first, the thesis topic I had was about reptiles and amphibians. Even in the year before, I was gearing up for this field of research already. In our Gr. 11 class subjects, I did reports on herpetofauna and I also did a synthesis paper on the Leatherback Turtle. As for my Gr.12 herpetofauna thesis, I already did background research. I also even interviewed an expert for my methodology already. When it was weeks left before our departure to Palawan for fieldwork, I suddenly switched to birds. Looking back, I think it was because I thought that birding would be easier, and my current thesis required traps. Logistics-wise, bringing a lot of traps to Palawan is very difficult and even if I did change my methods to transects, my study would almost be a repeat of my other track mates’ thesis. My mentor, Nikki Dyanne Realubit, suggested that I switch as well. She had a hunch that I’d fit into the field. So, me being a “Yes!” man, I went and switched my topic to birds.

The topic of birds was a bit low on my list of wildlife research interests and I don’t really know the specifics about it. My track mate, Mijon Tangye, knows a lot about birds though, and she’s a bird enthusiast. So, I knew that there was a high standard for this type of thesis. Among my track mates, I was an overthinker and one of the most worrisome, so on the whole journey going to Palawan, if I’m not being told to do anything, I’d be thinking about all the possible things that could happen. I’d be thinking: “This is gonna be embarrassing for me.”, “What will my resource persons think of me?”, or “I don’t know what to do.”. Thanks to my teachers, my mentor, and my track mates, I was kept occupied most of the time and I focused on the things I actually could do to make up for my inexperience. I told myself that once I arrive, I will be focused, and I will learn everything I can regardless of how embarrassing it may be.

The first place we went to in Palawan was the main office of Katala Foundation Incorporated (KFI). There we were oriented on their company’s mission, vision, and its background. We were also introduced to the KFI’s members and we got to drink Coca-cola with them (Which was not allowed since we were still on a school trip)! After that, they drove us to the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm where we saw Blue-naped Parrots, Blue-headed Racket-tails, Asian Glossy Starlings, swallows, egrets, crows, and even the Katala itself!

A Blue-headed Racket-tail (left) and Red-vented Cockatoos (right) in Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm (Photos taken by Mijon Tangye 2019)

At this point, I was taking in all the information I can get and I tried to memorize the birds’ common names. I would look up often to see what kind of birds were calling, and as difficult it can be, I tried to memorize their calls as well. Apparently, owing to the fact that I was focusing more, I found myself overthinking less. I didn’t pay attention to it that much then. I was always focused at the tasks laid out in front of me. At the end of every day in Palawan, I would always reflect and I have to say, I would always think that I’ve been doing a good job in terms of my mental state. Instead of thinking, I was doing, and this boosted my confidence.

The next day, we went to our target mountain for thesis field work: Cleopatra’s Needle. We started trekking near the road and went onward from there, heading towards our camp site. We were all together with our resource persons then. At that time I wanted to walk alongside Sir Erickson and Ms. Joni, so that I’d get to learn, catch up with the program, and have enough knowledge to do the fieldwork without hindering anyone. I knew that was impossible, but I thought that doing it anyway will help me. Sir Erickson is very knowledgeable with the birds in Palawan, so I stuck to him most of the time, learning what I can about every bird we see or hear along the way. And surprisingly I did get to memorize some calls. For instance, I learned to distinguish the calls of the Lovely Sunbird from the calls of the Pale Spiderhunter (Yeah I know, I’m quite the newbie). I also learned the difference between the calls of the Palawan Tit and the Palawan Bulbul. It was pretty cool and I can tell that my resource person, Sir Erickson, was entertained by how I was learning. Bit by bit, I found that the more I memorized, the more I had fun, and also the more I wanted to learn. When we arrived at the camp site, we had a debriefing with Ms. Joni. Things were starting to get challenging since we were starting to get into the technicality of our methodology. Ms. Joni even shared with me a very informative and easy to read book about bird studies which I greatly appreciated at the time since I really did not know the basics. After a bit of discussion, it was decided that I focus on habitat sampling more, which I gladly accepted since it’s probably where I can contribute most. The rest of them will be focusing on identifying the bird species in the area.

Field work photos of me, Mijon Tangye, Ms. Joni, and Sir Erickson ( left photo taken by Joni Acay 2019; right photo taken by Erickson Tabayag 2019; )

Although I was more on the habitat sampling, I had so much fun helping with the calls and the bird searching. In the process I was able to memorize various calls, and my resource persons were sometimes amazed at how I was able to identify some of them. After finishing up on our field work, we listed all the birds we have identified and we were able to reach a number of 63 species of birds encountered which was AMAZING.

Asian Fairy-bluebird (Photo by Erickson Tabayag 2019)
Citrine-canary Flycatcher (Photo by Erickson Tabayag 2019)

Going home and going back to our normal lives, I would always reminisce. It’s been weeks since the field work. I miss it already. There are still times when I would look back and I ask myself, was I really a part of it? It was just so fun and challenging at the same time and the whole thing changed me. It was an example of how focused I can be. Doing more and thinking less. It also showed my flexibility, learning a lot in a short period of time. And another remarkable thing that happened to me ever since then was the fact that I would always be looking at the sky, at the trees, and at my surroundings often, listening intently, and looking for birds.

I’d like to thank Centre for Sustainability for the chance to do my research in Palawan. More power to the forest!

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