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Newbie Notes #1: The Day I Joined the WBCP

by Vincent Alinan

By the time I’ve joined the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, I have already been birdwatching for about a month and already had my own life list of 12 different species. I have also read up on some of the Club’s activities, so I was that eager to sign up.

Anyone who wants to join the club needs to participate in a Guided Trip first. I messaged the Facebook page hoping to join what was listed on the Club website, only to find out they were club-member-only trips. Soon afterwards, I got a message from Mike Lu inviting me to join him on an ocular at the Maestranza area of Intramuros. It was sudden, but I took the bait. I was excited since it was the first time I get to go birding with an experienced birdwatcher.

I woke up early for the meet-up, I got to meet Mike, and we headed to the Maestranza area which he got prior entry permission for. I borrowed a pair of binoculars and then looked at the power lines over the Pasig River.

So many Whiskered Terns! Birds I’ve surely seen before but never got to identify. Mike then aimed his spotting scope at three bigger birds, Black-headed Gulls. Then a Spotted Dove perched on a tree becoming my third lifer for the day.

As we walked alongside the stone walls looking for other birds, I asked about various birding topics such how to count all those Whiskered Terns and also the ethics of photography, use of bird calls, and many other stuff about the club. After a walk around surveying the entire Maestranza area, we were done in about an hour or so.

But wait, there’s more!

Mike then invited me to the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area or LPPCHEA (now the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park or LPPWP). I was a bit reluctant since I felt like I might be eating up his free time, but then I agreed, hoping to see kingfishers which Mike promised I would get to see. During the drive along the Pasay area I was told how the place, prior to development for commercial purposes, used to be one huge birding spot.

Before we entered the actual LPPWP site, we stopped by the fish market overlooking the area. We chanced upon a low tide, and birds were out en masse. Whiskered Terns flew in a huge flock, Black-crowned Night Herons were perched on wooden poles without a care in the world, and all sorts of waders were out foraging for food. I easily ID’d the Black-winged Stilts, although the others were quite the challenge. After all, this was my first time at a real birding hotspot!

Then comes something essential to being a WBCP member, the bird count. Mike did the counting and I did the listing. It was a good start to something that I would then be doing at every birding trip.

My life list definitely spiked on this activity, although there were many others that left the scope’s view before I could see it, including the Barred Rail which I wouldn’t see properly until three months later. It was a great experience, although it was a bit sad finding out that there used to be more birds in this area in the years before.

And as Mike promised, I saw my first kingfishers ever. During the drive to the main LPPWP, there were two Collared Kingfishers perched on wooden poles.

As we got inside the area, it was a surreal feeling being around nature and hearing all the birds around you. On the other hand, the birdwatching hides were quite the downer because trees were planted in front of them, rendering them useless. Leftover garbage from clean-up drives could also be seen all over the place.

Anyway, we got a good look at the pond and found more birds such as the Common Moorhen and Yellow Bittern. Golden-bellied Gerygones and Clamorous Reed Warblers sang along, as if teasing me for not being able to see them. I continued to list down the species I’ve seen for my eBird report.

The biggest surprise of the day was when something with blue wings flew over the lagoon. It was quick and I barely saw it out of the corner of my eye. Luckily, Mike was able to see it perch and aimed the spotting scope right at it. It was a White-throated Kingfisher. After having a good look, I snapped a photo through the scope.

There were several students who passed by, seemingly done with their clean-up drive. Mike invited them to have a look at the kingfisher and after their amazed reactions, the students asked him a few questions for a study that they were doing.

See, being in the WBCP isn’t just about going out to go birdwatching, it’s also spreading awareness to the people. Inviting people to look at a bird and seeing their reaction was something that really got to me, especially the “We didn’t know we had such beautiful birds here” reaction.

After a while, we called it a day. The sun was high and I was astonished at how much new experiences I’ve had in one morning. Said experiences came with the realization that there are many challenges to be tackled if we are to help preserve the beauty of nature in the Philippines, challenges I took on as I filled up the papers and paid the fee, hence becoming a WBCP member that very day.

Thank you for reading Newbie Notes and please look forward to the next one!

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