By Gwen So
After finding out that my favorite childhood feathered friend – a Kingfisher – exists in the Philippines and isn’t just found in America，it started an obsession to know more about birds and identify them all by name. Easier said than done. A lot of species look alike so you need to be aware of the minutest details. I purchased the required books, spent many hours scouring the internet for more information, and discovered something very important: Nothing beats asking birders, especially those who have been at it a long time.
Case in point, Yellow Bittern vs Cinnamon Bittern. The nomenclature is not reliable I was told. Sometimes Yellow Bitterns have reddish hues and the Cinnamon Bittern can be yellowish so color is not THE distinguishing mark. About 4 hours later and nothing concrete from my books nor Google, I decided to check out an FB bird group. This was where I found the answer from an expert: the IRIS! The YB has a round iris while CB has a bar-shaped one. My delirious AHA moment though was overshadowed by the realization I could have been more productive had this tidbit been more readily available.
Being a member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, I got to know like-minded people. I wasn’t the only one who would lose sleep obsessing about an unidentified bird or whose mind goes around in circles trying to figure out why Desmond Allen proclaimed it was a juvenile Striated Heron instead of a Black-crowned Night Heron or how Amado knew it was a Red-necked stint without the red. Thus was conceived the idea to have a Bird Kapihan once a month. A few newbie club members would get together each assigned a topic to share with the rest and then maybe in the future we could ask senior birders to be guest speakers. However, our passion to get this event going was no match for life’s daily grind so the plan never came to fruition.
Months passed. I had been birding almost all weekends for more than a year and in the first quarter of 2020 even added weekday morning birding stints as well. Then Covid 19 rears its ugly head and everything grinds to a halt. Well, birdwatching is healthy, I say. We venture outdoors getting more than enough doses of Vitamin D, walking is great cardio, and social distancing is totally doable … that is, until a special bird pops us causing everyone to assume the Birder’s Huddle yikes. However, the right thing to do is to heed the call to shelter in place.
One quarantine day, expat club member Mr Ravi Iyengar informs me he is going to introduce our country and avian biodiversity to his birder friends back in India via a Zoom webinar. What a great idea! My thoughts drifted back to the Kapihan that never was. By this time I was becoming sad and desperate because I had three out-of-town trips slated and they are all on hold, and everything is up in the air as to when we can resume birding. I miss the birds and the birders!!! Hmm, people ain’t goin’ anywhere that’s for sure so maybe another crack at it is warranted.
This time though it is no longer bird identification but virtual birding. The speaker can be any birder who has gone to a certain hotspot. Then through a narrative, he shares with the participants how to get there, level of difficulty, expected birds, and spices up the narration with behind the scenes anecdotes, sob stories or tales of horror. There is a plethora of birding sites in our country to choose from but looking for the story teller was another matter. A long time ago I used to teach in Speechpower and one of the courses I handled was Public Speaking. I would wager that despite the passage of time and the shift to a digital platform, the fear of public speaking would still occupy one of the top three things most people fear.
“I’m not a teacher.”
“I’m not good talking to people.”
“I don’t bird that often anymore.”
“There are other people better than me.”
Shy? Imagine your audience naked or stare at the tops of their heads. We’re on Zoom for goodness sakes! The bad internet connection will blur everybody anyway and there’s no eye contact happening to cause distraction. Not an educator? Not good at talking? This isn’t a lecture. All one has to do is regale his or her listeners with an account of one’s birding experience. We all have stories to tell.
So I finally found a speaker, a topic, a schedule, and a Zoom host (Ms. Carmel Eje) for a series of trial runs. A few days before the date, our speaker begged off but the show must go on so we started our first webinar with a bird rescue discussion. It was a fruitful session and was a joyous reunion among birding buddies as well. I had to find more speakers and when you are patient enough to accept rejection after rejection (reasons as cited above) but keep on keeping on, you eventually get rewarded with a YES.
The buena mano virtual tour was Palawan courtesy of environmental scientist Erickson Tabayag. Throughout his talk there were “wows” interspersed with tortured groans and moans especially from those who haven’t birded there yet.
Next dry run was supposed to be Davao with Asec Robby Alabado but work made him unavailable so at the last minute we went to PICOP with star birding couple Adrian and Trinket Constantino leading the way. Groans as usual were elicited with many dreaming of the Celestial Monarch that night. The sad plight of PICOP was also tackled causing some of the participants to panic and plan for a 2021 trip despite the uncertainty of life.
Next story teller was someone who suddenly caved in under the pressure of my nagging – Amado Bajarias Jr with tech support provided by Lu-Ann Bajarias – who took us to Cebu and Bohol.
Next trip was Davao not just with Asec Alabado but he got super birder Pete Simpson to be his co-sharer! By this time I had come to the conclusion that some of us have a streak of masochism as we subject ourselves to this weekly torment … but it is better than nothing! Where to next? Who else wants to inflict pleasurable pain on themselves? 😛