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Birder Portraits: The Next Gen Twitcher—Caleb Ongtenco

By Gabbi Reyes

Welcome to 2023—another full year of both opportunities and uncertainties!

Let’s face it, life’s tough and we don’t know what the future holds. However, a few gems pop up every now and then that give us something to look forward to.

Last year, a little gem shone a little brightly. Caleb Ongtenco, a seventh-grader, is currently WBCP’s youngest active member. Among his interests are world history, basketball, video games, ping-pong, bowling, and building and toppling over dominoes.

Caleb in action with club member Gwen So

Future ornithologist

When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he answered “I would want to be an ornithologist, a scientist who studies birds.”

You’ve surely come to the right place Caleb!

  • G: When did you start birdwatching and how? Tell us your story.
  • C: I started birding in 2021, in the midst of the pandemic. Our family had this National Geographic Kids guide of the birds of the United States, and I loved looking at the pictures of birds there, especially the Blue Jay, because I liked anything and everything blue. We also had A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of the Philippines, where I looked at our local birds in the book. Then I started birdwatching in our village, where I saw my spark bird, the Collared Kingfisher, and also in Tagaytay Highlands.
Caleb’s spark bird: the Collared kingfisher
  • G: Why do you love birdwatching?
  • C: I love it because I get to go to new places and meet new people! I also love that you can go birding anywhere and anytime.

Caleb loved his experience as a club newbie! He enjoyed learning from older members and joined them on trips, sometimes even twice in a week.

  • G: When did you join the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines and how did you hear about it?
  • C: Sometime in 2021, I found the guide to the birds of Las Pinas-Paranaque Wetland Park (LPPWP), which I got back in 2017 when I joined a birdwatching trip with the WBCP. My mom got in touch with them and I joined the WBCP in the middle of 2022.

Just by following the club chat groups, you can tell that Caleb’s messages and observations are received with much delight by the older members. It is truly refreshing and encouraging to see a kid his age so enthusiastic about birds.

  • G: What is your biggest birdwatching goal?
  • C: To go birding on all 7 continents. I would like to reach that goal by the time I hit 40!
  • G: What is your favorite birdwatching moment?
  • C: I loved when I went to Masungi Georeserve with the club in December 11, 2022. I saw the Scale-Feathered Malkoha drying itself on a bare tree! I also saw the Rough-Crested Malkoha that day. It was a very fulfilling trip.

He shared his experience through a trip summary sent to the club’s email group:

“Last December 11, members of the WBCP and I went to Garden Cottages in the Masungi Georeserve to go birdwatching. It is a very nice place, with lots of trees and unpolluted streams, which of course, attracts a lot of birds. While birding, we saw a lot of species of birds. My favorite sighting was (a) flock of Stripe-Sided Rhabdornis, which were feeding on a bunch of Torch Gingers (Etlingera elatior). It was amazing to see them out in the open. Another fulfilling part of the trip was when I finally got to see the Scale-Feathered and the Rough-Crested Malkoha! We saw the Scale-Feathered Malkoha drying its feathers in a bare tree! It was breathtaking. Aside from those, we saw some Philippine Bulbuls, Luzon Hornbills, Balicassiaos, Ashy Minivets, and Guaiaberos, among the 24 species we saw that morning. I would love to go there again.”

Keep it up Caleb! With your spirit, you might just reach your biggest birdwatching goal AND become an ornithologist.

Out of the mouths of babes

Paired with his passion for birdwatching is a greater sense of purpose. Despite his age, Caleb is no stranger to the issues our feathered friends face.

  • G: For a kid your age, what can you do to help protect the birds?
  • C: To share this love of birdwatching to my friends. I can also share my concern about the plight of birds all over the world to them.
  • G: How do you think we can get more young children to love nature and birds as much as you do?
  • C: We could organize more birdwatching events in schools and immerse children with nature. We could also make games for them to play and books for them to read.

Is anyone taking notes? We can surely learn a lot from young minds. Caleb’s insightfulness also extends to the qualities he picks up from his role models—not only in birding, but also in basketball.

  • G: Who is somebody you look up to? Why do you admire them?
  • C: I admire Stephen Curry. He works hard and never stops till he reaches his goal amidst adversity.

Caleb also shares some advice of his own for all the grown ups out there.

  • G: As a young birder, what is something you’d like to tell grown ups?
  • C: Go birdwatching! It’s good for your health and it makes you less stressed and happier!

Grown ups, take heed. The secret to being stress free and happy is in birdwatching. Especially with the challenges of 2023 looming over, this is the perfect reminder for us to take a step back once in a while and shift our focus to birds. Step outside and regain that childlike wonder!

For 2023, Caleb looks forward to travelling to more places and birding there. As for the rest of us, we look forward to Caleb’s growth as an enthusiastic birder and others like him to join in on the advocacy.

Happy birders: Caleb with Gwen So and his auntie Helen, also a fellow WBCP member

Thank you Caleb and family for allowing us to know you more and, once again, strengthening our hope in the younger generation!

*Special thanks to Gwen So for speaking to Caleb’s parents and helping me make this Birder Portrait possible.

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