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Protect Birds, Nurture Mother Nature – Tacurong Bird Festival 2023

Text and Photos by Karen Ochavo

Three years has been too long without in-person bird fairs. And everyone, myself included, has grown tired of online events. The interactions, the sounds, sights, and scents, the feelings evoked from a shared live event are not the same, and I miss it.

So when the opportunity came to join the Tacurong Bird Festival 2023 in Sultan Kudarat province, I did not hesitate to go.

Entitled “Protect Birds, Nurture Mother Nature”, the 7th Tacurong Bird Festival, held on May 12-13, 2023, made a comeback from the pandemic gap years with a bang!

On the first day of the Festival, Mike Lu, Mark Jason Villa, and I joined the morning parade around the city center.  The parade featured bird-inspired tricycles and float competition and “Sadsad sa Kadalanan” street dancing. The trike and float entries were very impressive, with life-like decorations showcasing the wild birds that can be found in the province of Sultan Kudarat.    

Entries to the float competition with decors showcasing egrets and herons.

Entries to the bird-inspired tricycle competition

Winner of the “Sadsad sa Kadalanan” street dancing competition – Tacurong National High School

Tacurong City Mayor Joseph Lechonsito and other city and provincial officials graced the opening ceremony at the Tacurong City Cultural and Sports Center. It was inspiring to hear the commitment of the local government of Tacurong City to promote environmental protection and sustainable tourism through birdwatching.

WBCP President Mike Lu commended the initiatives of the Tacurong local government in promoting birdwatching through their annual bird festival, which started in 2015 with support from WBCP

Dr. Carmela Española caught up with us in time for her presentation at the Conservation Forum. She presented the benefits and risks of wildlife watching as a tourism activity to about a hundred high school students. It was such an insightful discussion because eco-tourism is not without its risks; it should be managed appropriately and in consultation with local stakeholders and biodiversity experts.

Early the next morning, the activities of the Tacurong Bird Festival continued with birdwatching at the Baras Bird Sanctuary, a private property and former black pepper plantation just a few minutes away from the city center. The kind owner had fenced off a portion of the property after observing flocks of Black-crowned Night Herons regularly roosting and breeding at the site. The site was officially declared by the Tacurong City government as a bird sanctuary in 2002 and, as such, continues to receive government support for the protection of the wild birds and the maintenance of facilities for visitors.

Back at the Tacurong City Cultural and Sports Center, students, parents, and guests gathered again to watch the Folk Dance and Bird-inspired Costume Contests.

The dancers’ quick movements to the music of folk dances inspired by birds such as the Kanaway and Tikling were amazing and a delight to watch. But only the very best in terms of skill, synchronization, and adherence to the rules of Philippine folk dance won the top prize.

As for the costumes, the winner was a larger-than-life egret inspired creation. There were other beautiful designs but some failed to follow the contest rules which eliminated them (despite the reminders from the organizers to use birds in the Philippines as reference, some designs were of peacocks and parrots from other continents…so it pays to follow the rules!). Judging was tough but only the best won which showed fine details of the design and overall impact.

All these activities would not be possible without the tireless efforts of Emelie Jamorabon of the Tacurong City Tourism Office (and member of WBCP) and her team, and other local birders Yepyep Pamplona and Ernesto Bayya who go out and explore birding sites in Sultan Kudarat and nearby provinces (they gladly joined WBCP after this event).

It’s so fitting that the last host of the Philippine Bird Festival before the pandemic lockdown–Tacurong City–hosted the first face-to-face local bird fest in the country that WBCP participated in after the pandemic. And with the last of the pandemic restrictions lifted, I’m pretty sure everyone is looking forward to the next bird fest they can join.

Post-festival birdwatching at Lutayan Lake in Sultan Kudarat

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