By Gabbi Reyes-Banaria
There are several telling signs that the year is about to end and the holidays have rushed in and again. Bumper-to-bumper traffic, end of year targets and endless shopping crowds make us want to pull all our hair out. However, the music of the season has proven to be a great contrast to the chaotic holiday rush. From the mellow tune of “Silent Night” to the jolly “Jingle Bells”, music has the power to influence our mood and outlook, especially when played from the heart.
For those who have attended club gatherings in recent years, you’d most definitely know a specific member who adds soul to the event. The voice of Anne Cortez, better known as Mijon Tangye among club members, is one of several treats people look forward to at club parties.
Anne Cortez is a singer-songwriter, sound designer and musician who hails from Rizal. Meeting Anne, you can tell that she has quite an animated and enthusiastic character. Her eagerness to learn new things shows in her interest in various topics other than music such as history, geography, mental health awareness and environmental advocacies. On top of that, she is also taking her studies in theatre as a UP Diliman Associate of Arts in Theatre student.
With already a great number of interests, where does birding fit in?
G: When did you start birding and how? Tell us your story.
A: I started birdwatching back in Grade 5 because my teacher, Sir Henry Calilung, commented that I had “fast eyes, fit for birdwatching.” There was also a birdwatching activity in our subdivision back then, headed by Miss Linda Gocon. Both Sir Henry and Miss Linda taught me how to spot birds, and the basic etiquette/discipline of birdwatching (how to hold binoculars, how to describe birds you don’t know via visually or aurally, etc.). I became so fascinated and honestly hyper fixated with Philippine birds that from then on, Philippine birds became my trademark science expo project in school. It started with a rapid assessment of birds around my subdivision, then eventually grew to birds in Masungi Georeserve in Tanay, Rizal, the birds in Cleopatra’s Needle Critical Habitat in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, etc. There would be times that I’d be so inspired to create songs about bird calls, and about birds too! Even if I took a non-scientific course in college (Theatre Arts), I still make the time and effort to learn more about birds and to educate and inspire friends and classmates about Philippine Avifauna.
G: When did you start birding and how? Tell us your story.
A: I felt like there was a new door that opened really! But it sort of felt like it was meant to be opened, and that I was meant to watch birds and learn more about them. This advocacy grew into spreading conservation education to artists and creatives around the country.
Sir Henry, Miss Linda, and even Teacher Nikki Realubit and Sir Willem van de Ven made it an easier bridge to join in WBCP.
Anne decided to join the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines in 2017 and has never regretted joining since then. Her spark bird, the Scale feathered Malkoha, also remains to be her favorite bird to date. She shares her magical encounter with the bird:
“I remember when I first saw it; it was perching right in front of the terrace, on the day of my graduation when I was Grade 7. I was so overwhelmed by its beauty, and the fact that it already saw me, but didn’t fly away. I looked at it, and started tearing up! I went to tell mum about it, who at that time didn’t know anything about endemic birds, and she didn’t know how to comfort me haha! Now, whenever I see the Scale Feathered Malkoha, whether upfront or in pictures, I associate it with something big and positive happening soon because of my experience with it in Grade 7.”
The birding beginnings of Anne serves as an example of what it means to “start ‘em young”. All it takes is encouragement and the patient guidance of grownups.
A Birder’s Ballad
For Anne, birding is great because “it connects you to both nature and yourself.” True enough, birding has impacted our lives positively in more ways than we know. For some, their sense of purpose to get up each day is renewed.
Even at a young age, Anne is able to sift through her experiences and find the gems that drive her mission. She aims to influence those around her and the greater community to nurture a love for the environment.
G: What was your most challenging experience as a birder?
A: One of the most challenging experiences as a birder is trying to teach people about the wonders of Philippine Avifauna. Sometimes, I would hear my family members say that there are only “brown, boring” birds in the Philippines, but occasionally they see blue (and even then, they think the blue birds are not real!). Sometimes, I would hear my friends say that birdwatching is a “rich man’s sport.” And the thing is, they’re already so certain of these opinions, that they are quite closed off to the opportunity that maybe birds and birdwatching aren’t these things. It’s a good thing that I, most of the time, have patience to correct them with these things. With my family members, I show them the colorful birds (like the Philippine Trogon, Palawan Peacock Pheasant, Hooded Pitta, etc.) that we have here. With my friends, they’re patient enough to go birdwatching with me around college, and even around the city. My bandmates took it to the next level where they joined a fieldwork activity in Masungi Georeserve, and they really enjoyed it!
Another challenge is not having enough resources/funds to get my own equipment! Haha. Birdwatching has become more and more accessible through the years, with efforts around the globe to create bird activities, festivals, and even concerts. As a young adult who needs to save up for a lot of things, the prices of gears aren’t very friendly haha.
G: What was your most rewarding experience?
A: It’s when people realize that there’s so much more to birdwatching and to the Philippine Biodiversity than what is usually taught in school. I see their eyes sparkle, their faces widen with how in awe they are when I talk about these things. I also get this sense of fulfillment when I teach people about Philippine biodiversity, and they actually include it in their conversations!
G: What do you consider your life’s birdwatching goal?
A: I wish to be a bridge between environmentalists and environmental scientists, and ordinary citizens/citizen scientists. With my influence (whether it’s through my art, social media, or generally through my content), I could make this knowledge more accessible and more fun for people!
My bandmates and I have been conceptualizing songs about bird calls, and we can’t wait to show them to the world! I’ve also been wanting to start a YouTube channel dedicated to spreading knowledge about Philippine Biodiversity, but I’m still gathering the resources, confidence and team members for that haha!
If you aren’t blown away by Anne’s insights yet, I don’t know how to help you. When asked what her favorite bird call was, she chose the Golden-bellied Gerygone. Anne reveals that her band is currently working on a song dedicated to its call. To see the youth approach the advocacy with such a creative and enterprising spirit gives one so much hope for the future.
Apart from her greater purpose, she also wishes to see the “Philippine Trogon, Apo Myna, Sulu Hornbill, Isabela Oriole, and the Cebu Flowerpecker” one day.
Anne shares that her inspiration for creating music is “anything that encapsulates the language and energy of love.”
G: What is your favorite piece you made?
A: I don’t have a favorite haha! I believe that all pieces/songs direct you to different feelings, and these feelings are unquantifiable. If you’d like an energy that sits with your emotions, I’d recommend “Magpatuloy.” If you’d like more of a release of emotions, “Takas” is for you. If you’d just like to dance like no one’s watching and to be comfortable with your own skin, “Takatak” is the song to listen to. It really depends on how you’re feeling at the moment.
You can stay tuned to more of our band’s works soon! We’ll be releasing a lot more for you :))
We already know who Anne’s birding influences are, but how about the music world? Below is a list of artists she looks up to with some of her notes:
He’s the Mozart of this generation! He just continues to push the boundaries of sound, with innovations in every song. You’ll never get bored with his music and even his performances. I attended his concert in the Philippines last year in November, and oh my gosh it was one of the best concerts and performances I’ve ever watched!
She is such an icon! Her band Paramore I’ve listened to and have been keeping up with their content since 2015. Their performances and music tell such good stories! They also vocally advocate for a lot of mental health awareness projects and female empowerment!
A lot of people said that I sounded and performed like her, so I studied her and her music. There’s just so much to discover from her, and I discover aspects about myself too when I listen to her!
I’ve listened to him since Grade 9, and his music and lyrics changed my life! It made me so focused to advocate singing and performing original Pinoy music and to represent the Philippines in a way that showcases Filipino elements. I got to explore writing OPM songs at a young age because of him!
They’re a HUGE influence to the band. Their funny lyrics and superb quality musical elements help us arrange songs that give a distinction!
I LOVE her music! I listen to it whenever I ‘m in need of a deep exploration, whether internally or externally. She inspires me to make folk music too!
G: What can musicians learn from birds and nature?
A: For specifically birds, they have been an inspiration to humankind for the longest time, being symbols of peace and freedom, and their calls inspiring melodies to musicians like me and my band. Their behaviors alone can spark musical ideas!
I think trusting one’s instinct can also be a huge inspiration to musicians. It’s something that a lot of musicians forget that birds do naturally! A lot of beginner musicians tend to overthink that they have to be good almost immediately, and just trusting your gut (like a bird in its natural habitat).
We can learn a thing or two from nature’s musical masters. Because of how distracted we’ve become, we often forget that the answers to our problems can be found in the natural world.
G: How can musicians contribute to conservation?
A: Our influence and power to move and inspire people is also a great responsibility (as the Spiderman saying goes). I feel like musicians can utilize the influence that we have to spread awareness to causes that center around conservation. My band, for example, tends to make songs that center a lot around nature, the environment, and we’ve been exploring how to incorporate Philippine birds with our music! We recently made a song about the call of the Golden-Bellied Gerygone, and we can’t wait for you all to hear it!
I feel like another way is for us musicians to be more aware and cautious of the environmental footprint/impact we have when hosting concerts, gigs, etc. There is a lot of trash produced if these concerts, gigs, or “rakets” aren’t monitored properly. If we, the band, set a good example to the fans (again using our influence), to pick up their trash, or bring it home, or even to tell people to look a little closer by the trees, be a little more patient when listening to the birds, and observe how they behave, etc, the knowledge of how beautiful Philippine biodiversity is will spread. Art is a movement, and with movements, there are roles and responsibilities creators and artists must hone to guide the people.
G: Do you have any upcoming projects or releases we should watch out for?
A: The band will be launched hopefully early next year, with a lot of content, and a lot of songs. I am pushing that we have different partner advocacies per song/album, so that we could contribute to conservation education. You can check out more of our current content via this link: https://linktr.ee/Mijon
Keep creating, and keep your drive and passion ALIVE!
We’ll certainly keep our eyes (or ears) peeled for Anne and her band’s future projects. There’s so much we have learned from this exchange and we hope you have to. For instance, there is a lot we can do to be active advocates of nature and conservation. Our talents are at our disposal and there is certainly more than one way to get our message across. Above all, it is important to stay curious and open to all that the world and Mother Nature has to teach us.
As we wind down for 2023 and welcome the New Year, here are some songs we birders can cozy up to during the holidays.
Anne’s Top 5 Song Picks For Fellow Birders
Never Gonna Be Alone
Jacob Collier, Lizzy McAlpine, John Mayer
Bonus: Anne’s Current Favorite Christmas Song
And a Maligayang Pasko indeed! Thank you to Anne Cortez for agreeing to be this issue’s Birder Portrait. Our gratitude as well to the readers of eBon, thank you for your continued support. See you in 2024!