The 12th Asian Bird Fair
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
October 14-16, 2023
By Alice Villa-real
I`ve been a member of the WBCP since 2004, was very active in birding activities i.e. bird guiding, censuses, annual gatherings, organizing Philippine Bird Festivals and even served as Vice President for a number of years; yet I’ve never attended or participated in an international bird fair.
Last September, while enjoying a short vacay in Anilao, I was browsing through my emails when I chanced upon an invitation to the 12th Asian Bird Fair. There was a sudden rush of adrenalin and I kept debating whether to go or not. But there was this “still small voice” that no longer kept still. It started “screaming” at me – “Just go! Go! Go!”
I responded to it and started making arrangements for accommodations, booking a flight and the other nitty-gritty details. The fun began when I started communicating with the people who were also participating—our very own WBCP officers.
Everything went on smoothly from booking, packing, airport travel time until we all reached our destination to Kota Kinabalu at past two in the morning.
I find Kota Kinabalu charming and it seems to be a great place to live and very affordable too. Once we got to our accommodation, the social atmosphere was so alive and invigorating! Delegates from all over Asia, Australia, the U.S. and Colombia were arriving and filling up the hotel lobby, lingering to socialize, and to chitchat. Smiles and laughter were all over the place and the vibe and energy was truly palpable. Phone cameras were the most visible gadgets next to binoculars as delegates snap photos of each other.
The first couple of nights were purely for social interaction. The WBCP prepared a few games to enhance the social activity and it was a total delight just watching each delegate participate and getting to know other delegates in the process. I was so happy just watching the entire activity. I was loaded with dopamine and oxytocin in my bloodstream during these nights – happy hormones!
The lectures in the next few days were highly informative and truly inspiring! I was particularly focused on the tourism initiatives of speakers from India and the host country. The topics were loaded with so much information and illustrations that I had to snap photos of each PowerPoint slide projected onto the huge screen.
One particular guest speaker that made a mark was Noah Strycker, the American birder who set a record for worldwide Big Year of birding seeing 6,042 of the world’s estimated 10,365 bird species. His journey spanned 41 countries and all seven continents from January 1 to December 31, 2015. His book, “Birding Without Borders” was a hit during the fair and I happen to purchase the very last copy that was being sold at a booth.
During short breaks, we had the opportunity to visit other booths represented by other countries and had the wonderful chance for meaningful chitchats and check their merchandise at the same time.
All throughout, the love, appreciation and passion for birds were evident in every lecture and every social encounter regardless of nationality and language barrier.
WBCP booth being visited by Datuk Christina Liew, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah
ABF Organizing team Mike Lu, Andrew Sebastian and Victor Yu
With Roger and Ron from the Persatuan Permahati Burung Sabah Birdwatchers Association
Our last day was an early morning adventurous one and a half hour trip going up Kinabalu Park by bus for a brief birding exploration in their forest trail. And, it was a blast!
Although it was an uphill hike, our slow pace and cool, comfortable temperature made it easy for many of us.
About a hundred participants from various countries hiked the trail for a couple of hours or more carrying long, heavy lenses, tripods and camera bodies just to photograph birds they’ve never seen before.
Despite our number, you couldn’t even hear a pin drop as we tried to hold our sheer excitement. Silence is a birder’s etiquette especially when on a trail.
We were divided into three groups and followed our own particular pace. I was absolutely ecstatic seeing a number of birds for the first time in my life! I counted a few lifers that day and I remember already being left behind because I was just soaking in the stillness and beauty of my surroundings. There was a moment when I could no longer contain my joy and happiness that I simply had to tell another foreign birder that I was so happy! She eventually gave me that quizzical look!
At one point, we were just three walking leisurely along the trail and I was softly chitchatting with one of our biologists. The other woman with us was a Korean who obviously could not communicate with us. But what was truly delightful was she would follow us along because our only form of communication were the bird calls we would hear and the birds we would point out to her which she all understood very well. And, after seeing the bird through her binoculars, I’d look at her and say, “Very happy?!” And, she would burst out with, “Very happy!” with the typical hard, Korean English accent.
The love for birds brings nations together and breaks down communication barriers. Isn’t it is so wonderful?
Whitehead’s Trogon Harpactes whiteheadi Indigo Flycatcher Eumysias indigo
It was an absolutely hectic last day. From Kinabalu Park, we proceeded to the beautiful Shangri-La Rasa Ria Beach, Golf & Nature Reserve boasting a 3km beach and a 64 acre nature reserve among others. We were given time to explore some areas of the reserve, do more birding and finally enjoy a sumptuous dinner buffet before hurriedly proceeding to the airport to board our flight back to Manila.
I remember Mike Lu, WBCP president telling me, “Alice, it’s about time for you to attend the Asian Bird Fair!” And yes, I made the perfect decision. A wonderful event I will never forget – my first ever international bird fair!
In addition, I learned a new skill during the entire week while in Kota Kinabalu – paper craft making! Thanks to Cristina Cinco who was my roommate for the entire duration of the bird fair! I learned how to make big, beautiful flowers!
Wrapping it up – the social aspect, love for birds and the environment and tourism initiatives are on top of my list. This won’t be my last time participating in a bird fair. It will in fact be the beginning of numerous travels!
Happy birding to all!