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Thrilled for Spoon-billed!

An Open Letter to the First Recorded Spoon-billed Sandpiper in the Philippines

By Tien Oriana

Dear Spoonie,

We have been waiting for you! Seeing you was nothing short of extraordinary.

I was on the other side of Luzon when news of your presence reached us. There were messages screaming in all caps, meetings were rescheduled, errands were put off, and everyone made plans to meet you. I swear, the entire community went out of their minds. I even heard there were lots of trembling when we recognized you on our own shores! (Click here to read the article by your first spotter!)

But this letter isn’t about the insanity you’ve caused, but how you’ve restored my sanity.

You see, I have been struggling a lot lately. In fact, I was in Infanta because I needed a breather. You’ve probably never heard of Infanta because it’s not really your vibe, but it’s my favorite birding site. I’d tell you more about it, but we can save it for another time. Tired from both burnout and birdwatching the day prior, I was not at all prepared for two days of back to back out of town birding. Seeing you here is possibly a once in a lifetime experience, so how could I pass on such a rare opportunity?

So I woke up at 2AM. It is now the second day in a row of a long drive with my birding buddy, Timmy. We watched the sun rise on the roads of Pampanga, and we got to the Balanga Wetland and Nature Park a little past 6 in the morning. We met up with our other birder friends at the docks, and off we went on a boat towards you. Boy, were the mudflats so soft that day! Many from our sortie sank–some even hip-deep!

Boat by boat, our group slowly grew in number, wading our way to where you were first seen. You had so many visitors that day, Spoonie! There were about 20 of us, composed of diverse individuals from all walks of life–and with varying birding experience! Many of them were very kind enough to lend their spotting scope to people like me who can’t afford one (yet! Why do you and your wader friends have to be so far away all the time? But I totally understand that some of us can seem scary.)

It took us about an hour to find you. When Ms. Irene Dy signaled that you’ve been spotted, a birder migration ensued. Everyone “calmly” and slowly made their way across. Had there been no risk of slipping or sinking in the mud, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been that calm! When we reached the spot, no one was calm anymore and everyone frantically set up their scopes. The mudflat was vast and a lot of weird landmarks were used, even pieces of trash we could identify by brand! One by one, each birder just glimmered with delight upon seeing you.

I waited for a scope to free up. When I found one, I was guided by those already tracking you. I held my breath. I laid my eyes on a feeding bird that had your giss. But you look so much like your stint friends and this bird was so busy feeding. I had to make sure it was you. I waited for you to lift your head and–🥄!!!

With my eye still on the scope, I felt my own tears about to burst but I had to hold it in because I didn’t want to cry on someone else’s gear! And I didn’t want tears to be in the way of seeing you properly. I checked if everyone’s gotten to take you in before taking digiscope pictures and videos. Here’s the best pic I got:

You were really busy eating, Spoonie! It was quite hard to get your good side!

After an hour of your generous cooperation in letting us admire you to our hearts content, it was time for us to part ways–you to different spot, and us to return home. It was a long way home but the high from seeing you did not come down. I was so worried of crashing into another episode of withdrawing from the world, which is my tendency after big effort days such as having to deal with the rigors of travel. But you know what? That day ended with me telling myself, “I feel alive again.”

Between you and me, I honestly had not felt that in a while. Like I said, I am writing to share how you have become key to this pivotal moment. I am generally a person driven by passion, but I have recently started to question the “why” behind the things that I do. It has been at least a month of this aimless and wandering feeling amid this apathy.  The world can be really unkind, a sentiment I know you, of all creatures, would understand as you’ve been critically endangered. I can’t begin to imagine the great lengths you and your family had to go through to get to where you are. So to be witness to you as a country record is an inspiring memory that I can anchor on as I wade through the mucky lengths and varying depths of depression. The path to recovery is by no means easy nor linear, but seeing you was just what I needed to get me back on my feet.

Admittedly, it wasn’t just you who brought me to a place of healing–it was also thanks to the entire birding community. I never thought I’d find a community with a passion so contagious that the way they empower and uplift other birders never ceases to astound me. What makes it even more amazing to me is how despite everyone coming from all sorts of backgrounds, we set aside those differences for the love of creatures like you.

It was a thrill to participate in the frenzy your visit has caused. I may not be one of those who’s dreamed of your arrival for years, but witnessing peoples’ dreams come true and sharing in that experience was incredible and humbling. No word or praise would do you the right service in describing just how special you really are.

The community is an important support system for me. Likewise, with you, it takes an entire community to keep you and your kind alive. Finding you on our shores is marvelous and all, and I hope we can be part of growing you in numbers. What is it now, 500 or 700 individuals? Part of me hopes you have a secret population somewhere. Thanks for making me feel alive again, and may this open letter show why we need to keep you alive as well.

Be safe, Spoonie! Hope you visit more often and tell your friends!

See you next season,

Just another birder

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