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Birder Portrait – Flying Forward, Looking Back: Leo Barcenas

By Gabbi Reyes-Banaria

Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow— one thinks when migration season has come to an end with all the stars leaving only to put on a show again the following year. We set aside time to meet and welcome them with our scopes and cameras, no matter how brief the moment. Like friends to be reunited, birders await the migrants’ annual return.

Even birders come and go through the seasons. But regardless of distance, the friendships and bonds formed with both those who have been around long and ones who we’ve only just met drive us to look forward to the day we shall see each other again.

Leo Barcenas joined the club in December 2022 after joining a guided trip that was featured on Facebook. “It was a whole new experience for me to bird with seasoned birders, and I learned a lot and had so much fun!” he recalls. Leo is an Electrical Engineer with a love for birds and native trees.

The Source of His Spark

After two quick adventure-filled years with the club, Leo and his family are now set to live their next chapter in Florida. But being oceans away would never break the connection he has with Philippine birds. Let’s see where it all began.

G: When did you start birdwatching and how? Tell us your story.
LB: I have always been interested in birds even back when I was a kid, but it was some time in 2020 when my wife gifted me my first pair of binoculars that I really got into birdwatching.

G: What was your experience like as a newbie back then? How did you feel?
LB: I started birding casually, usually after work, but as I birded more, I felt like my eyes were opened to a whole new world! As a newbie birder, it was difficult to ID the new birds that I saw but that just added more to the excitement. It was like playing Pokemon in real life–except you just watch and don’t catch. Birding definitely brought a new meaning and purpose to my time outdoors.

G: What was your spark bird?
LB: Collared Kingfisher. Its electric blue plumage and commanding call really captivated me!

An electrifying moment for our Electrical Engineer birder.

A Collared Kingfisher, Leo’s spark bird

Among his club adventures was taking part in the Asian Waterbird Census in Balanga. He considers it to be his most challenging experience as a birder.

Leo shares his account: “It was hot and sunny, and identifying and counting waterbirds was dizzying and neck straining, but I loved every bit of it!”

Watching waterbirds through a scope.

G: What was your most rewarding experience?
LB: In terms of my bird life list, the most rewarding experience so far would be joining a weekend birding trip to Puerto Princesa, Palawan where I got 48 lifers! Thank you so much to my birder friends for inviting me!

G: When you started birding, what kind of changes did it make to your life?
LB: Being a birder, I became even more aware of my surroundings. When I got interested in Philippine native trees, I became preoccupied with trying to ID the trees I see outside. As a birder, I am now also very interested in the interactions between birds and trees, the fruits they eat, the flowers they get attracted to, etc.

Leo’s favorite shot is that of an Olive-backed flowerpecker perched atop a sinuous arrangement of fern leaves.

G: What are your target birds?
LB: High up on my list are our endemic kingfishers: the dwarf kingfishers, silvery kingfishers, Blue-capped kingfisher, and Rufous-lored kingfisher.

G: Where is your favorite place to bird?
LB: Subic! I love the place because it has one of the most accessible, well-preserved forests close to Metro Manila, and birding there never disappoints. Also, there are lots of good restaurants to go to after birding!

Ah yes. If there’s one thing that goes well with birding, it’s the breakfast or brunch that follows.

According to Leo, birding is great because “it made me appreciate and love nature even more, and it connected me to a lot of wonderful people.”

Never Too Far

In keeping with the Pokemon theme song, Leo now finds himself “travelling across the sea, searching far and wide” 9,225 miles away, to be exact. At the top of his list for Florida are the Florida Scrub-Jay and the Roseate Spoonbill. The birding never ends.

Florida Scrub-Jay photo by Cassidy Ficker on eBird.
Roseate Spoonbill photo by Peter Hawrylyshyn on eBird.

G: What are you most excited about in your new adventure?
LB: Of course, it’s being reunited with my family and going birding with them! I am really looking forward to meeting local birders and discovering the local birds.

G: What will you miss the most about birding in the Philippines?
LB: I will surely miss the great company of my birder friends, several of whom are already like family to me!

G: What do you think is the best thing birders leaving the country can still do for Philippine birds?
LB: I guess it would be to support the initiatives of the club, birders, and foundations whose goals are to protect the birds, their habitat, and uplift the local community. We can also promote Philippine birds in other countries to support avitourism in the country.

G: Any wise words for birders badly missing the Philippines and Philippine birds?
LB: I don’t have any yet, haha! I guess one would be to save up money and visit the Philippines as soon and as frequently as possible!

To Leo’s dear friends in the club, this isn’t goodbye, it’s simply save up and see you later! After all, it is his life’s birding goal to see all the endemic birds of the Philippines.

We wish you and your family all the best in your next chapter, Leo. As certain as the seasons change and the first shrike appears, we will bird with you again one day!

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