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Keep your eye on the birdie in this southern sanctuary

By Ross Harper-Alonso
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:49am (Mla time) 05/03/2008

MANILA, Philippines – The Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club used to be an exclusive playground for golfers until they decided to share the fairways with feathered friends and create a wildlife oasis, not only for members to enjoy, but also to educate the public on caring for the environment.

Unless one is really looking, it’s easy to miss the brown shrike standing motionless on the red out of bounds pole. Locally known as tarat, these are migratory birds known to use their cleaver-like beaks to kill their prey. Among their favorites are maya, bats, frogs, snakes and mice.

A few meters away, night herons appear from beneath thick clusters of trees lining the man-made lagoon. They fly low to catch fish, their large wings just skimming the water before they gracefully return to their perches. The tree leaves in the area are flecked with white, calcified bird droppings, proof that it has become a favorite roosting site. It’s not unusual to see drivers of golf carts stop to let the birds walk across the cemented paths.

“It was important to first raise the level of environmental awareness within the club,” explained country club administration staffer Grace Fernandez. “Caddies and ground personnel were told to stop hunting the bayawak (monitor lizard), snakes, bats and birds. Later, they understood the company’s position to develop a wildlife haven within the golf course. It was a new culture we worked hard to introduce,” she said.

For many years, it was popular for landscapers to use mono culture or limit a single plant and tree species to an area. Palms were planted everywhere to create a Hawaiian atmosphere until indigenous varieties were introduced.
“More apitong trees and local varieties were planted to provide the birds with nests and protection,” said Cheryll Patulot, the club’s resident environmentalist. “This is our wetlands,” she added, pointing to a small pond surrounded by mud flats and grasslands. Many club members felt the area was an eyesore and a serious contrast to the manicured lawns.

Finding homes

Management had to explain the importance of allowing a few pockets of natural habitat to grow within the 136-hectare golf course – a 25-minute ride away from Makati City – located in Carmona, Cavite province, since not all birds make their homes in trees.

Fernandez points to two birds swimming peacefully among the water lilies. “They are common moorhens, water birds without webbed feet like ducks. They’re migratory birds, but some have made this pond their permanent home. I guess that’s a good sign,” she added.

“I’m not a bird expert that’s why we’re eager to work with the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines to help us identify different species we’ve spotted here.”
“We already learned something new,” volunteered Patulot. “I always thought those common brown scavengers we are forever shooing away from the verandah was our national bird, the maya. They’re actually Eurasian tree sparrows. The national bird before it was changed to the Philippine eagle used to be the chestnut munia, a bird with a black head and reddish brown body. I pass on this information to students when they come for educational tours.”

In December 2007, Manila Southwoods was recognized by Audubon International for its efforts to support environmental stewardship.
Audubon International is a nonprofit environmental education organization dedicated to providing people with information and assistance to practice responsible management of land, water, wildlife and natural resources.
“This award inspired us to take our advocacy to a higher level,” said club general manager Ramoncito Cabrera. “We invite schoolchildren and our neighbors to see the birds in a natural setting or listen to lectures on the environment. It is impossible to sustain a healthy ecological balance if we don’t work together.”


“The club’s recycled water is chemical-free and stored in open reservoirs like the large lagoon,” he added. “But because there are several natural creeks that run through the property, we also have to make sure nearby communities know better than to contaminate the water with pesticides or household products that harm the wildlife.

“We have a lot to learn, but seeing how much the bird population has flourished through the years since we became more environmentally conscious is enough to motivate us to work harder to make them stay.”

After word got around about their activities, neighboring communities started to sell them wild birds they had trapped. “Every week, people showed up with egrets, owls, kingfishers. We asked Carmona officials to tell them to stop hunting down the birds. The club and the area around us have since been declared a protected sanctuary.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has also released in Southwoods birds seized by its men earlier, knowing they would be safe in the area.

“Being surrounded by nature makes people feel positive,” said Fernandez. “I thought it was an exciting process to see how we all learned to co-exist with the birds.


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