Maida C. Pineda
December 14 issue of Starweek, the Sunday
magazine of The Philippine Star.
heard about bird watching in the Philippines from a
friend and I was intrigued, imagining exotic destinations
around the country. To my surprise, it was bird watching
in smoke-choked Metro Manila.
my life, I assumed we only had the small brown maya
birds in the city. Occasionally, I would see bright
yellow, red or green birds in cages being sold by vendors
in the streets, but these were probably just maya birds
soaked in dye. But this group actually spend their weekends
spotting more than just mayas around the meropolis.
I got in touch with Mike Lu, the president of Bird Watch or,
formally, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. Several years
back, Mike had the opportunity to experience bird watching
with Haribon. Unfortunately, they only offered this once a
year. Connecting with other birders in Metro Manila, Mike
succeeded in forming a club of amateur birders three months
ago. Though still in its infancy, it already boasts of an
impressive website (www.birdwatch.ph), a hyperactive e-group
of bird enthusiasts firing emails throughout the day, and
25 dedicated members.
first thing I learned from Mike is that our science teachers
were wrong. The small brown bird we were taught to call the
maya is actually the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. The real maya,
once our national bird, is in fact the Chesnut Munia.
a service to the public, the Wild Bird Club introduces recreational
bird watching and nature appreciation walks with the club’s
more experienced birders as guides. Limited to a manageable
number of 15 participants, I got the last slot in the club’s
first bird walk.
is an inexpensive hobby requiring only drab-colored clothing,
comfortable walking shoes, a hat, drinking water, a bird guidebook,
a notebook to record sightings, and a good pair of 8x40 binoculars.
Unlike most hobbies in vogue these days, this one is cheap,
safe and does not require much athletic skills. For those
without their own pair of binoculars, Mike invested in ten
pairs he rents out for only P50 each.
walk was scheduled one fine Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. at
the American Cemetery in Makati. Beginning with a short introduction
on birding, we learn some basics: First use your ears to listen,
then seek it out with your eyes before using your binoculars.
To identify a bird, first start with the head, followed by
the upper parts and tail, then the lower parts and the softer
parts (legs, eyes, etc). Use the Tree Sparrow (erroneously
known as the maya) as your standard for estimating size. Habitat
preference and behavior of the bird also provide clues to
the species being observed.
involves watching wild birds in their natural habitat, learning
to identify species, and understanding their behavior. Not
to be dismissed as a mere hobby, much of what ornithology
(the study of birds) knows about birds today comes from the
observations of ordinary but dedicated birders.
with birdcalls is key in identifying the species. Arne Jensen,
a Danish ornithologist, has been in the country studying our
birds for the past 14 years. As a professional, he is the
most knowledgeable and experienced birder in the group. He
can quickly identify a bird based on its call. Arne points
out that for some species the males are more colorful than
the females. He jokes, "Just like humans, men are more
attractive that’s why women need to wear make-up."
Every year I sing about them in Christmas carols, but only
now do I finally know what a Turtle Dove looks like.
attention shifts from the birds to the birders when I overhear
words such as "bulbuls" and "flowerpeckers".
Bird watching can get naughty, I conclude.
Mike is not an ornithologist, his knowledge of birds is impressive.
Monday to Friday finds Mike running the family’s business,
but weekends are spent indulging in this passion. Some weekdays
he gives bird walks to college students for their alternative
class. Evenings he spends updating the bird list, documenting
the species and number of birds spotted by the group.
a UP Geology professor, is another experienced birder. He
is quick to spot birds, aiding neophytes point their binoculars
in the right direction. Pia easily spots and identifies birds
even though she has been doing this for only been a month.
While other people may be avid collectors, this thirty-something
interior designer seems to be collecting bird sightings. She
declares, "59 species and still counting…"
Her love for wildlife does not end with birds; she is responsible
for EESP (Endangered, Endemic Species of the Philippines),
an awarded website monitoring disappearing species in the
mood is relaxed and cheerful as we walk along the concrete
path next to countless rows of white crosses. My first time
in this well-manicured cemetery make me appreciate the novelty
of this outdoor activity even more. Due to the lack of parks
in the country, the birders have found cemeteries to be good
sites to watch birds. The neat and orderly setting in the
American Cemetery makes it easy to spot birds resting on the
immaculate white crosses or perched in trees. But it was also
a painful reminder that the natural habitats of the birds
are dying in this city.
ooohs and ahhs, the friendliness of my fellow birders was
tangible. They patiently point out which particular branch
of which particular tree I must train my binoculars on to
spot the bird. This low impact activity even allows a pregnant
woman to keep up with the afternoon’s leisurely stroll.
The thrill of spotting a bird keeps Beatrice, a third year
high school student, equally excited as the retirees in the
a Brahminy Kite, an Asian raptor, is the highlight of the
afternoon. Usually seen near the water, this fellow is having
an afternoon snack, unmindful of our watchful eyes. When it
soars, we are all in awe as it glides majestically in the
sky. Green Ring-necked parakeets are almost camouflaged in
the leaves of a tree, but Pia’s sharp eyes immediately
coined the adage, "The early bird gets the worm"
must have been a birder. Despite only three hours of sleep,
I find myself excited to get up for the 5:30 a.m. meeting
time at a gas station in Makati. For a surgeon used to early
morning procedures, Doc Albert is raring to go on his second
bird walk. A photography hobbyist, his attraction to birding
is to capture on film his sightings. Several other photography
enthusiasts join this second bird walk at Libingan ng Bayani,
armed with cameras with varying lengths of lenses.
National Cemetery, while only a few kilometers away from the
American Cemetery, provides a different experience all together.
It starts with a refreshing sunrise in the company of joggers.
It has more hilly areas, a small lagoon, high grass providing
not only an exciting terrain for these adventure seekers but
also a setting birds are attracted to.
the entrance, we spot Pied Fantails. Heading east meant not
only wet pants and muddy shoes but also a great area to see
Zebra Doves, Brown Shrikes, Yellow-Vented Bulbuls, Chesnut
Munias, Striated Grassbirds and a Zitting Cisticola. Many
birds and insect bites later, we head to the west side of
the cemetery, cutting through graves toward a small lagoon.
There are ducks and chickens and a well-tended vegetable patch
thriving amidst the remains of the dead. But the attraction
of this area is the Common Kingfisher which migrates to the
Philippines in September. There is nothing common about this
bird’s appearance, with its plummage of bright blue
a retired chemist, wonders out loud why birds are colored,
then goes on to whether birds see in color. We walk further
west to where a Philippine Coucal makes its appearance, embarking
on a low and graceful flight.
with quick eyes and perfect vision spot the Philippine Pygmy
Woodpecker bobbing in a tree, its small size and dark brown
color making it difficult to spot. It certainly looked nothing
like the red-haired cartoon Woody Woodpecker.
White-collared Kingfisher is easy to spot, thanks to its deep
turquoise color. Mike says a photo of this handsome bird will
surely entice many to take up birding. But this group of first-and
second-timers need no convincing on the joys of birding. As
a fitting farewell, an intermediate egret flies by to bid
us farewell. In flight, this pure white bird is a phenomenal
sight against the deep blue sky.
regain hope for our city. In our merely two-hour walk around
Libingan, we spot over a hundred birds and a total of 19 species–an
astounding number . While many birders focus on the quantity
of birds seen with every experience, I am more pleased by
the quality of the experience. No doubt the challenge of spotting
the birds is exciting, like a stalker lurking quietly at a
distance, appreciating the beauty of his obsession.
every bird walk, my senses seem more heightened, becoming
more sensitive even to subtle colors and sounds. My mood becomes
brighter. I am thrilled to see birds endemic to the Philippines,
plus the transients flying in during the winter months. On
a deeper level, I am grateful to see these creatures while
they still thrive in our country. There are even little perks
like seeing furry gray squirrels in the American cemetery,
going to places I’ve never had the opportunity to visit
before, and bonding with a diverse group of kind strangers
who share my love for nature.
inbox continues to be filled with email messages on birding.
Mike entices me to conquer Manila Bay, La Mesa Dam and even
surrounding provinces. I unconsciously find myself flipping
through my bird book, acquainting myself with the fine-feathered
creatures. With my auditory senses now attuned to birdcalls,
I seem to hear them more frequently. But perhaps my new winged
friends are just sending me a message– a sweet reminder
not to forget our date for the next bird walk adventure.
Bird Club has monthly bird walks. Check out their website