Reader's Digest Asian Edition
Keeping an Eye on the Birds
By Ross Harper Alonso
Mike Lu always loved nature. As a young boy,
he watched Tarzan movies to see the animals and spend his
weekends outdoors, listening to the quacking of wild ducks
and watching birds fly over his grandparent's Manila home.
Lu's fascination with birds never left him
and, after growing up and joining his family's industrial
hand tool business, he founded the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
At first the club was very informal, doing
little more than exchanging information among its 11 members.
Soon, he realised that the club could play a role in educating
Filipinos about their country's abundant bird life. A turning
point came when Lu took a group of rural public school teachers
on a bird-watching tour near Manila Bay.
"They were ecstatic to see even the
most common birds," he recalls. "Their reaction
both surprised and disturbed me since they come from forested
provinces. I soon learned the science textbooks used in many
schools still did not say much about Philippine wildlife."
The club's site, www.birdwatch.ph,
has photos and information about the country's birds. Lu,
as club president, started offering monthly guided birdwatching
trips to the public and giving lectures in elementary schools.
Two Manila universities later invited him to conduct bird-watching
In November 2006 the Wild Bird Club took
Anni Salinas, an environmental science instructor at the Philippine
Military Academy, and her class of 60 to the Candaba Marsh,
a major stopover point for 50 species of migrating water fowl
north of Manila. "I teach military cadets who will one
day be deployed to forests and remote mountain areas,"
says Salinas. "It is important they know to respect the
environment and identify the birds so they can be role models
and teach the locals."
Since 2003 club members and their guests
have been documenting their trips. Photographs and details
of bird sightings are added to the club's database, which
is kept on its website. "If the sightings of a particular
species started to lessen, it could go unnoticed if birdwatchers
did not keep and compare past data," Lu explains.
The club's data collection is starting to
make a difference. In 2004, Lu discovered that the Department
of Environment and Natural Resources had no information about
bird sightings in wetlands within Metro Manila to contribute
to the Asian Waterbird Census, a programme coordinated by
Wetlands International in the Netherlands that monitors the
status of wetlands and waterbird populations.
Lu jumped at the opportunity to help fill
the gap. In January 2005 club members collected data from
Coastal Lagoon in Manila Bay. "We recorded 2500 birds
belonging to 25 waterbird species. It has become the club's
In April 2007, the census findings helped
support the Department of Natural Resource's recommendation
to conserve the mangroves and mudflats around Coastal Lagoon,
and covinced President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to declare
the site a critical habitat and ecotourism area.
"Because of Mike's clear vision and
the member's commitment to teach the public to appreciate
our birds, the Department of Tourism now recognises the potential
of bird-watching in the country and has funded the first Philippine
bird-watching guidebook," says Bebet Gozun, former Secretary
of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Today the Wild Bird Club has more than 200
members. While Lu is pleased with what the club has accomplished,
he knows there is a lot of work left to do. "We owe it
to succeeding generations to eliminate environmental threats
by making sure our environmental laws are enforced now,"