A white-collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) – a striking, noisy bird commonly-encountered in lightly-wooded areas. (Gregg Yan)
Ever since the earliest waves of migratory Austronesian-speaking people crossed the twin Bornean land bridges nearly 30,000 years ago, bird songs have awoken Pinoys from their nightly naps.
Remarkably rich in birdlife, the Philippines has over 600 species of resident and migratory birds. In comparison, greater North America, a country 81 times our size – has but 2000. About 190 of our birds, a full third, are endemic. Habitat loss, hunting and incursions by introduced species have drastically reduced populations.
More than 200 Philippine birds are included in the World Conservation Union’s red list of critically-endangered species, including the Philippine Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), the Negros Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus arcanus) and our national bird, the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) – considered by some experts as the largest eagle on Earth.
I spotted this Luzon hornbill (Penelopides manillae) flitting in and out of the jungles of Subic Bay. (Gregg Yan)
Birds play a key role for the environment, eating fruits and dispersing the seeds over wide tracts of land – a major factor in revitalizing forests. Similarly, some nectar-feeders such as the Philippine Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarina jugularis) are important pollinators. Seabirds improve the ecology of small islands by producing large amounts of guano which enriches island soil – allowing less adaptable plants to root.
I totally climbed a tree to see this Philippine pygmy woodpecker (Dendrocopos maculatus) eye to eye! (Gregg Yan)
There are many places to look for birds near Metro Manila – ranging from Candaba Marsh, the mangrove-fringed coastline of Cavite, to schools like Ateneo, Miriam and UP Diliman. Here are some quick tips for Yuneoh readers who want to give birdwatching a try:
Wear proper clothing – In order to see the animals without them scuttling off, you have to literally blend in with your surroundings. Wear dull shades of brown or green – military camouflage works very well. Quick-dry apparel will keep you both cool and dry during long treks in the forest or under the sun – perfect for birdwatching.
Bring a good hat – Always useful for protection against the elements. It should of course be dull-coloured so as not to attract attention. Brim or boonie hats are preferable to caps or sun-visors to protect your nape, which can get sunburnt out in the field.
Bring really, really good binoculars – This is absolutely vital if you intend to birdwatch. Binoculars are described by two sets of numbers: the first is the magnification and the second is the diameter of the front lens in millimetres. If you have a 10 x 40 pair, a bird that’s 10 meters away will appear as if it’s one meter in front of you. Always remember to keep your pair clean and dry.
Bring a field guide – Crucial in identifying which birds you see. There are numerous titles which should be readily available at your local bookstore, though the usual birdwatcher’s bible is the Kennedy guide.
Bring a notebook – Used to record the birds and other animals that you encounter. Remember to jot down when and where you saw the animal, what it was doing and so forth. A notebook also helps when you have difficulty in identifying a certain animal, as you can draw a rudimentary sketch before the animal scuttles off. You can always consult your field guide afterwards.
Go during the early mornings – Most wild animals are at their most active during the hours of dawn (5AM to 7AM). Trust me, you won’t regret waking up early – everything will just seem more alive. If you cannot make it early, the next best time to view animals is late in the afternoon (4PM to 6PM). As a general rule, the hotter it is, the less active animals will be.
Just sit down and be patient – Watching wildlife is really about blending in with your surroundings so much that birds and other critters come out of hiding. One of the best techniques is to just quietly sit down by a tree trunk and see what comes out in 15 or 20 minutes. You’d be surprised at how effective this can be.
Leave no trace – A basic tenet of all outdoor activities. This also means you can’t disturb bird and other animal habitats.
Always ask for permission – Before you enter a site, ask for permission. Guards and attendants are only doing their job, so be please be patient and courteous whenever they query your intentions.
If you see anything interesting during your trips, post them online! Groups like the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines are wonderful communities to talk about birdwatching.
Good luck and happy birdwatching, mates!