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Birdwatching in the Philippines

[I just updated this blog because the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) provided me with some very good bird photos! ]

Try to answer this one: In two minutes, name as many bird species as you can. Chickens not included. I bet 90% of you got to name only one or two species (let me guess..... maya?).

Since the early 90's I have been advocating birdwatching as a tourism product of the Philippines. We got the numbers: more than 600 species of birds and about 200 of them are endemic to the Philippines (found only in this country). The international market is HUGE. From Europeans, Americans, and now even Asians.

But lo and behold! Its been more than 15 years since I started doing a study on that thing and not much has happened (well, touristically). Its a good thing that a local birdwatching club name the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) has been organized by bird enthusiasts and they have been doing a great job in spreading the word on the value of birdwatching and environmentalism. The only thing is that there is less than 200 birdwatchers in the country. The country does not have enough warm bodies yet to become good birdwatching guides. So we stay here in our little corner while that huge, quality market stray to other destinations.

Well, aside from the guides, we actually have other challenges - have you heard of deforestation or habitat loss? In 1930's the Philippines used to have 16 MILLION hectares of virgin rainforest. Now the statistics are down to less than 800,000 hectares. Can you imagine how many bird species may have gone extinct without us even knowing they even existed? So those almost 600 species may actually be hard to encounter since there are very little and patches of hiding places they call home.

This is actually one of the reasons why we have to promote and develop birdwatching. There is a great market out there, we have the product (high quality, Im telling you). The only thing missing right now are the guides.

At the start, it can be quite intimidating trying to learn the appearance and names (scientific also) of 600+ species. But actually, it can be really easy, especially for the locals. Usually, the number of birds in a small area would only be in the vicinity of 30-50 species, the locals would already know a lot of them birds. So, its just really be the common and scientific names that remain to be hurdled.

What about expense? Birdwatching is one of the cheapest forms of hobbies. Just a pair of binoculars, a field note, and a field guide would do. A pair of binoculars could be bought between Php500 - 5,000, depending on where you buy it. More expensive options would be a spotting scope and long lens cameras. But those are reserved for the real birdwatching addicts (yes, this can be very addicting).

So what's the reward in birdwatching? Its the discovery of seeing more of nature (wow, there are actually more impressive birds than the mayas!!), of learning, of touching your heart and your spirit that we are part of this universe, of pinching your morals that we can do something to help contribute in keeping our environment the way it should be.

And where can you start doing birdwatching - try to walk around your neighborhood. The mayas are everywhere. but have you noticed the fluttering birds whose dancing tails are edged with white color? You have seen the pied fantails. Have you walked under a raintree in the park and saw a small, yellow-bellied bird that sings a long song (actually sounding like a whistle of a cop played nicely), that's a golden-bellied flyeater. Or you may have heard a similar but shorter whistle and saw a small bird drumming its beak on tree trunk - you have actually seen a woodpecker bird that is found only in the Philippines. And come September, you could very well see a relatively large bird (compared to the maya) whose face looks like the masked Zorro. This species has now arrived from Mainland Asia (well, China and probably Korea also) and will now spend the cold months in the warmer Philippines. You probably already know this one - its called the Tarat or Brown Shrike.

So the next time you walk in the tree-lined streets and parks, try to observe a bit more and you may discover that birdwatching can actually be fun. Then you'll be ready to explore the forests and discover the world of the eagles, malkohas, doves and flowerpeckers.

Who knows, maybe you can decide that you want to be a birdwatching guide in the Philippines.

And no, the hummingbird you guessed earlier is not found in the Philippines.


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