Winged Pleasures: Going Birdwatching

Imagine seeing this…not far from home

Nowadays I am curious about every single patch of green in and around the metropolis. It’s not because I’ve suddenly taken an interest in botany; rather it’s because I’m looking for the winged and feathered denizens of these areas. Surprisingly, birdwatching is a pastime that can be compatible with the life of a busy student.

It’s probably known to a lot of readers that the Philippines is a hotspot for biodiversity. Not only does the Philippines have a wide variety of endemic species: plant, furred, feathered, and scaled, but the archipelago is also a stopover for migratory creatures en route to their summer habitations. It is no surprise that a number of groups have taken an interest lately in highlighting the Philippines as a venue for environmental conservation, starting of course by increasing local awareness about our natural resources and most importantly, the need to take care of it. One of these groups is the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, a diverse group that devotes their time to watching, tracking, and cataloging the numerous species of birds that nest or fly into the Philippines. Their official website can be found here: http://www.birdwatch.ph/

At present, I am not a member of the Wild Bird Club, but I have been lucky enough to accompany a few of its members on bird watching expeditions, all within just a few miles of the city. My first trip was to the wetlands down by Coastal Road, just near the Manila International Airport. Now I had been a little skeptical about seeing many birds so close to civilization; I was honestly fearing a predominance of ‘mayas’ (known actually as the Eurasian Tree Sparrow). However I was astounded to see an abundance of waterbirds: great egrets, little egrets, terns, plovers, kingfishers, and a whole lot of others I could not identify. All of that…just a little away from Manila Bay.

My most recent, and best trip so far had to be to the Candaba Wetlands, just up in Pampanga. Getting there involved waking up at 2am in order to be able to get to the wetlands in time for the sunrise. The very moment we stepped out of the car, we saw literally hundreds of herons and other waterbirds, just a stone’s throw away from the rice fields. I had ‘known’ all my life that the large, stately purple heron was a ‘rare’ bird in the Philippines. That morning, I lost count of the purple herons I saw in the swamp, looking for food or flying about. I was also treated to the sight of a large mixed flock of ducks: some migratory, but a number of them were the famed Philippine Duck: a rather beautiful species with a telltale flash of blue on its wings. In that one trip alone, my group counted 32 species of birds: domesticated and undomesticated, that we found in the wetlands. We surely might have found more if we had stayed longer.

I have always been passionate about watching, immersing, and taking care of nature, but my life as a student often condemns me to be imprisoned in glass edifices. Now, thanks to birdwatching, I have a way to connect to the wild again. Even without binoculars or walking shoes, it’s a past time I can manage. If only to remind me that yes, there are other ways of living besides our earthbound existence.

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