Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pledge 2 Fledge 2014: From The Nest to The Table

This year, the WBCP was able to conduct two guided birdwatching trips for the Pledge 2 Fledge weekend! Pledge 2 Fledge is the flagship project of Global Birding Initiative. The goal is to share and promote the joy of birdwatching to more people by taking them out birding. 

The first trip Jops and I conducted with Anna G. was in the beautiful town of  El Nido, Palawan. We were there for a bird survey and decided to fledge some new birders among some of the El Nido Resorts personnel! Birding there was awesome! We birded in three sites: El Nido Cove, Dalimatan trail, and in Lagen Island. More details on these adventures (and my 12 lifers!!) in my next post.

Sir Mesach and Sir Alex birding in El Nido Cove
I got 4 lifers here and we recorded a total 24 species!
Anna (wearing a hat) giving the introductory talk about birding
before going in the Dalimatan trail
Our group birding in the Dalimatan trail.
Hair-crested Drongos gave us good views here!
Happy birders even though it wasn't such a birdy morning that day
in the Dalimatan trail
Another group shot as we reached the end of our birding morning 

It was a lot of fun birding with the group from El Nido. Most of them were already aware and knowledgeable of the birds in their areas and it was nice exchanging stories and information with them. I also enjoyed showing new birds to them and seeing the joy of new discovery. While we were walking towards the end of the Dalimatan trail, a bright Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher darter across the path just in front of us, showing its orangey-pink color. Sir Mesach, just seeing a glimpse of the bird, has now made it a personal quest to see it again soon, with better views of course =)

One evening during our stay in El Nido Cove, we heard some Spotted Wood Owls calling loudly from the trees just beside our rooms! We went out and were joined by some of the hotel staff. The girls shared that when they hear that sound, they would run away from the scary sound. We showed them the drawing of the owl in our field guides and they were surprised that a bird was making the loud sounds at night! I asked them if they would run away from the sound next time they hear it, and they said with a smile that they wouldn't and that they are no longer afraid =)

We flew back to Manila on Saturday and scheduled another guided trip for the Pledge 2 Fledge weekend in the La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City. We had 14 participants and were able to see 24 species that morning in the park.

We began birding in the spillway and immediately saw some Barred Rails
We also birding in the trails and the Ashy Thrushes did not disappoint
as well as the Mangrove Blue Flycathers
Another group shot of happy birders!

It was an activity-filled weekend for Anna, Jops, and I but we got a lot of help from our friends who volunteered for the activity. From The Nest (El Nido) to The Table (La Mesa), we hope we were able to do our part in sharing the wonderful world of birdwatching to more people =)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Horrible Hunt

Hunting has always been horrible for me. I watched Bambi ONCE, years ago when I was a child. The reason I never watched it again that first viewing was that I was too disturbed when Bambi's mom was shot by a hunter. I vowed never to watch it again, and I never did.

Now as an adult, I am faced again with the same horrifying issue of hunting. But this time, it is real.

Last week, some of my birder friends took a trip to Adams in Ilocos Norte. Elated after seeing a family of Rufous Hornbills in the forest, they saw a man by the side of the road. He had a rifle. And he had a dead juvenile hornbill. When my friend raised his camera to document what they were seeing, the man even held up the dead bird and posed for the camera.

This was the photo my friend took of the hunter with a hint of a smile on his face.
Why would you smile with something dead in your hands?
I would rather see him in a zoo, taking a selfie
with a hornbill in a cage rather than with a dead one.

They went to the police station to report what they saw but the policemen hesitated since they recognized the hunter and said that he was the son-in-law of the town's vice mayor and the son of a town councilor. I guess these affiliations render someone above the law? (Read the online news article here.)

It reminded me of the earlier incident of hunting by a prominent politician and his daughter, when they killed lots of Philippine Ducks. Below is my own screenshot of the daughter's photo collage of their "father-daughter bonding activity". Yes, she even made a photo collage out of it and posted it on her public account.

She took down this Instagram post when it went viral

The daughter denied having hunted in the Philippines, saying they shot the Philippine Ducks in another country. Too bad for her, she killed dozens of the only endemic duck species in the Philippines. (Click here for the definition of ENDEMIC.) Even worse for her is her own father's admission recently to having shot the ducks, which he claimed were pests to the farmers and that he was only doing the farmers a favor by shooting them. For everyone's information, ducks feed on the kuhol (snails) that are the real pest to farmer's crops. They killed the "natural pesticide" instead of the real pests. Smart. Who are the real pests in this story then?

Aside from the killing of Philippine wildlife, poaching is also another horrible practice associated with hunting. Just a few days ago, this photo surfaced on social media. It's a raptor - a bird of prey that should be soaring in the sky above us. But here, it is all wrapped up and packaged for shipping via airplane.

Yes, it is still alive.
I have no words.
An obviously frightened Philippine Eagle Owl
also "ready" for shipping...
Horrible.

And you'd think only the "big birds" fall victim to these atrocities, but no! Even the birds we see (and most of the time even ignore) fall victim to these murderous hunters whose idea of fun is taking a life. Yes, the caption reads: "1st Timerrrrrrr saraaaaap".

They killed common backyard birds, yes. It doesn't make it ok.
 Aside from being illegal, did they ever stop to think
if these birds had nests with chicks?

So, after getting A LOT of criticisms on her photo collage, the girl reportedly apologized on Facebook already, saying they did not know that killing birds was against the law and that they didn't kill any endangered species anyway. Say what?!?

Ok, ok, ok.  (inhale, exhale)

So, a lot of people do not know the law (or so they say.) For their benefit, let me emphasize parts of the Wildlife Act (R.A. No. 9147) pertinent to the issue I am writing about. The following are ILLEGAL ACTS:

  • killing and destroying wildlife species
  • inflicting injury which cripples and/or impairs the reproductive system of wildlife species
  • trading of wildlife
  • collecting, hunting, or possessing wildlife
  • gathering or destroying of active nests, nest trees, hosts plants
  • maltreating and/or inflicting other injuries
  • transporting of wildlife

Nowhere in the Wildlife Act does it states that these only cover endangered species. The Wildlife Act covers ALL wildlife species in the Philippines. ALL. Even the maya birds we see everyday are protected by this law. 

But more than the law, isn't it also a matter of humanity? What joy is there in taking a life? Unless you're a serial killer or psychopath, I cannot imagine what kicks one gets out of murdering an innocent animal.

I understand there is skill involved and the thrill of the hunt is exhilarating. Yes, yes. I can get that. I enjoy the shooting games in the arcade and game consoles too. But times have changed. We all have to accept that.

We've all heard stories of our fathers, uncles, and grandparents who used to hunt in their childhood. I have friends who used to hunt in their youth. But times have changed. Before, they had lush forests and there weren't too many people around. fast forward to now, there are just too many people hunting too little wildlife. Add to that habitat destruction that also depletes the number of birds in our forests and grasslands. The birds and other animals are on the losing end. And hunting and poaching them isn't helping in the least bit! There is a more responsible way of enjoying nature that also involves skill and gives you an amazing thrill. Why don't you try birdwatching: it's hunting, without the blood.

So what do we do??? 
  • Let us all be responsible stewards. We should take care and be proud of the amazing natural environment our country has been blessed with. We shouldn't buy Philippine wildlife to be kept as pets! They belong in the wild. As a child, I used to beg my dad for a myna and never got one. It's only now that I understood his reasons: they should be kept free in the wild.
  • Let us all be advocates. If we have relatives or friends engaged in hunting, we should do our part in helping them realize the consequences of their past time. Remember, times have changed. Your lolo who used to hunt in the forests by himself now has lots of grandchildren who are hunting in what remains of the destroyed forests. Tama na.
  • Let us all be vigilant. If we see incidents such as what I posted above, and even cases of illegal logging and other forms of abuse to the environment, it is our responsibility to report them. You may report illegal activities to the Biodiversity Management Bureau (formerly the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau). Their phone number is +(63 2) 9246031-35 and +(63 2) 9240109. More contact information can be found here.
Let's all do our part... no matter how sad and hopeless the situation may seem. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Birding in Baguio

Everything fell into place that weekend in Baguio: we got vouchers for a weekend stay at The Forest Lodge, we could hitch a ride with Jops's parents on the way back to Manila, and we had participants signed up for the guided trip we planned for our last morning in Baguio. Yay! Not a bad plan for our first time to bird in Baguio!

We took the 12:15AM Victory Liner deluxe bus and arrived at their Baguio City station in four hours! I slept through almost the whole ride and didn't even get to check out the on-board comfort room. It was 750pesos well-spent: it included a bottle of mineral water, a piece of bread, a stick of macapuno candy, plus power outlets for each seat, recliner seats, and wifi.

So, we took a cab to our hotel which was inside Camp John Hay, got lucky with an early check-in, and were on our way by sunrise! Large-billed Crows and Crested Mynas were up very early and along the way to the trail, Elegant Tits and Mountain White-eyes were stirring and starting to sing and fly around.

Elegant Tit
They would be our constant companion throughout our stay =)
Crested Myna
We even heard one imitate the sound of a siren!

We had a wonderfully filling breakfast at the Le Monet hotel which was in front of the entrance to the Eco Trail. We highly recommend their ala carte breakfast! It will last you 'til noon!

We entered the trail and almost immediately saw a Blue-headed Fantail perched close to the path! There were also more Elegant Tits and Mountain White-eyes flitting among the high branches.

Blue-headed Fantail

We walked further into the trail and crossed a small wooden bridge. As the day got hotter, the birds grew more active. Here we saw a number of Citrine Canary Flycatchers singing on bare branches high above us. Sadly, I wasn't able to get one decent shot of these cute yellow birds. The Sulfur-billed Nuthatches were also starting to arrive in our area when we saw a very unexpected bird to show: a Siberian Rubythroat!

A surprise Rubythroat in Baguio!

As we were waiting for the handsome Rubythroat to come out to a more open perch, the Nuthatches started "descending" on us, creeping down the tree trunks. Distracted by the creepers, we turned our attention on them, losing the Rubythroat in the process...

We saw A LOT of Sulfur-billed Nuthatches!

Along with the Nuthatches came our first lifer for the trip: Olive-backed Pipits! They would fly in and perch on branches and would proceed to walk the length of the branch. They looked to me like versions of Pechora Pipits who preferred tree tops rather than the ground.

Olive-backed Pipit
Challenging to photograph as they kept walking around!

There were lots of them crawling around the tree tops, picking food as they went along. When the wave of birds finally moved on, we tried spotting the Rubythroat but it was gone. We did see another unexpected lifer just a few meters from where we saw the Rubythroat: three Mugimaki Flycatchers! The birds were flitting around in the brush but they soon flew off, leaving me with just one good shot. But I was definitely more than happy getting that one good shot of my second Baguio lifer =)

Mugimaki Flycatcher
I feel very lucky to have seen this one =)

We pushed forward and saw more Elegant Tits, Mountain White-eyes, and Sulfur-billed Nuthatches. A number of Large-billed Crows called noisily as they flew through the trees. We stopped after the second wooden bridge and decided to go back to the hotel to rest as we didn't really have much sleep from the road trip.

We resumed birding in the afternoon, checking out the trail in the Tree Top Adventure. The trail was very quiet compared to the morning but the friendly staff shared about the birds they have observed there. After a while, we called it a day and rested early for day 2.

We decided to bird in the Yellow Trail for our second day in Baguio. The entrance we took was through the Tree Top Adventure and we walked the entire trail for the whole morning. It wasn't as birdy as the Eco Trail... BUT I did get to see one of my most awaited lifers: Turquoise Flycatcher! I prefer the sound of its former name though: Mountain Verditer Flycatcher =) 

I was so happy to finally see this bird! I waited almost 4 years!

We saw a lot of the usual suspects in the Yellow Trail and met some hikers and bikers along the way. I also got to see lots of the pretty dark brown butterflies fluttering along the trail. And I got really curious about the pinkish rocks that poked out from the ground.

Pretty pinkish rocks
A kind of Mycalesis butterfly
Thank you Tita Lyds for the ID =)

We exited the trail to the calls of a White-throated Kingfisher and found ourselves in the horseback riding area. After running some errands for Jops's mom, we went back to the Eco Trail for some afternoon birding. It was still a bit slow compared to the morning, but the Blue-headed Fantails were entertaining enough. =)

Part of the Yellow Trail
It was a very easy and pleasant walk that took us almost
the whole morning to complete

Our last morning in Baguio was dedicated to a WBCP guided birdwatching trip. We had 8 participants who were very very lucky that morning! The first bird they saw was an Oriental Cuckoo! The bird seemed to follow our group for the rest of the morning.

Oriental Cuckoo

At the start of the trail, we were already treated to good, close-up views of Sulfur-billed Nuthatches, Elegant Tits, and Mountain White-eyes. Further down the trail, we head a distinct call: Scale-feathered Malkoha! Everyone was amazed at seeing this bird as it skulked around low trees. Such an awesome lifer for them!

Got lucky with this shot when Jops and I returned
to the Eco Trail that afternoon =)

Still high from the Malkoha, we moved forward and spotted some Olive-backed Pipits doing their usual tree-walk. An Elegant Tit busily gathered nesting material in front of us and a Blue-headed Fantail made a brief appearance.

The Tit had its beak so full before flying off =)

The group had seen almost all there was to see in an hour's time! Our friends from Tree Top Adventure who joined us that morning had to go ahead and soon, so did the others. It was a wonderful guided trip with great company, plus the birds showed really, really well! We are definitely looking forward to the next out-of-town guided trip we get to conduct (and maybe get some lifers along the way!) =)

New birders from Tree Top Adventure with Jops
The rest of the group who joined the WBCP Baguio guided trip

Baguio is a great place for relaxed birding. The climate is nice and cool, and the trails are very easy. The birds are also super friendly, same with all the people we encountered during our stay. =)