Lakbayan 2016

The datu sat with his tribe in the makeshift tent under a tree. The men sat around the small matted area while the women quietly threaded beads to make colorful bracelets and necklaces. Our small group gingerly entered their space and we began to listen.

Datu Tungig (center) of the Manobos sat with his tribe

I was in the middle of the Lakbayan 2016 camp in the UP Diliman campus with the Nikon Club of the Philippines. The event is formally called the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan. It brought together more than 3,000 members of different ethnolinguistic groups from all over the Philippines to bring attention to their plight to end the militarization and corruption of their ancestral lands.

Lakbayan 2016 camp

They left their homes to live like this and make people listen

At present, there are 153 ethnolinguistic groups that make up the national minority. They are divided into major groups such as the Moros (13 groups) and Lumads of Mindanao (18 groups), the Cordillera (7 groups), Aggay, Kalinga, and other groups from North Luzon, the Aetas of Central Luzon, the Dumagats, Mangyans, and Palawan Hilltribes of South Luzon, and the Tumandok and Ati of Panay in the Visayas. (information translated into English from the Lakbayan 2016 praymer.)
We went around the “camp” and visited the small temporary museum. We walked further into their camp and met a man in a red shirt and red tubao. He spoke half in Bisaya and half in Filipino. I tried my best to understand and kicked myself mentally for not learning how to speak my parents’ dialects fluently (Bisaya from my mom and Kapampangan from my dad.)

He looked into the distance as spoke of their troubles and struggles, the oppression, the lack of attention and support from the government. His frown and far-away look was replaced with a more relaxed disposition as he told us about their simple life. I know I did not understand 100% of what he was telling us but I’d like to think I got the message. He sighed and said goodbye and walked away.

We moved on and visited a tent which was set up from the rest of the camp. We spent the most time here, with the Manobos led by Datu Tungig.
Oli (in white) started our conversation with Datu Tungig
 Datu Tungig, just like the man we spoke to earlier, shared with us their situation in their ancestral lands. He told us of the harassment and constant threat to their lives by the people who are supposed to be protecting them and of the neglect from the government that is supposed to be providing basic services to all its people. ALL. It was very sad hearing about the lack of education services in their area and that the only education they receive are from missionaries and not from the country they are citizens of. His tone of voice – the bitterness and disappointment and desperation for his people – broke my heart…

Members of Datu Tungig's tribe

Members of Datu Tungig's tribe
I was able to ask the datu about the birds that can be found in their place. He said there are many birds where they live and even wild boar and deer and the other Manobos agreed and spoke a bit about the forests of the Pantaron Mountain Range in Central Mindanao. Sadly, I wasn’t able to understand most of what they were saying but I did understand the warm invitation to visit them and to see for ourselves the beauty of the Pantaron Ridge.

We soon said our goodbyes and went on our way. It was an eye-opening experience having interacted with them, a very different thing from reading about them and their issues in books and newspapers or seeing them on the news. Take away all the politics and opportunists (sorry, I have no better word…), what they are fighting for is simple. They just want the proper respect and recognition due any human being. They have every right to live without fear and persecution, to live free and secure, and to receive the basic services as any Filipino citizen.
Datu Tungig and his siblings waiting for their portraits to be taken

Today, December 10 is Human Rights Day, which marks the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted in 1948. It is a sad reality that there are still so many people who suffer from human rights violations. I will always remember my encounter with these strong and brave Filipinos. The realizations I gained that day I know I can never learn from any book or from watching or reading the news or even from talking to other people about them. I felt powerless to help… but I know there is always something I can do. One day, I will be able to reach out and do something concrete for them, but for now I will just write.

A Unicorn on All Saints' Day

Just days just after I blogged about how my unicorn bird, the male Narcissus Flycatcher, has eluded me after another attempt at finding it... I saw it.
I was working on my blog post about my recent trips up to Bangkong Kahoy when I decided to give in to the inner twitcher in me and take my chances to see the Narcissus Flycatcher. It was seen and photographed by friends in the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran the previous day (and they had AWESOME photos!) I took an early morning train to Baclaran and after a short walk was inside the church compound looking for the coffee shop and the patch of trees where the Narcissus was said to frequent.
The Redemptorist Church, which is also the National Shrine of
Our Mother of Perpetual Help,
and more commonly called the Baclaran Church

I immediately knew I was in the right area when I saw the huge cameras and people in varying shades of green and brown looking up at the trees. I entered the Sinirangan Coffee Shop and greeted friends, old and new. After learning the bird hasn't shown up yet, I ordered my coffee (and an ensaimada to be claimed when I saw the bird.) I sat down beside Chin (who was very relaxed, having photographed the bird already the previous afternoon hehe) and chatted a bit. I brought out my binoculars and scanned the movements up in the trees. I spotted a  flycatcher far up a tree and thought it was a female Narcissus Flycatcher. Bert and Roy decided to go in for a closer look and saw it was a Ferruginous Flycatcher! What an unexpected bird to see! But still not what I was after =P
More people arrived to try for the Narcissus and I was getting a bit anxious. Will I miss out on it again?
Waiting for the bird

And then... Chin was gesturing for me to come closer and pointed to the trees in front of him. It was there. I put down my coffee cup and tiptoe-ran towards him. I pulled out my bins and voila! My unicorn!!! I took in all its details... the yellow and black, the whites, the bill, the eyes, the tail, the wings. After six long years, I was finally looking at the male Narcissus Flycatcher. I took out my camera and got some horrible back lit shots!

The bird flew around us and was very skittish because a Brown Shrike was chasing it! I really did not want to see my much-awaited lifer get torn apart by the butcher bird just minutes after seeing it! What a horrible story that would be!

Thankfully, the Brown Shrike let it be for a while and it stayed in the area. It flew around the courtyard and even perched low, giving us many amazing views and opportunities to photograph it. I know I could've gotten more and even better photos of the bird but I am content with my "haul" for that morning. After all, I waited six years to see this bird and it showed itself very well (plus it did not get eaten by the shrike!) Hooray!

It perched very low at times!

My favorite shot, as usual, gives the feeling of
looking through the leaves to see the bird =)

Thank you, Mr. Narcissus! It's been a great 6-year adventure chasing you. Now, time to find a new unicorn to chase ;)
(Oh, and yes, I did claim my celebratory ensaimada after seeing the bird.)

The Unicorn Remains

I’ve been wishing to see the male Narcissus Flycatcher for years. Five years to be exact. I’ve actually seen the female back in 2011 and have always dipped on any attempt to see the male, sometimes missing out on the bird by a few minutes. Yellow and black, the male Narcisuss Flycatcher is much more striking than the brown female but its elusiveness has earned it a title of “Unicorn Bird” — as if it was a mystical creature that doesn’t really exist (and is also a rationalization for those of us who have continually missed out on seeing it.)
Recently, a number of male Narcissus Flycatchers have been seen and photographed in different locations: Baguio City, Manila, Quezon, Palawan, and also in nearby LPPCHEA (Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area.) So I went with Chin and Mark to LPPCHEA and try my luck there (plus I’ve really missed seeing waders!)
The tide was quite high but there were some exposed sandy parts of the beach.

We decided to skip the beach and go straight to the trails and try to find the Narcissus Flycatcher. As we were registering with the DENR personnel, he pointed out a young Reticulated Python coiled up on a low branch in front of the birdwatching station.

Reticulate means “resembling a net or network;
especially :  having veins, fibers, or lines crossing”

We entered the trail and kept our eyes open for any movement around us. There were a lot of Philippine Pied Fantails and Arctic/Kamchatka/Japanese Warblers flitting around the trees. I saw a large-ish bird and recognized the tail of a cuckoo but the bird flew as soon as a Brown Shrike called! Further down the trail, Mark spotted the cuckoo and we were able to observe a beautiful hepatic Oriental/Himalayan Cuckoo feeding on a tall tree.

Oriental/Himalayan Cuckoo

We observed the cuckoo for a while until it disappeared from view and we refocused on finding the Narcissus Flycatcher. We went deeper into the trail and more birds were coming out. Golden-bellied Flyeaters and Yellow-vented Bulbuls came in big groups to feed and Grey-backed Tailorbirds sang unseen around us. As we slowly walked the trail, Mark suddenly pointed out a bird, busy whacking a worm on a tall branch: Blue and White Flycatcher!

Blurred photo but I’m happy the bird’s colors can be seen

We didn’t expect to find this bird! But there it was, busy with its meal! After eating the worm, it adjusted its perch, looked around, and flew away. Lifer! We trudged on, still looking for the Narcissus Flycatcher. We were nearing the end of the trail and I managed to spy a Yellow Bittern through the leaves near the first pond.

There was a big group of students at the birdwatching station and Mark pointed out the python to them. They also swarmed around Chin, curious about his attire and gear, asking if he was a soldier ;)

Mark being swarmed my students

Sir Chin's turn to be swarmed with students 

The girls moved on and so did we to the beach. There were some egrets by the water’s edge and some large waders foraging in the sandy trash (or trashy sand.) Upon closer inspection, more waders came into focus! WhimbrelsPacific Golden PloversKentish PloversCommon Greenshanks, and Common Redshanks walked along the beach searching for food. We also spotted one Chinese Egret on the beach as well as a couple of Terek Sandpipers and Bar-tailed Godwits!
Bar-tailed Godwit

Pacific Golden Plover (foreground) and Common Redshank (background)

Chinese Egret (L) and Little Egret (R)

Can you spot the Terek Sandpiper?


We also spotted a huge flock of Red-necked Stints that would fly across the water and land on the shore again. Among the stints were some larger and whiter birds… my second lifer of the day: Sanderlings! I missed seeing them in LPPCHEA years before and I was thrilled to finally tick them off this year! They stayed long enough for me to study their markings and compare them to the other waders beside them.

Stints on the move!
Bad photo but I can see a Sanderling there!!!

We decided to move towards the main road and hope for a better vantage point but we didn’t get better views. We returned to our original spot and after some more time with the waders decided to try one last time for the Narcissus in the trail.
Let me just say that after rounding the trail one more time, the Unicorn remained a Unicorn and the closest I ever came to seeing a Narcissus that day was in the colors of this insect.

‘Til my next attempt, Unicorn Bird.

Let's Give Philippine Trees a Chance!

"The Salimbobog blossoms, or Balai Lamok, can be considered as one of the most beautiful flowers in the world."

That sentence is one that I edited. It is the first line in a recent online article I read which mentions the Cherry blossoms, or “sakura”, instead of the Salimbobog. I used the name of our very own native tree instead of the more popular Japanese tree and the statement still holds true =)

Close up of Salimbobog flowers
Its other name "Balai Lamok" may refer to the insects flying around the blooms
which are NOT actually lamok (mosquitoes)!
Salimbobog tree in full bloom!!
The white flowers eventually turn yellow and the tree loses most of its leaves.

I think the cherry trees are beautiful, there is no denying that. That’s why hordes of tourists make their way to Japan during the flowering season of their national tree. Seeing parks and roads lined with the trees in full bloom is truly a sight to behold. The Japanese take pride in the beauty of what is theirs and worked hard to share their natural treasure with the rest of the world. And so we all enjoy it. And so we imitate it.

There really is nothing wrong with the appreciation of beauty, especially that of nature. The sad part is when we focus on what others have and remain ignorant of what WE have.

Eh ano nga ba ang meron tayo???

The Philippines is blessed with over 3500 species of trees. Three thousand five hundred. Three-five. As a Filipino, how many do you know? And how many can you identify?

While the Japanese have been working hard to promote their beautiful cherry blossoms, we Filipinos have been busy imitating them: promoting what is theirs. We should be busy promoting what is OURS. We should be inspired by their efforts, not only of the actual plant.

Banaba blooms
Banaba leaves are used to make herbal tea which is used a traditional
treatment for digestive problems, kidney disease, and also diabetes.

The recent news that a cherry blossom park will be opening soon in Benguet has generated both love and hate. Love that says “Yes! We don’t have to fly all the way to Japan to see and experience the beauty of cherry blossoms! Tipid!” Hate that shouts “Why the f*ck did they plant exotic trees when we have so many beautiful native ones?!”

I choose to see this as a golden opportunity.

It is an opportunity for people to SHARE what they know. Lord knows the current curriculum does not include teaching about native trees aside from “The National Tree of the Philippines is the narra. Bow.” I’m learning so much now as an adult, reading my friends’ posts about native trees and animals. So if you do know a lot, share what you know.

Stunning Jade Vine which is endemic to the Philippines

It is an opportunity for people to LEARN about how truly beautiful the Philippines is. I’ve only seen the Salimbobog this year. I’ve only began to earnestly learn about the trees around me a few years ago. It’s never too late to learn something new. After learning about the cherry blossoms, learn about a Philippine tree next.
Our Philippine National Tree, Nara, in full-bloom

It is an opportunity to for people to be AWARE. I cannot blame people for being all excited about the Benguet cherry blossom park. I bet they are not aware of the other native flowering trees in our own country! People literally do not know! So, we all have to do our part because God knows the institutions put in place to educate us need all the help they can get! My friends have posted pictures of flowering banaba, dapdap, molave, dita… there are so many! Aware ka ba? Ako, hindi pa masyado. But I’m getting there.

A lousy photo of Bagawak blooms
Need to get a better photo soon!

So, with the opening of the Philippine cherry blossom park, I think it’s also time we open our eyes and see our own Filipino beauty! 

Now, I'm off to see a flowering molave. It's not just a dorm, you know ;) #corny

I always refer to this site for more information about Philippine Native Trees. Happy tree-spotting! =)

Checking Out the Hardin

On my way to work I managed to squeeze in a half-hour of birding in Hardin ng Rosas in UP Diliman. It was part of my first ever birding experience where I marveled at my first Common Moorhens and Common Kingfishers. I also made new friends that day =)

As I pulled into a parking slot, I was happy to see the wire fence stripped of vegetation, allowing me to view the field and small body of water on the other side. An odd group of birds was busy foraging in the grass and I was happy to see a Common Moorhen among that group. It was feeding alongside Crested Mynas, Rock Dove, and Eurasian Tree Sparrows. A small flock of Chestnut Munias also flew back and forth across the field.

I scanned the fringes of the grasslands hoping to see a rail or crake, but found none. There were also quite a lot of people busy tending the small rice field and the only birds to be unperturbed by them or the creepy-faced scarecrow were the mayas, who flew in huge flocks around the area.

Creepy anime-faced scarecrow

I was hoping to see some Java Sparrows. The last time I visited the Hardin, I saw a big flock of them perched on a small tree in the middle of the field. While I scanned and waited, I amused myself with the busy butterflies fluttering around and feeding in the bush in front of me.

No Java Sparrows.

I walked to the end of the compound and sought the shade of a big acacia tree. There were more Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers, and Golden-bellied Gerygones in the canopy. I also heard a Collared Kingfisher calling unseen. To my surprise, the Java Sparrows were there in the acacia tree! =)

I was happy to see them still in Hardin =)

The day was getting hotter by the minute (and it was only past 9AM!) The birds were also beginning to feel the heat.
Refreshing bath in the shade!

I spent a few minutes waiting near the small “stream” by the wall, hoping for a heron or bittern, but found none. Oh well, it was time to go to work anyway.

What a wonder cropping can do! ;)
I cropped out the murky water and soap suds =P

I began and ended May with some Quezon City birding, plus a bit more in between, but nothing more than that. Hopefully this June, I’ll be able to go out birding more. As a farewell song, a handsome Olive-backed Sunbird sang in front of me as I backed up the car and drove away =)

Pre-Labor Day La Mesa

Ended April with a full morning well-spent in La Mesa Ecopark.

The Colasisis were up and about in the parking lot...

and the Ashy Thrushes were in a sing-song mood (so were the Hooded Pittas and the Asian Koel!)

The Lowland White-eyes were busy building nests...

and the Black-naped Orioles were flying about.

Some Brown Shrikes still made an appearance...

and some Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers were busy feeding.

A Lipote tree was heavy with fruit...

... and the trail was pretty quiet and mostly human-free.

The White-throated Kingfisher was in its usual area...

... and a Philippine Coucal came out from skulking.

It was a VERY hot day but cooled down with crema de leche at Mang Jose.

'Til our next visit, La Mesa! Next time, hopefully, for a full day =)