In 2016, when I peered through a pair of binoculars and saw birds magnified eight to 10 times, I was hooked. My spark bird, the one that got me started, is the beautiful blue and white Collared Kingfisher.
Then I found out the Philippines is home to 200+ endemic species, and like Alice, I got curiouser and curiouser. I go on birding trips almost every week, bent on getting lifers (birds seen for the first time). I also lug around a camera for documentation, since I tend to forget. Thus, I also collect “photolifers”—birds photographed for the first time. Through this hobby, I met birders/birdwatchers and found them just as fascinating as our common object of fancy. I listen to their stories while in the car en route to our birding destinations or during meal breaks. Here are some of them.
“I am a brand strategist and manage a branding studio. I started birdwatching in college, and have been birding for eight years. My spark bird is the Olive-backed Sunbird, because while waiting in a parking lot, I saw something that looked like a hummingbird hovering in front of some flowers. That moment opened my eyes to the idea that there are still lots of wildlife in the city, and we should create awareness to encourage people to protect the few green spaces we have left.
“What I like most about birdwatching is that every trip, solo or with a group, is always a brand new experience. I look at all the trips I’ve gone on and I’d like to think that each birding experience I have is unforgettable. Each moment spent immersed in nature should be cherished, especially with all the destruction happening around us now.” – Gabbi R.
“What I like about birdwatching is that it is a meditative practice. It allows me to appreciate without intrusion, while understanding my place in the greater scheme of nature. My unforgettable birding experience was when I went on a solo guided tour of the Tonle Sap floodplains. It was spectacular! I couldn’t get over the fact that I was in the largest lake in Southeast Asia watching an incredible swirling pillar of thousands of birds!” -Yang V.
“I am a geographer. I started birdwatching in 1996 because I was working for Haribon/Birdlife, and they gave me binoculars. Also, I’d been wanting to go birdwatching since I was a kid! I do not really have a spark bird but I really wanted to see the Celestial Monarch. I haven’t seen it personally, but it’s in Dupont’s bird book. If it’s the first lifers that I’ve had (which was also the day I was given my own pair of bins), that would be Scale-feathered Malkoha, Dollarbird, Red-crested Malkoha and two other birds on the tree beside us while having our unit planning. What I like about birdwatching is the thrill of discovery, of seeing birds of different colors (other than brown). My unforgettable birding experience is standing on the waters of Manila Bay somewhere in Navotas, looking at the rare Chinese Egrets while we slowly sink into the mud.”-Jon V.
“On weekdays, I am a business director at a global communications agency. Come weekends, corporate wear gets swapped for camo. I got (more) into birding in the late ’90s when I joined a Candaba Swamp tour led by the late, great Tim Fisher, considered THE Philippine bird expert. (The memory is all the more wistful as land conversion continues to threaten the wetland.) I have been birding since then, but if I was to get technical on “spark bird” (the trigger), I would have to rewind an extra decade earlier, in the ’80s, when I was a kid living in the residential compound of the then PICOP concession in Mindanao. Would-be principal author of A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines, Dr. Robert S. Kennedy happened to be staying in the guest house next door, with a rescued Philippine Eagle fledgling awaiting turnover to the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF). I remember being amazed over its impressive size (“That’s still an eaglet?” I asked, wide-eyed.).
“From Kennedy’s team, I learned Philippine eagles mate for life, breed only every two years (because that’s how long they invest in caring for a single offspring), need thousands of hectares as home range, and are found only in the Philippines. That kind of discovery deserving childlike amazement is what I like about birding, as well as how every birder sharing about what they learn does their bit in raising awareness about nature, biodiversity, and conservation.
“As for an unforgettable birding experience, perhaps it’s coming full circle to recount a 2007 quest, this time as an adult, to see a Philippine eagle in the wild. Mads Bajarias, author of A Field Guide to Flight, and I traveled by plane, van, foot, and banca deeper into the same former concession until we found ourselves on a 20-m-high tree platform. We surveyed the forest canopy with PEF field specialists, who have been recording daily sightings for a week. Finally, a Barred Honeybuzzard’s intimidation display gave away the location of a perched Philippine Eagle. For an hour, we took turns peering through scopes as this rare beauty preened and stretched its wings. -Li-Ann B.
Ah, the last narration took my breath away. As you can see, this hobby is not “just for the birds.” I believe this calls for a third round of birder stories.