Sunday, July 19

Alukon, white-eyes and dinengdeng

Ilocanos might be very familiar with the himbabao tree (Brousonnetia luzonica) whose flowers they use in a variety of vegetable dishes, like the yummy dinengdeng.

While I love the diluted saltiness (and the obvious healthy attributes of a leafy viand) of dinengdeng, it was only recently that I became familiar with this native tree.

On one birding outing I found myself seeking refuge from the hot summer sun under one such tree, and I was delighted to see a pair of lowland white-eyes moving around the canopy, ignoring the birder sheltered in the shade beneath them.

One of a pair of  lowland white-eyes on a himbabao tree.

Inspecting each and every leaf.

Careful scrutiny leads to success - is that some sort of insect pupa?

I then noticed that the tree was in full flower, with long, worm-like flowers (often described as spike-like inflorescence) dripping in profusion from its branches.  

The long pendulous flowers of the himababao or alukon
One of my birding companions, said that the Ilocanos called this alukon, and that it was actually the male of the species (female trees were distinct from males - in botanical terms, the himbabao is dioecious, and had flowers which looked different). During flowering season, they would actually cut down the branches of the tree to more easily harvest the flowers which can be cooked for personal consumption or sold in the market.

Sure enough, I saw alukon flowers being sold in the market, even back in Metro Manila!

Is this a good bird attracting tree then?  From my short observation, I suppose it could be. A quick internet search revealed it is recommended as a pioneer species for reforestation and for urban greening.  It is used in agroforestry as an intercrop, the wood for paper pulp, furniture and dugout canoes. Although not outstanding in its appearance, it can be planted in edible gardens.

Later in the day I also saw that the ubiquitous backyard bird which is the yellow-vented bubul also came to the tree to regularly inspect the leaves and flowers.

A bulbul grabbing onto one of the alukon flowers.

So, food for humans, food for birds and a native tree.  I guess you can't go wrong with that?

Friday, July 10

10 Years a Birder

10 years and 6 months ago, on the 8th of January 2005, I joined my first guided trip with the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. It was a Saturday afternoon birdwalk at a very familiar place: the University of the Philippines. Led by WBCP founders Michael Lu and Lala Española, I joined a large group of first-time birders - one of the few times I had worked up the courage to join a group where I didn't know a single soul.  Lala and Mike pointed out birds I had hardly noticed in my 10+ years on campus. I will never forget the end of that day:  we watched a Eurasian Kestrel flying over the rice fields at Hardin ng Bougainvillea, plucking a bat in mid-flight for its early evening meal.  Little did I know that this particular afternoon would be the start of something big. I was hooked!

Birding has definitely changed me: the way I plan my weekends, the way I plan my out-of-town trips, the places I have been, the people I have met, my views of my neighborhood, my city, country - the way I look at the world!  It is not quite as dramatic as it sounds,  but birding actually HAS given me a whole new outlook, not only of the great outdoors, but also about how other people view the environment as well.

In the past 10 years, I have seen more of and learned more about the Philippines than I had ever thought I would!

I've climbed hills and mountains (and I am NOT a climber) to see magnificent (and not so magnificent) birds.
The Great Philippine Eagle in Mt Kitanglad, 2009

A horrible photo of the Whiskered Flowerpecker, Mt. Talomo, 2014

I've seen sunsets, slept under starry skies and woken up to glorious sunrise unmarred by electric lights.

Waiting for the Philippine Cockatoos to wake up at Rasa Island, 2005

A glorious sunrise at Agusan Marsh, 2008

The Southern Cross at Bucas Grande, 2013

I've been to tourist spots looking beyond the usual.
Watching Ashy Drongos at Mt. Tapyas at Coron, 2011

Ospreys at Lake Balinsasayao, Negros Oriental, 2007

Birding at the northern end of the country, Batanes, 2014

I've returned to places I had been before, seeing them again through a birder's eyes.
At the Banaue Rice Terraces, 2010

Birding in Bohol, 2010, photo from Melanie

Rainy Days at Puerto Princesa, near the Underground River, 2008

Watching tits and nuthatches in Sagada, 2006

I've been back and again, year after year,  For what? To count birds!

Waders and locals enjoying the Balanga Wetlands Park, 2013

Philippine Ducks at Candaba, 2013

Raptorwatch in Ilocos, 2015, photo from Alex

I've visited places off the popular tourist trail.

Getting ready for a river crossing at Pasonanca, Zamboanga, 2012

Searching for the Asiatic Dowitchers at Olango, Cebu, 2013

Osprey and milkfish at Bani Pangasinan, 2012

The Ikalahan community at Imugan, Sta. Fe, 2006

Spotting a Koel at the Onoda Trail, Lubang island, 2011
The Dubduban watershed in the town of San Agustin in Tablas gave us the Tablas Drongo, 2012

I've been to back and again to favorite birding sites I know like the back of my hand

Sunlight on the forest trail, Makiling, Laguna

The hidden backroads at Subic, Morong

And I've seen them change over the years.

The Candaba wetlands, 2007, now converted to rice fields.
Mt. Palay-palay, 2005.  This is where I got most of my lowland Luzon forest lifers, now the site of the Ternate-Nasugbu highway and the Kaybiang tunnel.

I've transformed from light traveler to one willing to carry a few extra kilos for a pair of binoculars, a camera and a field guide in her pack (good thing Adri carries the scope and tripod!)

Our typical check-in luggage.
I've seen the secret (and not-so-secret) places of Metro Manila where greenery and wild things thrive in the middle (or edges) of a bustling city.
For a quick birding fix: La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City, 2011

The last mangroves of Manila:  the Las Piñas Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotoursim Area (LPPCHEA), 2012
A guided bird walk at the Ateneo katipunan campus, 2015. Photo from Lydia.

I've discovered hidden corners of my backyard where natural history comes alive.

Our backyard brown shrike picking off the remains of a tree frog, 2009

A yellow-vented bulbul nest in our front yard 2014

In the past 10 years, I have met Filipinos from all walks of life!

I've been led through the forest by the most experienced, and sometimes, the most unlikely guides.

Nicky, the epitome of a bird guide, 2010

Zardo at PICOP, Bislig (2011)

With Danny and Carlito at Kitanglad after seeing the Apo Sunbird (2009)

A butterfly lands on the foot of our guide, one of the inmates at the penal colony  in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental (2010)

Ryan of Bohol's Raja Sikatuna National Park leads us on a very successful sweep of our target birds, 2010

Laoag-resident Richard, always on the look out for unusual migrants up north, 2013, photo from Tere

Warden, Oking's dog who scrambled up the limestone cliffs of Tabunan, Cebu with amazing ease, 2013

I've worked with people with a passion for conserving Philippine biodiversity and sustaining communities.
Peter and Indira of the Katala Foundation, Inc. (2015)

The PEF staff and stakeholders in preserving the Philippine Eagle and its habitat. (2014)

Peace Corps Volunteer Rhonda and the fisherfolk of Ginablan, Romblon (2012)
Fredd and the UP mountaineers fighting to save the Ipo watershed (2010)
The WBCP with Mayor Joet of Balanga after the waterbird census (2012), photo from Leny

DOT Regional Director MJune showing us the migratory Barn Swallows congregating at downtown Zamboanga City, 2012

With the always enthusiastic staff of Anvaya Cove (2014), photo from Tinggay

And of course all the hard-working birders and volunteers of the WBCP! (2015) photo from Marites

I've learned about the Philippine's natural heritage from academics, enthusiasts, volunteers, guides, fishermen, farmers, forest rangers, students: all devoted to their fields. I've met leaders with a clear vision that includes the environment.

And I have seen children who will inherit all that is left behind.

The families of the Ipo Watershed, Bulacan (2010)

Children of PICOP in Surigao, 2011)

An impromptu guided trip with the children at Ginablan, Romblon, 2012

Kid and their slingshots at Siargao 2015

Students filming a project at La Mesa, sidetracked by birders and a thrush, 2014
Birding has become a passion for me.  A passion I have shared with fellow birders and with non-birders as well.

Promoting the 4th Philippine Birdfestival held in Puerto Princesa at ROX, 2008

At the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, 2015

Guiding the staff and guests at Anvaya Cove, 2013, photo from Raymond

Birding friends have become part of my life.

The birders' tables at our wedding, 2012. Photo from Kim, Imagine Nation.

I am thankful to have crossed paths with all these people. They have changed me and my world.

Birding has opened my eyes and my ears, challenged me physically and mentally, given me space to breathe.

Adri and myself in Dumaguete, 2011, photo from Drew.
We're 10-year birders and looking forward to more!

10 years and 400+ Philippine bird species later, I am still hooked. And I am excited and looking forward to where the next 10 years of birding will take me!