Monday, May 16

In raptor country

Migration waits for no one!  The new school year moved the second semester from November - March to January - May, which meant that migration was right smack at the middle of the classes!  Unable to join raptorwatch for an extended time, I was happy to spend an extended weekend (the Holy Week holiday coincided with the extrapolated peak for Grey-faced Buzzard migration) up north with the raptorwatch team. The weekend coincided with a lecture series (sponsored by the Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network - ARRCN) by both Japanese and Filipino biologists for a conservation forum to be held at Brgy. Pancian in Ilocos Norte and at the Cagayan State U in Sanchez Mira. It was wonderful timing!

So on Friday night, Maia, Jelaine, Lala and I hopped on a bus to join the WBCP raptorwatchers (led by the indefatigable Alex and Tere!), based at our home up north, the Panziann Beach and Mountain Resort.

We were welcomed with the usual sumptuous breakfast at Panziann and almost immediately whisked off to the charming town of Adams, a few kilometers away.  We stopped in the middle of the road up the mountain to admire a pair of Rufous-bellied Eagles soaring in the sky! 

An adult Rufous-bellied Eagle soaring int he hot summer sky.

We stopped along the road several times: for Luzon and Rufous Hornbills, Philippine Fairy Bluebirds, Philippine Falconets, Crested Honey Buzzards, Philippine Serpent Eagles and many other birds out in the open despite the summer heat.

At Adams, we checked out a hill where we watched out for migrating raptors, and we were not disappointed!  Two large kettles of Grey-faced Buzzards (locally called Sawi, pronounced saah-weeh, emphasis on the first syllable) were soon spotted thermaling right above us!

A kettle of Grey-faced Buzzards, Sawi, in the skies above Adams.

ARRCN members looking out for both resident and migrant raptors.

Soon, the noonday sun (and our rumbling stomachs) called us to lunch.  Our hosts' had lunch prepared at a house by the river.  Some locals were having a picnic, escaping the summer heat by dipping in the river. It was certainly a good day to do your laundry!

A good day to dry laundry (in Adams) or some octupi (in Sta. Praxedes)

Of course birders could not resist taking a peek at a migrant Common Kingfisher perched in the vines across the river.

Birders (don't forget the cold beer!) stalking a...

Common Kingfisher across the river.

A Brahminy Kite flew above us, in search of prey at high noon.

A Brahminy Kite floating gently with the winds.

On our way back to the lowlands, we stopped to admire the quaint town: we visited a small bignay (Antidesa bunius) winery and admired a long hanging bridge over the river.

And a river runs through it.

On the way down, we also stopped to admire a beautiful jade vine in bloom.  Its flowers were not the usual celadon green but a deep indigo color.

A beautiful jade vine just along the road.

What a wonderful first day on the field!

There was hardly enough time to go birdwatching the next couple of days, when the back-to-back conservation forum was held.  On the first day, we gathered the local communities of Adams, Pancian and other nearby barangays.  In the morning there were lectures on birds, birdwatching, raptor migration, Grey-faced Buzzard conservation, roles of raptors in nature, the natural heritage of northern Luzon and threats to that biodiversity.

With the local community folk.
 (Thanks to Maia from whom I stole this photo, read her version at :-) )

In the afternoon, the highlight of the program was a conservation forum that allowed the members of the community to talk about their strengths and weaknesses in conservation and to come up with action plans where they could address their needs.

The forum ended late in the afternoon, and when all the participants had left, we all took a breather down by the beach.

Relaxing by the sea in the afternoon.

The next day, we held the same program at the Cagayan State University, this time with the townspeople of Sanchez Mira, a known roosting site for the sawi.  Our audience was composed of college students, local government officials and employees, farmers and even hunters!  

The campus was a great site for talking about the conservation of the sawi.  During breaks, we could watch the raptors thermaling over the campus, even from the University CEO's office windows!

Only in Sanchez Mira: Raptorwatching from an office window!

A pair of sawi above the CSU campus.

Early the next day we were headed back towards Sanchez Mira, this time to check out the community raptorwatch site set-up by Alex and Tere. Once again, our drive was interrupted several times by raptor sightings on the way. Rufous-bellied Eagles, Philippine Serpent Eagles and kettles of migrating Grey-faced Buzzards urged us to stop by the roadside to observe these regal birds of prey.

An immature Rufous-bellied Eagle

A Philippine Serpent Eagle flying by.

One of hundreds (was it thousands?) of migrating sawi that weekend.

We finally reached the raptorwatch site, set-up in the middle of a rice field, facing a small coconut grove where the Sawi would roost. Volunteer students and faculty from the CSU took shifts counting and observing the migrants. 

The community raptorwatch site at Sanchez Mira

Record-keeping by the locals!

We would observe kettles of Sawi flying in over us and perching on the trees in the distance.

Sawi flying over and...

... landing on the nearby trees!

It was great to see community involvement in the raptorwatch.  To have gotten in touch with the locals and to have started conversations with them is a wonderful first step to what will hopefully be the long-term conservation of the migrant raptors in northern Luzon.

During the conservation forum, Toru Yamazaki, the president of the ARRCN, asked the audience:  "Where do you think is the Grey-faced Buzzards' home?  In Japan where they summer and breed? Or in the Philippines where they winter?"  The audience answered "Japan!" loudly and with such conviction.

"No," said Yamazaki-san, "their home is BOTH Japan and the Philippines! Both the Philippines and Japan are important to the Grey-faced Buzzard, without the other, the Grey-faced Buzzard will not survive!"

Filipino and Japanese raptorwatchers - partners and brothers of the migratory Sawi.

What a wonderful perspective! I have always looked at migrants as guests we should welcome,  perhaps it is time to see them as brothers coming home.

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