Adri and I were fortunate enough to have had our schedules free to join Balanga in celebrating the return of migratory birds to the city's wetlands. The festival was established a year after the 4th Philippine Bird Festival (2009) hosted by the City of Balanga, and last year, it coincided with the 10th Philippine Bird Festival which returned to Balanga, this time hosted by the entire province of Bataan. This year, the festival won for the 3rd consecutive year an award from the Department of Tourism in recognition of its exceptional efforts as "Best Tourism Event" in the city category, allowing it to rise to the Hall of Fame for awardees.
We volunteered to man the scopes to show students and visitors the birds at the Balanga City Wetland and Nature Park on the shores of Manila Bay. We skipped the parade from the town plaza and headed straight for the park. There we found other WBCP volunteers Patty A., Richard R. and Brian E. already set up at the viewing decks.
The mood at the park was quite festive already, as the early birds (haha) waited for the parade to arrive.
The tide was high and the birds quite a distance away, but it did not stop the enthusiastic festival goers (many of them students) from dropping by the viewing decks to peer through the scopes and our binoculars!
Great Egrets stood in the far shallows, a bright white under the sun.
Black-headed Gulls, Whiskered Terns and Greater Crested Terns perched on the fish pen poles in the distance.
A pair of Collared Kingfishers were a source of great delight, perching on fence netting right next to a larger than life photo-tarpaulin which identified them.
Later the tide began to recede, exposing an expanse of mudflats. The waders came in, flying in large flocks: sandpipers, stints, plovers and more!
Many of the birds were oblivious to the fishermen going about their daily business.
The first time birders were amazed to see clearly some Common Redshanks and Greenshanks feeding on the next beach through the scope.
Unfortunately, some of the mangrove wildlife was not so appreciated, and we saw a poor snake being taken away by some of the maintenance people.
A few Kentish Plovers and Common Sandpipers were foraging just in front of the viewing decks, until they were flushed by some kids enjoying stomping through the wet and sticky mud.
Everyone in the view decks was amused by a little girl who was up to her knees in the mud. One of her playmates, quickly "rescued" her, only to get stuck as well!
Mid-morning and the festival was in full swing, complete with festival dancers and a busy trade fair.
Some kids arrived with a piece of paper they were supposed to fill up with the birds they saw. To say they were competitive would be putting it mildly!
An Osprey was spotted, perched some distance away. It was perched for so long, first eating a fish and later preening, that many of the students were able to see it through the scope and compare it to the illustration in the field guide. Alex L was also a curiosity, taking photos with his huge lens!
The time passed quickly and soon it was lunch time! Where did the morning go?!?
It was time to pack up and go. We met up with the other volunteers and bid goodbye to the wetland park. We were fed (as usual!) a sumptuous meal by our hosts from the local government, and even given delicious ice cream to take home!
How can I not love the City of Balanga? A vibrant city, wonderful people, delicious food and a great wetland park: I keep coming back again and again! I'll be back to catch the spring migration next year!