Saturday, March 25

Manila idylls: Terns and Gulls of the Pasig River

Old Manila conjures up images of the walled city of Intramuros - adobe fortifications and cobblestone walks, churches and ruins, bridges over the river Pasig and plazas.  But wildlife?  Not really on the radar when one thinks of the historical district!

A view of Pasig River with the old Manila Post Office on the right bank
and the Binondo district across

Last February 26, the Battle of Manila in 1945 was commemorated with an open-to-all festival in the park at Buluarte San Diego organized by Carlos Celdran.  Before the party kicked off, the WBCP decided to introduce another side of the city to its residents: birds of course!

Late in the afternoon, we met a small group of mostly first time birders at the Plaza Mexico

No traffic on Sundays!  Facing the Aduana building ruins.

Participants included repeat guided walk participants, urban sketchers, families and barkadas looking to try out birdwatching and curious about the birds of Manila.

Mike and some of our participants.

No worries about spotting birds: the Pasig River was alive with Whiskered Terns and even a few Black-headed Gulls!

Terns perched on the wires crossing the river (Can you spot the gull?)

We spent a lot of time admiring the graceful birds as they skimmed over the dark waters of the Pasig.

Whiskered Terns

Black-headed Gull

While many coastal cities all over the world are plagued by aggressive gulls, the birds here were still wary of people. WBCP-er and Manila-resident Rache G. says that they used to be persecuted by those who lived along the banks, who made them targets for their slingshots and airguns.  Thankfully, the recent initiatives to clean up the river side has diminished these threats, and now more of these coastal birds are commonly sighted along the river banks inland.

The Whiskered Terns perched on electric and communications wires were dwarfed by the much larger gulls, and it was amusing to see them give way so their larger neighbor could have some perching space.

In (almost) perfect alignment!

One of the Black-headed Gulls was already approaching full breeding plumage and it actually had a black head!  It was an excellent example to explain winter plumage and migration to the bird walk participants.

Black-headed Gull approaching full breeding plumage:
so that's why it's called Black-headed!

Besides the gulls and terns, we were able to spot several other birds.  Pacific Swallows, and Glossy Swiftlets glided smoothly over the waters also.

Along the banks were several Little Egrets perched on floating clumps of water hyacinth.  On the few trees and electrical posts we spotted Zebra Doves, Asian Glossy Starlings and Yellow-vented Bulbuls.  

At the Maestranza ruins, Eurasian Tree Sparrows were enjoying dust baths. A lone Brown Shrike was hunting amongst some bougainvillea bushes.  We were surprised when one of the participants pointed out a Java Sparrow in one of the trees!

A lone Java Sparrow int he parking lot.

As sunset approached, we were treated to playful pair of Philippine Pied Fantails and to cap off the birdwalk, a beautiful Common Kingfisher was spotted!

Urban landscapes are more than just buildings and people, more than historic monuments and modern structures.  Cities are home to wildlife as well!  All we have to do is open our eyes to see our wild urban neighbors whom we share the city with.

After birding: the Transitio Manila party at Buluarte San Diego

Cheers to urban biodiversity!
A cold jar of purple kamote leaf Bayani Brew never tasted so good.