PHILIPPINE RAPTOR WATCHING

A lot of surprises await those birdwatchers that brave the path less traveled — Raptor Watching! Find out what’s being done, what’s there to be discovered, and how you can get involved.
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Raptor Watching is Looking Up! Be a Part of It!
By Tere Cervero and Alex Tiongco

The Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network (ARRCN) was established in 1998 to provide an international vehicle for the exchange of information and the establishment of a database on raptors among the member nations and to promote and coordinate research on both migratory and resident Asian raptors with the view of promoting conservation and awareness among the citizenry of the member nations.

The Philippines has been an active member of the ARRCN through the Philippine Eagle Foundation which is one of the founding members. The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) has sent representatives to the ARRCN Biennial Symposia – to Malaysia in 2005 (Annette Tamino); to Vietnam in 2008 (Doc Nielson Donato ); and to South Korea in 2012 (Tere Cervero and Alex Tiongco).

7th Asian Raptor Conference in South Korea

7th Asian Raptor Conference in South Korea

At the moment extensive raptor studies are being conducted among member nations like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia on the East Asian Oceanic flyway; and Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia on the East Asian Continental flyway.

Sadly, other than the study of the Philippine Eagle, which is very extensive indeed, no structured studies and counts have ever been conducted in the Philippines which presents a substantial gap (a black hole) in the study of species/subspecies and numbers of both endemics and migrants and of their ecology in our vastly unstudied sedentary/passage/wintering habitat.

Some progress is slowly being made on the migratory species/routes however. The WBCP has been conducting sporadic raptor migration counts at Tanay since 2004, and collating raptor sighting data nationwide though its bird records. More data remains to be gathered and it is turning out that the little information that we have is proving to be titillating the interest of Raptor Watchers abroad.

The year 2012, represented the big step towards the involvement of the Philippines and WBCP in the ARRCN collaborative studies of Asian Raptors. After the South Korea Symposium in January, where WBCP was invited to make a presentation on the Philippines, ARRCN Standing Committee – General Manager Toru Yamazaki requested to visit the Philippines to raise some interest on the projects of the ARRCN here.

In preparation for the ARRCN visit, WBCP organized a Raptor Lecture Series in September titled “Let’s Talk Raptors” starting with a pep talk from Alex Tiongco which was a bit too spirited to say the least and culminating with the visit and lectures from 28th September to 2nd October by the top officers of the ARRCN led by Mr. Yamazaki. The visit is a milestone for WBCP, being the first-ever talk conducted by the ARRCN in Manila and hosted by the WBCP.

With the ARRCN in Makati

With the ARRCN in Makati

ARRCN talk

ARRCN talk

Whilst the fervour and enthusiasm of the members (fondly called “Raptorwatch, Philippines”, by Mr Yamazaki) greatly impressed the visitors, the raptorwatch that followed in Tanay was dampened by a series of bad weather that affected the migration route between here and Taiwan.

Raptorwatch w ARRCN

Raptorwatch w ARRCN

The WBCP was also invited to the opening ceremonies of the 1st Asian Raptor Center located on Khao Dinsor at Chumphon province, Thailand on 20-21 October 2012 where Tere Cervero and Alex Tiongco were the official guests from the WBCP.  A Field Raptor Identification Course was also held in Chumphon, co-organized by Kasetsart University, Thai Raptor Group and Chumphon Raptor Center.

FRIC group in Khao Dinsor

FRIC group in Khao Dinsor

FRIC group in Chumphon

FRIC group in Chumphon

For the year 2013, ARRCN has requested WBCP to host a regional Raptor Identification Symposium. Expected to attend would be lecturers from Japan and Taiwan and participants from the Philippines, Borneo and Indonesia and others who might be interested to come. Due to the heavy commitments of the Club in its major projects late this year and early next, the Symposium has been scheduled to be held in August next year prior to the Autumn migration – where full ARRCN support has been promised.  We are confident that the members will show the same full support and fervour for the symposium as shown during the last ARRCN visit.

This year’s exchange of visits and conferences gave our neighbors a glimpse of the tremendous challenge that Raptor Watch Philippines is facing in terms of the multiplicity of routes, difficulty of access and facilities, logistics, habitat destruction, lack of time and manpower, etc. Then there are the intrinsic problems of presence of several endemic subspecies, identification, determination of passage and wintering migrants, etc. Watching at lands’ end was a popular suggestion but that would only be good for counting and protection on that end. Determination of the actual routes remains essential for the protection and conservation of routes and roosts along the way.

The concomitant problem of lack of interest for structured studies, research and papers in the study of species/subspecies and numbers, identification and habitat of other endemic raptors still has to be tackled. Challenges, challenges, challenges, but when has the WBCP flinched in the face of that?

In the meantime, this year, new raptor sites have been visited. Dingalan Bay and Polillo Island look promising. Further east of Tanay which Randy calls “The Shining Path”, had been explored by Randy himself, along with Jun and Jude and found to be, like Dingalan Bay, in direct sight of Polillo Island. During the very short visit, the explorers witnessed raptors in great numbers flying close and low. Perhaps Randy’s act of naming that area “The Shining Path” is after all both prophetic and descriptive! That definitely will be a watch site for the Spring Migration in 2013 to complement the count at Tanay for a better idea of the numbers.

Further down south at Catanauan Quezon, Mel Tan has reported large flocks from the veranda of her resthouse in her vast Hacienda – raptor, vodka, lime and soda anyone? On the south western leg of the migration route – Mindoro and Palawan, Peter Stevens at Puerto Galera is brightening up the trail there with his first record reports. Many more have given full support by reporting random sightings thus enriching our database.

At lands end at Cape San Agustin, Davao Oriental, Camille Conception* reported 27,000 raptors heading south perhaps to small islands in Indonesia on her daily count for 2 month this Autumn.

The present figures bring to mind a practical “April Fools’ Day” text hoax report of the sighting of 2,700 “Chinese Sparrowhawk” over Tanay in 2010. That brought a lot of excitement and thrill down the members’ spine as a record count. One cannot now imagine the disappointment and furor that followed upon discovery of the hoax, which lasted for weeks and almost cost the membership of the joker. Nowadays, 2,700 for a day’s count during peak migration is peanuts. Raptorwatch Philippines has come a long way indeed!

Raptorwatch Philippines is at the moment still finding established migration flyways in the Philippines. It is easy to be an armchair theorist and project suspected flyways through geographical inferences but until these theories are fleshed out by actual observations they remain just that – at best a hint, at worst ethereal. We need reports of raptor sightings, especially those moving in flocks.

Due to lack of identification skills, many members are not inclined to report sightings. But for as long as it is ascertained that the individual bird or flocks sighted are indeed raptors, then such report is important.

Raptorwatch Philippines needs more eyes and those eyes are yours. Together and with the support of friends and raptor enthusiasts we can turn this “black hole” into a “Shining Path” in Raptor research and conservation.

We have only just begun….

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