Ned Liuag writes about the importance of keeping bird records and what WBCP members, citizen scientists, and nature lovers can do to help.
Why Bird Records Matter
by Ned Liuag
What is a good bird record?
As long as there have been birdwatching hobbyists, bird lists have existed. Some will contain the species a hobbyist has seen for the first time—the life list. Other birdwatchers list down the species and number of birds seen on trips. Still others are content to maintain a record of observations for their backyards, gardens or favorite urban patches.
Ideally birdwatchers would make detailed notes of their observations. This includes at least the name of the bird and the numbers, a record of the time, place, weather conditions and a sketch and notes of any bird that the observer is unfamiliar with. With the spread of digital photography, it would be best for birdwatchers to capture images of rare or unfamiliar birds. Phone cameras are also useful tools to support field notes at the end of the day.
Why are bird records important?
Long-term changes in migratory bird populations are an indicator of environmental conditions throughout the Asian flyway, which covers both the Palearctic and Oriental bird regions. Data on endemic, resident and migratory birds provide the scientific community and conservationists with significant insights about the effects of climate change, habitat loss, pollution and disease; and aid in creating guidelines for the management of birds, the conservation of declining species and control of bird-borne diseases.
Are there bird records for the Philippines?
Prior to 2003, there was hardly any attempt to centralize and make bird records accessible in the Philippines. Information consisted of scattered surveys and studies of certain species by field biologists or trip reports by a few visiting overseas birdwatchers.
While bird surveys were prepared by US ornithologist Richard C. McGregor for the Bulletin of the Philippine Museum as early as 1903 to 1906, among the older bird records accessible on the web is U.S. Army Capt. L.R. Wolfe’s Birds of Central Luzon, a record of his personal observations of the habits and breeding of 58 species during his tour of duty in Fort McKinley, the present Bonifacio Global City, from December 1927 to March 1930. The account was published in the ornithological journal AUK (Volume 55, April 1938). Another article of interest appeared in the same journal in October 1946, Notes on Philippine Birds by Dean Amadon and Stanley G. Jewett Jr., based on the sporadic field work during 1945 when both authors were in the U.S. Army.
In the 1950s, a number of articles by the eminent Philippine zoologist and conservationist Dioscoro Rabor (1911-1996) appeared in the AUK, including an article on the impact of deforestation on birds of Cebu, which suggested the extirpation of the Cebu Flowerpecker, a Cebu endemic reported in 1906 by R.C. McGregor as “the most common member of the Dicaeidae family in Cebu”. This species was not seen again until the 1990s, when a birdwatcher from abroad came across the bird, leading to some protection effort of its remaining forest patch in the Tabunan highlands.
Significantly, the Philippines has been the perennial “black hole” for migratory shorebird and raptor records along the Asian flyway, prompting members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) to volunteer for the Asian Waterbird Census and Asian Raptorwatch. Today, people from various walks of life along the length of the archipelago regularly share data with the WBCP, maintained and managed by the Club’s Record’ Committee.
What is WBCP’s role in keeping records of Philippine birds?
“From the earliest days of the WBCP, founding members James McCarthy and Arne Jensen stressed that for any bird club to be of significance, it must keep authoritative records,” according to Mike Lu, former President of the WBCP. With this in mind, he and Ned Liuag, both executive committee members, took it upon themselves to centralize bird lists sent in from WBCP members. “This was a very tedious job that kept us up long into the night but someone had to do it,” Mike said.
This initial bird record database was a simple excel spreadsheet into which was typed the species seen and the count. The first records were centered in a few areas of Metro Manila and nearby provinces, where members lived or visited.
Shortly after, a formal Records Committee was constituted and ornithologist such Arne Jensen and Desmond Allen helped to vet incoming bird reports, and upgrade and manage the database. The guidelines found in Robert Kennedy et al.’s A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines (2000) was an important cornerstone of the work establishing the WBCP database which is the largest bird database in the Philippines. It constitutes the most comprehensive but by no means final resource of bird species in the Philippines and their geographical spread.
With the growth in membership and its ability to put more observers in the field, several bird species absent from the Kennedy volume have been added to the Philippine list (see A Guide to the WBCP’s Checklist of the Birds of the Philippines 2013 https://ebonph.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/a-guide-to-the-wbcp-checklist-of-birds-of-the-philippines-2013/)
How can you help?
If you enjoy watching birds, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned birdwatcher, and you feel it is important to help protect them you can help. Participating in the Club’s work with bird records, can take as little or as much time as you want: from submitting random sightings of significant species or comprehensive bird trip reports, to joining the annual Raptorwatch and Asian Waterbird Census, and providing the valuable backroom support as volunteer encoders with the WBCP Records Committee.
We invite you to be part of the community. If you are a WBCP member and would like to help in the work of the Records Committee, contact Leni Sutcliffe, email: email@example.com or Kitty Arce, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.