By Trinket Constantino
Trinket Constantino writes about an exciting and action-packed workshop conducted for the Philippine Eagle Foundation staff and volunteers. This was not your ordinary workshop. This workshop had a river crossing, camping, dancing under the moonlight, Silvery Kingfishers, mini bird races, raptor watch, and more!
In a follow-up activity to last year’s birdwatching workshop , Adri and I found ourselves back at the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City, working with the staff and volunteers of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF).
Last September 26 – 28, a second training session for the PEF was held entitled “Facilitating Effective Philippine Eagle Center and Community-based Bird-watching Tours”. The goal of the workshops was to increase the PEF staff and volunteer competency in birding and bird identification so that regular guided bird walks might eventually by established at the Philippine Eagle Center and in a couple of the PEF field sites. Adri, myself and Davao-based Pete Simpson facilitated the three day workshop. Once again, the workshop was sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, the Department of Tourism and the Canadian Government as part of a continuing series of skills development training on basic tour guiding for improving competitiveness in tourism.
The first day was held at the PEC and was composed of a series of lectures to review what had been learned in the first workshop. In the morning, we discussed birding basics, including etiquette and field craft.
We stepped out of the lecture hall to practice using our binoculars and more importantly, to practice teaching others how to use their binoculars. Although it was meant as a short break from the sit-down discussions, we were immediately side-tracked by a tree just outside the classroom which revealed Yellow-vented, Wattled and Philippine Bulbuls, almost side by side! This serendipitous sighting led us to an on-site discussion on bird identification and field marks. It was a “teachable moment” and we could not resist taking advantage of it!
In the afternoon, the discussions and activities revolved around what was needed to develop a birding program as a regular activity. The whole group was split into smaller groups and each group was asked to outline a “script” for their birding activity, with reminders to keep in mind who their target audience was and also what they already knew about birding. It was also emphasized that the goal was to capture the audience’s interest and make them excited to bird. And also that for first time birders, few good sightings were better than a long list of birds that were only briefly seen or “heard only”.
It was great to see the spiels the groups came up with, and also their awareness of their strengths and limitations. As they were sharing their output, everyone was already getting excited to try out the proposed bird walks!
We ended the afternoon with a short guided trip around the PEC where we were joined by Alex Tiongco and Tere Cervero who were also in Davao from Metro Manila on raptorwatch business. There weren’t too many birds and we were all a bit tired from the full day’s work, but we were looking forward to the next two days where we would be birding at 2 of the PEF field sites.
The next morning was off to an early start at 5:00 am. When Adri and I arrived at the PEC, the participants were busy loading camping gear into the vehicles. Overhead, the resident colony of fruit bats were making a ruckus, but it didn’t stop Pete from spotting an Everett’s Scops Owl on the PEC grounds!
When we arrived at the first site, we first met the community leaders’ for a very brief courtesy call. A short walk through the community led to an expanse of grass bordered by dragon fruit plantations and facing forested hills and mountains. It was difficult birding because of the large group of more than 20, but Pete and Adri were able to point out several birds to many of the participants, including Mindanao Pygmy Babblers, Everett’s White-eyes, Brown Tit Babblers, Grey-streaked Flycatchers, Philippine Spine-tailed Swift and a mix of sunbirds and flowerpeckers.
It was a breathtaking hike (literally!), highlighted by an exciting river crossing on a rickety wire-suspension bridge which could only take 2 people at a time!
We stopped at the river to have breakfast before continuing on uphill to check out the trail and more birding. We could hear Mindanao Hornbills honking in the distance, hidden in the thick canopy of trees.
On our way back, we stopped by the river again for a short snack. Some of the participants could not resist the gentle rush of the cold water and took a quick dip while the rest of us were busy snacking on freshly picked marang fruit!
Back at the community center, we took our lunch and made our collective bird list. The participants were surprised at the list, not realising that they had seen that many birds!
After lunch, we gave our thanks to the community and headed for the second site where we would be spending the night. We took a long and confusing route through banana plantations on a 4×4 to reach the jump off for the second site which was at an elevation of 1200 masl.
We arrived mid-afternoon and set-up camp immediately after meeting with the community leaders. The site looked very promising, the participants had already spotted a few birds: Turquoise Flycatcher, Mountain White-eye, Little Pied Flycatcher, Collared Kingfisher, Brown Shrike and several flowerpeckers. Adri and I were even ushered outside by the excited shouts of the participants as they spotted 30 or so Chinese Sparrowhawks forming a kettle above the camp!
In the evening, there was a brief program: we were welcomed by the leaders of the community and the local children presented a dance of gratitude for their abundant harvest and safety. Many were in their traditional dresses. The PEF volunteers and staff gamely returned favor with 2 song and dance presentations. We all gathered by a bonfire warming the cool air under a full moon and the harmonious relationship between the PEF and the local community was evident in the warm smiles and laughter.
Unfortunately, due to unforseen curcumstances, we had to return to the PEC early the next morning.
At the PEC, we continued the birding activities, breaking up the group again into three teams for a mini-bird race. Even if everyone was tired, the spirit of competitiveness prevailed and everyone gamely went around the PEC grounds. The smaller groups were much more efficient in spotting and giving everyone a chance to observe the birds. Chinese Sparrowhawks were again thermalling in the morning sky, another group spotted a perched Crested Goshawk, and each of the groups spotted Black-naped monarchs, Coppersmith Barbets White-eared Brown Doves and more! After the two hour time period, the teams slowly returned back to home base and submitted their bird lists. Only one team had spotted the resident Silvery Kingfisher, and they shared its “secret” location with the rest so the others could have a good look at this cute Mindanao endemic.
As we wrapped up the last day with sharing and processing of experiences, we all felt a sense of accomplishment. It was a hectic 3-day schedule, but the energy of the team and especially the young volunteers carried everyone through.
I am looking forward to experiencing the guided tours at the PEC soon and also at the chance to return to the PEF field sites for more birding! Thank you once again to the PEF for inviting the WBCP to take part in their activities. Hopefully our continued joint activities will further promote birding and conservation.