Bird photography and birdwatching in Ilocos Norte is on the rise. The city of Laoag and the towns of Paoay, Pasuquin, Burgos, Bangui, Pagudpud, Adams and Vintar offer birding areas where rare endemic and migratory birds can be found.
Part I of this series features birds photographed in Gabu, Lagui and Paoay Lake in the city of Laoag and in the towns of Paoay and Pasuquin. Part II hereby features birds photographed in the towns of Burgos, Bangui, Pagudpud, Adams and Vintar.
Remember the saying, “Pagputi ng uwak, pag-itim ng tagak?” (When the crow becomes white, and the egrets turn black). We have always thought that these birds species would never turn into their opposite colors, but one egret do not need to turn black as it is indeed black. The Pacific Reef Egret has both a dark phase and a white one.
When I recently visited Ilocos Norte, I was surprised to see a few of my photos adorned the coaster of the Plaza del Norte Hotel and Convention Center. Prominent among those photos is that of the Chinese Egret (below, right), a migratory bird that is considered to be Vulnerable by IUCN as it has a small, declining population, principally as a result of the reclamation of tidal mudflats, estuarine habitats and offshore breeding islands for industry, infrastructure development and aquaculture. The Chinese Egret breeds on small islands off the coasts of eastern Russia, North Korea, South Korea and mainland China. It is also a non-breeding visitor to Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Peninsular and eastern Malaysia (Sarawak), Singapore, Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi) and Brunei. Their population is estimated at 2,600-3,400 mature individuals.
While the Chinese Egret is a vulnerable, it is not an appropriate bird icon of Plaza del Norte nor of Ilocos Norte, because it is a migrant species. The same can be said of the Great Cormorant that can be seen in Paoay Lake. What is more appropriate and can best represent the province is the rare endemic Spotted Imperial Pigeon that can be found in Pasuquin.
Oh, I must say that Plaza del Norte Hotel and Convention Center has not asked permission from nor gave credits to me as the photographer of the bird photos they use in their coaster. I’m tempted to report the matter to Governor Imee, and to suggest that to mend this wrongful act of copyright infringement, the business establishment should sponsor a bird photography expedition to document all wild birds in the entire province, and to sponsor a bird photo exhibit to promote bird and environmental awareness, conservation and avitourism.
During the Sirib Leadership Camp held recently at Dungon-dungon at the boundary of Burgos and Bangui, the trainors stayed at a small hotel in Bangui near the highway where one can see the windmills on one side and the rice fields on the other. Every now and then, some birds can be seen in the fields offering some chances of good photography. I was able to photograph the Pied Bushchat, Grey Wagtail, and Eurasian Tree Sparrows. There were also Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Crested Mynahs, various egrets and many more, but because of the training, I was only able to have a few photos below.
The Eurasian Tree Sparrows are introduced species in the Philippines. They most probably have been introduced during the time of the galleon trade when they could have joined the galleons that travelled from Europe to the Philippines. It is locally called “Ibong Bahay,” “Ibong Simbahan,” or “Maya.” The urban armed unit of the New People’s Army was named “Sparrow Unit” after this bird to emphasize its fast and quick actions. Ironically, this bird was considered pest by the farmers because they usually feed on ripening palays and they usually do so in flocks.
The above photo of Eurasian Tree Sparrows is a composite of eleven photos taken in the same field at the same hour.
Pagudpud is one of the favorite sites of birdwatchers and bird photographers. At Saud beach, they can easily see waterbirds and shorebirds like egrets, herons and ducks of various species. It is also a place that serves as a jump off point for the observation of migrating raptors and for endemic birds that can be seen in Adams. The Common Moorhen, while very ordinary, is one that is a good subject for bird photography as it offers contrasting and lively colors.
BirdLife International (2013) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for birds state that the endemic Philippine Duck is listed as Vulnerable because it is undergoing a rapid and continuing decline owing to extensive over-hunting and the widespread conversion of its wetland habitats. Exceptionally high levels of hunting and trapping have been evident since the 1960s. Thousands were reportedly shot weekly in August-October and January-March in the late 1980s. With the passage of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act in 2001, all huntings in the country have been outlawed.
The Philippine Ducks have always found themselves as targets of illegal hunting in the Philippines. Several personalities have been publicly condemned for hunting them and for violating the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act in 2001. Some of these personalities include the Philippine Shooting Team, Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson and daughter Richelle Louise Singson-Michael, and Bacolod Air Rifle Club.
I have known five places where Philippine Ducks can easily be seen and photographed. Three of these are Candaba Swamp in Candaba, Pampanga, Ka Intsik’s farm in San Juan, Batangas, and San Roque Power Plant in San Roque, Pangasinan. Two of these places are in Ilocos Norte – in Laoag and in Pagudpud, and in these places one can be as closed as possible to the Philippines’ only wild ducks.
Recently, Adams hugged the headlines for illegal hunting and illegal logging. As the town boasts of promoting ecotourism, one of its sons was photographed proudly displaying a dead rufous hornbill and his air rifle. The photo found itself on national news with various environmental groups condemning the act. It was a very unfortunate incident for the town that is becoming popular for rare endemic birds like the kalaw. We were not able to see the kalaws when we visited the town. However, I was able to photograph the migrant Grey-faced Buzzard.
In 2010, fellow birdwatcher and bird photographer Rene Bajit has this to say, “Alain and i decided to postpone coming home that weekend to try vintar, to make the most of the opportunity in the north. ilocos indeed is such a beautiful landscape with the people’s resources and industry pictured in the lovely and grand houses, the sights never missing to jolt us from our seats. … The bigger suprise is the road going to vintar bird sanctuary. the winding dirt road yielded many bird species which alain attempted to document but were just too far away. the vintar bird sanctuary is situated far away from the town (as in soo far away, but surprisingly, almost all the vintarenos knew about the sanctuary”) but im very sure it will yield much bird species. alain caught in frame a flock of blue headed fantails. the fantails in vintar is darker than those in batad, banaue, ifugao. it has a darker, more maroonish back. “
Here are photos of the Blue Rock-Thrush, a migratory bird, that I was able to photograph along the road.
After we have crossed the mountain where we saw lots of birds, we moved on to find the Bird Sanctuary. It was still too far and after many favors for directions, we reached the end of the road where the Bird Sanctuary can be found. It was 100 hectares, we saw lots of birds, but we were only able to see the entrance as darkness began descend. There was however a Bird Museum in the area, literally at the end of the road, where information and pictures of birds can be found. In the WBCP email group, Rene wrote, “we had a lengthy texting conversation with mr james tumbaga, who was very excited on our visit. he runs the bird sanctuary from his own funds. it is his own personal project. to a fellow of this passion, setting up a museum containing pictures (downloaded and mislabled, foreign species, too) it is already something. above standard. i think we can make a good and passionate bird conservationist partner in james, mike.”
This is the Brahminy Kite, known locally as “Siwawer.” There’s a Siwawer Festival held every December to honor the raptor. The Philippine National Police of Vintar has the Brahminy Kite as its logo. But upon examination of the picture and paintings of their insignia, they resemble the American Bald Eagle and not that of the kite. But when showed photos of the Brahminy, they confirmed that’s their siwawer all right.
The Brahminy Kite is a resident bird, it can also be found in other countries, though it does not migrate. In Indonesia, the Brahminy Kite is the official mascot of Jakarta. In India, it is considered as the contemporary representation of Garuda, the sacred bird of Vishnu. In Malaysia, the island of Langkawi is named after the bird (‘kawi’ denoting an ochre-like stone used to decorate pottery, and a reference to the bird’s primary plumage colour). It can be seen in the entire Philippines. In Ilocos Norte, they can be found in all areas, and most prominently seen in Vintar, Laoag and Bangui.