Birding in Cagayan

Birding, the identification and observation of wild birds in their natural habitat as a recreation  or hobby, has just reached cave-rich Sta. Teresita town in Cagayan province, courtesy of its pristine  bakong(Hinguana Malayana) habitat Bangalau Lake. The present state, however, of Philippine birds  may not, hopefully, affect the initial efforts of the town as they focus on the hobby during thes 3rd National Eco-Tourism Festival this year.

In the 1970s, Asin declared “ang mga ibong gala ay wala nang madadapuan” in their iconic song “Masdan Ang Kapaligiran” referring to the wild birds.

Forward to 2000s.Only 10 percent of the total bird population in the Philippines are included in the National List of Threatened Birds. The website  attributed this to the glaring fact that a large percent of the important bird areas are not covered by  Republic Act 7586 otherwise known as the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992.

Meaning, more than 80.85 percent  of the total important bird areas are not covered by NIPAS even as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued Administrative Order 2004-15 which listed vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered birds in 1998, 2004 and 2012.

According to the  website of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in their list  Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), only Magapit was declared as a bird refuge site in the entire Cagayan Valley region.  Under NIPAS, only Palaui, Magapit and Penablanca were listed while  Palanan in Isabela was listed under Wilderness.

In the mid  1980s, the provincial government of Cagayan under then Governor Justiniano Cortez  identified the Carague Lake (pronounced ‘Karwe’) in  Enrile town as a possible site for birding. The efforts, like some government projects, was never sustained by the succeeding administration.

It was Pio Munoz of the Sierra Madre Outdoor Club (SMOC) who informed this writer that the Bayo Lake of Bayo, Iguig, Cagayan  was another potential. That was in the late 1980s when, as an environmentalist, he was ecstatic because of the  presence of endemic and migratory birds in the area. It was only in 2012 that I first  saw the lake, now overfished, its waters dominated by water hyacinths. Like the rest of otherwise  potential birding sites, it was on the record that no government hand tried to save it from possible extinction.

Aside from marginal fishing activities, no bird has been sighted in the area in the last decade.

Section 2 of the Act, under declaration of policy, says it “ recognizes that these areas… possess common ecological value that may be incorporated into a holistic plan representative of our natural heritage”.

The bureau aims to conserve the country’s biodiversity as it envisions a perpetual existence of biological and physical diversities in a system of protected areas.

Fifty-two of the total 657 bird species in the Philippines were identified as rare while majority of them, at 214, were considered endemic or  indigenous to the country. Fifty species are threatened. Despite this avian diversity in the country,  already 30 percent of the endemics  face a possible loss of habitat which is considered a serious threat to their very survival in the few years to come, according to published reports.

Other sources claimed even more areas with  less number of species. That would  mean that in this country, government and the private sector do not agree on statistics on birds.

While Sta. Teresita  is credited for creating noise on the presence of some 29 endemic and migratory birds at its Bangalau lake, there’s a lot to be done not only  from the leadership of Mayor Lolita Garcia but virtually  by the entire country if we want birding  in the area as a heritage to our next generations and those who will come after them.

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