Bird Watching in Baler

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Bird Watching in BalerMay 22-24, 2009

Bird Watching in Baler

Baler has always been on my To Visit List and a possible alternative home after hearing that it brags waves to surf, mountains to climb and bike, internet access and relatively low cost of living. It's flanked by the eastern edge of the Sierra Madre mountain range and the Pacific Ocean. In celebration of Baler's 400 years of existence, Aurora's governor herself, the Hon. Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo invited the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) to launch a tourism program that was to last until the end of 2009. It's designed to increase public awareness on what Baler has to offer. For this weekend, the NCCA invited the UP Mountaineers together with the following groups:
  • Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
  • Phillipine Bird Photography Forum
  • Samahan ng mga Litratis sa Rizal
  • Federation of Philippine Photographers
for 3 days of bird watching, bird photography, and a photography contest for everything that is Baler.

Freebies
As UP Mountaineers volunteers, I initially thought we'd be workhorses facilitating activities for the other guests, but it turned out we ourselves were guests of the governor. We were wined and dined...whoa! Free bus transport, road shuttle, speed boat, tour, food, lodging, etc. For the most part, we were grouped with the Wild Bird Club.

Bird Photography vs Bird Watching
I thought they were both the same...wrong! Apparently, while they co-exist with each other, there's a chinese-curtain between them. Think hikers and mountain bikers sharing a multi-use trail. At first I couldn't understand. Bird photographers lay in endless wait, hoping that the bird will come to them. Given their bazooka lenses, the picture is paramount - not so much on bird identification. Bird watchers on the other hand, keep moving, hoping to see more birds as they cover more ground. Bird-book in hand, they take pride identifying the birds. Some carry cameras for proof-of-sight. They're like oil and water. They can't mix...or so I was told.

Missing the Point
I didn't get what the big deal was on bird watching/photography - the stealth, the patient wait, the expensive gear, the frenzied exchange after a sighting, "...did you see the blue-naped red breasted bulbul?", or even the ecstatic bird identification. It seemed no different from people at Oscar Night when they're all rubber-necking for a glimpse of a passing celebrity.

Multi-colored Mayas
Anyway, my misguided ignorance was about to change when I was handed a pair of binoculars by the guru himself, Professor Jerry Devilla. Out of frustration, I gave up trying to see what the veteran bird watchers were seeing. For the life of me, they point out a green bird in the thick of a green forest on a green mountain slope full of green leaves. How the heck can I see the bird? I settled on birds perched on top of coconut trees, against a blue sky or white clouds. All this time, I thought they were just the common maya. Upon closer scrutiny, it wasn't. In fact, I didn't see one maya. The birds came in different colors, sizes and shapes. Of course I don't know the names. I just refer to them as the green maya, red maya or purple maya. It was amusing. Similar to watching a goldfish, bird watching can be engaging. Why? I don't know. I just know it's engaging...it works.

Ifugao Hut in Dicasalarin Cove
One highlight of the trip was a speedboat ride to Dicasalarin Cove. It's also home to Baler's very own, Senator Angara. Since we were guests, we were extended the hospitality of the place. The cove boasts of fine white sand, a coral reef for snorkeling, 2 pristine rivers and modified Ifugao huts, hand-built by Igorots from Ifugao. I have been long fascinated by the Ifugao huts. It was love at first sight back in the day. I imagined myself living in a modified Ifugao hut, suited for Manila's scorching and humid climate. I've already talked to architect friends and engineer friends on how to make the optimum Ifugao hut for Manila (not that I'm really serious). Now, I'm actually looking at one.

Home Sweet Home?
I spent a good part of my free time scouting for residential possibilities, price being the primary consideration. The only thing I gathered was that resort fan rooms go for P350/night and can be had for P3000/month. I didn't get the chance to go to the main town and scout for cheaper places. It didn't need to be beachside. If I can get something good and cheap, I can be gone for months and it won't be too painful.

Ending Thoughts
I can't say I saw much of Baler given the 3 days we stayed, but it looked promising. Didn't even get the chance to surf or ride the mountain bike trails, or find out how fast internet connections are, but I guess that's what next times are for. Baler as a tourist destination holds more promise given the attention the governor, the mayor (through his vice-mayor), and the NCCA give it. I might even speculate that the plan for Baler is not too far off from what happened to CamSur (Camarines Sur)....putting the place on the tourist beaten path overnight.

At any rate, 3 days is waaay too short to explore the breadth of Baler. Beyond Baler's border is the east coast of Aurora Province. It promises isolated coves, pristine forests, majestic waterfalls and all the outdoor adventure any enthusiast can ask for. Baler...a must destination...not just for birds.

Another note of optimism, if bird-watching tourism flourishes in Baler (read: when locals start generating meaningful revenues by guiding birders), then bird protection gets the order of the day (read: no hunting down). Consequently, bird habitat will likewise be protected (read: no illegal logging). I've seen this happen in Donsol with the whale sharks and I don't see any reason it can't happen here in Baler. The local government's support for birding is definitely a positive move in the right direction.

--- TheLoneRider

    Other Baler Attractions:
  • Lukso Lukso - coral reef and rock formation
  • Dicasalarin Beach
  • Sabang Beach
  • Surfing
  • Ermita Hill - offers scenic view of Baler cove
  • Baler Church - site of the 1898 siege where 54 Spanish soldiers took refuge for 337 days against anguished Filipino soldiers
  • Quezon Park - birthplace of Manuel L. Quezon, first president of the Philippine Commonwealth
    Hotel and Accommodations:
  • Amihan Hotel - (042)209-4352
  • Amco Beach Resort - (042)209-4209
  • Bahia de Baler - 0919-643-3080
  • Bay's Inn - 0918-9266697
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P5220014 P5220015 P5220016 P5220028
P5220049 P5220050 P5220053 P5230055
P5230067 P5230068 P5230069 P5230072
P5230077 P5230078 P5230079 P5230080
P5230083 P5230087 P5230092 P5230092c
P5230094 P5230095 P5230097 P5240099
P5240100 P5240103 P5240105 P5240107
P5240108 P5240109 P5240113 P5240115
P5240118 P5240120 P5240128 P5240131
P5240132 P5240134 P5240135  

Reader Comments:

Princess
(Jun 3, 2009) Bird watching is amazing! I'll never forget your own kind of bird you named as Deep-Throated-Swallow! haha! fun fun!
...let's not forget the Straight-Haird BulBul and the Bare-Breasted Culasisi...ha-ha! -- TheLoneRider


Anya
(May 29, 2009) yep! i got to visit the bird fair in the UK in 2005. brits are nuts for birds!!! especially philippine species...many of them have a sort of wishlist of birds to see...and since many of ours are endemic, our country's such a dream location for them. now for the DOT to fully take advantage of that and conserve what we have left...

Nomadic Pinoy
(May 29, 2009) I don't know much about birds but the Philippines certainly harbors many of our feathered friends in the wild. Last year, the Philippine Department of Tourism promoted birdwatching to the British market in the United Kingdom. Hopefully, this will result in more eco-tourists visiting the country and more importantly, for local communities in the Philippines to protect, promote and nurture the birds and their habitat.

Anya
(May 29, 2009) ...welcome to the wonderful world of birding (short for birdwatching)! i'm sort of an amateur birder, having worked for haribon for a couple of years. and to be nerdy about it...when i read your entry and you mentioned...a blue-naped, red-breasted bulbul...the bird nerd in me said...meron? i mean, i've never heard of that kind of bulbul...they're usually brown...there's a yellow-vented bulbul though... my fave birding moment was up in subic's hill 394 (or some other 3-digit number), walking down, disappointed not to see as many as we had liked, suddenly, a family of rufous hornbills flew right above us! that was just so magnificent!
"...a blue-naped, red-breasted bulbul": sorry, I just made that up...it's how things sound when I hear birders talk. -- TheLoneRider




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