Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Maligcong Birding with a Cause, Tourism with an Advocacy

Crested myna (Acridotheres cristatellus, locally called Martines)
I was on the tailend of an eight-kilometer hike up to the Maligcong extension village where Suzette's Homestay is located coming up from Bontoc city proper, an over 1000-ft increase of elevation, when I bumped into two foreign (British, I suspect) visitors.  (I actually met them the previous night as I and Jounin (Suzette's unica hija) and her friend, came back from birding but obviously it was too dark for them to recognize me then.)  They were walking down the opposite direction and espied that I was trying to shoot birds.   The man asked me what kind of birds could be found there so I told him about the shrikes, chats and sunbirds I've been seeing the past couple of days.  Then he asked me about the blue bird they spotted previously over the terraces, intimating that "our guide wasn't really a guide; he doesn't know what kind of bird it is," was his exact phrase.   Maybe a bit harsh to expect from the local guides but then again, maybe, that's why birders find themselves in such an area in the first place.   We're here not just to compile life lists but to help out.
Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis)

I admit to liking birding and birdwatching but I'm not drawn to the competitive aspects of the recreation (calls to mind the book turned into a movie "The Big Year").  Yes, I keep a list of birds I've spotted and photographed but I am not about to compete with birders who seem to have a side hobby of one-upmanship (I've spotted/photographed more birds than you do).   In the past years, I've decided to turn my travels into mini-advocacies.  This means giving back to communities and locals and not just taking things.   I call it a mini-fight-back against the perils of social media tourism where tourists trample upon places and cultures for the sake of selfies and social media posts; of justifying bringing trash (and trashy behavior) to places regardless of their obvious unwelcome-ness.

Brown Breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon gularis)
The many years I've spent in advertising meant I understand the importance of focus.  One of the perils of advocacies can be about trying to help so much that the assistance ends up diluted and maybe ineffective.  So one of the things I've decided four years ago was to concentrate on Maligcong and channel my creative talents to helping out, even if just a little, to the locals, the tourism efforts.  My documentation of the elders is an ongoing process; it's not a matter of just barging in and taking portraits even if against their will.  This also involves giving prints of the portraits to somehow help restore their faith in guests and visitors who largely come in and take their pictures without giving them a copy at all.  
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula westermanni)
The other advocacy I'm nursing is one inspired by the visit of Ma'am Alice Villareal, one of the founders of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.   The other experience is of local kids finding and playing with the nest of a Mountain Verditer Flycatcher found under the eaves of the homestay.    Maybe, instead of playing with the fledglings, the kids (as well as the adult locals) can be better off knowing what kind of birds are there. 
Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)
I'm in no way a hardcore birder nor an avian pro; I'm an enthusiast willing to learn and pass on the learning.  I thought helping the locals find out what the local resident and visiting birds can be found in Maligcong can help bring in tourists with a more nature-oriented bent.  I also like to analyze the environmental state of the place based on what kind of birds live or visit it.
A rather fat Long-Tailed Shrike (Long tailed shrike) on an overhead water pipe
Which brings me back to my earlier account of British visitors.  It feels good to help them identify the blue bird they saw previously as a Brown Breasted Kingfisher (see image #3) and that a long-staying guest can have other things to explore after hiking up Mounts Kupapey and Fato.   They were fortunate to have seen it as it took me several visits to spot it (seems to be a lone kingfisher) and photograph it as well.
Pied Bush Chat (Saxicola caprata)
Are you a birder or bird enthusiast?  Maybe you can help map out what other birds are there?  Or an aspiring ethno-botanist?   As an avid gardener, maybe we can explore what plant life exist here including the fungi/mushrooms that hide under the pines after the first thunderstorms of the year.   Maybe it's time to move beyond being a non-caring tourist only eager for likes on social media posts and transform into a helpful fellow Filipino for a change.
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) on the rice terrace paddy

Another image of the cute Long-Tailed Shrike
All bird images taken with a Nikon B700 camera, Aperture Priority, Handheld • © 2019 Oggie Ramos

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