Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 31 December 2014


As we are still enjoying the holidays, I deviate from very serious topics and discuss a pleasurable subject. Given the proper frame of mind, it is also integral to our social and cultural development as a nation.

A calendar of birds in the rice fields of IRRI’s experiment station. In the course of my efforts to learn more about rice culture and policies, I met Dr. Bruce Tolentino, former agriculture department official, and now, one of the senior managers at the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute).

After a long discussion on agriculture and new developments concerning rice, he gave me a packet of information on rice issues. Along with this was a wall calendar of Philippine birds. From the moment I saw this calendar, I knew I would write about it for a holiday respite. Now is the time.

It was a calendar for 2014, the year just ending. I certainly hope that they have another version of this calendar for the coming year. The calendar – Feathers in the Fields: The Birds of IRRI – features the birds found roaming the rice research experimental fields of the institution in Los Banos, Laguna.

The calendar is very beautifully composed. Great text, astounding close-up photos of Philippine birds in their usual surroundings, erudite brief essays and scientific information that birdwatchers catalogue for all.

Learning more about birds through the calendar. The calendar has a very careful organization. Learners and simply curious persons will find very valuable information about birds from it. These are the birds that visit our rice fields.

The IRRI stations have rice plantings throughout the year and some plots have different phases of the season for planting. So the bird population that visit these stations (native and migratory) could be more numerous than the common rice fields that are part of our agricultural activities in the country.

The birds that are featured are the product of exceptional photography taken for each of the twelve months of the year. For each month, there is a full-size picture of a bird in a natural habitat, a second much smaller but different picture of the same bird is placed alongside the brief essay concerning the month.

The calendar has a centerfold that contains a whole spread of more than 60 cut-up of photographs of the birds found in the IRRI fields. These birds are further referenced in a separate page through a table that explains their common names alongside their scientific. Twelve additional columns depicting the months of the year are attached to this table indicating when the bird was likely to be found in the IRRI fields.

Bird watcher Paul Bourdin, who is associated with the Brent International School, charted all the birds for the twelve months of the year. Richard Smedley, a doctoral student of bird ecology, tracked down many of the characteristics of the birds found and wrote a thoughtful essay on the birds of IRRI.

The photography is amazing and was undertaken by two dedicated enthusiasts. Tirso Paris, of UP Los Baños with a sound academic record in Economics, contributed most of the bird photos and Fred Serrano, an undersecretary of agriculture.

Telephoto lenses and high speed photography can do wonders, but this has to combine with the craftsman’s astute preparation, patience, and attitude. I nominate the photographers to do more bird work for the National Geographic magazine!

The calendar devotes two full pages to a month and gives more information on the days of the week in which four species of birds – with alternative smaller photos included – could be expected to visit during the month. Such use of information invites greater interest for the reader to savour, and not only for the bird enthusiast and naturalist.

Scanty literature on birds and nature on the Philippines. The photo collection and the textual information presented in the calendar reminds me about the scanty literature on Philippine birds and indeed on a lot of other important natural phenomena in our country.

We ought to have more publications, including illustrations, of our country’s flora and fauna. In the case of birds, we do have information but not enough. They should also be attractively presented. It is as if we are oblivious of the beauty in our midst and of the generous bounty of nature.

I have travelled to many countries and places in my long career. A mild curiosity about nature always brought me to bookstores. On the matter of birds, there are popular books galore in other countries but not here.

We should build that wealth of knowledge. If it cannot be built fast, a sure and certain outcome is an arduous and sustained effort through the years.

Way back during the 1970s I purchased a book from a major Chicago Museum on Philippine birds. It was a storehouse of information on the subject with many illustrations. I did not have the good luck to locate it while preparing this essay.

From notices, I have learned that a modern and up-to-date book on Philippine birds was recently published. This is A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines, by Robert S. Kennedy, Pedro C. Gonzales, Edward Dickinson, Hector C. Miranda Jr. and Timothy H. Fisher (Oxford University Press, 2000).

The book provides a detailed description of 572 species of birds that have been found in the Philippines. This book contributes to the identification of 172 endemic species found uniquely in the country and testifies to the country’s wide range of biological diversity in the case of birds.

Birdwatchers and the Internet expand the documentation of Philippine birds. Though there are few truly good books on Philippine birds for popular use, luckily there is today an active and growing society of bird watchers who have filled the internet with pictures and illustrations of Philippine birds.

I have tracked down some addresses, or links. For those interested, try to google “Philippine birds” or “field guide of Philippine birds.”

For me, the most interesting sights include the website of the Philippine Society of Bird Watchers and the website featuring the country’s endangered bird species. I recommend these as they contain a wide variety of illustrations from photographs of birds caught by camera in the wild.

A happy new year to All!