Bird watching is an interest not a lot of Filipinos have explored, but is very much alive in the country. Every year, municipalities take turns to host the country’s largest celebration of avifaunal diversity, the Philippine Bird Festival, which is gearing up for its 13th installment this year. And as the Philippines lies along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, our mudflats, mangroves, and coastal areas prove to be a great stop for migratory birds escaping more frigid climes.
A rising tourist spot in the province of Bataan, Balanga Nature and Wetland Park is one of the best birding spots in the country. It records thousands of a variety of migratory birds each year, best observed from its viewing decks.
Before it was developed into a bird sanctuary, the 11-hectare coastal area in Barangay Tortugas used to be just plain wetland. It was, however, brimming with mangroves as it is where East Talisay River joins the Manila Bay. It came to the attention of the late Enrique “Tet” Garcia, patriarch of the governing Garcia family in Bataan, that migratory birds flock the area during the ‘-ber’ months. He invited enthusiasts to observe; and the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines confirmed that is indeed a myriad of birds that come to breed and feed in the area.
In 2009, Bataan had the privilege of hosting the official 5th Philippine Bird Festival. With the festival’s resounding success, Bataan saw a potential for tourism and soon started the Ibong Dayo Festival held at the park. This 2019 marks the celebration’s 9th year, which is visited by thousands of local and international tourists.
The Balanga Wetland features an eco-trail for seeing birds nestled within the mangroves up close, viewing decks and binoculars, and a holding area for guests decorated with photos and art that tell of the park’s history.
According to senior Bataan tourism operation aide Alan Balbuena, the best time to observe migratory birds is early morning or late afternoon. Around 5:30 AM to 6 AM, thousands of birds residing in the mangrove area fly out to search for food, resulting in a majestic sight to behold.
Types of birds that frequent the park are Great and White Egrets which can be seen all year round for various reasons such as breeding. The rarest sighting, and farthest-traveled was the Laughing Gull in 2012, from the Americas. Visitors also have the chance to witness Stilts, Kingfishers, Plovers, Doves, Terns, Munias, Cisticolas, Swallows, Warblers, and more in action.
The Balanga Nature and Wetland Park is open from Monday to Sunday at 5:30 AM to 5 PM. To visit, visitors must acquire a ticket and pay the environmental fee of at least PHP 5, or higher for non residents and professionals.
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE April 2019
Words by Mia Carisse Barrientos | Photos by Gadgets Team