Friday, July 7, 2017

Philippine Cockatoo Festival 2017 in Palawan Island

Wild Bird Club Malaysia (WBCM) was invited by Wild Bird Club Philippines (WBCP) to attend the 11th Katala (Philippine Cockatoo) Festival. This Festival celebrates the Critically Endangered Philippine Cockatoo and it is done near the site of the largest remaining wild population of this species, hosted each year by the Katala Foundation, Inc. WBCM was represented by Ms Yeo (Josephine) and Mr Andy Lee. We booked AirAsia flight departing Kuala Lumpur on 28th June, Wednesday night at 9.30pm (at our own costs). Our flight to Manila was delayed by an hour and we reach Ninoy Aquino International Airport at almost 2am on Thursday. The domestic flight to Puerto Princesa, Palawan was at a different Terminal, and Grabtaxi was available at that hour so we reached the domestic flight terminal very early by 3am. We could only board the domestic flight by 6am so it was a three hour wait at the domestic flight terminal. It was a pleasant break though since there was hot food available at the departure waiting area and the toilets were very clean! We met members of WBCP just as we were about to board the flight to Palawan. Ms Karen Ochavo, WBCP had kindly introduced herself. 
Fried Rice with Egg and Tuna at
NAIA Domestic Terminal (4am breakfast!)
We arrived at Puerto Princesa Airport, Palawan by 8am and met up with Willem, President of the WBCP, Ms Christina Cinco, Secretary of the WBCP and WBCP members. We also met up with Chen and Feng from Wild Bird Society of Taipei. Our drivers held up a welcome banner, with the theme for the Festival being “Reconnecting people with Nature”. We were then whisked off in 2 vans to start birdwatching at a place called the “ Zig Zag Road” by our birdwatching leader, Rommel M. Cruz. 16 species were seen that Thursday morning. We returned to Narra for lunch at the Katala Foundation Research Centre. It was a privilege to meet with the founder, Indira Lacerna-Widmann who must be one of the most down-to-earth persons I have ever met. The Katala Foundation was one of the winners at the recent Whitley Awards 2017 in UK. Listen to her speech here. Listen to Sir David Attenborough talk about the Philippine Cockatoo and the founder of Katala Foundation, Indira Lacerna-Widmann here. Her ability to convert poachers in becoming wardens for Philippine Cockatoo, is amazing in itself. 
 
Lunch consisted of fresh fish from Palawan, stir-fried vegetables (grown within the Research Centre), fried chicken, rice and the best dessert ever, Philippine Mangoes! 10 Species of birds were seen at the Foundation Research Centre later in the afternoon.
Guide to the Birds of the Philippines (Willem’s copy) 
which was very useful reference throughout the birdwatching days in Palawan Island
The Philippine or Red-vented cockatoo as a small psittacine with a helmet crest and red undertail coverts. The white plumage is extremely conspicuous in flight and in the foliage of the lowland dipterocarp and mangrove forest habitats. It is 12.2 inches long and has an 8.6 inches wingspan. The Katala as it is locally called is a social species which roosts, feeds, and flies in noisy groups but during the mating season, from March to July, pairs live apart from the flock, often reusing the same nesting tree year after year. It is a favorite caged-bird because of its ability to mimic the human voice (Source:- The Katala Foundation website. May be confused with with the black and white Pied Imperial-Pigeon,  if seen at a distance according to “A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines” by Kennedy, Gonzales, Dickinson, Miranda Jr and Fisher. The Municipality of Narra’s dedicated a day in their calender of events to the Philippine cockatoo - Katala Fun Day.
Ninety (90) Philippine Cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) were seen on 29th June, Thursday 2017 (as counted by Peter Widmann). According to Katala Foundation website, in 1994 the estimated popluation is 1,000 to 4,000 individuals, 70-75% of which is believed to occur in Palawan. Recent estimates by Widmann (2001) suggest 1000 individuals left in the wild! Rasa probably holds the highest population density with 200 recorded individuals. Seven (7) species of birds were seen that Thursday evening, with THE bird of the day being the Katala.
WBCM participated in the 8am morning parade around the town of Narra on Friday, 30th June morning. We were back in the Gymnasium by 9am for the Opening Ceremony.  
 
Schoolchildren were waving at the ...........
 
Philippine Cockatoo mascot (costume is air-conditioned and the mascot’s eyes can blink!). The REAL Cockatoo (Picture, Right)  
We manage to do some birdwatching at Borbon beach earlier in the morning (from 6am until 6.55am), in which 9 species of birds were seen including a huge flock/ubiquity of Eurasian Tree Sparrows which literally kicked up a dust when it took to flight from the sun-baked soil of the village in Borbon beach. It was heartening to see the villagers take pride in their endemic species, and when they saw us with our binoculars, they asked Katala? and we nodded our heads enthusiastically!
WBCM distributed colouring sheets to schoolchildren who attended the Festival and visited WBCM’s booth. The schoolchildren of Narra, Palawan completed their colouring sheets in record time and received colouring pencils and sweets as their prizes.
 
  
  
The Katala Foundation hosted the Festival Dinner (Salu-Salu) at Crystal Paradise resort, which was graced by the presence of the Mayor of Narra. 
 
WBCM President Andy Lee provided token of appreciation


to Mayor of Narra, Lucena Diaz Demaala 
We were informed that the Philippine Cockatoo likes to roost on the Malunggay Tree. This Palawan snack is called Malunggay Cashew Pastillas and it was one of the last few packs available at the shop in Puerta Princesa airport, so it seems to be a favourite snack flavour for us human beings as well. 
We stayed at the JoseLiza Guesthouse for 2 nights, the accommodation of which was kindly provided for by WBCP. There was a lovely fruiting tree in front of our room which looked like the Winter Cherry tree. Olive-backed Sunbirds (bright orange below its dark head - I’ve never seen orange hues in our Malaysian Olive-backed before), Pygmy flowerpecker, Chestnut Munia and Ashy-fronted bulbuls were flitting about and feeding on the juicy fruits in this tree. We continued birdwatching the whole day on 1st July 2017 in Mount Victoria, the Hill Mynah Resort and Iwahig Prison Grounds. Yes, we birded in Prison Grounds and 25 species were seen including the Palawan hornbill which perched on top of the tree as we were about to leave. We felt secure with 8 members of SWAT team accompanying us from 29th June to 1st July 2017.
 
Mount Victoria, Palawan. City of Puerto Princesa lovely logo (Palawan Peacock Pheasant?) at Monitoring Station.  
Canopy that formed above the trees as we reached the natural pools within Iwahig Prison Grounds
He made us feel safe:)
The Katala Foundation headed by both Indira and Peter Widmann, and their team ensured we had enough snacks throughout the pre-Festival and post-Festival days of birdwatching. Their hospitality, passion and love for nature, particularly the Philippine Cockatoo were evident and their infectious laughs and friends we made from Netherlands, Philippines, Taiwan made this one of the most memorable birdwatching Festivals I have ever attended. Special thanks to Mike Lu, Treasurer of WBCP, who looked after us whilst we were in Manila. Dinner cum supper was delicious, with the stir-fried noodles dish being a Philippines specialty. We saw 15 (and a half?) endemic species of Palawan Island and 2 Philippine endemics out of a total of 62 species. Read on at Birds of Palawan Island in Three Days to view the table of bird species, including both Philippine and Palawan endemics and more pictures of birds from this unique Island.
Text by Yeo Yee Ling
Pictures Yeo Yee Ling and Andy Lee

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