The Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) International Bird Photography Race resumes this year, from November 3, 2023 until November 5, 2023, coinciding with the City’s Subaraw Biodiversity Festival 2023, an activity highlighting the City’s endemic birds and biodiversity since 2015.
The activity was interrupted during the pandemic but this time, national and international bird photographers are back in Puerto Princesa, considered as an emerging Birding Capital riding on its popularity as a birding activity site not only for local and national bird photographers but international bird photographers as well.
Participating bird photographers arrived on November 3, 2023, during the activity’s first day at Princesa Garden Island Resort, a beachfront resort hotel. It was on the same day when City Mayor Lucilo R. Bayron officially declared the kick off of the Subaraw Biodiversity Festival 2023 celebration which will run until November 19, 2023.
The previous international bird photography race in 2019 was participated by 66 bird photographers including foreign nationals. It was featured by Chino Gascon in GMA’s 24 Oras and Saksi newscasts.
Atty. Carlo B. Gomez, City Environment and Natural Resources Officer (City ENRO) of Puerto Princesa City and the Founder of the PPUR International Bird Photography Race, shared that birding activity is a multi-million industry in many parts of the world and significantly contributes to their economies. He said that birding is a thriving industry in Columbia, Peru, Costa Rica, Brazil and other countries.
He further said that the highlight of the activity is the actual race itself, where the participants are brought to different places within PPUR national park, an important birding area and other identified birding sites within Puerto Princesa City like Irawan, Iwahig, Napsan and other sites.
Atty. Gomez, who is also a professional bird photographer, said that Puerto Princesa is among the few places in the Philippines that birds can be easily found.
“Madali nilang makita ang mga ibon and they do not go deeper to the forest. Especially sa PPUR, dahil sa kanyang preserved habitat. Maging sa mouth ng river (ng PPUR) ay makikita nila ang mga ibon na nasa loob ng parke,” he explained.
Atty. Gomez underscores that the international bird photography race is a biodiversity related activity.
“Dahil ang pino-promote dito ay endemic birds and wildlife and this is very relevant sa activity natin na Subaraw Biodiversity Festival,” he explained.
Dr. Juan Carlos Gonzales, a BS Zoology graduate of the University of the Philippines (UP) and National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Outstanding Young Scientist Awardee, said that the Philippines has 593 birds and 279 of which are found in Palawan. But out of 279, there are 24 birds that can only be found in Palawan and nowhere else.
“There are 24 birds that are Palawan endemic. They are only found in Palawan and nowhere else in the world. Kaya nga merong Bird Photography Race dito sa Puerto Princesa, because the people (photographers) want to see that 24 na dito lang makikita,” he said.
“Birds are excellent indicators of the health and sustainability of natural environments. They are also practical indicators, in that they are typically easy to find, count and identify, and are sensitive to changes in land use and climate,” an article of PanEuropean Common Bird Monitoring Scheme published by the European Union (EU) reads.
Atty. Gomez said that his office is prioritizing on activities and programs that supports wildlife, birds and biodiversity like the City’s Urban Forestry Program, and the yearly Pista Y Ang Cagueban (Feast of the Forest). Last year, their Office also established an arboretum for Palawan’s native trees.
The City ENRO conducts various greening projects and activities prioritized on planting endemic and native fruiting trees that supports biodiversity and wildlife such as Ingyam, Banaba, Narra, Bakawan Gubat, Agoho, Alalod, Balayong, Batino, Bignay, Bogo, Burawis, Dao, Kasoy, Langka, Malabagtik, Palawan Mangkono, Mulawin, Pangi, Pasi, Putian, Red Nato, Sahing, Siar, Tanabag, White Nato, among others.
One of the trees considered is Narra, the country’s national tree. Its leaves and flowers are fragrant and attract plenty of insects for pollination. Its fruit also attracts birds, rodents, and other small mammals on the rainforest floor. Other trees like Banaba that have wrinkled flowers that attract pollinators like bees. Bani too, with its canopy of bright green oval leaves and pink, white or purple flowers attract pollinators. Inyam tree for instance, offered its fruits to birds.
Urban Forestry Program is also considered as a boost to the city’s bird tourism and the annual birding event. Since 2015, the event attracted professional bird photographers coming from different parts of the country, as well as those from Taiwan, Hongkong, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, United States, Costa Rica, etc. is bringing more bird photographers and enthusiasts from different parts of the world to the event.
Among these wild birds captured by the birders’ lenses are Palawan Flowerpecker (Prionochilus platen), Palawan Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (Cyornis rufigastra), Brown-throated Sunbird (Antheptes malacensis), Palawan Hornbill (Anthracoceros marchei), Blue Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone cyanescens), Palawan Striped-Babbler (Zosterornis hypogrammicus) among others.
The Wild Bird Photographers of the Philippines (WBPP) has nominated Puerto Princesa as the country’s birding capital.