Olango Island, a haven for migratory birds
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
OLANGO ISLAND, Lapu-Lapu City – The province of Cebu in central Philippines is now getting famous as a major tourist destination in the country. Interestingly, one of the islands of Cebu is also a favorite escapade not only by tourists but also of thousands of birds known as migratory species. Only about two hours by land and sea travel from downtown Cebu City, this island has a unique feature worthy of its stature as a Wetland of International Importance, in accordance with the Ramsar Declaration of the United Nations. Part of the wetland portion of this island, measuring about 920 hectares, has been declared as the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in 1992, because it is an important staging area for migratory shorebirds in the central Philippines. These birds take refuge in the island during winter season. As such, this wildlife sanctuary is indeed an important resting site for migratory birds, some of which are globally threatened to extinction in the wild.
Together with some members of the Foundation for the Philippine
Environment and the Cebu Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, I took a side trip last Friday to see for myself the amazing features of this wildlife sanctuary, and indeed, the visit was a great opportunity to see some migratory birds flocking over the island. Bird watching is the main attraction of the sanctuary, and some 300 to 500 local and international tourists visit the area every month, park authorities said. Some 97 bird species have been recorded in this island of which 48 are migratory and 42 others are known as resident species. Among the 52 species of water birds known in the island, 32 are waders, 13 are waterfowls and nine are seabirds. Some species found in the island include the Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes), Great Egret (Casmerodius albus), Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata), Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis), Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes), Asiatic Dowitcher (Limnodromus semipalmatus) and Great know (Calidris tenuirostris), among others. The rare Asiatic Dowitcher, which I was able to see, and the threatened Chinese Egret utilize Olango as a sort of refueling site.
The sanctuary is made up of inter-tidal coralline sand flats and mudflats with a portion of mangrove swamps. The sand flats and mudflats are sparkling in white color during broad daylight and provide a beautiful contrast to the blue skies. They make the landscape and seascape awesome and picturesque in almost all directions. These sand flats are comparable to the feature of the Fraser Island, a known sand island in Australia. Good enough, the natural features of this wildlife sanctuary are not obstructed with man-made facilities that are usually associated with tourism sites in the Philippines. The visitors’ information center, footwalk and viewing deck are the only infrastructures that have been constructed in the area. The viewing deck was placed on a strategic area where visitors, with the aid of telescope, may be able to see and watch migratory birds flocking in wide mudflats.
A campsite was designated also for those who may want to stay for camping,
while the refreshing ambience of the sanctuary is ideal for leisurely walk along the coastline, especially at the onset of sunrise and sunset. With not much obstructions hovering in the sanctuary, stargazing is another activity that may be explored during the night with the chirping of birds and sounds of waves flashing at the coastline as a serene background. The Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary has been included on the directory of Important Bird Areas of the Haribon Foundation and Birdlife International because of its prominent role in conserving the world’s bird diversity. In a conservation priority setting, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources jointly with the Haribon and Conservation International declared this wildlife sanctuary as one of the 128 Key Biodiversity Areas of the Philippines.
This article also appeared at the Visayan Daily Star, Bacolod City, Philippines, 07 December 2009 issue (http://www.visayandailystar.com).
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