The International Ornithological Congress is the oldest and largest meeting of ornithologists in the world, having its first meeting in 1884. The Southeast Asian chapter held its 2nd congress in Khon Kaen, Thailand from July 20 to 22, which I was lucky to attend along with 90 people from different countries from all over Asia.
Different topics were presented from simple bird observations, bird conservation, nesting ecology, population studies, species diversity, and even genetic and molecular diversity of birds from different countries. It was a new learning experience for me as a young conservationist and bird enthusiast. I was able to meet experts on a variety of bird subjects and other “bird nuts” in general.
Being a hornbill-lover, the biggest highlight for me was finally meeting Dr. Pillai Poonswad who is regarded as the “The Great Mother of Hornbills.” Poonswad had been working with hornbills around the world for more than 40 years. Prior to meeting her, I had already read a number of her books and studies. With her experience and expertise, I found myself listening attentively. After her talks I became anxious to write proposals for additional hornbill research, just so I could go back to the field and study hornbills again.
I was tasked to give a presentation about Haribon’s role as a technical service provider/ consultant for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammernarbeit (GIZ) project in Panay Island which is a refuge for critically endangered species like the Writhed-billed Hornbill. The operation of community-based conservation strategies eventually led to the protection of wildlife, most notably, the indigenous hornbill in the area.
The trip would not be complete without seeing Thailand’s birds. Thailand has more than a thousand species of birds and only a few of them can be found in the Philippines. That day made most of my bird sightings “lifers” or first-time sightings for me. Our contingent proceeded to Nam Nao National Park for a bird tour after the Congress. It was a two-hour drive from Khon Kaen to the mountainous area of Petchabun province.
As soon as we arrived at the park’s gates, everyone started looking for birds. Our friends from Thailand were very kind to point out and identify all of the birds we encountered. We walked about 2 kilometers from gate to camp, and another two to three kilometers before we settled down. Many aspects of the park were inspired by birds, even the buildings themselves were named after different species of Thai birds.
Overall we saw 80 different species of birds. Seeing “lifers” one after another can be such a rush for hardcore bird lovers. Time slipped away as we marveled at the beautiful birds we encountered.
Most special of all was that different people, different nationalities, different views, and different religions gathered together under the same banner, sharing information and a love for birds. Indeed, like these birds, we are all considered a part of biodiversity. It is our hope that we can all band together to conserve our fine-feathered friends with the aim to conserve the natural beauty of our respective countries.