Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Tis a season of Joy....and the absence of birdsong in my garden..

As the old carol beckons us to partake in a "season of joy" I wondered how many people out there in the world are truly happy at Christmas. Everyone is receiving constant buzzing from cell phones going off, and of course the exchange of text messages will be returned with the similar normal response of "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" and then hopefully continue the greeting with a "Happy New Year." However, I know some people do not believe this year brought them a lot of joy....and I guess I just had to write about one particular incident that made me very angry.

I strolled in my garden in the city, and missed the sound of the shrill cry of the family of kingfishers that has managed to make their nests in my mango tree above my tiny little fishpond. There is a small fountain that circulates water but due to the oil crisis, we saved on electricity and kept changing the water to provide a clean pond for tiny little red guppies, and a few brilliantly colored carp. Well, Felix, the gardener informed me that all the fish are gone!

The first thing that came to mind was it must have been due to the closure of the pump to save energy and money. Maybe the temperature of the water fluctuated too much, or the lack of circulation may have caused the fish to get sick and die. No, that wasn't the case, for Felix explained that he observed two kingfishers helping themselves to the tiny trapped fishes, and that Norbing, an office worker decided to "catch" the birds and give them over to one of our carpenters as a "gift."

Oh wow, I inquired to the fate of the two birds. At first I was told that the carpenter quickly had a meal of "adobong kingfishers" and I was totally shocked and revolted how casual and fast the idea of eating such beautiful birds would come to the mind of these very well fed, and well paid employees. Yet they backtracked when I was openly horrified, and then Norbing came to me and apologized with a smirk on his face and told me that TaTa's cat actually ate the birds. I was surprised that the cat got to the birds that according to Norbing, after he caught them, he gave them to Tata to "care" for them. He made a makeshift cage and the two birds broke loose and before they could take flight, the cat caught them.

Brilliant story. I wanted to pour out my anger,and gave Norbing a long lecture on indigenous birds, and how we all should realize these birds are already struggling for survival by raising their family in the city environment. He merely laughed and said he would stop catching wild birds for fun.

My gardens are full of old narra, longan, and three large mango trees.The presence of kingfishers in the last summer alone gave me hope that my small pond and fountains of fresh water were suitable for them to nest. I observed several nests in the trees of Malaysian fantails and kingfishers, even an occasional liberated parakeet that had alighted in the large tree, that my garden would be a safe haven for these birds. The kingfisher's return to the city creek happened only in the last rainy season after we had cleared a large tract of land, eliminating their arch enemy, the pythons and tree climbing vipers that decimated most of the nesting birds in the area. These kingfishers main occupation as I had been watching them were hunting for little frogs, small worms, insects and little fish they may have chanced upon spawing in polluted city creeks. I didn't mind if these kingfishers helped themselves to those guppies because I am sure their little brood of chicks were thriving in the mango trees. Now, I can only imagine, their brood are probably now starving from the death of both parents, will become extinct if people keep killing the wild birds!

How can those birds be replaced? I can't find the nest and I have to hope that one day another kingfisher family will move in again. However, my Christmas Eve morning was a silent one.....even the Malaysian fantail birds are quiet.

There has been terrible absence of song in my garden... I guess the guppies and carp who cannot speak now were avenged, in this "bird-eat-guppie-eat-bird" world of mine?

I realize too that the poor Filipino city dwellers have also been robbed of birdsong. The attitude that Norbing and Tata had was that these birds are just usurpers in this town, and catching them is an activity for their amusement. I have witnessed street children with slingshots combing the trees and trying to show off to their friends their abilities to hit and kill sparrows. On occassion, there have been large predatory birds like hawks and owls that kept mice and rat population down, but the absence of a truly environmental policy in government, and an emphasis in nature conservation in educational institutions has produced a new generation of city children with more appreciation for a "PSP" or "game boy" toys, than wild birds. This city with all its tall buildings, and shopping malls, has no parks with beautiful clear and clean ponds where children can appreciate strolling and playing in some sort of "central park."

Merry Christmas? Happy Holidays? but I will try to be "merry" for the sake of my grandchildren, but giving them less plastic toys, and more books on nature will help them appreciate birds too and let them join me to continue to provide clean water for them to drink. We welcome birds flying by to stop over and visit us, and the only gift they can give is their beautiful songs. Well, my new year's resolution is to fix the pond and give the birds another chance to trust me once more.