Birdwatching is the new tourism product of Cagayan in northern Philippines, thanks to the interest elicited by grey-faced buzzards that migrate from Japan to escape winter.
The town of Sanchez Mira in Cagayan is part of the flyway of grey-faced buzzards. When assistant tourism secretary Robby Alabado, an avid birder, referred Alex Tiongco, head of Raptorwatch Network Philippines to the Department of Tourism Region 2 (that includes Cagayan) in January last year, a group of some 20 Japanese birders immediately visited.
Two groups from Japan visited Sanchez Mira last year and another two this year, said Virgilio Maguigad, regional director of tourism for Region 2 at the sidelines of the PATA Annual Summit held recently in Cebu City.
The groups are composed of birders, academicians and scientists, both males and females, young but mostly older persons keen on watching the migratory birds, monitoring their numbers, learning more about them, and intent on conserving the species and their habitats.
Maguigad said bird-watching is a good fit for Cagayan because it involves small communities and is not a mass tourist activity.
The birders stay from one week to two weeks and include another region, the Ilocos, in their itinerary. Itineraries have been prepared for the birders including a side trip to indigenous communities in Cagayan.
And as people became aware of the tourism potential of birdwatching, they stopped hunting the raptors.
Feedback from Japanese visitors is that the practice of hunting grey-faced buzzards has decreased significantly and that they had never seen a change in people’s behaviour so fast.
Cagayan is currently stitching together several tourism circuits, including birdwatching, to attract tour operators to come on board and sell them as tour packages.
Alabado said the Philippines is one of the best places in the world for grey-faced buzzard watching because they can be seen by the hundreds in trees, unlike in Japan where they are hidden in mountains or nesting.
He was hoping that eventually other nationalities too will be drawn to the Philippines because there are also other raptor species migrating from Taiwan. Their flypath includes various points in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Alabado said the Philippines has many varieties of raptors including the Philippine eagle as well as the Philippine falconet, which can only be found in the country, as well as many species of endemic birds and a number that migrate from temperate countries.
The interest in raptors has led to the holding of the first International Summit on Grey-Faced Buzzards on May 25-26 in Japan’s Tochigi prefecture. The second summit next year will be in Miyako Island in Okinawa while the third will be hosted by Sanchez Mira in 2021.
The latter will coincide with the 500th year of Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world from Spain to the Philippines which will mean hefty marketing and promotions.