For the birds: A date with the girls

Time is all we have. Time that solidifies into moments. Moments that are priceless. Moments that we can share throughout our lives.

There are some things in life worth waking up early for: going to church, a long drive to Baguio, an early morning flight and so on.

But bird watching at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, does not even fall into the top 100 list, unless it is with kids. Then that simple yet profound qualifier trumps everything.

The girls have been excited about this for quite some time. Their nanay used the activity as a distraction because she had to take off again for training sessions in another part of the country. This time, the trip would span five days. For days before the actual bird watching last April, I kept waking up in the middle of the night from a nightmare that I woke up late and have two disappointed kids. Did I wake up too late this time?

I kept breaking out in a cold sweat. I want to tell the girls we can just look out the window and see the same birds! The cats that decided to adopt us bring us dead bird offerings from time to time. And just the other day, our dog, Horsey, was hogging a dead chick, not letting the other dog nor the girls near him to see what he was up to. There’s a dead bird right there… watch it.

Raison d’etre will always be “with kids.”

So we arrive in U.P., hauling my sleepy swollen head to the meeting point and we were the first ones there. Even the organizers, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, were not there yet. No matter. More time for me to hunt for a battery for the camera I remembered to bring this time, especially because the wife reminded me to take pictures for her to see.

Once the whole party was complete, the binoculars were handed out for a fee. Got to make a living, of course. We were shown how to use the binoculars.

It turns out it is not that easy to hunt with binoculars. I can see a faraway tree but with binoculars, I get lost if I pointed them at the same tree or the tree beside it. They’re all green! Mental note: one day I’ll make sure all trees have their own tree cases. I can distinguish all my friends’ iPhones. Why couldn’t God make tree cases to distinguish each and every tree?

One of the three stationary telescopes was designated for the little kiddies. There was even a booster stool to help the smallest one reach the viewfinder. There we were in the middle of a usually crammed parking lot very early on a Sunday morning waiting for the birds to come. Or holler. Or sing. Or whatever them darn birds are wont to do. We were told to bring notebooks to write down each type of bird we see. Each one adds to the lifer count. (The total lifer count is equivalent to all the birds each person sees and identifies).

What about the camera? It didn’t have enough zoom. No matter. The girls told glowing stories of our bird watching trip, and made me sound like a hero. I got away with it again.

As the group starts off on our bird watching experience, I look at my groggy child’s half-open eyes. I stare at her long and hard and mouth the words “you are going to have fun by all means necessary. We will trek in this heat through the parking lot, and the trees and the dust and crane our necks until they hurt. How is that not fun?”

Then there is the dreaded moment when the youngest holds her arms up, “tatay, poh poh.” Now, in the middle of the sunken garden, under the sun’s piercing rays, a little girl wants to be carried. The only bright spot is that it’s the end of her day.

No more running around in circles calling me to look at this rock or that bug. No more looking around to see where she ran off to. No more circular questions that are only being asked for the sake of being asked.

Every morning, before the sun rises, I am woken up by the sound of a screaming bird outside the window. When I heard the same bird in U.P., I just had to ask our guide what it was. I was expecting some exotic-royal-rainbow bird name. It is only a flyeater. It does look better than it sounds. It looks like a cute little sparrow with a light brown feather cover and a whitish underbelly, with a horrendously loud and annoying tweet. Lifer No. 2.

The noisy flyeater.

Bird watching is all about that — watching. The point is not to catch one in your hand but to admire them in their natural environment. And after just a glimpse, we are recommended to write it down in our little notebook as a count of the number of birds we have seen. Like a journal of each memorable moment, we are encouraged to keep going back to that fleeting moment.

Time is all we have. Time that solidifies into moments. Moments that are priceless. Moments that we can share throughout our lives. But moments are frozen. They are a captured piece of time that every person keeps and shares with others.

Here’s to one more moment lifer to add to the many more lifers to come. Or holler. Or sing. Or whatever darn moments are wont to do. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 27, no. 4 (July 22-August 4, 2014): 11.