Bambang Muryanto, Contributor, Yogyakarta
A group of 50 people braved a cold Sunday morning recently to spot birds as part of the Jogja Bird Walk (JBW) on the slopes of Mt. Merapi here.
They slowly walked past the bushes of the Plawangan-Turgo nature preserve on the southern slope of the mountain, with binoculars dangling from their necks.
As they walked the participants shared notes on the birds they had spotted. There was a Srigunting Abu, or Ashy Drongo, Cucak Gunung, or Orange-Spotted Bulbul, an Elang Jawa, or Javan Hawk-Eagle, and an Elang Brontok, or Changeable Hawk-Eagle.
“What a scene!” a participant shouted in excitement as he spotted two Javan Hawk-Eagles darting past. The birds are not easy to spot as they are endangered. Around the Plawangan-Turgo area there are less than 10 of the birds.
The Jogja Bird Walk was started by the Kutilang Foundation for Bird Conservation and is aimed at giving the public the opportunity to study birds in their natural habitat.
The walks are held every last Sunday of the month.
“Watching a bird go about its daily activities in its natural habitat is much, much more interesting than watching birds in cages. The birds are more dynamic here and the singing sounds more beautiful in nature,” Sugihartono, director of the Jogjakarta Animal Rescue Center, who was one of the participants, said.
According to JBW coordinator Ige Kristianto, Yogyakarta was trying to position itself as a bird watchers’ paradise, given its rich biodiversity, including bird species.
“According to data collected by Kutilang since 1991, there are at least 228 different species of birds in Yogyakarta. Among them are 19 of the island’s 30 endemic bird species,” Ige said, expressing concern that such natural richness was not being used to attract tourists to the city.
The 228 species account for some 53 percent of the total bird species in Java.
Besides its forests and mountains, Yogyakarta’s coastal areas are also home to various species of birds.
Trisik Beach and Congot Beach in Kulonprogo in the western part of the province, for example, have long been transit points for migrating birds such as the Dara Laut Jambul, or Great Crested Tern, and the Kedidi Putih, or Sanderling.
You can also find local species such as the Cangak Abu, or Gray Heron, and the Blekok Sawah, or Javan Pond-Heron, in these areas.
Other bird watching locations in Yogyakarta include the Ketingan cluster in Sleman regency, where thousands of Cattle Egrets live side by side with local people; the campus of Gadjah Mada University, which is home to some 27 species of birds; the Imogiri and Dlingo areas of Bantul regency, where raptors like the Elang Ular Bido, or Crested Serpent Eagle, are often seen flying over the regions.
During the bird walks, participants receive guidance from Kutilang activists, who provide explanations and information on the birds, including where to watch for them and how to identify them.
A number of foreign tourists have also taken part in the walks. Still, the number of people overall taking part in the walks is still considered small, mostly due to a lack of publicity.
So far, invitations to join the monthly walks are only published in Kabar Burung, the monthly bulletin published by the Kutilang Foundation.
Ige said that besides the recreational purposes, the bird walks were also being conducted to help preserve nature.
“It’s a way to campaign against keeping birds in cages. This is important because such a tradition, mostly in Java, has caused the massive hunting of birds in nature,” Ige said.
Ige said the next step would be to ask bird lovers to plant trees to help restore the birds’ damaged habitat. Such tree planting programs would be conducted not only in forests but also in urban environments.
“That will reduce the worsening air pollution as well as providing birds with new homes,” Ige said.
At this stage, the dream of turning Yogyakarta into a green city seems to be just a matter of time.