My patch - Birding at IRRI

Welcome to my patch! When I found out that we would be living at the foot of Mount Makiling I became very excited, and assumed that the trails on Makiling would become my local patch, with all their juicy endemics. What I had not reckoned on was how low the bird numbers would appear to be. Birding Philippines forests has been described as "the ultimate in low intensity birding", and I would agree with that. Don't get me wrong, I love forest birding, it's just that a local patch needs to have a variety of habitats, and ideally plenty of easy to find birds. A constant diet of tropical forest birding is not perfect it turns out!

Casting my eye further afield it occurred to me that the rice fields at IRRI might have potential. Farmland in general can be pretty monotonous, but rice has some special qualities. The cycle that rice fields go through of flooding, planting, drainage and harvest mimics marshland in many ways. At IRRI various areas produce two or even three crops a year ensuring that there is an ever-changing habitat for the birds. Other habitats at IRRI include cooling ponds (the water at IRRI is pumped from underground aquifers which are usually of a fairly high temperature due to geothermal activity), a number of small tree-lined streams and some rank grass at the edges.

This all adds up to a variety of habitats, in an area restricted from the general public (less hunting/ disturbance), which was only a few minutes from my house. A perfect local patch in fact!

Patch Birding

Patch Birding is not a common phenomenon amongst Filipino birders, so I shall briefly explain what it is to me. A quick google search will bring you a number of definitions, as well as quite a few blogs dedicated to a local patch. For me the essence of patch birding is that you become totally familiar with all the birds in one particular area, through many visits. A birder's patch will usually have a number of habitats (for variety). It will usually be quite close to your home as you will need to visit it often (many birders visit their patch several times a week, 100 visits/ year is not considered particularly excessive). It may be unremarkable so it won't attract many other birders (you want to become the local expert on your patch, you don't want to share this crown!). This process of becoming the local expert will take years. You will need to view the entire cycle of seasons a number of times before you can say with confidence when migrants arrive, or leave for example. You will of course need to keep records of your sightings so that those comparisons can be made. The cummulative effect of this pattern of birding is that eventually you will be the local expert. You will be so familiar with the normal birds that you will instantly notice the oddity when it arrives.

Patch birding can be done at any time, many patch birders will often find themselves 'just popping in' for half an hour after work, for example, and it is amazing how these visits build up. Of course a constant diet of patch birding is also undesirable. You don't want to deny yourself the joys of visits to other sites, that's what weekends are for!


The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is located on the campus of The University of The Philippines, Los Banos (UPLB). It was founded in 1960 with the aim of reducing poverty and hunger through rice science. Those interested can learn more from its website. From 2008 to 2014 my wife worked at IRRI, and I was permitted to bird in the fields. This area is normally restricted, visitors would have to contact the security office before they could enter.

IRRI has a nice variety of habitats within a small area. The above picture is of a section of the Experimental Farm where two small tree-lined streams cross the fields, and two of the cooling reservoirs provide habitat for waterbirds. The low forested hills to the right are the base of Mt Makiling.

Like all farms crops are in various stages of growth, and this provides a variety of ever-changing habitats. In the background the cloud covered mountain is Mt. Banahaw, full of montane endemics!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Paul, planning to visit your patch for birding in June, I have run into problems with accommodation. Perhaps you could help me?

    I have tried to contact both SEARCA Residence Hotel and TREES Hostel, but their links in the Internet are dead and there has been no response from SEARCA.

    with regards,

    Petri Hottola

    I have a blog at, unfortunately only in Finnish...