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Citizen Scientists Count Endangered Black Shama

Filipinos can do more than merely trek and camp in the forests – they can help count birds too, all for a good cause. Twice a year, the Siloy Watch is attended by more than a hundred citizen science to count Endangered Black Shama. A joint project of Provincial Government of Cebu, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region VII and the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. It’s a free event and an opportunity for families, students and people of all ages to explore the forests on karst of Cebu Island and make a significant contribution to science.
Why do the Siloy Watch?
Black Shama is an Endangered bird found on the island of Cebu. It is the Provincial Bird of the Province of Cebu and a mascot of a local newspaper e.g. Cebu Daily News. Its last population estimate was based on records of more than 10 years ago. Black Shama occurs in a variety of habitats but has a strong preference for secondary and mature forests. It is a territorial ground-dwelling bird and easily recognizable by its melodious calls. Its features and distribution range makes it an ideal bird to monitor the health of our forests and upland ecosystems.
Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by recording where the birds are and know how many are left in the wild. No single scientists or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of species in a short time. Thus, Siloy Watch is a great way to know what is happening to the Black Shama population.
The three island-wide synchronized Siloy Watch (Black Shama population count) conducted in 149 stations spread over 11 sites from 2019 – March 2020 generated population density of 2.4 Black Shama per hectare of suitable habitat. This then results to a population estimate of 6,084 Endangered Black Shama Kittacincla cebuensis (formerly Copsychus cebuensis). The largest sub-population was in Alcoy, followed by Argao, Central Cebu Protected Landscape, Catmon and Dalaguete.
Three hundred eight (308) Citizen Scientists participated in the count led by the Provincial Government of Cebu, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region VII and Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. in collaboration with local communities, academic institutions, birdwatching and mountaineering clubs, and key individuals. Among the group assigned in Nug-as, Alcoy was Christian Casio. When asked about his experience he said, “Incomparable and more than anything”. He added that “doing activities for nature uplifts, eases and fires my soul. I consider the Forest as my best home.”
So far, there are currently eight registered monitoring sites for the Black Shama Watch: Central Cebu Protected Landscape (Tabunan, Cantipla and Buhisan watershed), Algeria, Alcoy, Argao, Boljoon, Catmon, Dalaguete and Sogod). We are aware of Black Shama occurring in other sites and we encouraged the local government units and the public to participate and include your sites in monitoring the species.
Where can you find Black Shama?
The Black Shama is known to occur in a variety of habitats but the largest concentration of populations was always in forest. This shows the strong preference of the bird for forests but it can survive in degraded habitats although in much smaller population. Currently, the bird can be found in at least 22 localities in Cebu Island.
How can you help the Black Shama?
You can help us count the population and report new locality records. On a more medium and longer-term solutions, creating networks of patches of forest in between sub-populations to facilitate movement would improve the health of the Black Shama population. Black Shama was also recorded in existing tree plantations mixed with native species of plants. Enhancing the quality of the existing tree plantations would not only benefit the Endangered Black Shama but also the other threatened endemic species of Cebu e.g. Critically Endangered Cebu Flowerpecker Dicaeum quadricolor, Critically Endangered Cebu Brown Dove Phapitreron frontalis and the Endangered Cebu hawk owl Ninox rumseyi.
Follow your passion
If you love birds, nature, butterflies or plants, citizen science is an opportunity to help you follow your passion. Joining these events will get you the hang of participating in these scientific endeavors. It will also provide you with the positive experience and in appreciating our biodiversity.
Get your friends involved
Siloy Watch teams were both young and not-so-young. The youngest participant in the last Siloy Watch was a 10-year old girl while the oldest was 76 years old. You can join us or you can organize an outing to natural parks among your friends or ask your parents and teachers to consider making these activities part of your educational experience.
Each area of the Siloy Watch has a coordinating team. The Conservation Development Division (CDD) of DENR Region VII, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office – Capitol with Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. lead the coordination of the activities at the provincial level. Our local partners on the ground implements the activity and reports back to the three agencies. In Argao, this was led by both the Cebu Technological University – Argao Campus through Dr. Hemres Alburo and Philippines Science High School – Central Visayas – Ms. Sherry Paul Romayla in partnership with CENRO Argao. DENR Region – VII leads the Central Cebu Protected Landscape monitoring sites while CENRO Cebu City for Catmon areas. Dalaguete Municipal Agriculture and Natural Resources Office (MANRO) takes the lead in their sites while the Alcoy and Boljoon areas are coordinated with Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. with Kapunungan sa Mag-uuma sa Yutang Lasangnon sa Bulolacao Nug-as Alcoy. Unique among the sites, is Sogod as it is primarily coordinated by Cebu Birdwatch group in collaboration with DENR, PENRO – LGU and PhilBio.
Photo credits: Lyra Auce, Andrew Ross Reintar, Christian Casio, Jo Villacorta, Gabrielle Peña, Orlyn Orlanes, Lisa Paguntalan and Godfrey Jakosalem.

Author: Lisa Paguntalan

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