There stands in the heart of Manila a nondescript gray wall of no particular height or aesthetic property, save for the occasional tags of graffiti. For all its plainness, it serves as a boundary or even a portal between two contrasting cultures and the incoming change it precedes is as abrupt as it is drastic.
sOn one side, 50-seater buses roar by a highway full of commuters picked up at the nearby mall. Meanwhile, just across it, the dominant life forms become native Cupang trees with straight thin trunks reaching 50 feet in to the sky with the air inundated with chatter consisting of high pitched streaks, slow and gentle clicks, and whistles with looping melodies.
Welcome to the La Mesa Nature Reserve in Quezon City.
For city dwellers, La Mesa is best known as the dam frequently talked about whenever a passing typhoon or a series of them threatens to make it overflow. However, this is only partly true and as such is entirely disappointing.
Not only does the 2,000 hectare Nature Reserve serve as the cradle and the source of Manila’s clean flowing water, one other result of this native forest is the abundant presence of wildlife, and that is something to behold.
If outside only Eurasian Tree Sparrows, commonly known as maya, can be seen, inside the Nature Reserve the number of species reach up to a hundred. A single morning spent walking along the trails with Haribon Members and birdwatchers yielded 25 species of birds that came in various shapes and colors.
That was a 2,400-percent increase in awareness in Philippine biodiversity for first time birders who came and previously could only name the maya as an example of Philippine wildlife.
On any given day, what can be encountered among the greenery of La Mesa includes the Philippine Frogmouth, a bizarre looking bird resembling an owl but with a wide gaping mouth that perches upright on its nest, with its head held high and proud. Combined with its dark brown spotted feathers, it hides in plain sight as it camouflages easily among the branches.
Then there’s the Hooded Pitta, a bird that shows not all of them like to soar high in the sky. This shy creature prefers to forage on the ground, scrounging up soil and dead leaves looking for worms to eat. When startled, its royal blue wings spread out, exposing a bright green body and the deep red under its tail, as it flies out to escape only to settle back down on the ground a few meters away.
As the only forest inside Manila, the location of the La Mesa Nature Reserve is also an invitation to learn about the richness of Philippine biodiversity. Activities such as bird and nature walks held here by Haribon Members provide an avenue to possibly show that urban and environmental need not be as separate as they are portrayed. As it is literally just over the wall, there’s no excuse snot give it chance.