There’s a new eco-destination in Zamboanga Sibugay! Siay is a municipality in this province, about 2.5-3 hours from Zamboanga City, boasting with vast wetlands, mangrove forests and diverse wildlife. In fact, this October 2018, Siay hosted the first-ever World Migratory Bird Day in the Philippines!
I was invited to be part of this celebration along with other bloggers and influencers. In 2 days, we witnessed traditional dancing, eating, talks about the ecotourism features of Siay and we also got to explore the Siay-Kabasalan wetlands in Kabug Island.
Celebrating the 1st World Migratory Bird Day
Siay is an important part of the ecosystem because, twice a year, its wetlands become home to thousands of migrating birds from about 20 different countries. In fact, majority of the waterbird species documented in the wetlands (37 out of 53) are migratory birds. The area serves as resting, roosting & foraging grounds for various bird species, such as the Grey-tailed Tattler.
It’s proposed to be the 5th flyway site in the country under the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership Network, one of the world’s great flyways.
The 1st World Migratory Bird Day in Siay was celebrated last October 12-13. We witnessed traditional dancing, an international bird costume test and an interpretative dance competition with the theme “Unifying our Voices for Bird Conservation”. Of course, the most important part of the celebration is the discussion on the role of the Siay-Kabasalan wetlands on bird migration.
The program was continued with an art exhibit showcasing photographs of a few notable migratory bird species that can be found in the wetlands.
Exploring the wetlands in Kabug Island
Of course, we had to see for ourselves what the Siay-Kabasalan wetlands in Kabug Island is like, so we ventured there for a bird watching activity.
If you haven’t gone bird watching yet, it’s actually fun. Most people think it’s only for researchers, but we’ve seen locals going on bird watching in the wetlands as well, and the place is being opened up to tourism. It is perfect for nature & wildlife enthusiasts. In my previous experience in bird watching, you’d need a telescope to be able to view the birds from afar. We didn’t have one when we visited, but it’s okay because there were literally hundreds of birds on the mud flats.
So first, we rode on a boat and cruised through the muddy waterways. The scenery was charming — there were thick mangroves and houses on stilts with stairs that go directly to the water. It reminded me of the mangrove forest in Siargao, but this one has a more “untouched” feel. It’s honestly my kind of place — quiet and beautiful.
There were locals on boats off to somewhere or chest-deep in the water building fish pens. There were even kids taking a dip in the shallow parts of the water.
We saw a glimpse of birds here and there, but finally, in one area we saw a concentration of glorious white birds. We could only see them circling the sky from the safety of our boats, but it’s also possible to get close — if you’re willing to walk through ankle- or knee-deep muddy water.
Afterwards, we headed for the floating cottage where a carefully prepared lunch was waiting for us — an array of local dishes including grilled milkfish, prawns and kinilaw (raw fish with vinegar and spices). Across the floating cottage, we had a nice view of a small local community and we witnessed pairs of locals racing on local boats (which they call baroto).
Overall, it was an engaging visit to a promising eco-destination.
Siay as an emerging ecotourism destination
This is just a glimpse of what Siay offers as an ecotourism attraction. It has not only thriving wetlands but also a hot spring and waterfalls to be discovered. In addition, aside from migratory birds, it is also home to various animals such as deers, tarsiers (commonly found in Bohol), crocodiles and bats. On the day of our visit to Kabug Island, there was also sighting of butanding (or whale sharks) in the Siay bay.
As of this writing (October 2018), there are ongoing plans to further develop Siay, particularly Kabug Island, for tourism. These include homestays and more activities for tourists who wish to explore the natural attractions in Siay.
What can I say? It’s exciting to be one of the first people to see the beginnings of a great ecotourism attraction in Zamboanga Sibugay!
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Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).