Tips during your Olango Wildlife Sanctuary trip

WHERE TO GO. The bird sanctuary is on Olango, an island four kilometers off the east coat of Mactan in Cebu. It is the first and still the only RAMSAR site (Wetland of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat) in the Philippines. In the winter and then again in spring, it plays host to nearly 50 species of migratory birds flying the East Asian Migratory Flyway, said to be among the most important shorebird and waterbird migratory flyways in the world. It is thus a popular destination for serious birders and conservationists. It is also often visited by mainstream tourists, who are often drawn to the area by the charming islets at the southern side of Olango.

WHAT TO BRING. If you're going at it alone, it's best to bring food and ample supply of drinking water. You can also buy food (ver basic) from one of the stores on Olango Island before you go to the Nature Center; there are more stores within comfortable walking distance from the Center. Overnight accommodations are not provided at the Nature Center, but basic lodging are available at the Suba Community Center (take a tricycle and ask to be taken to the "Save Nature Society"). Expect to spend about P200 per person (accommodations and meals, which can be arranged through the Center) for an overnight stay.

The Olango Birds and Seascape Tour, a package tour operated by the community of Suba, is also available for groups of six to 10 people, from P1,500 per person (specially introductory local rate). This special tour includes a cruise around the southern islets of Olango and takes you right into the heart of the bird sanctuary through the village of Sabang. Contact the Coastal Resource Management Project, Tel (032) 232-1821 to 22; Fax (032) 232-1825 email

BEST TIME TO VISIT. The bird watching seasons are from August to November (southward migration) and from February to May (northward migration). The best months, according to experience bird watchers, are October and April. Before you set out, be sure to check the tidal calendar. Best time for bird watching is when the tide level is between 12 and 1.3 meters.

GETTING THERE. If you're joining the Olango Birds and Seascape Tour, getting to Olango and back is a fairly simple affair; your tour operator will take care of all the arrangements for you.

If you're going as an independent tourist, take a motorized boat from Maribago or Dapdap (at Vista Verde) to Olango Island. There is a commercial service that leaves every hour from 7 am to 4 pm; one way fare is P7. Or you can hire a boat fro P600 at Dapdap to bring you to Olango and back; the trip takes about 20 minutes.

The boat docks at the Sta. Rosa pier, where you can take a tricycle to the Nature Center (ask to be taken to the DENR's Nature Center); fare is P45 for the 15-minute-not-too-comfortable ride (yes, it's expensive but it's either that or you go on foot). There's an entrance fee (P5 for students, P8 for other local tourists, and P80 for foreign visitors); if you're carrying a video camera, you will also have to shell out P3,000 in shooting fees. Fee is good for a day's tour of the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary (OIWS).

The bird watching tour could last anywhere from 15 minutes to a whole day, depending on your inclination (package tours have a fairly set schedule, however). The Nature Center can provide you with a guide and binoculars.

DOING IT RIGHT. As of presstime, the DENR is the midst of building three boardwalks for those who don't care much about getting wet. In the meantime, there simply is no going around all the wading and walking, which can get pretty uncomfortable if you aren't dressed right. To get the most out of your visit, be sure you do the following:

Wear light shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. Colors that blend with the surroundings (green, brown, black or dark blue) are best. Bring a hand towel.

Wear rubber shoes or rubber sandals with strong straps for walking and wading in the inter-tidal area. When in the sanctuary, watch out for sharp corals, shells and sea urchins.

Apply a liberal amount of sunblock on your skin and wear a wide-brimmed hat, preferably one that can be fastened against the wind. You could be standing for hours under the sun.

Birds are shy creatures and usually keep their distance from people. If you want to take pictures of the birds, be sure that your camera is equipped with telephoto lens. The Nature Center can provide you with binoculars, perhaps even a spotting scope.

Finally, please do not leave any of your rubbish behind. Plastics, in particular, are dangerous to birds and marine life.

(Text and pictures taken from Sunstar Horizons, The Philippine Travelogue, Copyright 1998)