Featured researcher

It is impressive what dedication and love for wildlife can accomplish, and just a wonderful example of this is our featured field biologist MiguelDavid De Leon. Our followers will remember our previous post about Miguel being the first to photograph a fledgling South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher (Ceyx mindanensis Steere, 1890), but there is a lot more to this amazing story that deserves to be shared. This is a story that makes you feel good to know that there are people like Miguel out there, so please read on!

This picture of the dwarf kingfisher fledgling was featured in the fashion and lifestyle magazine ‘Esquire- Philippines’. Miguel says he was told it is now their most read article ever! Pretty fashionable bird I guess!

“Wildlife and biodiversity is disappearing off the planet faster than we can study or discover it” says Miguel as I talk to him from his home on the south Philippine island of Mindanao. Mindanao happens to be a biodiversity hotspot and home to many endemic species, and perhaps many more that we do not yet know about. Being fully aware of the loss of biodiversity on the planet, Miguel has been on the front lines of recording what new diversity there is to be found.

He and his colleagues in the Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy have dedicated long hours to the photography and documenting of the behavior and life history of birds in the region. He is studying cryptic bird species and has found a bird and a mammal yet unidentified making them candidates for new species. He is publishing his work in scientific journals and correcting misconceptions about species and filling in the other information that we don’t yet know about. What is the diet of the South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher? How do their fledglings behave? What is the nesting behavior of the Short-billed Brown-dove? Miguel and his colleagues know the answers to these questions from countless hours of observation from blinds that they build themselves from bamboo, palm fronds and banana leaves.

Miguel’s work has recently jumped into headlines after the shot of the dwarf kingfisher melted hearts around the globe. The fledgling is now the poster child of his and the Conservancy’s work, and you might expect that this is a large research group behind all of this work. In fact, not one member of the Conservancy is a full time biologist. Instead this is a group of part-time naturalists and citizen scientists made up of pilots, an artist and even a military strategist that have dedicated their free time to documenting biodiversity. Miguel has had some training from his undergrad biology courses, but his day job is that of a vitreoretinal surgeon.

Short-billed Brown-dove, Phapitreron brevirostris.

One day, when he retires, Miguel says that he will dedicate all of his time to biology, but for now his work as an eye surgeon also has some great side benefits that many full time field biologists can only dream of.

The Bukidnon region has long been subject to social unrest among the indigenous tribes that live there. In fact, when the first naturalists interested in orchids visited the region, they were threatened with death and had to leave the Bukidnon forests unsurveyed. However, some of Miguel’s patients and household and farm staff are from the Bukidnon region, and through them he has gained their trust and the access to the forests there. He has been introduced to the rituals that must be done before entering the forest and knowing that a big part of trust is rooted in acknowledging the ways of locals he has offered a pig or chicken or tossed coins as part of the forest entering ritual. The result of Miguel’s and forays into the Bukidnon forest is four scientific publications featuring 30 new species of orchids.

I talked again to Miguel this morning as he was just back from documenting the Short-billed Brown-dove (Phapitreron brevirostris, Tweeddale, 1877) in the field. I figured that we were in pretty good company when he told me that of the very many interview requests that he’s had since the original Esquire article was published, the only ones that he’s accepted have been from the New York Times and Kentällä – In the field! I think it says a lot about Miguel that he wants to get his message across well rather than just get attention, and he feels that the best way to do this is to do his interviews with biologists themselves (NY Times employs biologists for their articles). We are ever so thankful for Miguel giving us this honour!

The value of having people like Miguel and his Robert S. Kennedy Bird Conservancy team working in the field is priceless. The value of the local knowledge of the people and the environment cannot be overstated. The world seems like a better place today, knowing that Miguel and his friends are #inthefield making new discoveries and working hard to raise awareness and help conservation in the Philippines.

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