CANDABA, Pampanga, Philippines--Portions of the 32,000-hectare Candaba Swamp here have become a sanctuary for globetrotting birds.
For the first time, the Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) has been seen here. This is also a record first for the Philippines, according to Michael Lu, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), citing results of his group?s latest census of the area.
Another first is that almost 17,000 birds were sighted in the 24-hour census. That number, noted Lu, was ?not only a record for Candaba but for the whole Philippines.?
The more than 80 species of migratory birds were seen in two spots?at the almost 100-hectare fishpond owned by Mayor Jerry Pelayo in Barangay Doña Simang and in nearby Barangay (village) Paralaya.
Based on the recorded bird species, it seems the rare birds have returned. Conservationists spotted the Shrenck?s Bittern, Great Bittern and Gadwall in the swamp.
?The Shrenck?s Bittern is a rare migrant. The Great Bittern has only been recorded in the Philippines three times, including once in Candaba in December 1989. The Gadwall is a migratory duck that has been recorded only two times in the Philippines and both were seen in Candaba in November 1978 and November 1981,? Lu says.
The Shrenck?s Bittern originates in northern Asia, particularly Siberia.
This species, Lu said, was not even included in Robert S. Kennedy?s book ?A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines.? The book lists endemic and migratory birds that visit the Philippines.
Tina Mallari, a WBCP member, documented the Candaba visitors through photographs.
Explaining the flocks and the revisiting birds to reporters, Pelayo said: ?Perhaps it?s because we have never cleared the weeds and never harvested the fish. All those are food to the birds.?
Lu agreed. Since Pelayo converted his fishpond into a bird sanctuary in 2005, the area has been undisturbed and has attracted birds.
The birds would flock here starting October to take a winter break, staying until February, Lu said. They also use that time for breeding.
He described Paralaya as an ?impressive site? because during the daylong census, the group spotted at least 3,900 birds.
But Lu lamented the ?decline? in the number of the Philippine Mallard or ducks in the area.
When the WBCP started the census in 2005, it recorded 600 ducks. In 2006, the population rose to 2,000. In 2007, it went down to 972. In the recent census, it was a low 500.
The club traces the drop to hunting activities. This form of violation has been brought to the attention of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
A DENR team came on Saturday to validate the club?s census. By noon, the team confirmed seeing 29 species, including the Coot.
Lu explained how his group of 29 bird watchers counted the feathered creatures: ?We split into three groups with one group in [Barangay] Paralaya and two in Doña Simang. Each group was further split to count certain species. Tallies were collated and compared to eliminate double counting.?
Counting was done by estimate, he said.
The completion of the bird census on Saturday also drew Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and Malacañang reporters to try bird watching at the Doña Simang sanctuary.
Bunye, who wore a blue shirt, denim pants and rubber shoes, lugged along his Canon 350D, for what he called his first bird-watching activity.
?I hope to see an increase in the number of conservationists. I am excited because I admire this kind of environment,? he said, parrying off political questions from reporters.
Ambassador Robert Brinks of the Netherlands, a WBCP member, was also part of the census team. He came on Saturday, his third visit here since December 2007.
?It?s a very precious place because it attracts a lot of birds,? he said.
An 11-year-old boy, Jose de la Torre, said he loved coming here with the club. ?Birds are nice and I have lots of drawings of birds in my room,? he said.
Pelayo said he organized the Ibon-Ebon Festival (literally, ?birds and eggs?) on Feb. 1-2 for students to showcase his town?s gift.
The local government bought a 60-seat bus, decorating it with stickers of birds on its body and rear, to service local and foreign tourists.
It also planned to construct viewing decks for bird watchers.
In 2007, the WBCP documented three rare species in the swamp?the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeola bacchus) and the Black-Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax).
Bird population reached 11,500 in 2007. The international standard is 10,000 for a single area, according to Lu.
Agriculturists, said Pelayo, had yet to find signs that the migratory birds were afflicted with the dreaded bird flu that already spread among humans in some parts of Asia.