Rarely seen bird gets limelight in forest plan
MANGATAREM, Pangasinan—It looks like an owl but its beak is as wide as a frog’s mouth. It is a bird that is often heard, and rarely seen, because of its loud sound “Kaawww” or its staccato “Wak wak wak.”
That’s the “saksakulap,” the very elusive Philippine frogmouth (Batrachostomus septimus), which has become the poster creature of government programs to protect the critical Mangatarem forest, the largest forest in Pangasinan with an area of 6,500 hectares.
It is a part of the 139,679-ha Zambales mountain range, which straddles Pangasinan, Tarlac and Zambales.
The Mangatarem forest is now in the five-year New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project (NewCAPP) of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB).
NewCAPP is being implemented with the local government and Haribon Foundation and with funds from the United Nations Development Program-Global Environment Facility.
Protecting the Pangasinan-Zambales rainforest would mean protecting the saksakulap, said Leduina Co, provincial environment and natural resources officer.
The saksakulap and other Mangatarem forest inhabitants also serve as tourist attractions at Manleluag Spring Protected Landscape System, part of the Mangatarem forest.
While not a threatened species yet, the saksakulap, which has white bands on the breast, is seldom seen even by residents.
The saksakulap is nocturnal and is a “shy bird,” according to Cora Marie Pugal, an expert from the PAWB Ilocos regional office.
It is small with a length of 230 millimeters and wingspan of 138 mm. It hides during the day, perching on branches and is often mistaken for a broken branch because its gray-brown feathers render it indistinguishable from tree bark.
At night, it forages for insects, its main food.
Aside from the saksakulap, the forest is also home to other species.
Birds comprise most of the life that thrive in Mangatarem which hosts 96 bird species like the Philippine parakeet, the horn bill, coleto and malkoha; eight species of mammals like the cloud rat, wild boar and Philippine deer, and reptiles like the water monitor lizard.
Four threatened species are living in the Mangatarem forest: the Philippine duck (Anas luzonica), the flame-breasted fruit dove (Ptilinopus marchei), the ashy ground thrush (Zoothera cinerea) and the Philippine warty pig (Sus Philippensis).
According to a NewCAPP report, the biodiversity of the Mangatarem forest is threatened by hunting, unregulated gathering of forest products, charcoal making and illegal logging.
NewCAPP said the forest is also threatened by the invasion of exotic species, “kaingin” (slash-and-burn farming) expansion into forest lands, unregulated mining and quarrying.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.