The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
The official website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines

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Last Chance for Rare Warbler

A recently concluded 2-week survey in Central Luzon for the rare Streaked Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus sorghophilus was only able to find one individual.

The lone Sttreaked Reed-Warbler caught during the 2-week survey
The lone Sttreaked Reed-Warbler
caught during the 2-week survey

The small and inconspicuous Streaked Reed-Warbler is a migrant from north east Asia whose breeding grounds remain unknown to this day. It spends the winters exclusively here in the Philippines. A joint Filipino-British team of ornithologists surveyed reed beds at 6 sites in central and southern Luzon, using fine nylon mist nets. Despite catching and releasing 235 birds, only one Streaked Reed-Warbler was found – in a stand of reeds in Candaba - among 84 of the resident Clamorous Reed-Warblers Acrocephalus stentoreus and 57 other migrant warblers (48 Oriental Reed-Warblers Acrocephalus orientalis and 9 Middendorf’s Grasshopper-Warbler Locustella ochotensis). A number of other species, including 3 species of bitterns, a few Siberian Rubythroats, Striated Grassbirds and Brown Shrikes and lots of the common Yellow-vented Bulbul were also caught.

In the early 1980s, ornithologists found the Streaked Reed-Warbler to be common in Candaba in its preferred habitat of tall reeds by open water. “Mayor Jerry Pelayo, who supported this survey, has taken useful steps to protect birds and promote birdwatching at Candaba,” says Michael Lu, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP). “There may be other Streaked Reed-Warblers out there somewhere, but they are clearly very few and far between. Our main concern is that the population is declining to extinction due to habitat loss.”

Expedition member Jon Villasper extricating a bird from the mist-net
Expedition member Jon Villasper
extricating a bird from the mist-net

Inspite of having been nominated as an internationally important wetland site under the Ramsar (Wetland) Convention, today less than 1% of Candaba’s original 32,000 hectares of mainly reed bed habitat remains. The rest having been converted to rice fields. Indeed the survey team found difficulty in locating areas of extensive reed beds anywhere in Central Luzon.

Leading the team was a Briton, Philip Round, a warbler expert based in Thailand. He was accompanied by WBCP researchers Carmela Espanola, Jonathan Villasper and Desmond Allen.

Captured birds were fitted with an alloy bird band on one leg. Each band was stamped “DENR Manila” and bears a unique identifying number. This is the first time that bands specifically made for the Philippines have been used. All data of the species, dates and locations of the birds are lodged with DENR. In this way the band numbers of the birds later captured or found dead, if communicated to DENR, will help elucidate the movements and life history of Philippine birds.

Besides the Streaked Reed-Warbler the team also found a single Black-browed Reed-Warbler, a common winter visitor to mainland SE Asia which breeds widely in China and in SE Russia, but which has only once previously been recorded in the Philippines. This was at the sane site, one year ago by the same WBCP team.

The survey was initiated and funded by the Wetland Trust, and organized by the WBCP with the collaboration of the DENR-PAWB and with the help of local municipalities and barangays.