By Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: January 13, 2008
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
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
Tina Mallari, a WBCP member, documented the Candaba visitors
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.