By Anna Valmero
First Posted 17:13:00 01/21/2010
Pampanga, Philippines—Thousands of migratory birds flock
to Candaba swamps in Pampanga every year to seek shelter and
breeding grounds. But the prevalence of hunting and massive
land conversion has led to the continuous decline in the number
of feathered visitors in the area.
Duck hunter moving closer to his target
Members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines
(WBCP) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources
counted 13,160 freshwater birds on January 17 as part of the
annual Asian Waterbird Census.
The bird census is done in over 100 countries
and data is collated to monitor bird populations and the status
of wetlands along flyways or the migratory path followed by
wintering birds between September and April.
The 13,160 birds counted this year was slightly
higher than last year's total of 12,000 birds—but the
bird species decreased from 41 last year to 39 this month,
said WBCP president Mike Lu.
Lu noted that among the bird species that
have not been seen in Candaba this year include black-winged
stilts, sandpipers and
some species of plovers, which are known to roost on mudflats.
Garganeys (a species of migratory wild ducks) takes to the
Lu added that the bird count this year included
some 2,000 birds sighted in a new site in Barangay Perlas
in Candaba. The migratory birds of Candaba are usually sighted
in three sites in the town.
Factors contributing to the decreasing bird
population in Candaba marshes include hunting, conversion
of fishponds and swamps to fruit plantations, introduction
of exotic lotus plants in ponds and the earlier planting schedules
of rice and crops, said Lu.
Falling prey to hunters
Between September and April, wintering birds
visit Candaba and other wetlands in the country to escape
the severe cold and scarcity of food in their home. Bird hunters
take advantage of this time to visit Candaba and hunt migratory
ducks, herons and egrets, said Lu.
In November, Lu quoted WBCP members as saying
they had seen and took photos of a bird hunter, clad in camouflage
suit, who fired several gunshots to ducks wading in one of
the ponds declared as bird sanctuaries by the local government
since 2004. This means hunting and poaching of birds is banned
in the area.
Also during the bird census to a site in
Barangay Paralaya, one of the sites visited by the migratory
birds, Lu and other volunteers saw piles of bird feathers
hundreds of feet away from a flock of egrets. When the group
investigated, a farmer reported that two hunters killed two
great egrets and had them for dinner.
“On our way to the site in Paralaya,
we saw a field full of egrets estimated at about 1,800. Approaching
the area we discovered big pile of egret feathers and a bonfire
where the hunters supposedly cooked them. This is clearly
a threat to the birds,” said Lu.
“When we asked the farmers near the
area, the hunters possibly came from outside because the locals
here do not hunt the birds as per the local ordinance and
they know better that egrets are beneficial because they eat
the worms and pests to their crops and their droppings add
nutrients to the soil,” added Lu.
Over time, the continuous hunting spree
in Candaba made the birds afraid of humans, said WBCP member
Anna Marie Gonzales.
“One indicator that there is harassment
of the birds is that they fly immediately when they see humans.
Before it was easier to do bird watching because we can observe
the birds in closer distance unlike now that the birds are
very far, they seem more skittish and afraid of humans,”
The birder added that farmers who are using
strong firecrackers to drive the birds away from their saplings
should just shoo them away because the sound of firecrackers
can “traumatize the birds.”
Meanwhile, most of the 30,000-hectare original
marshlands and swamps in Candaba were converted to rice fields
and only about 100 hectares of swamps remain today, said ornithologist
and WBCP co-founder Arne Jensen.
With most of the fishponds and mudflats
converted to plantations this time of the year, both the migratory
and resident birds have less feeding and breeding grounds,
Lotus plants planted on the ponds also serve
as athreat to the birds as they compete for nutrients with
the natural freshwater vegetation and which seemed to have
driven away the insects that the birds feed on, said Lu.
As with other conservation initiatives,
protection of the wetlands in Candaba is a continuing struggle,
Leny Manalo, chief of staff of the Candaba local government
“About 18 years ago, there were no
more birds here. It was only after years of rehabilitating
the area that the birds started coming back and it was declared
a bird sanctuary. Then the hunters and poachers from other
places also came back. And we will not stop until we hunt
them down, we are serious about this matter,” Manalo
Manalo admitted that the local government
has yet to find a way to find a suitable combination of an
ecosystem where both resident and migratory birds can thrive.
Today, only ponds and rice fields serve
as the roosting area for the migratory birds such as the garganeys,
Philippine ducks, tufted ducks, cattle and great egrets, black
crowned night herons and whiskered terns.
Due to the early planting schedules to offset
farm losses from last year's typhoons, mudflats, which serve
as breeding and feeding area for some birds, are planted with
rice and watermelons, he said.
Only a handful of waders like the Kentish
and Asian golden plovers—which used to abound in the
mudflats in Candaba at this time of the year—were recorded,
and some species such as the black-winged stilts, were not
found, according to the bird census data from DENR and WBCP.
“Waders need mudflats and right now,
we don't really have mudflats due to the early planting schedule.
But two months ago when the farmlands have not yet been cultivated,
there were a lot of waders in the area as seen by two visiting
members of the British Parliament,” said Manalo.
A week before the bird census, WBCP members
were able to take photos of rare birds in Candaba such as
the great bittern, mallard, white shouldered starling and
lapwing. These country records, along with the thousands of
birds that seek refuge in the area, serve as inspiration for
Candaba to intensify its conservation efforts and to be a
model bird watching site in the country, said Manalo.
“The presence of migrating birds in
the country signifies that our wetlands and forests can support
both wildlife and human needs. That means we have clean water
to drink and food to eat. As much as the birds depend on us,
so do we depend on them for survival,” said Manalo.