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‘Extinct’ pelican rediscovered in Leyte

By Vicente Labro
Philippine Daily Inquirer

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—A rare pelican species has been sighted in Leyte by a team from the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-8).

Arnulito Viojan of the DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Division said they discovered what could be the Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) at Lake Bito, Barangay Imelda, MacArthur, Leyte, on Wednesday, while they were conducting a monitoring of water birds in the area.

The lone pelican was sighted Wednesday morning resting on a floating bamboo raft inside a fish pen on the lake. But before Viojan and his team could go near and take close-up pictures, the bird swam away.

“Residents in the area told us they first noticed the big bird on the lake on Tuesday,” Viojan told the Inquirer on Thursday.

Citing information from the “A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines,” by Robert S. Kennedy, et. al., Viojan said the the Spot-billed Pelican is believed to have been extinct “probably since the 1940s.”

A Spot-billed Pelican has white feathers, dark feet, weighs from 4.1 to 6 kilos and has a flying range that reaches up to Southern China. The bird’s beak is pinkish yellow but has black spots on the upper mandible, according to the Philippine field guide.

Violan said the Spot-billed Pelican once inhabited Laguna de Bay, the Candaba swamp, the coastal areas of Bulacan and some parts of Mindanao.

Dalmatian pelican

However, Tim Fisher, one of the authors of “A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines,” said he believes the bird sighted in Leyte could be a Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), based on pictures sent to him yesterday by a biodiversity conservation group based in Cebu

“There is a yellow wash of color on the pelican’s chest. The only pelican likely to end up in the Philippines is the Dalmatian pelican which is found in China and moves to Hong Kong during migration season. Because of the cold front we’ve been experiencing, the pelican must have flown out to the Philippines,” Briton Fisher said in a phone interview on Friday.

Stressing that the pelican species needs to be reconfirmed, he said the Spot-billed Pelican is found in India and Sri-Lanka and is not likely to turn up in these parts.

He also said the Dalmatian pelican is a rare bird “and if we could reconfirm it, this would be the very first time it has been sighted in the Philippines,” said Fisher, who was in Mt. Kitanglad, Cagayan de Oro, heading a team of birders at the time of the phone interview.

Waterfowl census

Viojan, meanwhile, said they were at Lake Bito conducting a waterfowl census in line with the annual Asian Waterbird Census from Jan. 10 to 25.

The census, he said, is a regional program to promote public participation to monitor the distribution and population of water birds and the status of wetlands.

According to Viojan, Lake Bito in MacArthur, Leyte, is one of the 12 wetlands in the region that they are monitoring.