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Manila Bay (Navotas-Bulacan)

Location: Manila Bay
(starting from Navotas, National Capital Region up to Baluarte, Obando, Bulacan province only)
Date: January 25, 2004 (Sunday)
Time: start (7am) - 2/8 cloud cover, end (3pm) - 4/8 cloud cover
Kitty Arce, Nilo Arribas Jr., Mads Bajarias, Lala Española, Lu-Ann Fuentes, Jon Villasper

First, big thanks to Kitty for arranging the boat trip without which the trip would not have been possible.

The part of Manila Bay stretching from the Navotas wharf in the National Capital Region upwards to Obando, in Bulacan province is characterized by shallow intertidal mudflats and occasional sandbars.

Patches of mangrove swamp survive, but most have been converted to various aquaculture schemes particularly fish and shrimp ponds in the Baluarte, Obando area.

Since it was lowtide, the water was extremely shallow for our boat to come close to shore. We had to disembark from the boat and stand in about 2 feet of water and set up the scope with the mud sucking at our feet making movement difficult.

Needless to say, this was a novel way to watch shorebirds:
This was the first time I've ever watched birds while I was in the water and the birds generally were on the dry side. I think the others also shared this somewhat peculiar predicament.


According to Mallari etal. in "Key Conservation Sites in the Philippines", "Large numbers of migratory shorebirds use the intertidal mudflats, fishponds and salt winter and during the migration season. [Manila Bay] has consistently registered the highest numbers of waterbirds at any site in the Philippines during the Asian Wetland Counts in 1990-1994. There have been records of several threatened waterbirds there, but it is unclear whether this area is of significance for the conservation of any of these species."

Two rare species mentioned in the book are Black-faced Spoonbill, of which there is said to be 2 possible records in the early 20th century, from near Manila and at Baluarte, Obando, Bulacan province; and Nordmann's Greenshank, which has been recorded at Obando, Bulacan province in 1927.

Prior to the trip, Arne had emailed Kitty detailed descriptions of the specific sites where he had encountered large concentrations of shorebirds, along with photos of Nordmann's greenshanks to aid us in identification, if we come across any.

Although we weren't lucky enough to spot either of the 2 rare species, we were able to see individuals of the vulnerable Chinese egrets in the company of Little egrets and Great egrets. This group of egrets were feeding in the shallow waters in the coast of Obando. We viewed the birds through the scope for about 20 minutes at a distance of 200 meters.


Admittedly, we had difficulty in getting field ID of Chinese egret in their non-breeding plumage, due to their similarity to Intermediate egret and the white phase of the Eastern Reef egret.

Try as we might, even with the Club's Bushnell scope turned to full power, we could not determine the orbital skin of the birds.

However, below are the three aspects which we considered in identifying the birds as Chinese egrets:

1) The extent of black on the upper mandible. The birds which we suspected to be Chinese egrets had just a smidgen of black on the top part of their upper mandibles, and the lower mandible is all-yellow. Looking at the plates in Kennedy etal, Intermediate egret has more black on the upper mandible and on the tip of both mandibles.

2) Foraging behavior. The birds were more animated than the Little egrets. They flapped their wings, and generally moved about in the shallow water more than the Little and Great egrets.

3) Greenish leg color. This is very apparent even from afar. Arne and the census takers had ticked off 17 Chinese egrets the previous week, if this is the same spot then most likely it is the same group.

By the way, I looked through the book, "Threatened Birds of the Philippines" by Collar etal. (Bookmark 2000) and found that there were no reports of Chinese egrets in Obando, Bulacan. The closest areas with records were Puerto Rivas in Bataan, Parañaque, and in Matabungkay, Batangas. The reports from those places were in the 80s and 90s. Aside from the egrets, we saw about a thousand terns while scanning the horizon from the Navotas wharf. This guesstimate is the result of estimating the number of individuals that fit in the scope's field of vision, and then counting the number of shifts made to move the field of vision from one end of the horizon to the other.

Another great concentration of terns were seen in a large dried pond behind the white chapel in Baluarte.

Another species seen in great numbers is the Common greenshank, which numbered hundreds.
Dozens of Black-headed gulls were also seen both in flight and "sitting" on the water like ducks.

1. Grey heron [Ardea cinerea] - 1. Standing motionless.
2. Great egret [Egretta alba] - 7. Standing on shore with Little egrets and suspected Chinese egrets.
3. Chinese egret [Egretta eulophotes] - 6
4. Little egret [Egretta garzetta] - 50+.
5. Little heron [Butorides striatus] - 4. Standing motionless in dried pond.
6. Black-crowned night-heron [Nycticorax nycticorax]. 2
7. Cinnamon bittern [Ixobrychus cinnamomeus] - 1. In flight
8. Plover species [Charadrius sp.] - 500+. on shore, sand bars and dried ponds.
9. Asian golden-plover [Pluvialis fulva] - 6. Feeding on pebbly mud next to a rivulet.
10. Common redshank [Tringa totanus] - 50+
11. Common greenshank [Tringa nebularia] - 200+.
In tight flocks both on shore and in sand bars within dried ponds.
12. Stint species [Calidris sp.] - 5.
13. Black-headed gull [Larus ridibundus] - 30+.
14. Tern species [Chlidonia sp.] - 2,000+
15. Common kingfisher [Alcedo atthis] - 1.
16. White-collared kingfisher [Halcyon chloris] - 2.