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Breeding Jacanas of Candaba Swamp

Date: July 4, 2004
Location: Vicinity of Mayor Jerry Pelayo’s pond (entry through Barangay Bahay Pari, Baliuag, Bulacan)
Time: 5 am to 930am
Cloud Cover: 1/8

Trip Report: Madz Bajarias and Patty Adversario
Bird List: Madz Bajarias

We wanted to visit Candaba during the “off-season”, that is, before the northern migratory birds arrive, so we can get detailed observations about its resident species.

That meant, waking up at 2am on a Sunday, to meet a fellow birder at 3.30am, so we could catch the dawn break. Madz, in true fashion, showed up even if he was still nursing stitches from an ear surgery the previous week.

We got lost after reaching the Bahay ng Pari bridge, but we made good time as dawn was breaking over the fields. Swiftlets and a black-crowned night heron were among the first to appear in the faint light.

We started our walk from one of the poultry houses along a muddy road that was etched deep with carabao cart tracks.Two days ago, typhoon Igme had rammed her way through north Luzon and it was just the second day with no rain. The day’s highlight came early.

Chestnut Munia
Chestnut Munia

We spotted three BLACK-WINGED STILTS foraging on a patch of clear dry ground across a field.

Two stilts later flew off, but one stayed on the ground. The diagnostic black strip on its nape (back of the neck) indicated that it was ssp. leucocephalus.

According to the Kennedy guide, “the race leucocephalus may migrate up from the south or may breed as it is thought to do so in Java, Bali, and Sulawesi. Recorded every month except July.” Some authors treat it as a full species WHITE-HEADED STILT (himantopus leucocephalus).

Our second treat was the appearance of at least eight GRASS OWLS between 7 to 7.30am. There were five from the right side of the field and three from the left. They kept coming up and swooping down on prey. Soon, we saw huge field rats scampering across the road to cross to the safer side of the field.

We reckoned the owls were chasing the rats that were being flushed out from the fields by laborers who were cutting grass. Either that, or the owls may have been the ones being flushed out from their roost among the tall grass.

Yellow Bittern
Yellow Bittern

It seemed there was busy “bittern” traffic that day. We saw several cinnamon, yellow and black bitterns flying across the field. From where I stood at the edge of the field, the “air traffic”, in general, was heavy.At one point, a grass owl flew over a cinnamon bittern that was flying the other way. And to their right, a purple heron was flying further afield.

If I had a camera with a wide-angle lens, I could have caught all three in a single frame. Right close to us by the road, bright-capped cisticolas were dzip-dzip-dzipping like castanets as they swooped upwards and then playfully plunged into the tall grass.

Purple Heron
Purple Heron

Madz said the jacanas were further afield, and that meant trudging through more mud. Our shoes felt heavy, because it seemed that more patches of mud clung to our shoes with each step. But we wanted to see the jacanas and we weren’t disappointed.

We saw five PHEASANT-TAILED JACANAS on a patch of high dry ground in the middle part of a pond, located on the left side of the big pond owned by “Mayor Jerry.” The jacanas appeared to be in breeding plumage. One flew off giving a far-carrying miew miew. In flight, the white marks on its black wings were striking.

We saw one that kept walking around a mound and seemed to be foraging. The mound, which was roughly a meter at its widest, was surrounded by emergent vegetation. We observed it for about half an hour as it kept walking back and forth on the mound.

On our way back, we chatted with one of the caretakers. Locals call the jacanas “kahot-kahot.” They breed from July to August and produce “kulay-lumot” (moss green-colored) eggs in threes. The eggs are slightly larger than quail eggs (pugo) and locals even gather these and eat them boiled.

According to the Kennedy guide, “there is no breeding information in the Philippines” about this species. That’s what he said --but on July 4, about 9.30am, as we trudged back to dry field, we were savoring that fresh bit of information about the breeding jacanas of Candaba.

1. Little egret [Egretta garzetta] - 12. In flight and foraging on the mud
2. Purple heron [Ardea purpurea] - 4. Singles
3. Black-crowned Night-heron [Nycticorax nycticorax] - 4. In flight
4. Cinnamon bittern [Ixobrychus cinnamomeus] - 15+
5. Yellow bittern [Ixobrychus sinensis] - 40+
6. Black bittern [Dupetor flavicollis] - 6-10
7. White-browed crake [Porzana cinerea] - 4. skulking
8. White-breasted waterhen [Amaurornis phoenicurus] - 1
9. Common moorhen [Gallinula chloropus] - 5
10. Pheasant-tailed jacana [Hydrophasianus chirurgus] - 5
11. Little ringed-plover [Charadrius dubius] - 6
12. Oriental pratincole [Glareola maldivarum] - 3. Hawking for insects
13. Black-winged Stilt ssp. leucocephalus [Himantopus himantopus leucocephalus] - 3. Two in flight and 1 foraging in mud. Some authors treat it as a separate species White-headed stilt.
14. Spotted dove [Streptopelia chinensis] - 20+
15. Zebra dove [Geopelia striata] - 3
16. Lesser coucal [Centropus bengalensis] - 1
17. Grass owl [Tyto capensis] - 8. Some authors treat this as a separate species Eastern Grass-owl T. longimembris.
18. Pacific swallow [Hirundo tahitica] - 3
19. Yellow-vented bulbul [Pycnonotus goiavier] - 10+
20. Pied bushchat [Saxicola caprata] - 2. 1 male, 1 female
21. Tawny grassbird [Megalurus timoriensis] - 1
22. Striated grassbird [Megalurus palustris] - 10+
23. Bright-capped cisticola [Cisticola exilis] - 4
24. Zitting cisticola [Cisticola juncidis] - 20+
25. Pied fantail [Rhipidura javanica] - 1
26. Eurasian tre-sparrow [Passer montanus] - 20+
27. Scaly-breasted munia [Lonchura punctulata] - 10+
28. Chestnut munia [Lonchura malacca] - 40+