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Breeding Caspian Terns at Pasac River

Date: 06 Mar 2005, Sunday
Time: 9:10 am - 1:30 pm
Place: Pasac River Delta, near Pampanga Bay
Weather: Sunny, 32 degrees
Birders: Mads Bajarias, Patty Adversario
Trip Report: Patty Adversario
Bird List: Mads Bajarias and Patty Adversario

Pasac River Delta lies at the mouth of Manila Bay. Close to it, lie several mud flats that dot Pampanga Bay. These mudflats were formed by silt deposits that had found its way and settled at the mouth of the bay. You can reach the mudflats by hiring a banca from Orani, Bataan.

The banca ride took about 30minutes from Orani. Along the way, we saw a colony of great egrets sunning themselves on one of the mudflats. We took note that we'd drop by on our way back if there was time. We parked the banca on one of the mudflats farther ahead. As soon as we alighted, we saw a moorhen busily foraging among the mangroves.

Tidewater was slowly coming in, softening the mud and making it hard to walk on the edge of the mudflat. I was sinking deeper into the mud with each step, but then, I'm a firm believer by now in this if there's NO MUD, there's NO GAIN. So, we walked barefoot on to higher ground where there were more birds. Mads seems to have mastered where to step on firm mud, so I just followed his footprints.

Little Egrets
Little Egrets

Some of the shorebirds were already in breeding plumage. These included the Common Redshanks and the Lesser Sand Plovers. To us, the most gorgeous shorebirds in breeding form were the Caspian Terns with their distinct black head and massive orange red bill. They were the largest terns that we saw. Because of their size, they looked extremely confident. According to Sibley, Caspian Terns breed from Feb-October.

Kennedy recorded the CTs as accidental with one record dated 04 Jan 1931 in Manila Bay, Obando, Bulacan Province. But Mads had seen these CTs since January, and in each of his bi-weekly visits, they were there. This seems to indicate that the CTs presence can no longer be an accidental record. Mads said the highest record he had at one time, was 18 CTs in late February. On the first Sunday of March, we saw 11.

We also had the highest record of Eurasian Curlews (5) on our visit since Mads began his avian study at the mudflats this year.

Marsh Sandpipers
Marsh Sandpipers

The Kennedy guide also notes that Marsh Sandpipers were uncommon and rarely seen on exposed mudflats. But we certainly saw hundreds that day. Our conservative count was 450!

One of the fisherfolk reported that he also saw a huge flock of ducks take off farther away towards Balanga on Saturday (March05). He couldnt make a positive ID on what kind of ducks they were, but he swears the ducks were so many the sky darkened for a while as the thick flock took flight. Mads will go back later this week to check the reported sighting.

We had to go back to the banca as the mudflats were fast disappearing. It was unnerving to see the land you just walked on disappear from view within minutes behind you. It was better not to look back. Ankle-deep water was fast rising to our knees.

I had a grand time observing the whiskered terns and the common terns up close while we were riding the banca back to Orani. They would follow the banca because it seemed it was the best way to catch fish. A flock of six to 12 would trail us (mainly whiskered with two common) and it was interesting to watch how they would twist their bodies in mid-dive before plunging into the water to catch lunch.

They were so close it was better to watch them without binoculars. The common terns I saw already had black foreheads but they still had dark bills. They must be in transition from adult non-breeding (Oct-Mar) to adult breeding phase. Sibley notes breeding starts from April to November. By this time, the bills turn red with black tips.

We heard intermittent gun shots being fired in the air. Fisherfolk said fishpond owners would blast the air with shots to ward off the birds!


1. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea - 2
2. Purple Heron Ardea purpurea -- 1
3. Great Egret Ardea alba --500+
4. Little Egret Egretta garzetta 300+
5. Little Heron Butorides striatus --2
6. Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis --1
7. Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus --2
8. Asian Golden-Plover (Pacific Golden-Plover) Pluvialis fulva 800+
9. Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus 400+
10.Lesser Sand-Plover (Mongolian Plover) Charadrius mongolus 50 (some breeding)
11.Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata --5
12.Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus --5
13.Common Redshank Tringa tetanus-- 150 (breeding)
14.Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia --40
15.Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis --450
16.Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos --5
17.Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinerea -- 20
18.Rufous-necked Stint (Red-necked Stint ) Calidris ruficollis 200+
19.Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus -- 4
20.Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus (immature 2nd winter plumage) 300+
21.Caspian Tern Sterna caspia 11 (some breeding)
22.Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica --1
23.Common Tern Sterna hirundo --2
24.Little Tern Sterna albifrons --5
25.Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus --common
26.Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta (seen in town) --6
27.Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis --1
28.3White-collared Kingfisher Todirhamphus chloris --2
29.Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica --10