A rare winter visitor and the last pond standing

I was lucky enough to visit the Philippines last April where I carried out four preliminary sites visits for the Philippine Duck Project. One site was Candaba Marsh, listed as an IBA http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/sitefactsheet.php?id=9707. It is a very important site, particularly for ducks, where wintering numbers are commonly between 5,000 and 10,000. The marsh has diminished in size, but it still may meet Ramsar criteria. Candaba Marsh is privately owned and what is left of the natural wetland habitat is being lost. This is devastating news for wetland conservation. As I write, the last pond is being converted into paddy fields and in a matter of a few weeks the marsh will be gone. Many wetland birds, including the Philippine Duck Anas luzonica and the rare winter visitor, the Critically Endangered Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri, will be lost from the area.

baer's pochard

Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri

Here Tonji Ramos, from the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, explains why the site is so valuable for conservation:-

Candaba Marsh is the most famous birding site in the Philippines. Of all the birding sites in the Philippines, Candaba is the site where I’ve had the most number of lifers. Historically, Candaba has always been a bird haven. It is the lowest point of Central Luzon. The floodwaters from the Sierra Madre mountain range funnel to the Pampanga River and collect in the Candaba Marsh area.  Thirty or so years ago the marsh area covered 32,000 hectares. The area is now extensively farmed and the floodwaters are drained to provide water for agriculture. Several years ago, the marsh had reduced to just 300 hectares. In 2008 and 2009, there were still four or five ponds remaining, covering around 36 hectares. Last week, the last pond of the once vast marshland was being converted into rice fields. Historically, Candaba Marsh was a very important wetland site and during a bird survey in 1982, 100,000 ducks were observed in one day. The marsh is still important, despite its size. In 2009, 12,000 ducks were counted in a day. The numbers have been declining as the marsh is reducing in size.

tillingThe marsh is privately owned by an ex-mayor and he is currently leasing the land. I talked to the person leasing the property from the mayor and he estimated that he could turn half of the pond into a rice field in two weeks. My horror knew no bounds. I quietly told him about the Baer’s Pochard but it did not seem important to him. He seemed more interested in his rice business than in conservation.  He discussed the monetary aspect of his venture while I tried to put in a few words the conservation importance of the marsh. I doubt if my words were absorbed.

As a birdwatcher, it is hard to imagine that there will be no pond in Candaba. I was in Candaba for three days to look at the Baer’s Pochard.  It is ironic that the Baer’s Pochard chose this time to land in Candaba. It is a very rare duck, the rarest in Asia, and the populations have been declining in all its wintering areas. It could very well become extinct in a short time. The male duck is sitting in the water as the last pond is turned into a rice field.

baer's pochard.1

The conversion of the ponds is a major blow to conservation efforts for all the species that need the wetland area to survive. I have always appreciated how the former Mayor Jerry Pelayo has allowed us to enter his property and look at the birds. But, he may now want to use his property for other purposes. It is his right as the landowner and he has always played a huge role in providing a wetland habitat all these years. Maybe it is time to reach out to the Mayor to ask him keep the main pond intact so that future generations can enjoy the amazing sight of Baer’s Pochard coming to visit, rest and feed.

Robert Hutchinson’s video of the Baer’s Pochard at Candaba Marsh:

If anyone can offer any support or advice, please can you contact a member from the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP)http://www.birdwatch.ph/ or me on b.roberts@mmu.ac.uk. Please read about the rare sighting of Baer’s Pochard here- https://ebonph.wordpress.com/. Thank you to Tonji for the wonderful images and to the members of the WBCP for all your help.



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