New country wildfowl records from Candaba Marsh

Here Carlo explains how he discovered a new country record in January confirming the ecological importance of Candaba Marsh:

“I was conducting the regular bird count at Candaba Marsh. I arrived there just after 5:30 am and waited for dawn to break. The front pond of the Pelayo property was already full of ducks by the time I started the bird survey. The majority of the duck species were in the emergent vegetation. I noticed some of the ducks were quite different from the ones I had previously surveyed. I observed for the first time Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis) and Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca Penelope) . I also observed a new wildfowl species and I couldn’t identify it as it wasn’t in my field guide for the Philippines! It was quite distinct, and I managed to take a photograph through my spotting scope.

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Falcated Duck (Mareca falcata): Francis C. Franklin

I posted the image on the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines’ Group webpage. I was pleased that they confirmed that it was a new country record of Falcated Duck (Mareca falcata). This species is listed as Near Threatened due to declines in its range, possibly due to high levels of hunting.

Robert Hutchinson also got a new country record a few days later with Baikal Teal (Sibirionetta formosa). The fact that two waterfowl species are found in Candaba at the same time may suggest some weather phenomenon causing this or that the site is not regularly surveyed. However, it demonstrates the importance of the site in Luzon as a wintering ground for rare migratory species. In recent years, Black-faced Spoonbills (Platalea minor) and Baer’s Pochard (Aythya baeri) have also been observed in the area.”

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Baikal Teal (Sibirionetta formosa): Robert Hutchinson

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Funding success for The Philippine Duck Project

I’m delighted to announce that we have been successful in securely a grant from the Oriental Bird Club http://orientalbirdclub.org/ to conduct a survey at Candaba Marsh.

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Candaba Marsh (Photo: Irene Dy)

The main aim of the project is to gather information on the abundance and habitat use of the Philippine Duck and other wetland birds. The objectives are:-

1. To estimate the abundance of Philippine Duck and other wetland bird species;

2. To determine if Candaba Marsh supports over 1% of the world’s population of Philippine Duck and meets criterion 5 of the Ramsar designation;

3.To determine how species’ abundance changes over the survey period;

4.Identify other areas of uncultivated wetland within Candaba Marsh that could be potential sites for waterbird monitoring and conservation;

5.To interview local landowners to establish hunting and egg collection rates.

The bird survey will be conducted mainly by Mr Artiaga under the supervision of Dr Española, and volunteers from the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines will be encouraged to join. Carlo Artiaga conducted the first site visit to plan the standardised counts.

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Candaba Marsh (Photo: Ivan Sarenas)

Here Carlo describes his first visit to one of the survey areas in the marsh:-

On 21st August 2015, we conducted a preliminary site visit to Candaba Marsh . The site is a stretch of swamp with a main pond adjacent to cultivated farmland. The vegetation is composed of a diverse community of grasses and weeds along with a few trees and shrubs. We saw many jacanas and egrets in the main shallow pond, while grassbirds and coucals hid in the tall grass of the surrounding vegetation. Snipes and herons flew overhead. On our way back from the site, we encountered a group of Eastern Marsh Harriers (Circus spilonotus). We did not see Philippine Duck, but we were able to hear duck calls in the distance.

We were able to visit the heads and senior members of the community living adjacent to the site. We were able to gather a lot of new information about the area; historically, there were many ducks in the area but the numbers have declined due to hunting. Despite this, we remain optimistic that this is a good place to study the remaining Philippine Duck population in the Candaba Swamp.

The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) and its importance in highlighting critical conservation sites, such as Candaba Marsh

The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) began in 1987 and forms part of the global wetland bird monitoring scheme the International Waterbird Census (IWC) which is coordinated by Wetlands International. Every January thousands of volunteers count wetland birds across the world. These annual counts are vital as they give an indication of the population status and trends of the world’s wetlands birds.

Volunteers and DENR staff

The AWC relies heavily on volunteers; here members of The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) and Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) staff are taking part in the annual count. Photo: Irene Dy, e-BON.

Regular documents such as “Waterbird Population Estimates” (Wetlands International, 2012) are produced by Wetlands International and a database of IWC population estimates is now available based on these counts: wpe.wetlands.org

Irene Dy

AWC at Candaba Swamp: Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus and various duck species. Photo: Irene Dy, e-BON.

In the Philippines, the AWC is coordinated by Carlo Custodio and many of the counts are carried out by members The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP – http://www.birdwatch.ph/), along with many other volunteers. There is a lot of work involved in the census as many volunteers will survey many different wetland sites; you can get an insight into what’s involved through this WBCP account of a survey at Candaba Marsh in 2013 https://ebonph.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/2013-asian-waterbird-census-in-candaba/. Currently, there are over 50 sites surveyed annually in the Philippines. These annual counts are crucial for wetland bird conservation. However, at key wetland sites, such as Candaba Swamp, we need established and regular biodiversity surveys. We are hoping to secure funds to shortly begin a regular monitoring programme within the Candaba Marsh area.

Figure.1 Map to show the AWC sites that record Philippine Duck present

map of philippinesThis map shows the sites surveyed by the AWC where a key wetland species, Philippine Duck Anas luzonica, were recorded. The size of the red dots gives an indication of the relative population size recorded there.

Candaba Swamp is one of the sites that have been surveyed annually. We can use the Philippine Duck recordings data to see how the counts have changed over the time period. During the 2013 census, 3369 Philippine Duck were recorded and the marsh is one of the key sites for this species. This site is vital to secure the Philippine Duck species. Recently the critically endangered Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri was observed at the site. However, the site is under serious threat of imminent land conversion, and without sufficient and urgent conservation action the site will be lost.

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Candaba Marsh is currently listed as an IBA, but we are expecting the site to be up listed to an IBA in Danger due to its imminent danger of land conversion from wetland to rice fields. Photo: Irene Dy, e-BON.

References

Wetlands International, 2012. Waterbird Population Estimates, Fifth Edition. Summary ReportWetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Fledging a community wetland conservation project

We have started working with a high school teacher to gather valuable information on the Philippine Duck. Philippine wetlands are under increasing pressure from agriculture expansion and very little is known about the threatened duck. Community projects, such as the work done by Harold and his students, are vital for conservation efforts. If you are interested in setting up a community project and would like support from the project team, please email b.roberts@mmu.ac.uk.

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Nic Cabigas

Carmela introduces Harold and explains why the work he does with his students is so valuable:

Harold pledged to fledge, and fledge he did. Harold trained five high school students to conduct regular monitoring of waterbirds near their school. Harold teaches Biology at a public high school along the coastline of Capiz. His school is surrounded by a long stretch of beach, mangrove stands and extensive aquaculture ponds, bordered by thick grass on the banks—perfect breeding ground for numerous waterbirds, including several endemic and even threatened species. Likewise, thousands of waterbirds stopover at this wetland site during the migration season, roughly from September to March. The work initiated by Harold and his students is especially important as no bird survey was conducted in the area before—the nearest site for the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) is at Barangay Lawa-an, New Washington, Aklan.

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Harold explains why he got so interested in wetland surveys:

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In 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a class of the world renowned conservation biologist and ornithologist Professor Eberhard Curio at UP Diliman. I was introduced to birdwatching. This sparked my interest to study the wetland birds in my local area. I started visiting wetlands to observe birds and the children got curious and wanted to join in. We now survey the wetlands every Saturday. Many local people find it strange that we spend so much time staring into binoculars for long periods of time! We all enjoy exploring the tangled vegetation of the mangrove swamps, beach forest and the bahura, a tidal inlet in the less explored parts of rural Panay.

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As my students were so keen, I decided to enter a research competition. The wetland research project was so exciting; we explored every nook and cranny, beach and sandbar all over the coastal areas of Pan-ay in rural Capiz. My students were so passionate. We ended up winning the local contest and were put forward to the regional competition and we were chosen to be one of the finalists. This was fantastic. When we got back to school everyone wanted to join our little “bird club”!

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The part that I find most rewarding is that my students are now able to appreciate the birds and what they do for the local ecosystem. They now have a greater understanding and appreciation of wetland conservation. Now, more than ever, we are inspired to help save our feathered friends. We are helping The Philippine Duck Project by doing nest surveys and duck counts.

If you would like to donate any binoculars to Harold or would like to get more involved in The Philippine Duck Project, please send an email.

 

Introducing our master’s student

We are delighted to secure a sponsored master’s place for Kevin Carlo Artiaga. He began his course in October at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Carlo is currently working through the taught part of the course, but he will begin fieldwork on the Philippine Duck in 2015.

Carlo is an avid bird watcher. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Carlo worked as a research assistant at the Haribon Foundation, a local NGO in the Philippines. As part of his role, he gained experience in survey work of rare and threatened species.

It’s wonderful news to have Carlo working on the project.

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Four preliminary site visits

To gather vital basic ecological and habitat requirements of the Philippine Duck, I visited the Philippines with funding received from two Manchester Metropolitan University awards. Dr Carmela Española and I visited four wetland habitats, two of which are Ramsar sites. Hunting continues at all sites; however, at the Ramsar sites, prosecutions for Philippine Duck hunting had been made.

Candaba-wetland

We first visited Candaba Marsh, Luzon (categorised an IBA); an important wetland site for resident waterbirds and migratory species with recorded sightings of Baer’s Pochard (Aythya baeri; Critically Endangered) and Streaked Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus sorghophilus; Endangered). Candaba Bird Sanctuary, a 100-hectare private property of the former mayor Jerry Pelayo, acts as a wetland fragment in an agricultural landscape and is under threat from agriculture expansion. Large numbers of Wandering Whistling-duck Dendrocygna arcuata and Philippine Duck were present, along with many other wetland bird species. We recorded over 300 Philippine Duck at the site and whilst interviewing local farmers we observed a man standing on a water buffalo collecting eggs, possibly Philippine Duck eggs.

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We also conducted a site visit to the river mouth at Subic Bay, Luzon, which has historically recorded 400 Philippine Ducks congregating in a large group in the mangroves. We found no ducks, but we gathered valuable nesting and habitat data from local people.

Naujan Lake

Naujan Lake

Our third site was Naujan Lake (14,568 ha) in Mindoro, designated a Ramsar site, and the fifth largest lake in the Philippines. The lake supports large numbers of ducks and other waterbirds. The duck may occur at low densities due to the availability of many suitable wetland habitats or as a consequence of increased hunting pressure from the local people that live next to the lake.

1The final site was Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (175 ha), a coastal wetland within Metro Manila, and designated a Ramsar site. The area supports large numbers of resident and migratory birds (including the Vulnerable Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes) and is a breeding site for the Philippine Duck. We found 25 Philippine Duck using the shallow lagoons within the mangrove forest.

Beth Roberts