Professional bird watcher Juanita Santos-Ancheta has observed that migratory ducks, which used to be among the most numerous fowls at the wetlands of Candaba, have become a rarity these days.
The swamp has been for many years in the wish list of professional bird watchers worldwide for its migrant wild ducks and various wildlife birds escaping temporarily the harsh winters of Siberia, New Zealand, Mongolia and other parts of Asia.
Ancheta, however, said bird watchers have begun to shift to other destinations in the Philippines, as the Candaba Swamp has become less of migratory home to wild birds. Areas that used to provide the birds with habitat seem to be running out of food, such as fish, snails and insects, because more areas are being planted to rice, while other areas that used to be maintained for the birds have given way to wild vegetation that make food hunting more difficult for the fowls, she said.
“It could also be climate change, who knows?” she added.
Way back in 2009, ornithologists counted some 12,000 birds a day, which was a fraction of the 100,000 – just for wild Philippine ducks and mainland Asian wild ducks – recorded in the 1980’s.
Michael Lu, then president of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, had noted that among the 50 or so wetland areas in the Philippines, the Candaba Swamp was a key roost for wild fowls ranging from huge purple herons to tiny Arctic warblers that return to continental Asia in the spring.
Because most of the swamp is titled to private owners, land conversions have shrunk the swamp over the years, prompting the Candaba municipal board to pass a resolution on Sept. 27, 2004 declaring it as bird sanctuary.
From its original 32,000 hectares, the Candaba Swamp bird sanctuary has been reduced to 72 hectares owned by former Mayor Jerry Pelayo who preserved the area for the migratory birds.
Because the wild migration comes at a time when waters in the swamp ebb to a level ideal for rice planting, most of them have opted to devote their lands to rice that lessened food, such as fi sh and insects, for the wild birds.
Ancheta, whose Facebook account devoted to bird watching has thousands of followers, said other areas within Central Luzon, such as Subic and Clark, are now luring the interests of bird watchers.
In a sortie to a northern part of Clark near the still undeveloped Sacobia sub-zone, she reported observing rare birds, including the Grey-faced Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Chinese Goshaw, Red Junglefowl, Brown Shrike, Brown-breasted Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, and Arctic Babbler.
Rommel Santiago, provincial environment and natural resources officer, said a bird sanctuary in Barangay Tortillas in Balanga City is also now becoming famous.