WBCP Vice President Gina Mapua heads the group of volunteers from the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines in the 2013 AWC in Candaba.
AWC at Candaba
by Gina Mapua
photos by Cristina Cinco and Maia Tañedo
The 2013 Asian Waterbird Census for the WBCP began with a cancellation. It had rained hard at 3:00AM and the dikes were unpassable for cars according to our Candaba contacts. This was the news that reached us as we sped along NLEX toward our meeting point with Jude Sanchez and company. After several calls amongst the seven cars heading for Candaba, five cars decided to continue toward the Shell station to strategize our next step. Ruth with Jasmin, Des and Nina went to UP instead and to the Las Mesa Ecopark in search of owls and ground thrushes. Tinggay with Jelaine and Abby went back to their warm dry beds.
Brgy Paralaya, Jops’ team’s destination, became everyone’s destination since the roads there were cemented. Christian’s car was a four-wheel drive so he, Lowell, Ivan and Diuvs decided to test the roads to Candaba. Paralaya was a cold, drizzly, bird-depleted disappointment when Christian reported that the roads to the mayor’s house were passable! We were off – following Jops like obedient ducklings as he took us through unknown Pampanga terrain.
We made it but the dikes were mud-chokingly barely passable. Some passengers decided to go on foot but gave up when the mud built up on their feet, making each step heavier. We reached the mayor’s house eventually. And then we were off in various directions, in search of the Dusky Warbler and other lifers, mud still hampering our efforts. We frequently returned to the house, to scrape mud off our shoes and to eat and drink as everyone seemed to have brought something to enjoy.
An unrecognized 4-wheeled Toyota approached. People we didn’t know brought in a box and then the car sped off. Left behind was a lady from Canon who discovers too late the census was canceled. In the box was a behemoth of a Canon EF 400 /2.8L IS USM II lens attached to a Canon EDS 1Dx camera meant for the photographers participating in the also cancelled photography contest. Maia, Jops and Jun lost no time and asked to play with it. Permission granted. Whoopeeee!
Everyone did exactly what they pleased and enjoyed the morning. By noontime, we were hungry. Back to the city we went, with lunch along the way. The day was not a total loss. Those who sought, found the Dusky Warbler and the Middendorf’s Grasshopper-Warbler. Ivan came away with three lifers (!) and Mark Bezuijen, a new member, was very pleased to add the sight of a Watercock to his list.
A crisp cool and dry Sunday morning was the perfect start to our second attempt at the Candaba AWC. With counting teams severely reduced in numbers, I was afraid we would be out on the dikes all day for the count. Mercifully (and sadly) there weren’t enough birds to keep us counting beyond three hours. Team 1 covered the Mayor’s front pond and Team 2 took the back pond. Ivan and the DENR Region 3 staff took the Mayor’s creaky yellow truck to a pond in Brgy Perlas, three kilometers away, where ducks were sighted.
Counting began at 6:15am and we were all done by 9:30am. Tinggay’s team was finished 30 minutes ahead of us, simply because we spent time talking to Cecil Morella who was introducing birdwatching to two friends along our route.
Much of the ponds were dry and/or covered in vegetation. The wet parts were choked with water hyacinths and any open water was devoid of bird life. The rice fields were all covered in green – not a single patch was left open for any waders. The place was alive with Zebra Doves, Chestnut Munias, Red Turtledoves and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, but no egrets roosted along the boulevard of eucalyptus trees. No ducks fed on the near ponds but a few were seen flying around. Some egrets flew around or hung about in far-off rice fields . Grey Herons and Purple Herons continually flew in and out, keeping us on our toes, noting which ones were already counted. Black-Crowned Night Herons huddled, waiting for night to fall. A few crakes and bitterns kept us excited. We did see one White-throated Kingfisher, which Mike said was unusual for Candaba.
By 9:30am, the tally was completed and the counters were famished. We enjoyed a yummy brunch of fried catfish, chicken curry and sweet watermelon provided by Mayor Pelayo. Everyone wanted to see the ducks at Brgy Perlas so we all climbed into the Mayor’s creaky yellow truck – the below-40s at the back, the above-40s in the cabin – and took a long, slow three-kilometer crawl to the site. The truck was so noisy every bird in every rice paddy along the route flew off in alarm. We took in the sight of Philippine Ducks and Wandering Whistling Ducks. A few immature jacanas sans their distinctive tails flew about in the far-off corner of the pond.
It was all-in-all a disappointing count, which explains why most of the gang trooped off to Bataan and had their fill of the Green-cheeked Parrotfinch. But that adventure is for another article on eBon.
Team 1 – Mike Lu, Gina Mapua, Abby Santos, Jelaine Gan
Team 2 – Tinggay Cinco, Ruth Francisco, Des Cambaliza , Diuvs de Jesus
Team 3 – Ivan Sarenas and DENR Region 3 staff
Joined later in the day: – Mike Calunsod, Cats Calunsod
editor’s note: There were only 5,375 birds counted for 2013 compared to last years 10,000+ waterbirds. This is most likely due to the ponds being planted with rice unusually early in the season, plus the other ponds that were drained getting covered in vegetation. The group was told that there is a plan to increase the rice harvests from 2 harvests per year to 3 harvests per year. The group counted 3,744 waterbirds in Bgy. Perlas.