Robert Hutchinson, Irene Dy, and Martin Kennewell scored big for Philippine birding with this MEGA find — a Baer’s Pochard in Candaba! The Baer’s Pochard is one of the rarest ducks in Asia. This bird is so rare that in February 2012 a British birder flew from the UK to Japan just to see one. There are only 3 records of Baer’s Pochard in the Philippines a pair at Candaba Marsh on 4 March 1979, a male in Ninoy Aquino Park Lake, Quezon City on November 1999, and a male in Bislig, Mindanao on 19 February 2003. This is a great opportunity to see an extremely rare bird. Yet the thrill of seeing a rare bird is shadowed by the sight of the very pond it is resting in being tilled! How ominous is it that the day one of the Asia’s rarest ducks shows up in Candaba is also the day that that the last remaining pond at Candaba starts getting converted into a rice field? Tonji Ramos reports on the Baer’s Pochard at Candaba.
The Baer’s Pochard is a freshwater lake-dwelling diving duck. In 2013 it was classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. Birdlife International estimates its population size as 150-700 mature individuals. It is described in BirdingAsia as “on the brink of extinction in the wild”. It is one of the rarest ducks in Asia. From to Birdlife International: “This species is classified as Critically Endangered as it is apparently undergoing a extremely rapid population decline, as measured by numbers on both the breeding and wintering grounds. It is now absent or occurs in extremely reduced numbers over the majority of its former breeding and wintering grounds and is common nowhere. It is thought that hunting and wetland destruction are the key reasons for its decline.” (BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Aythya baeri. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 04/02/2015.)
February 1, 2015
Candaba, Pampanga, Philippines
The Last Pond standing.
by Tonji Ramos
Candaba Marsh is the most famous birding site in the Philippines. When people find out that I take bird photos they invariably ask if I have ever gone to Candaba. I nod and say yes I have been there and that it is a great place to find birds. Of all the birding sites I have been to, Candaba is the site where I’ve had the most number of lifers. It’s where I’ve seen the most number of new birds for the first time.
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 it collects in the Candaba Swamp area. Thirty or so years ago the flood areas covered 32,000 hectares. The floodwaters are used as fishponds during the rainy season around October to November. Then the area is farmed and the floodwaters are drained to provide water for agriculture. Several years ago the estimate for the flooded area was 300 hectares. This got further reduced to 72 hectares a few years ago. In 2008 and 2009 there were still four or five ponds covering around 36 hectares that remained flooded most of the year. Since 2013 even the mayor’s main pond was drained early. Last week the main pond still had water, but the northwestern portion was already being converted into a rice field.
During a bird survey in 1982, 100,000 ducks were observed in one day. In 2009, the number fell to 12,000 in a day. Last year during the 2013 AWC the numbers in the Mayor’s pond area have declined to 117 Philippine ducks. In the pond this week there are still some ducks but that could soon change in a week or two.
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 rare and endangered duck 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 about conservation. 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 has been seen only three times previously, Candaba in 1979 , and in QC in 1999 and in Bislig in 2003. 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. It is just its luck that it found its way to the Philippines and chose Candaba as its wintering ground. It is sitting in the water and beside it is a rotovator that is chugging away tilling the soil to turn the last pond into a rice field.
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.