Destinations: Suburban Birding in San Pedro, Laguna

by Bayani Barcenas

Let me take you to San Pedro City in the boundary of Laguna and Metro Manila. Easily accessible, it’s a quick 20-minute drive from Makati. You can call it Laguna’s gateway to Metro Manila. It was “citified” only recently in March 2013. A city with a suburban vibe, San Pedro is your typical bedroom community made up of almost entirely of homes, schools, and retail outlets. It has no major industries; it is lived in by people who go to Metro Manila to work. It is the third smallest in the entire province but has the highest population density in Laguna. You get the idea — cramped and crowded.
If San Pedro is small and doesn’t have forests, where do we go birding? Part of our strategy as birdwatchers is to find alternative birding spots if one spot near you doesn’t pan out. A local patch can have a variety of habitats, and ideally plenty of easy-to-find birds. So, I thought I’d share my birding spots in San Pedro, not one but two, that might be of interest to you.

East of San Pedro City is Laguna de Bay

The first one is only a few minutes from my house. Laguna de Bay, the country’s largest freshwater lake and borders San Pedro in the east. On a clear day, you have good views of Mt. Makiling, Mt. Banahaw, and the windmills of Pililla, Rizal. At lakeside, at the end of a small boardwalk, is an idyllic setting to plant your feet or folding chair and observe the egrets (Great, Intermediate, Little, Eastern Cattle), herons (Black-crowned Night, Purple), bitterns (Black, Yellow, Cinnamon), crakes and rails (Barred Rail, White-breasted Waterhen, White-browed Crake, Common Moorhen, and even the Philippine Swamphen), warblers (Clamorous Reed), stilts (Black-winged), terns (Whiskered, White-winged), cisticolas (Zitting, and recently Golden-headed), shrikes (Brown, Long-tailed), pigeons, grassbirds, swallows, munias and allies. It was here that I spotted my first Osprey.

At some point I would encounter this large bird patrolling the lakeshore twice over. Birding here can be done anytime. I often find myself just popping in for an hour of birding before my morning coffee or supper. So far, I have recorded 36 species that calls this wetland home. I believe more surprises will reveal in time in this patch. Who knows, maybe the Middendorff Grasshopper Warbler would show up. Or that large silent flyer that I once saw might be an Eastern Grass Owl.

Sit here for a while and enjoy the birds

Moving a bit upland to the west is our second patch. Visitors would find this green space easier to reach because it sits right beside the San Pedro Exit of the South Luzon Expressway or SLEX. It’s a vacant lot of mixed vegetation in various stages of growth: rank grass, shrubs, trees, and bamboo. It is edged at the north by the tree-lined Tunasan River. Relatively small, it is turning out to be quite a birdy area. Since the start of 2019, I was able to record a total of 42 species. On one morning, I observed 28 species just sitting there for over an hour. My mini stadium. This is the best place to observe the Golden-headed Cisticola if you like to compare it to its downtown (lakeshore) cousin.

You have a better chance of seeing the Tawny Grassbird in the open here. It was a pleasant surprise to see the Java Sparrow, observed nowhere else in San Pedro. Then there was one notable visitor last March, the Arctic Warbler. The White-eared Brown Dove wouldn’t mind sharing a branch with the Zebra Dove and Blue-tailed Bee-eater. In fact, you would observe here some degree of mixed species socialization. The endemics are not far behind — one birder who lives next door was able to record a Philippine Eagle Owl and Philippine Nightjar. In July, I couldn’t believe my eyes when a Philippine Cuckoo-Dove showed up. Not bad for a small and scraggly “wildness” not far from the highway traffic noise.
Welcome to my patch!

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