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Rare Birds in SRP
They feed at man-made ponds in reclamation project

Cebu Daily News
May 08, 2006

In the middle of Cebu City just across the 20-hectare sanitary landfill, local and migratory birds have found a new home on a controversial strip of land made by man.

Among these are the elusive Philippine Duck and the rare Chinese Pond Heron, which have been sighted by a prominent bird-watching group feeding at the South Reclamation Project (SRP).

Nilo Arribas Jr., head of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines Inc.-Cebu chapter, has recorded the sighting of the Philippine Duck, which is endemic to the Philippines.

The presence of the Philippine Duck was an "important indicator that the wetland is able to support the needs of the birds," he added.

Flocks of Little Egrets
Flock of Little Egrets seen at the SRP

According to Arribas, the Philippine Duck has been considered as one of the biggest mysteries of the bird-watching community in the Philippines.

"We haven't monitored where the ducks breed. Some birders see them as either young or adult, we never saw them breeding somewhere," he said.

But the biggest surprise at the SRP was when Arribas saw the rare Chinese Pond Heron, which according to worldwide birding census, was only seen about five times in the last century in different parts of the world.

According to rules set by the World Bird Census, a sighting of a bird at a particular place must be confirmed by two other independent bird-watchers before it would be officially recorded.

"There are also factors that should be considered like the time of the day and the year and the weather," Arribas said.

In a fine day, Arribas said more than 500 birds of at least 25 species can be found at two flooded portions of the SRP, as what he reported to the International Water Bird Census.

These included sandpipers, egrets, wagtails, terns, sparrows and manias.

One of the flooded portions is located just beside the South Coastal Road. The second is the 60-hectare unreclaimed portion called Pond A.

Half of the birds are migratory, or those who fly to another country to escape winter.

Arribas said some birds at the SRP could never be found in the bigger and more popular Olango Wildlife Sanctuary on Olango Island.

"We can consider the SRP a grassland/freshwater area. It is different from Olango which we consider a tidal flat," he said.

Unlike Olango, the SRP is man-made and very close to the urban center, which makes it extra special.

The SRP is dubbed as the "heart of the city" as it is accessible in the north through the Cebu City port and in the south through an access road in Barangay Mambaling.

It connects mainland Cebu to Kawit Island through the 11.72-kilometer Cebu South Coastal Road, which starts at the Cebu City port area in the north and ends in Talisay City in the south.

Aerial view of the SRP
Aerial view of the SRP

The SRP, which was completed in 2001, was funded by a loan of 12.3 billion yen (about P6.3 billion) from the Japan Bank of International Cooperation, making it the largest infrastructure project and loan agreement secured by a local government.

Export processing zones and light industries are envisioned to sprout on the reclaimed area, bringing in 100,000 jobs for Cebuanos. On its beachfront will rise condominiums and hotels.

But for Arribas, the SRP can also be promoted as a bird-watching destination in the city - not just to attract more tourists but also to encourage people to appreciate and help protect the birds.

"We can use the SRP to promote tourism and to raise interest among the people on migratory and endemic birds of the Philippines," he said.

"If they won't cover the wetland up, it is almost sure that the bird population at the SRP will grow," he added.

But at present, Arribas noticed the lack of support from the local government and little interest among locals about the birds.

"Every time we go to the SRP, it's always a hide-and-seek with the authorities," he said.

Most of the people who contact the club and Arribas for a bird tour are foreigners.

"We should promote the SRP because it is a very good place for bird-watching and you don't even have to travel far," he added.

He pointed out that in Luzon, in order to see the rare Philippine Duck, birders had to travel five hours to Pagbilao town, Quezon.

Arribas hopes the Cebu City government would follow other local government units like Parañaque and Marikina cities, which took advantage of their wetlands and turn them into tourist destinations.

He said the club is helping the cities educate visitors and protect the birds and their feeding ground. The Cebu City government, on the other hand, has never asked them for help.