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The Birds of Candaba Swamp

The View from the Palace
Manila Bulletin, Tempo, People's Tonight and Balita.
By Ignacio R. Bunye
January 13, 2008

At the invitation of Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo and his wife Lani, my undersecretary, Martin ‘Tinton’ Crisostomo and I, with some Malacanan reporters in tow, motored to the Candaba bird reservation last Saturday. We left Manila at 8 a.m. and reached Mayor Pelayo’s birdwatching rest house around 10 a.m. There we met Dutch Ambassador Robert Brinks, Michael Lu, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, Alain Pascua, president of KAAKBAY, other birdwatchers, (some as young as 9) and Pampanga-based media.

After snacks of hot coffee and pan de sal, we walked along a muddy and slippery elevated round in the middle of the swamp unmindful of the drizzle. The tree-lined road was littered with white feathers (from egrets no doubt) and droppings. Our guide said that the tree branches would droop as the egrets come to roost towards sunset and from a distance, the trees would appear to be covered with snow. Until then, I could not see any bird, except for a few sparrows which I could watch even from my backyard. I began to wonder if I had traveled in vain. Then all of a sudden, as if alerted to our presence, the birds suddenly rose from the ground. Watching approximately 17,000 birds, numbering 40 species, simultaneously take off and is simply awesome.

In the early 80’s, the 32,000 hectare Candaba swamp, which lies in the path of migratory birds coming from Alaska, Russia, Japan, Korea and China. is said to have been visited by even more birds. A local resident said, the skies darkened as the birds , then estimated at 100,000, took to the air. But clearing of the natural habitat, draining of water, hunting and poaching contributed to the rapid decline in bird population.

In 2004, Mayor Pelayo carved out a 70 hectare bird reservation and passed a municipal ordinance banning hunting in the Candaba swamp. Soon he persuaded, other Pampanga mayors to pass a similar ordinance until the ban was adopted in the whole province of Pampanga.

In 2006, bird watchers reported a bird population of 11,000 and the increasing trend has been observed since then. Bird watchers have observed 90 different bird species in the reserve, half of which are migratory.

A beautiful documentary, prepared by KAAKBAY, entitled “Wings in the Water: The Birds in Candaba Swamp” describes the Candaba Swamp as an important staging and wintering area for migratory birds from October up to April of every year.

On February 1 and 2 this year, Candaba will host the first annual Ibon-Ebon Festival.

If you are up to it, all you need is a pair of binoculars, good rubber shoes, broad brimmed hat, a pencil and a notebook to record your sightings. You will most likely encounter Great Egrets, Eurasian wigeons, garganeys, northern pintails, wandering whistling ducks, northern shovelers, common pochards, tufted ducks and purple swamphens.