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Group announces first Philippine sighting of bird species

Black-browed Reed-warbler caught in mist-net

05/05/2008 | 10:02 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A local group of birdwatchers announced that it has recorded the first Philippine sighting of a black-browed reed warbler (Acrocephalus bistrigiceps), a common and widespread species of reed warblers in other parts of Southeast Asia.

In a statement, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) said the bird species was sighted during a brief four-day survey of the Candaba Marsh in Pampanga last April 27. After being caught, the migrant species was later released unharmed after photos were taken by a representative of UK-based The Wetland Trust, a group which assists in wetland conservation worldwide.

The group’s survey, which was originally intended to locate the globally-threatened streaked reed warbler (Acrocephalus sorghophilus), was also able to provide the first overview and survey of the condition of wetland habitats in Candaba. Besides the Wetland Trust, the group was also assisted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Office of the Mayor of Candaba municipality.

According to the WBCP, the black-browed warbler, like its relative, spends its time foraging close to the ground inside undisturbed reed beds.

The Philippines remains the sole wintering groups of the streaked reed warbler in the whole world, the group said. The rare bird was regularly seen in small numbers in Candaba until the mid-nineties.

Since then, very few sightings of the streaked red warbler has been recorded because most reed beds at Candaba have been drained and converted into rice paddies, discouraging birds, especially rare ones like the streaked reed warbler, from foraging in the area.

“This small, buffy-brown insectivorous bird migrates to the Philippines every winter from its (still unknown) breeding areas somewhere in Northeast Asia," its statement said. “Like many other wetland birds, it is of conservation concern owing to habitat loss-destruction of native marsh vegetation and its replacement by rice paddies and fishponds."

The group also maintained that the streaked reed warbler remains present in Candaba, claiming that one was sighted just a few days before the survey by a visiting birdwatcher, the first confirmed record for seven years. The birdwatchers group also said that its population is likely to be very small.

However, after a team from WBCP and the Wetland Trust covered a representative selection of sites throughout the greater Candaba marsh last month, it neither found any streaked reed warblers nor any extensive areas of likely suitable habitat (thought to be reeds, sedges or other tall grasses).

“Although reeds are widespread throughout Candaba, most were in small fragments lining the banks of ditches and rivers. These fragments are probably too small to hold any sizeable numbers of streaked reed warblers. There were no large and contiguous expanses," said WBCP President Michael C. Lu. “The largest single block of reeds that our survey team found was only about five hectares, and even most of this had been thoroughly burnt."

The group also underscored the national importance of the province for a great range of waterbirds, including herons, bitterns, egrets, and the threatened endemic Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica).

“We are encouraging the local government of Candaba to create awareness among its communities to stop burning of the remaining wetland vegetation to save what is left for critically endangered wetland birds," Lu added.

The WBCP plans a follow-up survey in January or February next year, before the annual burning of reeds has started. In addition, it is hoped to survey further sites elsewhere in the Philippines. - GMANews.TV