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'Jesus' birds walk on waters of Candaba

By Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk

Phil. Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:31:00 04/08/2009

WBCP presents Birdwatching in the Phils book (L-R) Atty Roger Quevedo, Pampanga Congressman Dong Gonzales, Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio, Mike Lu, Sen Loren Legarda, Cel Tungol, Tintin Telesforo, Ixi Mapua, Jhoel Jorda
WBCP presents Birdwatching in the Phils book
(L-R) Atty Roger Quevedo, Pampanga Congressman
Dong Gonzales, Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio,
Mike Lu, Sen Loren Legarda, Cel Tungol, Tintin Telesforo,
Ixi Mapua, Jhoel Jorda

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga - It could well be a reminder of Holy Week. Frequent sightings of jacanas, called “kahot-kahot†by locals but known as "Jesus birds" in other parts of the world, are drawing nature lovers to the Candaba Swamp. They have long thin feet and attenuated claws which enable them to walk with their weight distributed on water. Negotiating floating vegetation in shallow lakes and waterlands is the reason they are known as Jesus birds, according to tropicalbirds.com.

Jacanas are also known as "Lotus birds" and "Lily trotters," according to avianweb.com. Mike Lu, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), said the species sighted in Candaba are the pheasant-tailed jacanas (Hydrophasianus chirurgus). They are widespread in the country but can be easily seen at the Pelayo bird sanctuary in Barangay Doña Simang and in the vicinity of the Total North Gas Complex in the Apalit side of the North Luzon Expressway, both in Pampanga province.

Not migratory

"As they are a common sight at the Candaba Swamp, people assume they are migratory birds. They are actually resident birds. The pheasant-tailed jacanas can be found in other parts of the world such as India, Southeast Asia and Taiwan," Lu said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Sightings of jacanas and other birds such as the common moorhen and the barred rail near the gasoline station on the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) prompted the pit stop's developer, G-Star Ventures and Development Corp., to work with the WBCP and the Society for the Conservation of the Philippine Wetlands Inc. to build a wetlands information center.

G-Star has set aside 163 square meters to build the center and has allotted 1.5 hectares for a boardwalk from which visitors can view the birds. The facilities will be finished by the end of the year.

Launched on Sunday by Sen. Loren Legarda and Gov. Eddie Panlilio, the project supports environmental conservation efforts at the Candaba Swamp, a 36,000-hectare marshland on the boundaries of Bulacan, Pampanga and Nueva Ecija, according to Roger Quevedo, G-Star president.

41 species

Pheasant-tailed Jacana in Candaba Marsh
Pheasant-tailed Jacana in Candaba Marsh

In the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) in January, the WBCP and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) counted 12,613 birds out of 41 species in Candaba. They included the pheasant-tailed jacana, the rare black-faced spoonbill and pied avocet in the Do Simang and Paralaya portions of the Candaba Swamp, giving new records for the Philippines.

The AWC is an annual program coordinated by Wetlands International in the Netherlands, a global organization that monitors the status of wetlands and waterbird populations. Most of the birds were sighted in the 120-hectare fishpond that the family of Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo has not cultivated to provide a regular refuge for the birds. The local government has banned bird poaching in the town.

The center will allow visitors to view or learn more about the birds and their habitat, "proving that it is possible to enjoy nature without harming the environment," said G-Star's Quevedo.