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Land conversion in Candaba threatens migratory birds

By Rommel Ramos
Punto! Central Luzon

Apr 20, 2009

Land conversion in Candaba threatens migratory birds

MALOLOS CITY—Unabated conversion of the country’s wetlands into agriculture production areas, like the 32,000-hectare Candaba Swamp, slowly deny migratory birds of needed habitat, the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) said.

Michael Lu of the WBCP made this assessment at the conclusion of a two-week exploration in Central Luzon for the rare Streaked Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus sorghophilus) where they only found one specie bird.

The small and inconspicuous Streaked Reed-Warbler is a migrant from Northeast Asia whose breeding grounds remain unknown to this day, and spends the winters exclusively here in the Philippines.

Lu said that a joint Filipino-British team of ornithologists surveyed reed beds at six sites in Central and Southern Luzon using fine nylon mist nets. They caught 235 birds.

The exploration team caught only one Streaked Reed-Warbler in a stand of reeds in Candaba.

Other species caught and later released were 84 resident Clamorous Reed-Warblers (Acrocephalus stentoreus) and 57 other migrant warblers (48 Oriental Reed-Warblers Acrocephalus orientalis and nine Middendorf’s Grasshopper-Warbler Locustella ochotensis).

A number of other species, including three species of bitterns, a few Siberian Rubythroats, Striated Grassbirds and Brown Shrikes and lots of the common Yellow-vented Bulbul were also caught.

In the early 1980s, ornithologists found the Streaked Reed-Warbler to be common in Candaba in its preferred habitat of tall reeds by open water.

“Mayor Jerry Pelayo, who supported the exploration, has taken useful steps to protect birds and promote birdwatching at Candaba,” said Lu noting that, “there may be other Streaked Reed-Warblers out there somewhere, but they are clearly very few and far between. Our main concern is that the population is declining to extinction due to habitat loss.”

The Candaba Swamp has been nominated as an internationally important wetland site under the Ramsar (Wetland) Convention.

But Lu said that only one percent of Candaba Swamp’s original 32,000 hectare land area remain as reed bed habitat.

The rest has been converted to rice fields, thus, the exploration team had difficulty in locating areas of extensive reed beds anywhere in Central Luzon.

The exploration team was led by a Briton, Philip Round, a warbler expert based in Thailand, who was accompanied by WBCP researchers Carmela Espanola, Jonathan Villasper and Desmond Allen.

Caught birds were fitted with an alloy bird band on one leg. Each band was stamped “DENR Manila” and bears a unique identifying number.

This is the first time that bands specifically made for the Philippines have been used. All data of the species, dates and locations of the birds are lodged with DENR.

In this way the band numbers of the birds later captured or found dead, if communicated to DENR, will help elucidate the movements and life history of Philippine birds.

Lu said aside from the Streaked Reed-Warbler, the team also found a single Black-browed Reed-Warbler, a common winter visitor to mainland South East Asia which breeds widely in China and in South East Russia. It was previously recorded to have visited the Philippines only once.

The survey was initiated and funded by the Wetland Trust, and organized by the WBCP with the collaboration of the DENR-PAWB and with the help of local municipalities and barangays.

He called on not only for the protection of wetland but for its conservation as it serves as migratory birds’ habitat.