Groups counts 18,000
waterfowl in Balanga City
By Anna Valmero
First Posted 19:48:00 01/11/2010
BATAAN, Philippines—Almost an hour
before sunrise here, 20 volunteers armed with their spotting
scopes, binoculars, cameras and other equipment visited Sunday
the three wetland sites in Balanga City to count the number
of wintering or migratory birds that flock the area for breeding
or a quick stopover.
The event dubbed the Asian waterbird census,
is held every second and third week of January and forms part
of the global census for wintering shorebirds visiting the
wetlands and coastal sites across the Americas, Africa and
“As early as 5 a.m. we head to the
identified sites where the migratory birds are roosting. We
count and record their numbers per species and comparing this
data over those culled in previous years, we analyze if there
is an increasing or decreasing trends in bird populations
and make recommendations to address the threats to survival
such as habitat loss, food scarcity and diseases,” said
census volunteer Mike Lu, president of nonprofit birding group
Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP).
WBCP and the Department of Environment and
Natural Resources (DENR) are the lead agencies holding the
waterbird census in over 50 coastal sites in the country.
Specifically, the data collected from the
sites form part of the global waterbird monitoring program
called the International Waterbird Census, which is being
coordinated by conservation group Wetlands International.
The collected data is used to raise awareness
on waterbird conservation issues and to monitor the status
of wetlands along flyways or the migratory path followed by
wintering birds between September and April, said Lu.
The Philippines is a common pathway for birds
using that pass by the Asian flyway or the general route of
migratory birds in East Asia that span the coastal areas from
New Zealand and Australia in the south and Eurasian mainland
in the north, said ornithologist Arne Jensen, who is also
one of the 12 founders of WBCP.
The presence of migrating birds in the country’s
wetlands and forests signal that the environment is “healthy”
to support both wildlife and human needs, Jensen added.
On Sunday, the group counted 18,679 waterbirds
in the sites of Sibacan and Puerto Rivas beachfront communities
and Tortugas wetland park in Balanga City—which is up
by 3,000 from the bird count last year, said Lu.
Although there was no unusual bird sighting,
Lu said the group and the local government was glad because
the count surpassed last year’s bird count of 15,521
by over 3,000. This year, the team recorded 2,042 black-winged
stilts, 903 Asian golden plovers, 3,992 Kentish plovers and
4515 whiskered terns.
Jensen, who headed the team of bird census
volunteers said while the numbers does not reflect the exact
number of birds in the area, it gives a “representative
estimate” of a “sizable bird population”
in the area that might be around 20,000.
“In numbers, we had about 18,000 birds
today (Sunday) from the three sites. Based on my old notes
since my first visit here in 2004, the bird population appears
to be stable or around that number. This is a positive sign
because most bird populations in wetlands are decreasing,”
said Jensen, who has been recording waterbird populations
along the Manila Bay coast line, which extends up to Balanga
This “stable population” of waterbirds
in Balanga City can be attributed to several factors, including
the support from community and local government leaders, who
prohibit hunting and implement ordinances on how to utilize
the wetlands without having too much negative impact on the
environment and wildlife, said Jensen.
Lu added “The people of Balanga City
were able to maintain old-growth mangroves facing the sea
along with their fishponds. In most parts of the country,
once there are fishponds all the mangroves are cut and gone
to give more space for fish pens and finally, the wildlife
supported by this is threatened or worse, disappears.”
“Coastal and freshwater wetlands, mudflats
and mangrove areas provide stopover and shelter for migratory
birds so that accounts for the steady population. If they
(mangroves) are gone, then there would be less birds and that
is a clear indication that the environment and its resources
are below optimum level to sustain life,” added Jensen.
Jensen said the success of wetland conservation
in Balanga City must be replicated in other communities along
the Manila Bay coastline, of which 95 percent of the original
120-hectare of mangroves, mudflats, marshes and forests have
been destroyed to pave way for reclamation projects and fishponds.
“Manila Bay is the largest coastal
wetland in the country and can be dubbed the most important
as it holds a sizeable bird population, both resident and
migratory that pass by the country to rest as they continue
their flight up in the Eurasian continent or down in Australia,”
He added the site also shelters threatened
species such as the endemic Philippine duck and the green-legged
Chinese egret that is critically endangered so conservation
efforts while maintaining reasonable livelihood projects must
be priority for communities and leaders.
Aside from Balanga City, other sites with
recorded high bird counts include Candaba marsh in Pampanga,
Paoay Lake in Ilocos Norte and Olango Island in Cebu.