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Candaba Death March

Location: Candaba Marshlands, Pampanga
Dat e:
14 September 2003
Time:
6:00 am to 11:00 am
Weather: Very slight drizzle to sunny and sizzling
Birders: James McCarthy, Tim Fisher, Michel & Michele Hezelot, Mads Bajarias, Jon Villasper, Mike Lu

I just cannot refuse an invitation to go birding at Candaba with James even on short notice. James also invited the Tim Fisher, co-author of my birding bible Guide to the Birds of the Philippines and my reference book The Photographic Guide to Birds of the Phils. We set out early at 4.30am heading for the North Luzon Expressway. The expressway is under renovation with only 2 lanes passable, finally made it to the Sta. Rita exit at 5:30am. With James leading the 2-car convoy, we made a mad dash to the Candaba Marshlands through the still quiet streets of Plaridel, making a left turn at Tangos, turning right after crossing the second bridge and through the narrow streets that gave way to dirt roads where we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of the ricefields.

In front of us, Mt Arayat loomed in the distance. To the left side of the road were ricefields. The right side also had ricefields and hills in the background with the clouds above slowly turning into golden flakes. A large bird flew in the distance just above the fields. We got off the car and learned from Tim that our first bird was a GRASS OWL.

The fields on both sides of the road were newly planted and it is easy to pick out the birds foraging about. I cannot decide where to begin ... black winged stilts, sandpipers, snipes on the ground while egrets, bitterns flew overhead. We had our fill and drove on until the ground became too muddy for our vehicles. Mads and Tim led the birding group while Jon and I followed. James and the Hezelots with their mounted scopes trailed behind.

There were birds every step of the way. Initially we saw the usual munias, then the bushchat and even a coucal. The different species of sandpipers and snipes looked all the same to me. As Tim started up the promontory he looked back and yelled that a jacana was heading towards us. Wow a lifebird for me! I grabbed by binoculars just in time to see the PHEASANT- TAILED JACANA flew overhead to my left with its tail trailing behind. I was mesmerized by the sight, not minding that my foot had slowly sunk into the mud. When it was time to move on, my left foot was stuck and I realized I continue to sink. Panic! As I struggled to free my left foot, my other foot also sank deeper. I tried to pull my left foot out and succeeded without my shoe and sock... I lost my balance and both hands landed on the mud, binocs dangling just above the mud. Next I tried to pry the shoe out of the muck with my hands but it just won't budge. Comes Tim to the rescue, and only our combined effort freed my left shoe from the clay-like mud. I continued with the hike up hill to the big pond, which is now covered in a myriad of water plants.

Little Grebes

It was getting hot as I sat on the grass-covered edge of the pond trying to clean up my muddied shoe. More jacanas flew by while LITTLE GREBES floated in the waters. The rest of the trip was through these rain-soaked muddy trails. With each step getting heavier as mud cling to my hiking shoes. I should have followed James' advise to bring a pair of rubber boots. We stopped a few times to observe more birds ... PURPLE HERON, BLACK BITTERN, COMMON MOORHEN, and my first COMMON KINGFISHER for the season. The sun was beating us down. I was really uncomfortable with my muddied socks inside my even muddier shoe. The heat was getting unbearable. Mrs Hezelot & I trailed behind as we slowly trudged our way back. On the final stretch, Mrs. Hezelot called out to me that she was stuck in the mud. I turned back to see both her feet deep in the mud. I took off my shoes to help her out but before I could get to her she fell backwards with her butt on the mud. I had to pull her up and get her out. My shirt and pants were now muddied as I walked barefoot with a shoe dangling in each hand. In the distance, I saw my driver smiling and when he approached me he exclaimed: "Boss, akala ko nakahuli ka ng isda, sapatos mo pala yan!" (Boss, I thought you caught fish. It's just your shoes in your hands!)

I definitely saw more birds this time than in my past outings with Haribon. Perhaps we were always in a larger group <30-40> or perhaps we did not cover as much ground. Nevertheless, I would not have been able to list down a third of the birds on my own without the company of the expert birders. After consultations with Jon and Mads and confirmation with James, who provided most of the figures, here is our official birdlist with more than 50 species listed!

CANDABA BIRDLIST:
1. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis (10)
2. Purple Heron Ardea purpurea (6)
3. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea (3)
4. Great Egret Egretta alba (<10)
5. Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia (200)
6. Little Egret Egretta garzetta (300)
7. Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax (10)
8. Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus (20)
9. Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis (50+)
10. Black Bittern Dupetor flavicollis (20)
11. Garganey Anas querquedula -10 (0)
12. Buff-banded Rail Gallirallus philippensis (1)
13. White-browed Crake Porzana cinerea (5)
14. Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus (10+)
15. White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus (1)
16. Watercock Gallicrex cinerea -2 (0)
17. Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus (5)
18. Asian Golden-plover Pluvialus fulva (2)
19. Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus (1)
20. Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola (2-300)
21. Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (1)
22. Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis (20)
23. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata (1)
24. Common Greenshank Tringa guttifer (3)
25. Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis (3)
26. Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago (20)
27. Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta (20)
28. Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum (30)
29. Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus (150)
30. White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus (300)
31. Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus (200)
32. Island Collared Dove Streptopelia bitorquata (2)
33. Zebra Dove Geopelia striata (10)
34. Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis (1)
35. Grass Owl Tyto capensis (1)
36. Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis (2)
37. Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus (4)
38. Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica (200)
39. Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula (3)
40. Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier (2)
41. Pied Bushchat Saxicola caprata (10)
42. Clamorous Reed-warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus (1)
43. Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis (1)
44. Striated Grassbird Megalurus palustris (Many)
45. Bright-Capped Cisticola Cisticola exilis (1)
46. Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis (Many)
47. Pied Fantail Rhipidura javanica (1)
48. Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava (30)
49. Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus (10)
50. Olive-backed Sunbird Nectarinia jugularis (2)
51. Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus (Many)
52. Chestnut Munia Lonchura malacca (Many)
53. Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata (Many)