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Fishponds and Ricefields of Lubao, Pampanga

Date: October 28 – November 1
Location: Bgy Prado & Bgy Baruya, Lubao, Pampanga
by Mark Jason Villa

I went to Lubao, Pampanga last week at my uncle's place to check out what birds were in the area. I originally planned to go to Candaba but found out later that it was not too near, about 2 hour drive or less, so i decided to bird just near the area. I was surprised at how many birds I saw because I've been there before but never to bird. I ended up doing it the whole week because I would find a new one almost everyday. I was usually with my cousin Michael when I'd go out to bird except for a number of times. He was a first-time birder but he proved useful because I would ask him to check if he had seen the same thing.

SITE 1 (Bgy Prado ricefields)

So the first day, we went out the house to see what were around. We walked down the path where there were tall grasses to our right and some rice-fields to our left. As I expected, there were the Brown Shrikes, Tree Sparrows and a few Long-tailed Shrikes. We saw a few kids with slingshots trying to shoot at some Zebra Doves but were unsuccessful. They were successful however, in catching a juvenile Yellow Bittern. We tried to convince them to let it go but to no avail. They said that they will put it in a cage to feed it with fish. Oh well. So we continued looking at the rice-fields were there were some Common Sandpipers. The bobbing of the tail was too cute and obvious. Then all of a sudden from the distance, there flew a big brown-streaked bird that I was not able to identify. But it looked to me like an immature Night-Heron.

We walked further until we got into a gate. Inside were more and bigger rice-fields. The small house says it's the Lubao Department of Agriculture. As we entered, we immediately saw Cattle Egrets flying around and following the white cattles, and the horses. We looked around some more and got us in front of a very green rice-field, not dried-up or muddy. Barn Swallows flew and dove low on top of the rice-field. They were too near for us to take note of their beautiful blue colour and white markings on their forked-tails. Farther in front of us, white terns were also diving to catch insects. It was mostly white except for the mask on their eyes. They also had black bills and feet. Also, on the other rice-fields were a group of Wood Sandpipers and Little-Ringed Plovers.

Great Egret

On the way back to the house, perched on the telephone wires were Tawny Grassbirds and a bee-eater. More of them were perched on the young, short trees or gracefully flying. Their rusty throats, olive upperparts and light yellowish underparts revealed them to be Blue-tailed Bee-eaters. Perched on top of a green bush was a Lesser Coucal preening its feathers. A rail proved itself too fast and too shy to be identified.

SITE 2 (Bgy Prado fish ponds and dried-up ricefields)

The next day, we went to the opposite direction of the path. This was a much longer walk than the other site. Again, we didn’t know where we were going but depended on our feet to hopefully bring us somewhere nice. Our more or less 20 minute-walk got us to a site where there were big fishponds and more rice-fields. But these rice-fields were dried-up and did not attract many birds. The fishponds however, attracted a few. There was a nipa-hut and a chair so we got to sit down and wait for birds. Just across us, birds will frequently perch on the telephone wires. It was still early and perched on the wire were what looked to me from afar as very small, brown-faced and, munia-like birds. I thought they were chestnut munias but as I approached them to take a closer look, they had forked-tails similar to swallows. I checked my field-guide to discover they were Plain Martins. They also had brown throats and white underparts. Michael told me that they came from small tunnels near the water.

Others seen perched on the wire: sparrow, shrike, Barn Swallows, Common Kingfisher, a pair of White-Collared Kingfisher and bee-eaters. The 2 bee-eaters were facing backwards and had very prominent chestnut heads and upperbacks. Blue-throated Bee-eaters! I did not see the color on their throat to be 100% sure.

SITE 3 ( Baruya fishponds)

The next day, our uncle asked someone to accompany us to the Baruya fishponds. These were even bigger fishponds. I estimate a fishpond to be about the size of 3 or 4 football fields, if not bigger. And there were hundreds (it seemed) of fishponds. Our guide, Rico, knew almost everyone in the area and would ask permission for us to bird.

As we walked through the narrow walkway in between the fishponds, terns were everywhere and they would fly around and dive for fish. They moved beautifully in the air. But by mid-morning, a good number of them were resting side by side on a clothesline. We walked through all the way until we reached the fishponds said to be owned by Danding Cojuangco. This is why they were particularly strict in that area and permission is necessary or bird at your own risk. We reached what seemed to be the end of all the fishponds to our surprise. This particular fishpond was not filled with water but looked sort of marsh-like and had orange-beddings. And there were thousands of white egrets all over the pond. I checked for the color of the bills, legs and feet and their sizes and can confidently say that there were Great Egrets, Intermediate Egrets and, Little Egrets in that colony, more intermediates and littles than greats. There were also thousands of terns in that area. A very conservative estimate of a thousand Whiskered Terns were flying in a circle just a few feet away from us. They had black bill and red feet. Some would fly over us and we stayed there with nothing to do but to admire the view.

It was almost lunchtime and we were all hungry, so we decided to go back home. On our way home through one of the Cojuangco fishponds, we saw a group of duck-looking birds swimming far ahead. We were delighted because we were hoping for wild ducks. I looked through my bins and saw a duck? with chestnut-colored neck and black face. It was there one minute and then gone another. It was diving. It was a Little Grebe. There were about 10 or so of them. But there were others kinds in that group that were not grebes. A pair had black and white underwing coverts. We headed home anyway without identifying the rest and saw a pair of Purple Herons fly overhead us.

Black-winged Stilt

I decided to go back to the exact same site where we had seen the ducks the next day. Michael decided not to accompany me because of a headache or because of all our walking. I went alone and thankfully remembered my way. In a pond with shallow water, I saw Black-Winged Stilts, more Little-Ringed Plovers, and a small group of waders I’m not really sure what. I reached my destination having seen a Little Heron, Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns and Clamorous Reed-Warblers. So I sat down on the grass and was determined to identify the ducks. I was looking through the field guide and nothing seemed to match until I saw the black birds’ very colourful reddish and yellow bill. They were Common Moorhens, a good number of them. I had decided that the ones with black and white underwing to be marsh sandpipers because they were brown and had white faces and the book says they sometimes wade up to their stomachs. But looking again, I saw that the bill was comparably short and its face looked more like a waterhen, but it was swimming. Then it struck me! and saw the yellowish color on their necks. They were 2 immature Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. That made my day so much. Also, right there and then, a huge flock of egrets were flying in front of me, roosting and decorating the green trees with white and a Purple Heron was flying through and fro, appearing through my bins without me focusing on it.

It was so great! I chose a good spot and I thought the birds must be putting up a nature show for me like in discovery channel, only much better.

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