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2,000 Philippine Ducks!

SITE/LOCALITY: San Roque Power Plant (SRPP)
PROVINCE: Pangasinan
NAME OF BIRDER (REPORTER): Anna Gonzales and Jhoel Jorda
OTHER BIRDERS PRESENT: Eric de la Torre and his son Jose, Anna Gonzales, Jhoel Jorda, Anne Larracas, Greg Martinez, Rei Panaligan and Noel Acla of SRPP
PHOTOS BY: Anna Gonzales
REFERENCE: Kennedy Guide
The 200 meters high San Roque Dam is located on the Agno River (the third largest river in Luzon, fifth in the Philippines, next to the Cagayan and Pampanga Rivers), spanning the municipalities of Itogon, Benguet and San Manuel, Pangasinan. The Dam reservoir has drainage area of 12.8 square kilometers, situated on 290m asl elevation.1 The San Roque Dam is the third dam to be built on the Agno River. The first two are the Ambuklao and Binga dams in Benguet.

Here are some numbers that correspond to the San Roque Dam in Pangasinan:

345 - megawatts: power production
660 displaced families assisted by the project(these are numbers from the dam operators, other news sources, say that there were more)
221- kilometers: length of the Agno River, which it harnesses
200 - kilometers: distance from Manila
2000 - Philippine Ducks residing in the dam area

Talk about development dilemmas. In 2003, the San Roque Power Corporation completed the San Roque Multi-purpose project, which aimed to provide "power, irrigation, flood control and improved water quality" to the neighboring communities and to the Luzon power grid.

Birders pose for group picture
In the process, it flooded the ancestral lands of Ibaloi, Kankanaey and Kalanguya people of the Cordillera region. The surface area of the dam itself extends 12.8 square kilometers North into the municipality of Itogon, Benguet.

And now in 2008, the dam is home to more than 2000 Philippine Ducks, a good number of raptors, and more than 40 species of wild birds.

Team Energy Foundation invited the WBCP for an initial site visit to the dam to identify the ducks they had seen in the area. A small group of birders from the WBCP arrived at the power plant guesthouse at midnight of Friday, shaken by a 6 hour trip from Manila.

Our first birding spot the next morning was the downstream or overflow side of the dam, but we first went to an area overlooking the spillway. A Spotted Buttonquail was crossing the road calmly and we had a good view of it before it figured that there were humans getting all excited about it. So it quickly hid among the bushes.

Eric's son Jose spotted a relatively large bird among the ipil-ipil trees along the dirt road to the spillway. It was a Philippine Cuckoo Dove, a lifer for most of those in the group.

We got off the van and walked towards the spillway, lamenting the fact that the trees that lined the road were mostly sad ipil-ipil trees. The 200 meter high embankment dam loomed in front of us, and there was something very eerie about being overwhelmed by such a huge structure, knowing that behind it was a whole river waiting to flow.

We had earlier seen the ducks floating and flying from the "overlooking," as they called the viewpoint we went to, but now, a few flying here and there confirmed that they were indeed Philippine Ducks!

View of San Roque Dam

The group scattered all over the overflow area (a dried river bed is how I would describe it) and we slowly made our way through rocks and tried to make sense of the small birds perched on the grasses.

Since everything was flat (save for the embankment that loomed over us), it was hard to make out what was beyond a few meters from us. Curious about a small lean-to on higher ground, I made my way gingerly among the rocks (I did not want a repeat of the "accidents" at the CEMEX trip) and paused once I got to the top.

And then, "they" saw me. About 200 Philippine Ducks were a few meters away, floating on a small creek flowing out of the dam. I think I was as surprised to see them as they were to see me! They rose in the air, and for about 1 euphoric minute I was surrounded by Philippine Ducks! I could see their details even without my binoculars, and with the bins, they were quite spectacular indeed! I could feel the wind from their wings on my face!

The other birders ran up to me, laughing and saying that I gave the ducks a scare. I retorted - "no, THEY surprised me!"

But this was not going to be the last surprise. We drove up the embankment where we saw the expanse of the dam and a boat was waiting to take us around the reservoir. Again, mixed feelings overcame me as I knew that underneath the dark cold water used to be villages and ricefields for hundreds of years.

Practically floating near the summits of mountains has its benefits however. Perched on a tree by the banks was an Osprey, and we saw it with all its glorious details! The boat operator had to remind us to keep the boat in balance (all that excitement was threatening tot tip us over!).

Save for the occassional raptor sighting (another raptor!) - we sat silently as we sliced through the water. It was our first time to be inside a dam, and there was so much to look at! The layers of rock formations and the scars by the hillsides caused by the rise and fall of the water level, the twists and turns of our watery path. I half -expected a loch ness monster to rise from the depths. Fortunately, we only saw... more Philippine Ducks!

It was all we could do not to tip the boat over. The Ducks were quite "friendly" and calm. We were already quite close (maybe 30 meters or less) when they would start to fly off. They didn't seem too afraid, which was a good sign. Apparently, they are not used as protein by the few humans (only by raptors) who fish at the dam. (We were told that the people would see half-eaten duck carcasses on the shore, and that was the only time they would take the ducks to eat. They think these were hunted by raptors and left behind. I only had one thought - RAPTORWATCH!)

Anyway, we now knew that we had more than 1000 ducks. We'd counted close to 1000 downstream and about 1000 were now floating at the reservoir. We went back downstream, picked another viewpoint and positively counted another 1000 ducks. (Yes, they were just sitting there, making them easy to count)

There are other things that excited us that day (like a very close encounter with an immature Lesser Coucal - beautiful! You could almost count the feathers!), but frankly, after the 2000 ducks, we were just ready to go home.

Honestly, I couldn't help thinking, if this had been a village and not a dam, would the ducks still be there? On the other hand, staring at the turbines and pondering the costs to the Ibaloi, Kankana-ey, Kalanguya people of running my laptop, my refrigerator, my urban conveniences
strengthened my resolve to live a simpler life, and... bird more. If they had to make the sacrifices so that we could have electricity, and as a happy side effect, provide a home to wild birds, I think we owe it to them or at least their (lost) culture and heritage to honor the earth some more.

Area 1 – reservoir area, spill water pond
START DATE: 3/01/2008
END DATE: 3/01/2008
END TIME: 11:30 AM
TIME IN FIELD: 4 hours and 30 minutes


1. Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - 4
2. Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - 2
3. Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) - 1
4. Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) - 1
5. Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica) – 1,000 (spill water pond), plus 1,000 (reservoir area)
6. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) - 1
7. Brahminy Kite (Haliastur Indus) - 1
8. Chinese Goshawk – (Accipiter soloensis) - 1
9. Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) - HO
10. Spotted Buttonquail (Turnix ocellata) - 1
11. Barred Rail (Gallirallus torquatus) - 5
12. White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) - HO
13. Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - 2
14. Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) -1
15. White-eared Brown-Dove (Phapitreron leucotis) - HO
16. Philippine Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia tenuirostris) - 1
17. Zebra Dove (Geopelia Striata) - 1
18. Philippine Coucal – (Centropus viridis) - 1
19. White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) - 1
20. White-collared Kingfisher (Halcyon chloris) - 4
21. Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) - 1
22. Plain Martin (Riparia paludicola) - 2
23. Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) - 5+
24. Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica) – 5+
25. Striated Swallow (Cecropis striolata) - 10
26. Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) - 3
27. Philippine Bulbul Hypsipetes philippinus - 2
28. Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis) - 3
29. Pied Bushchat (Saxicola caprata) – 20
30. Golden-bellied Flyeater (Gerygone sulphurea) - HO
31. Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis) - 1
32. Striated Grassbird (Megalurus palustris) - 1
33. Richard's Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae) -8
34. White-breasted Wood-swallow (Artamus leucorynchus) – 20+
35. Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) - 6
36. Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) - 2
37. Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis) – 1 female
38. Red-keeled Flowerpecker (Dicaeum australe) - 1
39. Mountain White-eye (Zosterops montanus) - 5
40. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) - 10
41. Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) – 10+
42. Chestnut Munia (Lonchura Malacca) – 10+

Area 2 - Farm
START DATE: 3/01/2008
END DATE: 3/01/2008
END TIME: 05:00 PM
TIME IN FIELD: 1 hours and 30 minutes


1. Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) - 2
2. Zebra Dove Geopelia Striata - HO
3. White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) - HO
4. Lesser Coucal (Centropus bengalensis) – 1 imm
5. Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) - common
6. Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis) - 3
7. Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis) - 1
8. Striated Grassbird (Megalurus palustris) - 3
9. Blue-headed Fantail (Rhipidura cyaniceps) - 1
10. White-breasted Wood-swallow – (Artamus leucorynchus) - 2
11. Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) - 2
12. Brown Shrike – (Lanius cristatus) – 1
13. Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis) - HO
      13. Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) – 10+
      14. White-bellied Munia (Lonchura leucogastra) - 1

Area 3 – Road 3
START DATE: 3/01/2008
END DATE: 3/01/2008
END TIME: 05:40 PM
TIME IN FIELD: 20 minutes


1. Pygmy Swiftlet (Collocalia troglodytes) - 15+
2. Striated Swallow (Cecropis striolata) - 5+