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Malassi Lakes Trip Report

Date: 02/07/2004
Location: Malassi Lakes, San Antonio, Cabagan, Isabela Province
Trip Report by: Thijs Wouter & Marign Prins

The first Saturday after our arrival at the ISU campus in Cabagan, we made our first birding trip to the Malasi lakes, Cabagan. After a nice ferry ride over the Cagayan river, birding started. At the riversides of the Cagayan river 3 Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were foraging, as well as a couple of Oriental Skylarks. After a one-hour car ride we arrived at the first lake. This lake is a huge deep water lake with hardly any vegetation in and around it. Upon our arrival the lake was packed with large numbers of migrant ducks. Several waders and herons were walking on the edge of the water. A quick look over the enormous duck flock revealed Tufted Duck, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Wigeon, and some Philippine Ducks. Along the banks of the lake two Eastern Marsh Harriers were hovering, joined by a spectacular male Pied Harrier later.

We tried to digiscope some of the ducks but bad light conditions resulted in not too good pictures, although some of the ducks can be clearly identified (good practice :-)).

Malassi Lake

Small part of the flock of migrant ducks at the deep lake at Malasi with Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintail and Wigeon.

We stayed about two hours at the side of the lake. In this two hours a count was done of all the ducks and several common birds were seen in the surrounding of the lake including: Bright-capped Cisticola, Striated Grassbird, Brown Shrike, Singing Bushlark, Common Kestrel, Cattle Egret, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, and Plaintive Cuckoo.

The count resulted in the following numbers:

Wigeon: 150
Garganey: 900
Northern Shoveler: 2000+
Northern Pintail: 150
Tufted Duck: 45
Philippine Duck: 50+

After the count a Pacific Golden Plover was flying over, revealing itself by its call.

We got back in the car and drove to the second lake. This lake is completely different from the first deep lake. It is totally covered with vegetation, so hardly any open water is visible. However, this did not make it any less interesting. Hardly any of the ducks seen on the deep lake were present here, but some other species were: 500+ Wandering Whistling Duck, 1000+ Philippine Duck and a dozen Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers. After some time, three small duck appeared from the vegetation which turned out to be Green-winged Teals. That was the first February record for the Philippines and this duck had not been recorded before at all at Malasi Lakes either. Other birds observed were 3 Little Grebes and 8 Wood Sandpipers.

In the distance a small white raptor was sitting in a tree. A quick look with the telescope revealed a Black-shouldered Kite. Several Pied and Eastern Marsh Harriers were flying by. After a while we decided to walk around the lake, to have a better view on the rest of the lake. While walking we flushed a Purple Heron. Furthermore, several wader species were seen, including: Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe, and Greenshank.

At the other side of the lake, a grassland had been burned. On this field we flushed some buttonquails, which turned out to be Barred Buttonquails. We also had a nice view over the lake with again a lot of Philippine Duck. Another Pied Harrier was flying right over the lake and flushed almost all the ducks. Over 1000 Philippine Ducks and 500 Wandering Whistling-Ducks were flying above the lake! Also several other duck species were flying including: Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Garganey and a mystery duck, which was first identified as a female Mallard. After some discussion about which characteristics were seen, the identification pointed more to female Gadwall based on a white belly and absence of a blue wing mirror. Pity was that the duck was only seen in flight, but nobody had seen the white wing mirror diagnostic for this species. Even though Marijn and I have quite some experience with this duck in the Netherlands (were it is a common species) we were not for 100% sure. The duck could not be found back on the lake because of the abundant vegetation.

We walked back to the other side of the lake where the Green-winged Teals were seen again. Approximately 15 were seen on the lake. Some pictures were made of Philippine Ducks and the Green-winged Teals, but they were very elusive.

We returned to San Antonio where we had lunch. After lunch (15:00) we decided to go back to the lakes to see if the ducks would fly out during dusk. Local villagers told us that the ducks left during the night to forage at the surrounding rice fields. While waiting for dusk, a Grass Owl flew by. When it was already completely dark, there was some movement on the lake and the ducks were taking off, but it was already to dark to see where the ducks were going.

Concluding, Malasi Lakes are an important waterfowl area on Luzon and deserve to be checked frequently. It is definitely an important refuge for the Philippine Duck and has great potential to attract some rare species among the migratory ducks…

Wouter Thijs & Marijn Prins, The Netherlands

Species list:
Little Grebe 10
2. Grey Heron 3
3. Purple Heron 5
4. Great Egret 5
5. Intermediate Egret 12
6. Cattle Egret 10
7. Wandering Whistling-Duck 500+
8. Northern Pintail 150
9. Green-winged Teal 15
10. Philippine Duck 1050+
11. Gadwall? 1
12. Wigeon 150
Garganey 900
14. Northern Shoveler 2000+
15.Tufted Duck 45
16. Black-shouldered Kite 1
17. Eastern Marsh Harrier 8
18. Pied Harrier 4
19. Eurasian Kestrel 3
20. Barred Buttonquail 2
21. Common Moorhen 20
22. Eurasian Coot 10
23. White-browed Crake 1
24. Pacific Golden Plover 1
25. ittle Ringed Plover 12
26. Common Greenshank 5
27. Wood Sandpiper 13
28. Common Sandpiper 4
29. Common Snipe 3
30. White-eared Brown Dove 2
31. Island Collared Dove 1
32. Spotted Dove 2
33. Red Turtle Dove 10
34. Plaintive Cuckoo 1
35. Grass Owl 1
36. Blue-tailed Bee-eater 10
37. Striated Swallow 5
38. Barn Swallow 25+
39. Pacific Swallow 10
40. Singing Bush-Lark 2
41.Oriental Skylark 12
42.Yellow-vented Bulbul 8
43.Black-naped Oriole 5
44.Pied Bushchat 4
45.Striated Grassbird 6
46.Bright-capped Cisticola 2
47.Zitting Cisticola 4
48.Grey Wagtail 1
49.Yellow Wagtail 5
50.Paddyfield Pipit 12
51.Long-tailed Shrike 2
52.Brown Shrike 7
53. Crested Myna 4
54.Tree Sparrow 12
55. Chestnut Munia 20+