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Ixi Mapua writes about why San Roque Dam is a special birding place that she would re-visit in a heartbeat.

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photo by Ixi Mapua

by Ixi Mapua

Did you know that the San Roque Dam is the second largest dam in Asia?  I certainly was not aware of the fact until I went to visit the San Roque Power Corporation last August 24-26, 2011 on a club trip.  To grasp the idea of the enormity, the largest dam in Asia is the Three Gorges Dam in China! When Ricky de Castro of Team energy posted an invitation to visit the San Roque Power Corporation in Pangasinan, I quickly accepted.  The other WBCP members who also came along were Leni Sutcliffe, her sister Susie Gavino, Olan Balbido, Alain Pascua and recently arrived from England, Mark Walbank. We arrived at the dam Wednesday, August 24 at 10 pm.  We were met by Mr. Tom Valdez, San Roque Power Corporation Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility and his staff.  He must have sensed our excitement and asked us if we wanted to see the dam by night… “YES!” we answered immediately.

photo by Ixi Mapua

We went to the viewdeck first and saw the dam from afar.  The dam was beautiful and serene.  We could see the three concrete spillways that looked like a gigantic skateboard ramp!   Then we were driven onto the dam itself where we could see the reservoir and the spillways. The San Roque Multipurpose Project (SRMP) was built in 1998.  It harnesses the power of the Agno River.  The Agno River is 221 kilometers long. It has an installed capacity of 411 MW producing approximately 1,000 GWh/year. It is one of the most modern hydroelectric generation facilities in the world!  It helps improve the lives of thousands of Filipinos thru flood control, irrigation, electrical power and improved water quality. We finally decided to call it a night and were eager to hit the bed for an early start the next day.

photo by Ixi Mapua

We went boating on the reservoir the next day!  We got up early and at daybreak we were on the water.  The reservoir was nice and cool and calm.  We spotted Brahminy Kites, Ospreys and an Oriental HoneyBuzzard.  Our boatman was very easy to convince to “Stop!  Go slower!  We could not get onshore since we were told that the soil was very sandy and loose.  We took so long birding that the first boatload had disembarked and sent the boatman to fetch us!

When we got back on shore we saw 2 sacks lying on the rocks. One of the men stuck his hand in one sack and brought out the biggest tilapia I had ever seen!  There were 2 other ones just as huge in the sack.  After taking pictures of him and the tilapia, he turned to the other sack and brought out a humongous river eel!  It must have been over 5 feet tall since the man holding it up had to raise his arm to show the full length. We had the tilapia ihaw for lunch and it was the best tilapia I have ever eaten.  The eel was also served, this time it was cooked adobo style and I must make a confession that I ate a LOT!  It was delicious!

photo by Ixi Mapua

Goodness!  What a way to bird!  We always had security with us with two-way radios.  At one stage we had Mr. Noel Acla with us, the security chief of SRPC.  Wooh!  You should have seen all the guards snap to attention when they saw him!  We felt like VIPs!  The two-way radios were a blessing.  All the guards had them and were told that we were bird watching.  The guards would report where the raptors and owls were.  We had spotters all over the area!  “Sir, nandito and mga lawin sa spillway!” When we were looking at  the Philippine ducks and we saw a guard  approaching them,  Mr. Acla got on his radio and spoke to the guard.  Through our bins, we saw the guard turn around and walk back to his post!

photo by Alain Pascua

Our driver soon got used to our “Stop!  Stop!  Stop!”  Then he also got into the hang of looking out for birds.  We were driving up the dam checking out reports that several raptors were perched on the spillway when the driver screeched to a halt and pointed outside his window.  It was a Peregine Falcon just a few meters away from the van!  Alain was beside the driver and was able to take a few shots before the falcon flew away. There were seven Brahminy Kites perched on the spillway,  3 adults and 4 immature.

photo by Alain Pascua

When I spotted the first Blue Rock Thrush, the consensus was that it was too early to have them around.  Then we saw a family and we surmised that they are residents.  We also saw a lone Black Winged Stilt amongst the Philippine ducks. We had a good view of a Lesser Coucal that was perched on a cable by the roadside.  He was really near and not as skittish as the coucals we usually encounter. I was finally able to get a passable picture of a Tailorbird!

photo by Alain Pascua

On the second night,  I was given the bird list made by Anna Gonzales when she visited the site in 2008.  In the list were several birds we had not seen yet.  The next morning I told Alain who was always seated beside the driver and had the best view, “Alain, they saw Buttonquail. I want one.”  “Ok “ Alain said. Sure enough, he saw a quail on the road. Unfortunately it was quite far and scampered to the side before we could make a positive ID.  Then I said, “There is a Barred Rail and White Breated Waterhen on the list!  We gotta have that too!”  Alain then spotted a Waterhen!  Yay! “Barred Rail is the only one lacking!  We gotta find one!”  Then Alain said “Stop the van!  Stop the van!”  Sure enough there was a rail-like looking bird walking on the side of the road.  We all got on our bins and started describing the bird.  It was not a Barred Rail nor was it a bird any of us had ever seen before!  We looked at the book and it was a Ruddy Breasted Crake!  A lifer for all of us!   It was also the last bird we listed as it was time to head back for lunch, pack up and head home.

In a heartbeat I would accept another invitation to go and bird at the San Roque Power Corporation.  It is a beautiful place and there are birds, lifers, and remarkable sightings! There  was a flock of  about 175 crows that Leni spotted flying northeast for about 10 minutes or more. We also saw had House Swifts.  There were several flocks flying about and they were noisy! And, we spotted a white Philippine Duck!

photo by Alain Pascua


  1. Pingback:Dam! that’s cool… (2nd largest dam in Asia, the San Roque Dam) | Cheap Camera, Priceless Memories.

  2. Anthony

    hi there… im a photographer from manila… id like to go there to take pictures of the external spillway of the dam… i will not take pictures of the inside plant.. just the external landscape… do you know anybody whom i can ask permission from to take pictures there… thanks!

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