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Counting Birds at Sual

By Ana Gabrielle Alcantara

Author Ana recounts her and Mijon Anne Cortez Tangye’s first time experience at the AWC in the Sual Power Plant in Pangasinan on January 10-11, 2024.

Mijon and Ana (in black) with the AWC-Sual team (Photo by Mijon Cortez Tangye)

Day 1 (Jan 10)

Mijon and I went to the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) at the Sual Power Plant in Pangasinan together with TeaM Energy Foundation Inc. (TEFI). After traveling for about 5 hours, we arrived late afternoon at the power plant and were able to do a quick survey of the Chapel area. It was nearing evening at that point yet we were able to observe 12 Swiftlets, 8 White-Breasted Woodswallows, and a heard-only Brown Shrike atop this hillside. Once we deemed that we saw all the birds that we could see, we had our dinner and decided to turn in for the night (eBird list 1).

Day 2 (Jan 11)

We woke up at around 5 am, met up with DENR-Region I personnel, and headed out to the lagoon, our first destination of the day. It was still dark at around 6 am so we had breakfast at a nearby hut. While we were eating, we saw a huge flock of around 50 Philippines ducks flying overhead. As such, we hurriedly finished our meals to stalk the ducks that landed on the lagoon. We first visited the Old Lagoon and saw about 40 Philippine ducks on the water. Despite our line of sight being obscured by tall grasses, we managed to stealthily obtain a few photos before the ducks got startled and flew away. We proceeded to the next observation point, the Ash Lagoon, where we finally managed to observe and count about 50 Philippine ducks swimming out in plain sight. We also saw a Gray Heron across the lagoon and managed to hear numerous birds along the way, such as two Zebra doves, a Lesser Coucal, a Collared Kingfisher, a Golden-bellied Gerygone, seven Lowland White-eyes, and a Garden Sunbird (eBird list 2).

Our next location was the fish pond in Baybay Sur where we saw numerous waterbirds such as 12 Common Sandpipers, four Common Greenshanks, 15 Whiskered Terns, eight Little Egrets, a Striated Heron, a Great Egret, and two Whimbrels. Other bird species were observed along the way, such as four Zebra Doves, 8 swiftlet sp., three Collared Kingfishers, two Golden-Bellied Gerygone, two Large-billed Crows, a Barn Swallow and a tailorbird sp. (eBird list 3).

Afterward, we went to a shoreside, which the locals call Marina, where we observed three Intermediate Egrets, a Little Egret, three Collared Kingfishers, three White-breasted Woodswallow, a Striated Grassbird, a Lowland White-eye (heard only), two Garden Sunbirds, two Java Sparrows, seven Eurasian Tree Sparrows, three Golden-bellied Gerygone (heard only) and seven swiftlet sp. We also saw a Brahminy Kite that kept circling at a far distance. Interestingly, we also saw another raptor but deliberated whether it was an Osprey or a White-bellied Sea Eagle. Ultimately, we decided that it was an Osprey due to its plumage being more brown than gray, and its wings angled with striated patterns (eBird list 4).

For our last destination, we came to a full circle as we went up again to the Chapel area. As we went there during the daytime,  we were able to see five Java Sparrows, four White-Breasted Woodswallows, two Long-tailed Shrikes, two Garden Sunbirds, two Barn Swallows, a Yellow-vented Bulbul, a Lowland White-eye, and a Black-naped Oriole. An interesting scene that we got to watch was that of a Brahminy Kite eating something within its claws as it hovers in the air (eBird list 5).

All in all, the annual waterbird bird census at the Sual Power Plant site conducted this Jan 2024 by the WBCP, TEFI, and DENR was a success. We were able to observe 10 waterbirds and 19 forest birds across four sites (Lagoon, Baybay Sur, Marina, and Chapel). The highlight of our trip was getting to observe a large flock of Philippine ducks in the wild. We were told that there were a hundred Philippine ducks during last year’s census. While it is saddening that there were fewer Philippine ducks seen in the area, it just goes to show how necessary a yearly census is in the country. As such, we encourage more bird club members to join the annual waterbird census in order to aid the Philippines in obtaining baseline information regarding our waterbirds and wetlands.

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