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Bird Census Key to Monitoring Disease, says Bird Watchers
By Blanche S. Rivera, David Hayes

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Date: January 30, 2006
Page A2

Candaba Layout

FIRST, YOU must count the birds.

While the government should be commended for its zeal in buying medicines and preparing hospitals in case the avian flu hits the Philippines, a serious bird census must first be conducted.

“You must know where the birds are, what species, their numbers—you can monitor any deaths or decreases in the [bird] population,” Michael Lu,
president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

“But the people conducting the surveys are not adequately trained and equipped in bird identification, resulting in poor data gathering and misidentification of species,” Lu noted.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is tasked with collecting data for the Asian Waterbird Census, part of a global survey of
waterbirds held annually in the second and third weeks of January.

The DENR, with its limited bird watching experience and restrained resources, is unable to accurately monitor the number of migratory birds in the country, casting doubt on the credibility of data which the Philippines submits to Malaysia for the Asian Waterbird Census.

For instance, during a recent bird census at the Candaba Swamp in Pampanga province -- one of more than 20 critical sites identified by the government
for monitoring in its national anti-avian flu campaign -- Wild Bird Club members identified 35 species and saw 11,000 birds. The DENR in the past 5 years had recorded maximum annual counts at 10 species and less than 4,000 birds.

Lu said their club members turned up better-equipped than the DENR -- both in knowledge and resources -- to record data for the Asian Waterbird Census.

“We had more equipment than the government and we were doing it for free,” Lu said.

The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines was established in July 2003 to promote bird-watching as a hobby. It has 150 members, who contributed data
to the survey based on their observations in Manila, Cebu and Pampanga. The club conducts monthly guided trips for the general public.

Carlo Custodio, national coordinator of the Asian Waterbird Census for the Philippines, admitted that lack of funding resulted in discrepancies in the DENR data.

He said individual field offices often did not have enough funds to train people and to pay for transportation to monitor the resting areas of migratory birds.

“Field personnel sometimes choose sites that are easier to monitor, such as those close to their offices,” Custodio said.

The DENR recorded a total of 111,371 birds at 55 monitoring sites across the Philippines for the Asian Waterbird Census last year.

The survey has been conducted in the Philippines since 1989 and coincides with mid-winter in the region, a period when migratory birds are less active and can be more accurately counted.