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Rare bird visitor found in Candaba Swamp

May 10, 2008 01:56:00
Tonette Orejas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Philippines--The Candaba Swamp scored another record when Filipino and British conservationists found a black-browed reed warbler (Acrocephalus bistrigiceps) in Barangay Visal San Pedro in Candaba, Pampanga, on April 27.
"It's the first Philippine record for that species," Michael Lu, president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Friday.
The black-browed reed warbler is brown in color and slightly bigger than the maya (sparrow), Lu said. It was found near the main pond in the 100-hectare fishpond owned by Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo.
The mayor and his wife, Lanie, have stopped cultivating their property since 1997 and turned it into a home for migratory birds. It is located within the 33,000-hectare swamp that spans the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Bulacan.
Lu said the black-browed reed warbler, which is common in Asia, "spends its time foraging close to the ground inside undisturbed reed beds."

Black-browed Reed-warbler

Streaked reed warbler

The recent four-day survey in April of the Candaba Marsh in Pampanga was aimed at locating the globally threatened streaked reed warbler (Acrocephalus sorghophilus).
A team from WBCP and the UK-based Wetland Trust covered a representative selection of sites but did not find any streaked reed warblers, although the search led to the discovery of the black-browed reed warbler.

Lu said the streaked reed warbler "is globally threatened."

A member of the team is Philip Round, a well-known ornithologist, who came from China and failed to see the warbler. Round was hoping to find it in the Candaba Swamp, Lu said, because the insect-eating bird knows no other ground to escape winter in northeast Asia, except the Philippines.

Round made international news in 2006 when he found a live large-billed reed warbler that had not been seen for some 140 years at a water treatment plant near Bangkok.

In past news reports, he was quoted as saying: "I was dumbstruck, it felt as if I was holding a living dodo."

The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a flightless bird which has been extinct since the mid-to-late 17th century.

Last sighting
The last time the streaked reed warbler was sighted in the Candaba Swamp was seven years ago.

Lu said it was likely that the warbler still dwelt in the marsh because a week before the April 24-27 survey, a visiting birdwatcher swore that he saw one.

The population is thought to be "very small" because there were little patches of reeds to live on, he said.
Lu said this species was "regularly seen in small numbers" at the swamp until the mid-1990s. Very few sightings had been recorded in recent years.

Don't burn
In Candaba, reeds are burned to make way for fishponds or farmlands or to grow crops for animal feeds, it was learned.
The WBCP and the Wetland Trust have urged the Candaba government to discourage communities from burning wetland vegetation so the remaining patches can sustain wetland birds, especially the critically endangered ones.

In spite of its failure to find any streaked reed warblers, the survey was nevertheless highly valuable, because it gave the "first overview and survey of the condition of wetland habitats in Candaba, which remain of national importance for a great range of water birds, including herons, bitterns, egrets and the threatened endemic Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica)," Lu said.
The WBCP plans to do another survey in Candaba in January or February 2009 or before residents burn the reeds. Other bird sanctuaries in the country will be surveyed as well.

Philip Round of the Wetland Trust in Candaba Marsh

17,000 birds in 24 hours
The bird census in January this year proved that the Candaba portions of the swamp have been kind sanctuaries to globetrotting birds. The Eurasian spoonbill was spotted here for the first time, giving another record for the Philippines.
Teams from the WBCP and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources recorded almost 17,000 birds in the 24-hour bird census.

That high number, Lu said then, was "not only a record for Candaba but for the whole Philippines."
The migratory fowls, more than 80 species in all, were seen in two spots--at Pelayo's fishponds and in nearby Barangay Paralaya.

Conservationists also saw Shrenck's bittern, great bittern and gadwall