Birdwatching in Candaba, Pampanga for the first time
By Njay De Vera
“You should join. It’s fun, fun, fun!” said a Haribon staff member, encouraging me to join the next birdwatching activity. Despite not knowing much about birds, I became interested in knowing more about different bird species and their importance to the environment at Haribon. I learned that birds play a major role in the health of ecosystems. Being blessed with rich biodiversity and a unique geographical history, there are 657 bird species recorded in the Philippines and 214 of them are endemic or can only be found here. Upon learning this I started to read more about them at Haribon's Biodiversity library and searched further online. Fascinated about bird behavior and their origins, especially migratory birds, I decided to join the first birdwatching activity for the year in Candaba, Pampanga. It would also be a first time for me ever.
We left the Haribon office at 4:00am on the morning of January 17. It was early because we needed to be in Candaba before sunrise because most of the birds are out and about around that time. Fortunately we arrived right on time. Before we embarked, the event started off with a brief lecture on how to properly calibrate our binoculars and an introduction to all the bird species found in the area. Field guides and bird lists were then handed to us, and we were on our way.
As we walked, we immediately noticed the different kinds of birds around the area. Although they were quite distant, our binoculars and spotting scopes enabled us to identify each bird. Dozens of Philippine ducks, great and little egrets, Chestnut munias, and my personal favorite the beautiful Purple heron were just some of the birds we saw. When I looked through the spotting scope or even my binoculars, I could observe the bird's behaviors, how they ate, rested and even how they flew. It was such a great experience to witness these birds do what they do. It seemed as though they couldn't get tired of moving around so much, knowing that they travelled thousands of miles just to escape the winter climate in the north. Throughout the activity, we were able to identify 35 different bird species!
The birdwatching group in Candaba swamp, Pampanga.
We left Candaba just before lunch and had a meal at one of the restaurants along NLEX. I arrived home at around 4pm, 12 hours after arriving at the Haribon office. Exhausted, I started to think about how it would be like to be one of those migratory birds. I couldn't imagine how it would be like to be one of those birds, exhausted after traveling for thousands of miles, arriving in the Philippines to find habitats like the Candaba swamps gone because of agriculture or urban development. I recently heard on the news that the Candaba swamp was an untouched and vast wetland; a long-time habitat for migratory and native birds years ago. Seasoned birdwatchers and bird enthusiasts have said thousands of birds used to visit Candaba every migratory season. However, due to its slow conversion to agricultural lands, the habitat and landscape had changed resulting to lower populations of migratory birds visiting the area.
I will never forget this birdwatching trip to Candaba. It opened my eyes to care more for the environment and to make it my personal advocacy to inform others about the importance of taking care of nature, not only for us humans but for all the species living in this planet. I will surely join Haribon’s future birdwatching activities in different parts of the country, and I encourage everyone to join too. This is surely an experience worth putting on one's bucket list.
This birdwatching activity was also part of a series of site visits funded by Arcadia-BirdLife for a project that aims to find 3 specific migratory bird species: the Black-faced spoonbill, Chinese crested tern and Spoon-billed sandpiper. The latter two being Critically Endangered.