Migratory birds have found refuge in Pangasinan

FEEDING TIME In this file photo, workers continue to clean a fish pond in Binmaley, Pangasinan province, after a harvest of ‘bangus’ (milkfish) as flocks of migrating birds and locals feed on whatever is left on the pond beds. More than a dozen sites in the Pangasinan are home to migratory birds. — WILLIE LOMIBAO

BINMALEY, Pangasinan, Philippines – There is more to this city than its famous ‘bangus’ (milkfish) and tilapia.

As soon as the harvest season is over, hundreds of birds, mostly egrets, take over and invade the city’s fish ponds in search of what remains in the dry areas.

The view never fails to delight travelers along the highway that crosses the vast Binmaley marshes, especially in the village of Biec, which has been officially recognized as an important wetland by Wetlands International, a non-profit organization. lucrative dedicated to the conservation and restoration of the world’s wetlands.

Most of the birds seen here are migratory species, but the egrets, notable for their slender, long legs and long black beaks, have been observed to stay longer, said Maria Angelica Esteban, a member of staff at the Community Office of the environment and natural resources (Cenro) at Pangasinan power station.

According to Esteban, egrets seem to have taken up residence in the wetlands and mangrove forests of Pangasinan, as they are seen in these areas all year round. In fact, the residents gave them a local name – “dulakak”.

Esteban’s office conducts the annual count of migratory and local birds in Binmaley for the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) every year in January.

She said the birds only come from September to February to escape the winter months in Japan and China, and seek out the warm temperatures of wetlands and farmlands in the Philippines, which provide them with abundant food.

Migration model

But climate change appears to have affected the migration pattern of birds.

“Years ago they started arriving in August, but now they come here in September or even the end of October,” she told the Inquirer.

The Pangasinan wetlands support migratory birds in more than a dozen sites: three in the town of Alaminos, four in Bolinao, two in Infanta and one each in the towns of Burgos, Dasol, Sual and Bani.

The Bangrin mangrove forest in Bani covers only 44 hectares, but flocks of birds of different species stay there for months every year.

Last January, a count made by Cenro in Alaminos City recorded 32,260 birds belonging to 13 species in Bangrin.

These included 44 Philippine ducks (Anas luzonica), which is endemic to the Philippines. Eleven Philippine ducks were also observed in the 200 ha Lambes-Zaragoza wetland in Bolinao.

With the exception of the Philippine duck which is classified as “vulnerable”, all other birds are listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on the Red List of Threatened Species.

The intermediate egrets dominate the mangrove forest of Bangrin, numbering 16,023, followed by little egrets (10,232) and great egrets (5,085).

VALUABLE RESOURCE Residents of Bani, Pangasinan, protect their mangroves as they serve as breeding and nesting grounds for both marine species and birds. —PHOTOS BY EV ESPIRITU AND CENRO CENTRAL PANGASINAN

Protected area

The forest, accessible by boat, is a protected area created in 1990 by the late mayor of the city, Marcelo Navarro Sr. The book “Bird Watching in the Philippines” ranks it as one of the 13 best birding sites from the country. .

But since the pandemic struck last year, no bird watcher has visited the area, said Romel Dulay, the municipal tourism officer.

Visitors to the forest should strictly follow the rules to avoid disturbing the birds, especially the nesting ones. Silence is required while walking a footbridge that winds around the forest.

“They (visitors) cannot use the radio or other sound equipment, or play loud music, inside the forest. Even boatmen should turn off their engines when they are nearby and should only paddle towards the mooring area, ”said Dulay.

The local government has also banned the use of firecrackers by owners and operators of fish ponds to scare off birds, which feed on fry.

“The owners of the ponds simply hang colorful fabrics around the ponds, as the birds would be opposed to the colors, to drive them away,” he said.

But the birds in the Bangrin protected area are lucky. “As the place is remote from the communities and the local government strictly enforces the laws to protect them, they can exist peacefully and feed themselves in the area,” Dulay said.

Threats

It’s a different story for the birds of the Biec wetlands in Binmaley.

According to Esteban, urbanization is closing in on their habitats which are transformed into commercial zones. Commercial establishments, restaurants and other structures are rapidly expanding into private properties where fish ponds once operated.

“We cannot stop the development on private properties but we can no longer watch the birds in the usual sites,” she said.

Despite the loss of some of their habitats, more birds were counted in AWC 2021 compared to AWC 2020 in the Biec wetland, according to a report from Cenro.

In 2020, a total of 1,120 birds were seen at the site, increasing to 1,727 birds in this year’s count. However, there have been fewer species recorded this year, according to the report.

Herons, barn swallows and brown shrikes are missing this year, according to the report. However, another type of bird that we had not seen in previous years, the green shank, came to take shelter.

But Esteban, who helped prepare the report, speculated that some birds may have been “missing” during the viewing day only, as they could have arrived in the country but were in other areas when the census was taken.

She admitted that the AWC results might not give an exact number, especially since this year it was only conducted for one day and not the usual three days in the past.

But the egrets remained in great numbers – about 500 each of intermediate egrets and great egrets, and 50 little egrets.

At Bued Mangrove Forest Park in Alaminos City, egrets have also appeared in large numbers. The last census counted 1,545 little egrets, 440 intermediate egrets and 35 great egrets.

Preserving wetlands

Like the mangrove forest of Bani, the artificial forest of Bued, in the town of Alaminos, welcomes bird watchers.

An information center features photographs of migrating birds on its wall and a viewing deck that was established years ago by the city government of Alaminos and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. as part of its corporate social responsibility.

The city government has set up an observation tower from where visitors can observe birds perched atop the mangroves.

In the wetlands managed by Cenro Alaminos, the number of birds has decreased slightly this year, although the pandemic has been an opportunity for birds to breed as they are not greatly affected by human activities.

According to Chester Casil, head of Cenro Alaminos, his agency regularly patrols and monitors coastal areas to protect wetlands and their annual “guests”.

In addition, Cenro has partnered with local governments and non-governmental organizations to protect wetlands through regular communication, education and public awareness campaigns.

Some residents are hired to serve as “bantay dagat” (maritime patrol) to monitor marine resources which serve as breeding, nesting and feeding grounds for birds, which are protected by Republic Law No. 9147 (Law of 2001 on the conservation and protection of wildlife resources). ).

Esteban said the migratory birds were a sight to behold and best enjoyed from afar. “After all, they are wild animals and they are afraid of humans and would fly away once you get close to them,” she said.

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