January 25, 2011

Less Birds Flying South In The Philippines

The number of birds flying south for the winter in the Philippines has dropped this year and experts say the cause is the collapse of wetlands and hunting.

Philippine-based Danish ornithologist Arne Jensen said the despite some harsh, cold weather across the Eurasian landmass, some waterbirds that usually migrate in huge flocks to the tropical islands have been completely absent.

"The flyway populations of several waterbird species are in constant and dramatic decline," Jensen, who advises the Philippine government on species conservation, told AFP.

"Hence the urgent need to establish real and well-managed, hunting-free waterbird sanctuaries along the migratory flyways."

Candaba is a swamp north of Manilla that has long been used as a pit stop by hundreds of species as they fly staggering distances between the Arctic Circle and Australia that dying out.

Jensen said that bird watchers routinely counted 100,000 ducks at Candaba in the 1980s as they stopped there for rest while traversing the East Asian-Australasian flyway.

However, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines president Michael Lu told AFP that volunteers recorded just 8,725 waterbirds and 41 species during the annual census last weekend.

Northern pintails, common pochards, and green-winged teals were absent, and just one tufted duck was seen, while numbers for northern shovellers shrank and only garganeys were seen alongside resident Philippine ducks.

Lu told AFP that the number of waterbirds counted at Candaba was down from over 11,000 last year.

"The main threat is hunting," Lu told AFP.

However, Lu said there has been a dramatic shrinkage in the size of the swap over the past 50 years as the region was converted into farmland, mainly rice fields.

According to figures provided by Lu, Jensen and the local government, the swap two generations ago covered 66,690 acres, but it is now just less than one percent of its original size.

Hunters, farmers, and waterspouts also threaten Paoay Lake, which is another wild bird habitat in the far north of the Philippines that is close to southern China.

Lu said that the lake lacks surface plant life after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos ordered the water lilies be removed so he could jetski from his lakeside mansion, while a former local official used to shoot ducks there.

Local bird watchers said that since the water lily purge, water levels have continued to drop as farmers siphoned off water to irrigate farmland, while poor residents around the lake cut down trees.

Lu told AFP that the government has banned hunting of ducks on the lake, but things could still get worse with plans for a wakeboarding park.

Elsie Nolasco, an official at the local environment ministry office, said that less than 700 waterbirds were counted compared with over a thousand in previous years.

Carlo Custodio, head of the coastal and marine management office at the Philippines' environment ministry, told AFP that the scenarios at the Paoay and Candaba wetlands are a microcosm of the general state around Asia.

"If you look down the coasts from China, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and down to Australia, you can see fast economic development, especially in China," said Custodio.

"In the course of this development, habitats are destroyed as big segments of the populations move to the coasts. This also increases the chances that the birds will be hunted."

Last year, environment group Wetlands International reported that waterbird populations in Asia were shrinking at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world due to their habitats were being destroyed.

"The combination of rapid economical growth and weak conservation efforts (in Asia) appears to be lethal," Wetlands International told AFP.


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