Saturday, February 14

a lesson in conservation at Candaba

Bringing another small group (separate from those who went to Bohol) of my Conservation Biology students to take a look at a classic example of wetlands conversion at Candaba allowed me an opportunity to twitch one of the rarest ducks in the world: the critically endangered Baer's Pochard.

The classification of critically endangered is not a very good category to be in, it means that this species is considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. And with an estimated 150 - 700 mature individuals left in the wild, the Baer's Pochard sadly and definitely belongs in this category.

The key reasons for its rapid decline? Hunting and wetland destruction in both its breeding and wintering grounds.

When we arrived at the ponds, I quickly allowed a couple of hours for birding.  We were lucky to have a display of power by a pair of Eastern Marsh Harriers, who spooked the ducks into flying up into the air, to the delight of the group.

An Eastern Marsh Harrier preening in the morning light after flushing the ducks.
More than half of the main pond (the only remaining pond) had already been drained and converted to rice fields for the season, and so the ducks and other water birds were all crowded into a bit of water left on the side of the house and rundown DENR station.  It was ironic that, as the ponds were now being converted to rice fields, for the first time in several years we could see several species of ducks together in the pond.  I remember in the first couple of years that I started birding, the whole of the pond looked like that!  

There were the resident Philippine Ducks and Wandering Whistling Ducks. Joining them were the migrant Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, Garganey, Northern Shovellers, Tufted Duck and Eurasian Wigeon.  Then there were the not so common migrants: Gadwall, Common Pochard and of course the star: a lone Baer's Pochard.

Also included were several Purple Swamphens, Purple and Grey Herons, white egrets (Great, Intermediate and Little), White-breasted Waterhens, Common Moorhens, White-browed Crakes, Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, Little Grebes and even a Eurasian Coot!

I expected to run into a few birders and photographers on our trip, and sure enough we did.  While my students were doing their interviews of the locals and the recreational visitors (mostly bikers), Adri called me to tell me that they had spotted the Baer's Pochard.  I quickly walked over to where the birders and bird photographers were standing.

And there it was.  Well-hidden behind the floating kangkong was a dark head and a chestnut brown breast.  It was barely visible!  I was amazed they had even found it as it was quite far away towards the middle of the ponds.  What gave it away of course was the more distinctive Common Pochard beside it,  all previous reports the past week had these 2 ducks sighted together.

A well-hidden critically endangered Baer's Pochard
(had to use an arrow as it is almost impossible to find in the photo!)
On the right is the bright chestnut head and white back of a Common Pochard.
Hope as we did for it to come out for a better view, it remained concealed. No one wanted to take their eyes of it, in case it suddenly decided to expose itself.

Every now and then another duck would pass in front of it or behind it. We were hoping the jostling it got from a couple of Northern Shovellers and a Garganey would wake it up and force it to move out in the open, but we had no such luck.

We were hoping that the other ducks, like this pair of Northern Shovellers, 
bumping into the resting Baer's Pochard would jostle it into the open. No such luck though.

Once in a while a white eye would peek from behind the vegetation, causing a bit of excitement in the group.  But that was as good as it got that morning. 

A light-colored eye peeking from behind the kangkong.

Soon I had to go back to my students to process their interviews and their short morning experience. Later, we ran into Alex, Tere, Felix and Brian.  I urged my students to converse with the birders.  Alex gave a wonderful summary of the state of the Candaba wetlands which I am sure they enjoyed and appreciated.

Alex with my students

I am still not quite at ease having been assigned to co-teach the subject of Conservation Biology, having had no formal education or training of it.  Of course, my part had to do with genetics, which I was comfortable with.  But I am glad that I had the chance to share with my students whatever I had been learning vicariously about conservation from my passion for birding and my birding experiences.

(WBCPer Tonji writes about the sad state of the Candaba Migratory Bird Sanctuary and the Baer's Pochard on the club's monthly  newsletter here:


  1. Ano kaya reaction nyo if you saw the Harrier plucking the Baer's Pochard from the water?? ;)

    1. :-O
      shock and awe?!?
      (with shutter clicks in the background for sure!)

  2. Waaah, nakunan nyo yung harrier na close-up!!!