Thursday, September 6

Mekeni, mamilang tamung ayup!

("Come, let's count birds!" in Pampangueño)

Migratory birds are currently on the move for Autumn migration, and I look back to last February where we joined the indefatigable Arne J to check out the environs of Manila Bay to survey the waterbird population. Our group was composed of myself, Adri, Tinggay, Angelo and Arne. We were ready to count birds!

Manila Bay is a significant feeding and staging area for migratory waterbirds, and needless to say, the changes around its shores in the name of development and progress may be to the detriment of our feathered world travelling friends. It is important that regular surveys are performed, especially during peak migration to keep records which may be useful for future decisions. Arne has extensive experience with the Manila Bay area and has worked with Wetlands International, providing valuable data. Of course we were thrilled at the chance to join him on a survey!

Our initial plan was to explore a few mudflats along the coastlines accessible by boat at the northern part of Manila Bay where the Pampanga River meets the sea. A few Kentish Plovers were scuttling on the beach, while Whiskered Terns flew above us. There were also large numbers of black-headed gulls were flying overhead towards the sea, so we were excited to get going. We also got a single Caspian Tern flying overhead! It was a lifer for me! 

Because of the low tide, we had a difficult time getting to the bangka, having to balance and strategically step through the thick mud. We finally got to the bangka, but then, we couldn't move! We were stuck in the mud! The water was too low and we were grounded! Our bangka got stuck in the mud and we weren't getting anywhere. It looked as if our initial plans could not push through.  So we got out again and walked back through the mud back to the beach. After washing off the mud from our legs, it was decided that we just explore the banks of the Pampanga River.

We started off walking along the road on the west bank of the Pampanga river. 

Wow!  There were a lot of Black-headed Gulls. A LOT! They looked like little white islands from the distance, sparkling in the hot sun.  But a look through the scope revealed them to be flocks of gulls and terns! Most of them were preening, but some seemed to be resting or asleep.

There a several waders as well: egrets, sandpipers, stints, plovers, greenshanks - mixed in with the large flocks. We also spotted several more Caspian Terns mixed in with the flock, their larger size orange bills making them easy to spot.

We spent the entire morning counting on the west bank of the river, breaking for lunch at midday.  Tinggay provided us with a wonderful meal, which we enjoyed by the roadside under the shade of a tree.

We got back on the highway and crossed a bridge over the river and then proceeded to find our way to the opposite side of the river.

This time, in the afternoon, it was mostly resting Whiskered Terns which we counted!

The heat was stifling under that hot sun, and the east river bank provided even less shade than the sparsely tree- and bamboo-lined west bank.  We took refuge in the shade of the tall grass when we could.

There were also several Black-winged Stilts feeding in the shallow waters, accompanied by a few Common Greenshanks.  Always elegant, whether standing on the impossibly long pink legs, or flying above the water, Black-winged Stilts are among my favorite waders.

Every now and then Adri would spot a large flock of incoming waders: sometimes terms, sometimes plovers or sandpipers.  They were flying so high up in the air!

Most of the east bank nearest to the sea was occupied with large fishponds.

Their fences provided perches for many of the terns.  This guard dog didn't mind the birds but it sure made quite a racket barking at us walking on the dirt path several meters away!

Arne and Angelo made it all the way to the shores of Manila Bay, I think!  We ran into them already walking back and so we made a u-turn as well.

It was getting late in the afternoon and the shadows getting longer.  The earth was cooling down a bit and the scenery was very tranquil.

We thought we were already done with our counts, but wait! There was more!  We spotted a few more waders at the beginning of the asphalted road on our way back.  There was even a Peregrine Falcon patrolling the fields at sunset, perched on a low dike!

In the end we came up with a count of more than 30,000 waders and wetland-associated birds!  Spending an entire day counting on the survey was exhausting and so I appreciated Arne's enthusiasm and professionalism even more after the experience.  At the end of the day as we drove off with the sun setting behind us we were in the good company of passionate birders, the total numbers were amazing and it was all well worth the back breaking and eye-crossing job of counting waders for almost 12 hours.

In the morning after our retreat from the original plan!


  1. Wow, more than 30,000! I miss being in the Philippines and having almost guaranteed good shorebirding as a back-up all the time.

    1. Yes, isn't that number just mind boggling? I'm looking forward to more shorebird birding this migration season. And I'm sure the Philippines misses you too Forest! Safe travels.