THE sun was already setting when we reached the three-story viewing tower in a small fishing village in Socorro, Oriental Mindoro. We started surveying land, water and air for birds through binoculars and a scope. Then I spotted a few brown heads in the grass. Are those birds or brown puppies? I adjusted my bins (short for binoculars) to see better. “Those are Whistling Ducks,” a Haribon staff member said. “Really? But they’re just standing there, and not whistling,” I replied still looking through my bins. “They whistle when they fly,” the Haribon staff replied. Interesting!
After a few minutes, we saw some Whistling Ducks flying. They make whistling noises but not the kind of whistle you make with your mouth. “Sometimes you can also see many tough ducks,” I overheard the Haribon staff member talking to a member. Tough ducks? That’s even more interesting!
When we got back to our sleeping quarters, I searched for info on “tough ducks” in Haribon brochures and on the Internet. I found out that it wasn’t “tough ducks” but Tufted Ducks! One of the cute things about us newbies is the funny way we spell the names of birds in our minds when we hear about them for the first time. The first time I heard about birds called “Plovers”, I thought it was spelled and pronounced “plumbers”! And for “Bitterns” I thought they were called “bitters”!
The next day, we headed early to Naujan Lake, a freshwater lake and the ONLY protected area in Oriental Mindoro. The lake is the fifth largest in the Philippines. “So, what’s the largest lake?” I asked a bubbly local environmental official. “Laguna de Bay,” he replied. He probably thought how could I have not known it. Oh well, I was absent when my Ecology professor told my class about it.
We toured the lake for — tadaaa! — more than 3 hours on a motorized boat. Wandering in Naujan Lake, we could see that both humans and birds rely on the same body of water for food. The lake has many serene parts, especially when we were passing portions where the lake turned green because of the surrounding towering trees. It was around these parts where we saw more birds; some were even camouflaged against the rocks, as well as a few raptors. I would love to kayak these parts on my own one day, even if it takes me whole day. It is so meditative!
After a while we saw little black dots ahead of us. “There they are! Tufted Ducks!” a Haribon staff member said. We all focused our bins on the ducks. And, wow! There were more than 13,000 of them resting on the water and flying in groups. There are two admirable things about Tufted Ducks. One, they are diving ducks, diving briefly beneath the surface to feed. Two, they are migratory birds, meaning they came from other countries and they travelled all the way to the Philippines for a short stay.
Haribon’s invitation to do birdwatching at Naujan Lake was to search for three specific endangered bird species: the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Black-faced Spoonbill, and wintering Chinese Crested Tern. We had no luck finding them, but we went home happy and satisfied regardless. The Tufted Ducks and Whistling Ducks taught me a very important lesson — not all ducks are white. When I got home, I searched the Internet again about bird species found at Naujan Lake. I read from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) website that there are many flora and fauna found at the Lake, including the endangered freshwater crocodile… A crocodile!!?? Uhm, kayaking Naujan Lake alone is probably not a good idea. I’m ok with motorized boats: it’s comfortable and can fit lots of people!
Note: The Philippine Crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) is now believed to be extinct on the island of Mindoro.