HALF a million migratory birds including 64 globally-threatened species travel through the Philippines every year from late September up to early April, most of them coming from as far as north of China, Russia, and the arctic.
Many of them are shorebirds and waders visiting the Philippine islands alongside human visitors who enjoy beautiful beaches and coasts lined with colorful coral reefs.
The Haribon Foundation, a Bird¬Life Philippines partner and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) member, has continued the cause to study and protect these feathered tourists. Birdwatching and monitoring data between 2010 up to the present is used for the Arcadia-Birdlife Project which aims to determine the presence of threatened migratory birds in the Philippines, including the very rare and critically endangered wader: the Spoon-billed Sand¬piper (Calidris pygmaea).
The project also enabled Haribon to note the wader species in four pivotal migratory bird wetland sites in the country—namely, Candaba Swamp in Pampanga, Las Piòas-Paraòaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) in Manila Bay, Naujan Lake National Park in Mindoro Island and Olango Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu. These sites were identified using data from the Asian Waterbird Census as having the most number of migratory species in the Philippines.
Some of those notable waders include Asian Dowitcher (Limnodro¬mus semipalmatus; Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus); Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica); Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea); Eurasian Curlew (Numenus arquata); Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis); Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris); Greater Sandplover (Charadrius lesche¬naultii); Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola); Little Stint (Calidris minuta); Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres); Rufous-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis); Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus); and Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus).
The Wader Conservation World Watch
David Quimpo, a Haribon wildlife biologist working with the Arcadia-Birdlife Project, noted the presence of UK-based Wader Quest, a charity entering its second year in promoting a world-wide count of waders via the Wader Conservation World Watch. The count involves a two-day world-wide simultaneous monitoring of wader birds every first weekend of November. In 2014, 23 countries joined the watch, counting 118 wader species. This will be the 1st year the Philippines will be contributing to the count via the Haribon Foundation. “By joining this count we emphasize to our birdwatchers how important migratory birds are to other countries as well,” says Quimpo.
What is a wader?
Waders are exactly that, birds with bills and legs adapted for “wading” or walking in shallow waters. Riddled with rice fields and vast coastlines, the Philippines is familiar territory for wading birds; and the birds themselves a familiar sight for Filipinos. Migrating white Great Egrets (Ardea alba) are common sights in rice paddies while the native Barred Rail (Hypotaenidia torquata) locally known as the Tikling bird, has been said to have inspired a cultural dance of the same name. Wader Quest focuses on a specific group of waders under the suborder Charadrii, which includes sandpipers, curlews, stilts, and more. By participating in the Wader Conservation World Watch, Haribon supplements its on-going advocacies regarding not only wader birds, but migrating birds as a whole.
Haribon celebrates its third annual “Welcome to the Birds” festivities taking place every migratory season, offering activities like bird¬watching for students, groups, and the general public at large. The Wader Conservation World Watch is now one of the activities offered, but Quimpo admits that because most of these participants are new to birdwatching, the wader counts offer a challenge. “Waders that visit the Philippines are in non-breeding plumage, which are often quite similar-looking among species.” But by educating new birdwatchers about wader sizes and even their beaks, the challenge gives Haribon bird¬watchers added arsenal in migratory bird identification. Quimpo adds, “My favorite wader is the Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis), it is quite large and can be easily identified by its curved beak.” Unfortunately, they are now classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, based on scientific data regarding decreases in their population.
The early birds catch the waders
Bright and early on November 7, 28 participants joined the Wader Conservation World Watch in Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA). Birdwatchers new and old, from members of a local outdoor recreation group called the Loyola Mountaineers to Haribon staff and members, the group was able to identify 36 species of birds, four of them waders under Wader Quest’s definition: Eurasian Curlew (Nemenius arquata); Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypo¬leucos); Grey-tailed Tattler (Hete-roscelus brevipes); Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus).
Birdwatching in the Philippines has always played an important role in biodiversity conservation in the country. Founded in Nov-ember 1972, the Haribon Foundation started as a birdwatching society by nature lovers. In 1992, it became the Birdlife International partner in the Philippines. Forty three years after its founding, the Haribon Foundation continues the quest for biodiversity conservation by working alongside international conservation efforts, now including the Wader Conservation World Watch.
Highways in the sky
Waders, like many migrating animals, follow the same routes year after year. This allows scientists to track their movements via what are known as “Flyways.” The Philippines is near-center of what is known as the East Asian Australasian Flyway (EAAF). It is one of only nine main flyways in the world where half a million migratory birds travel every year. In the Philippines alone, up to 197 species of migratory birds can be seen at this time.
Stop-over flights in paradise, for now
Once they arrive, migratory birds are most commonly seen in wetlands—such as coastal areas like mangroves, estuaries, mudflats, bays, and freshwater areas like large lakes, rivers, and even rice fields—where food is plentiful. Here they use their specially designed beaks to forage for different kinds of food. Migratory birds also visit our forests, like raptors or birds of prey, fueling up on frogs and lizards.
Unfortunately, migratory birds also face a lot of threats. The largest threat to birds is the loss of habitat. Deforestation, the draining of wetlands, planting of non-native or exotic trees, the loss of areas to urban developments and intensive chemical inputs in agriculture are major threats to birds. Numbers of many species are in serious decline as a result of habitat loss and these losses are particularly serious on islands where bird populations are often small and very fragile.
What you can do
To keep them coming, we must protect their habitats and increase awareness on their part in the environment. The Haribon Foundation alongside BirdLife International and many other NGOs around the world celebrate “Welcome to the Birds” every migratory season. It is at this time when citizens are called to participate in activities in the Philippines to monitor and help spread word of our feathered tourists.
The Haribon Foundation accepts donations to fund such activities via its website, bank deposit, or even via its 43 year-old membership program, designed to enable citizens from around the world to join in conservation efforts in the Philippines. Join the cause to conserve wader birds and the wide variety of biodiversity the Philippines is known for.
Visit www.haribon.org.ph today or call 421-1209.