Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Duck, Duck, Gadwall!

January for members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines means AWC season. AWC stands for the Asian Waterbird Census which is a count of waterbirds in wetlands covering Asia and Australasia. The counts are done for a specified period in January so we get, more or less, a good idea of the current numbers of waterbirds in the region.

I have been volunteering for the AWC for the past years and we've consistently counted in Candaba. So this year, we were off to count again in the Candaba marshlands and see if the numbers improved or have dropped.

Good news is that the numbers actually improved! From last year's count of 5,177 this year's count is now 7,186. Still a far cry from the high count of 2012, but still an improvement from the past two years. Here's a simple graph I made to show the trend from the past years.

But I skipped all the exciting birding parts! Let's go back to the very start of our day in Candaba. Our convoy arrived at the former mayor's property before sunrise and after assigning people to teams and specific areas to count it, we were off!

My team was assigned to the large ponds in front of the mayor's house. It was quite overgrown with lilies and hyacinths but there were patches of water where the ducks were. The first bird we saw were some Little Grebes and Common Moorhens. Soon, the Purple Swamphens started coming out and they dotted the landscape like the chunky birds they are.

Purple Swamphen

We started counting the Purple and Grey Herons as well as the Wandering Whistling Ducks and Philippine Ducks that started to come out into the open as the sun rose.

Our team starting to count as the day lightened

I was pleasantly surprised to see two Javan Pond Herons fly in to roost with the Black-crowned Night Herons.

Javan Pond Herons
Our new birder friend JC pointed out this Black-crowned Night Heron
to me which was perched quite near!

As we rounded the bend, the sun came out bathing us and the landscape in a warm glow. It was such great weather for birding! It was nice and cool and made for no sweat birding.

The picturesque landscape of Candaba with Mt. Arayat in the background

I was tasked to count the duck species in the pond which I didn't mind since it was a good time to practice duck id skills. I scanned and scanned until my right eye got blurry from being closed too long.

We also checked out some empty rice paddies down the road. I was hoping for LOTS of waders but sadly, we only got a handful of Little Ringed Plovers and a couple of Common Sandpipers. We headed back to the ponds to complete our round. We got a better vantage point of the ducks and I continued my count and my scanning and we added Eurasian Teal and Northern Shovellers to our list.

We bumped into birder couple Tina and Wency and they generously shared some yummy hopia to our group =)

Thank you for the hopia, Tina and Wency!

After that yummy and re-energizing snack, I resumed my scan and found myself looking for ducks with orange bills. Our friends previously spotted a Mallard in the same area last month and I was hoping it was still there. Suddenly, I spotted orange bills! Three ducks among the Philippine and Wandering Whistling Ducks had orange bills! Not only that, I saw white speculums (colored patch on the wings) on them!

I called JC to check out the ducks on my scope and asked him to describe what he saw: orange lower bill, darker on the top bill; brown eyestripe; white patch on the wing, wings slightly raised from the body. I stared at my field guide as he was telling me the field marks he saw, and we both checked the plate and confirmed we were seeing female Gadwalls. Lifer! High five!!!

We called the rest of our team and we all got good looks at our shared lifer!

Enjoying the views of the Gadwalls

Later on, I reviewed my pictures and video and discovered that there was a male Gadwall too!

The male Gadwall with the grey head, darker on the top, with a
black tail was following the female with an orange lower bill!

We moved along the road and Riza pointed out something hanging from a low branch. It was wings! Only the wings... and an already eaten head. We guessed it was the leftovers of the Harrier which has been frequenting the area.

Harrier leftovers?

Soon we were on the path towards the mayor's house. We joined Mike's team as they were headed back as well. Their count wasn't so good as their area, which was supposed to be ponds, have been converted to rice fields, yielding very little birds.

This area used to be a pond, but is now a rice field...

We gathered at the mayor's house to have some snacks and also to tally our counts. Our total for the year was 7,186 which was a bit higher than last year. It was a good count, but can definitely be better.

Team Candaba 2015!
Photo from Becky Santos

After the official count, most of us went back to twitch the Gadwalls. It was already noon and most of the ducks were sleeping and had their heads tucked behind the wings making it difficult to find them. After patiently searching, everyone in the group got to see them!

Scopes all in a row, finding one target: the Gadwall

Here's a slow motion video of the male and female Gadwall we saw. They are the one's swimming on the upper part of the frame. Another female Gadwall pops into view while it is preening on the left side. Enjoy!