Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Candaba Swamp and Bird Sanctuary: On a wing and a prayer

Candaba - Leafless Tree and Hovering Bird
Candaba Swamp leafless tree & hovering bird
It's been almost two years since I've last been at the Candaba swamp.  Just like before, I, along with lakwatsero buddies Lantaw, Lawstude, NoiseNinja and Ironwulf, commuted via bus and tricycle.  The most apparent change I noticed was the concrete road leading to Candaba where a dirt road used to be.  There are metal signages now so it's easier to find.  Going to Mayor Jerry Pelayo's resthouse and fishing pond, the once weed-choked foot trail is now paved.  Some paths were widened to accommodate vehicles.  For the trail surrounding the fish pond, bamboo walls with small windows were erected as hides for birdwatchers.

Accommodations and tour.  Now, there's also an entrance fee of P150 per visitor, payable at the Pelayo's guest/resthouse (which goes to the upkeep of the facility), and guests will have to log in (a good step to monitor guests).  Visitors who'd want to stay overnight can do so at the house (only spartan facilities so it's best to bring your provisions) either by staying at the veranda or pitching a tent on the grounds.  There's no extra cost save for the generator fuel expense since the house is in the middle of a vast field with no power cables for miles around.

Perhaps, to lure more visitors apart from hardcore birdwatchers and photographers, there's now a swamp/river guided tour of Candaba to Arayat at P400 per person.  The small banca can accommodate eight, the bigger one seats up to 30.  Interested parties can make prior arrangements for the tour (details at the bottom of this post)
Candaba - Bird in Full Flight
Candaba Bird in full flight
The swamp thing.  The most noticeable change from my previous visit is the development of the periphery of the Pelayo's fish pond into rice fields where swamp lands used to be.  This is understandable since Candaba is the lowest point in Central Luzon, the receiving end of the nourishing detritus that fertilize the soil and make it conducive to growing crops (this explains why in the town proper, houses are seemingly built on concrete stilts with the living areas suspended one to two-storeys above the ground).

However, this development poses the question: will this impact on the area's role as a sanctuary for migratory birds?  And while we're on it, will luring more tourists and visitors impact positively on the place?  We were there for a whole afternoon to wait for the sunset and honestly, we were bothered by the practice of some of the locals who intermittently explode firecrackers to drive away birds from their fields (or is that to make hundreds of birds take to the air and put on a show for visitors?)
Candaba - White on Green
Candaba - White Egret on Green
Birds of pray.  I'm no hardcore birdwatcher but maybe, it's better to leave the birds to their peace.  After all, we come as birdwatchers and observers, not as theme park guests or zoo-goers who'd want the birds to put an act for us to see.   I personally want to observe the birds in their natural element even as I struggle to even spot them as they lay hidden, camouflaged in the bush.   The push for the sanctuary's development as a tourist attraction is laudable though I am a bit wary about it.  As it stands now, Candaba seems to be at the crossroads, on the cusp of development but with the future tethered delicately on a wing and a prayer.
Candaba - Four Ducks in a Row
Candaba Philippine Mallard or native ducks
Candaba - Egrets on Grey
Candaba Egrets on Grey
Accommodations/River tour info: To arrange for overnight accommodations at the Pelayo's guest/resthouse or join the swamp/river tour, call or text mobile numbers 0999.4143266 (look for Anna) or 0939.7802077 (look for Cherry) or coordinate with Mila, 0915.9195413 

How to get there: To commute to the Candaba Bird Sanctuary from Manila, ride the bus headed for Baliwag, Bulacan town proper (Baliwag Transit fare: P73/one way) and hire a tricycle going to Brgy. Doña Simang (cost: P100/tricycle; plus add-on premium at night); then, it's a 20-25 minute hike to the Pelayo's resthouse

Recommended reads: For a perspective on how land conversion is making an impact on migratory bird patterns in Candaba, read these articles from the  Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN News
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