It’s the time of the year again!

The Protected Area Management Office (PAMO) of the Naujan Lake National Park (NLNP), together with the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., spearheaded the conduct of the Annual Waterbird Census in Naujan Lake National Park, held on January 16-17, 2020. They are joined by volunteers from Mindoro State College of Agriculture and Technology (MINSCAT), Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office – Calapan, DENR – Community Environment and Natural Resources Office – Socorro and Municipal Planning and Development Office – Victoria. Waterbird censuses are conducted regularly for long-term monitoring of wetlands. The presence and number of observed waterbirds are important indicators to determine the health and quality of wetlands.

NLNP is a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site), an initial component under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), and a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) in Mindoro. As part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, many migratory bird species seek temporary refuge in its habitat during the non-breeding season, between the months of September and April.

For the past five years, there has been a steady decline in the total number of waterbirds observed in the protected area. From 10,821 estimated number in 2016, to to 6,932 in 2017, 5,912 in 2018, 3,635 in 2019, and this year with 2,808 individuals. According to our RESEARCH Program Manager, Geoff E. Tabaranza, there is no hard evidence as of yet to determine the cause of the decline. The NLNP-PAMO, headed by it Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) Ricardo R. Natividad, is conducting monthly monitoring surveys to identify the cause.

This year’s records are 29 identified species and seven observations identified at the family level only. Among the 29 recognized species of waterbirds, 13 are migratory species (45%), 13 are resident species (45%), and 2 Philippine endemic species (7%) were recorded. There are 1,886 migrants comprised mostly by Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybrida; 46%) and Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula; 42%), which comprise 88% of the total count.

There are two regular migrant visitors in NLNP, namely, the Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) and Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus).

The Tufted duck is an uncommon migrant in the Philippines recorded between October to March, preferring open water habitats in deep lakes, marshes, and occasionally estuaries where they can dive for food. In Naujan Lake, they are usually seen in large groups and typically comprise most of the counts during the annual Asian Waterbird Census.  The population in Naujan Lake has declined over the past five years, with the lowest count of only 117 recorded in the previous AWC 2019. Their numbers slightly increased in this AWC 2020, with 791 individuals recorded.

Whiskered terns are the most common migratory tern species in the Philippines. This species has a very wide range from Western Europe & Africa to Australia and SE Asia, including the Philippines. Usually found in coastal waters, mouths of rivers, bays shallow coral flats, and inland freshwater bodies. A total of 867 individuals were recorded during the 2020 AWC.

Despite the declining numbers, we are still optimistic about NLNP. Because aside from the two regular visitors, we are hoping for the third one–the Garganey (Anas querquedula).  A common migrant in the Philippines usually recorded from October to May. These surface-feeding ducks prefer freshwater marshes and shallow lakes with abundant emergent vegetation usually in small groups but sometimes may congregate. They are first recorded in Mindoro, particularly at Naujan Lake during the Asian Waterbird Census on January 18, 2018, with a large flock estimated at 832 individuals.  The species was recorded for the second time during a waterbird monitoring survey on October 30, 2019, with at least 89 individuals observed.  Within the same migration season, six individuals were recorded on January 17, 2020, and the chances are high that this species will become a regular find in Naujan Lake.

Little Grebe

With these current records, apart from the monthly monitoring, it is also recommended that Naujan Lake National Park be declared as a full-fledged protected area under the E-NIPAS for better protection of its habitat.