GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 4 Sep) – Fisher folks in the village of Minanga in Buayan District here regularly see fish-catching birds. But about a week ago, they were surprised to see a big one, which turned out to be an Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus), which apparently flew from faraway land.
Local birds gliding from afar to catch a fish in the waters of Sarangani Bay, that body of water fronting this city, has been a daily sight for 62-year-old Levy Discamento, a local resident.
“What caught our attention were local birds we call ‘agit-it’ flocking in mid air and chasing a bigger bird,” he said. “There appeared to be a dog fight similar to what we see on TV when planes trade missiles.”
Then he saw a Caucasian-looking man filming the big bird, who then uploaded his shots and footages on Facebook.
The next morning, a throng of men and women arrived in the village with their huge digital cameras waiting for the Australian pelican to show up.
Discamento admitted he was almost tempted to take hold of the bird “since it was tame and came close to humans.” But he changed his mine, afraid he will breach wildlife laws.
A bird lover himself, Discamento reminded villagers never to touch nor harm the foreign bird.
“Actually, my intent was to catch the pelican and bring it to a veterinary doctor for checkup just in case it has brought disease,” he said, adding he was suspicious the bird may be carrying avian flu or similar diseases usually carried by migratory birds.
Based on studies by BirdLife Australia (birdlife.org.au), Australian pelicans are found throughout Australia, Papua New Guinea, Western Indonesia and occasionally, in New Zealand and Western Pacific Islands.
There are no records yet of these birds reaching the Philippines, until now, said wildlife photographer Ivan Sarenas on his Instagram, where he posted a picture of the Australian pelican in flight.
Alex Tiongco, a member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, was quoted by Sarangani information officer Serafin Ramos Jr. as saying in a text message that the bird is a “vagrant, a bird which lost its way and must be very tired and confused and therefore must be left alone.”
Tiongco cautioned those interested on the Australian pelican not “to disturb the bird nor to lure [it] with food.”
“We also have to alert all the shoreline and fishpond barangays and communities to leave the bird alone and keep distance,” he added.
Tiongco suggested that Sarangani Province’s Environmental Conservation and Protection Center (ECPC) will adopt the protection of the pelican. He suggested that the bird’s natural habitat in Australia be studied to better understand its ways and how to protect it.
Many residents believed the coming of the rare big bird was a blessing. For them, it sends hope and good vibes seeing the bird joining local species in the hunt for the luscious resources of the sea.
They theorized that the Australian pelican prefer the sea off Minanga village because of its rich food resources and “because people did not harm it or catch it.”
“We see the bird almost every morning hovering over us as we arrive from overnight fishing expedition. It must be a blessing that nobody hurts the big bird,” said Minanga fisherman Jimmy Poja, 40.
Poja said he is expecting experts to educate the locals about the bird, how to react in its presence and how to help protect it.
“Now, this Australian pelican has become a tourist attraction and provides source of livelihood for fisherfolks,” said Bebing, wife of fisherman Discamento.
“Visitors come, rent a boat from fishermen to get close to the big bird as it glides over and over above Sarangani Bay,” she said. Other visitors, she said, would even buy the fishermen’s fresh catch from their overnight trip on the high seas.
For about three weeks now, the village has been abuzz with bird lovers and bird watchers from around the country.
Father Oscar Auckhs Enhaynes, who is also a professional wildlife photographer, brought with him a 600mm heavy telephoto lens so he could take pictures of the pelican up close. He said he hopes the beautiful images he took of the bird will communicate the importance of wildlife and for all to know that this creature co-exists with humans.
“I’m happy that this bird settled here. I want to know how come it is here, to learn about its purpose of being here,” the priest said.
“Maybe the bird found a good space where he can freely fly here,” he added. Enhaynes said that he read in the news, too, that maybe it is because of the luscious food resources in the area, or maybe because the people treats the migrant bird well.
“So it came to my mind that we can also host avian visitors because we are capable and it says something good about ourselves,” he said.
The Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) is said to medium-sized by pelican standards (with a wingspan of about 2.5 meters and weighing between 4 and 13 kilograms), but is known as having the longest bill of any bird, the longest recorded being 50 cm.
It has a distinctive, elongated bill with a hooked tip. Mostly white, the adult Australian pelican has a short grey crest on its head. It has strong legs, making it good swimmers
Locals noticed that the big bird usually appears in mid-morning and emanate from a private fishpond off the bay.
Philippine bird enthusiast said a “spot-billed” pelican was last seen in Philippine waters in 1972, but vanished due to extinction and hunting activities in the past.
The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines also recorded that a Dalmatian pelican was last seen in Leyte province in 2009 but died a few days later.
The Australian pelican’s arrival in the area prompted the provincial government of Sarangani to conduct a raptor migration study from Sept. 25 to Oct. 22 to be led by the capitol-based ECPC and the Technical Working Group created by Gov. Steve Chiongbian Solon. They will be aided by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.
The Sarangani Information office said they have “conducted site reconnaissance for the arrival of the migratory birds of prey this month.”
“They will approach our country in September and October to warm up and look for roosting sites after leaving Taiwan,” said Felix Servita of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. “They will leave there for autumn migration, go here and soon depart for Indonesia.” (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)