Record-breaking: 86,000 migratory birds flock to Sarangani in two weeks

RAPTOR HILL, Glan, Sarangani (September 30, 2017) – It was worth the travel on the long and winding road that leads to Raptor Hill in Barangay Rio del Pilar when on September 29 some 54,000 raptors were recorded in the routine day-long watch of a team from the Environmental Conservation and Protection Center (ECPC), Sarangani Information Office and village volunteers doing this year’s migratory raptor study.

“It appears that the peak season is here. Today, our team at the Raptor Hill counted around 54,000 Chinese Sparrowhawks,” said Atty. Emma Nebran, former executive director of ECPC. “Like clock, the raptors are back.”

Just two weeks into the watch, the Sarangani Team has recorded 86,000 raptors, a record-breaking count compared to last year’s 78,817 over five weeks of a “confirmatory raptor migration study.”

The peak season is here. These are some of the 54,000 Chinese sparrowhawks seen on September 29 from Raptor Hill in Glan, Sarangani province. Just two weeks into the watch, the Sarangani Team has recorded 86,000 raptors, breaking last year’s record of 78,817 over five weeks of a “confirmatory raptor migration study.” Photo by Tres Besana/SARANGANI INFORMATION OFFICE

“The autumn raptor migration study in Sarangani Province was first conducted in 2014 by Alex Tiongco and Maria Teresa Cervero who reported that Sarangani is very likely a major migration route in autumn for raptors crossing from the Philippines to Indonesia,” said Atty. Nebran, who was appointed to the judiciary recently.

Nebran said “to validate the report, the Provincial Government of Sarangani thru the ECPC and Raptorwatch Network Philippines conducted the autumn raptor migration study from 15 September to 23 October 2016 in Glan. The study aimed to establish database of species, numbers and routes of migrating raptors and locate roosting sites.”

“A total of 78,817 migratory raptors composing of 7 species were counted. The study proved that Sarangani Province is indeed a major autumn migration route for raptors crossing from the Philippines to Indonesia,” Nebran said.

For 2017, the autumn raptor migration study is ongoing from September 18 to October 31 in and around Raptor Hill.

“Researchers from the Japanese Society for the Conservation of Birds are expected to join the Sarangani Team,” Nebran added.

In last year’s study, Raptorwatch Network Philippines and the Sarangani Team conducted a confirmatory raptor migration study in Sarangani from September 15 to October 22.

The team conducted site reconnaissance for the arrival of the migratory birds of prey as they approach the Philippines in September and October to warm up and look for roosting sites after leaving Taiwan.

The birds are looking for thermal air currents which can be found in Mt. Latian Complex, the possible roosting site of such raptors.

Mt. Latian Complex has been identified as one of the important biodiversity areas in the Philippines. In 2002, it was declared by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as Philippine Biodiversity Conservation priority.

The presence of migratory birds in Glan was first discovered in 2014. Some residents around what is now called as Raptor Hill have noticed a “thick flock of birds covering the sun, flying together,” said Nebran.

The migration of the raptors is particularly sensitive indicator of environmental health which would draw the interest of tourists and wildlife enthusiasts. Conducting long-term counts of migrating raptors can help in the study of their migration patterns, behaviors and populations.

The raptors arrive in Sarangani twice a year; September to October and March to April, their return flight.

Raptors are characterized by their sharp vision that allows them to detect prey during flight. They usually feed on rats and insects. Thus they serve as natural pest control in the area.

Studies and in-depth monitoring have been done in Indonesia and Taiwan. One theory states that Sarangani might be their exit point going to Indonesia and could be the major flyway.

The month-long study aims to promote coordinated actions to achieve and maintain the favorable conservation status of migratory raptors; to protect these migratory species along their flyways and to identify their important habitats, roosting sites and favored routes; and to produce a relevant research.

An earlier study, “Project Southern Crossing 2014: first observations of autumn raptor migration at Sarangani, Mindanao, Philippines”, by authors Alex M. Tiongco, Maria Teresa A. Cervero, Adrian M. Constantino and Maria Katrina C. Constantino described the Philippines as an “important link in the East Asia–Australasian Flyway (BirdLife International 2015), a migration route involving long sea crossings.”

According to the study, in autumn and spring, thousands of raptors pass through the Philippines; some are believed to winter in the country.

“In autumn, the birds fly south from the Palearctic breeding areas, passing across south-east China and Taiwan before arriving on Luzon en route to wintering areas further south.”

The Raptor Study Group (RSG) has made exploratory expeditions to map the migratory routes through the country, including entry and exit points.

“During the 2014 autumn migration, the RSG decided to work in the Davao del Sur and Sarangani area,” the study said.

“Initial observations at (Barangay) Cross (adjacent to Barangay Rio del Pilar) revealed a passage of migrants from Mt. Gulo and nearby roosting areas with the vantage point directly below the migration path,” it added.

“In all, nine raptor species were seen during the watch, six migrants and three residents. The migrant species seen were (Western) OspreyPandion haliaetus (8), Crested Honey Buzzard

Pernis ptilorynchus (14), Chinese SparrowhawkAccipiter soloensis (47,307), Japanese Sparrowhawk A. gularis (2), Grey-faced BuzzardButastur indicus (242) and Peregrine Falcon Falco

peregrinus (2). Resident species observed were Philippine Serpent Eagle Spilornis holospilus(5), South Philippine (Pinsker’s) Hawk-eagleNisaetus pinskeri (28) and Brahminy KiteHaliastur Indus (60). Unidentified falcons (4) and other raptors (6) were also observed.”

Chinese Sparrowhawk was the predominant species, comprising 99% of the raptors observed.

The study suggested that Sarangani “is very likely to be a major migration route in autumn for raptors crossing from the Philippines to Sulawesi.” (Jun Ramos/SARANGANI INFORMATION OFFICE)