Candaba (in the province of Pampanga) became a popular birding destination several years back when people were made aware of the thousands of migratory birds that made the swamp their winter home. The influx of these migratory birds is evident during the months of November to January when the sky would darken with flocks of wild birds (egrets, ducks, etc) out to feed at dawn or dusk. The wide wetlands filled with tall reeds was a perfect feeding and breeding ground. There were times of the year when the area is flooded and left untouched by human hands because its quite difficult to access.
And then progress happened. The dirt road that cuts through the swamp (and usually “disappears” during the rainy season) is now an elevated cemented highway. Better flood control now means the swamp land can now be used for farming (rice or even fresh water prawns) most times of the year. More farms, less bird sanctuary. Only a small patch of swampland (Pelayo’s area) remained protected for the birds.
Still, Candaba is as idyllic and beautiful as ever. Evidently with lesser birds (some locals said the birds are "late"), but if you like rural scenes, would love Candaba. And I love rural scenes. So one recent morning I found myself, together with kindred souls, standing in middle of the swamp, waiting for the sun to come out.
While I did not see any flocks that were usually out to feed at dawn, Candaba did showed some hints its still a bird sanctuary. Even the clouds that lit up resembled some of our feathered friends (either that or I just have a vivid imagination.)
phoenix at dawn
By the time the sun was up, folks are already busy with farm chores. The newly plowed fields abound with kuhol (snail, a local delicacy usually cooked in coconut milk) - a treat for the birds and obviously for the locals too! There is usually a flock (mostly egrets) following the hand plow tractor (virtually a food cart for the birds) at it turns up the mud to reveal snails, small fishes, insects and other appetizing (at least for the birds) whatnots.
We headed further to Pelayo's bird sanctuary, one of the few patches of land in the swamp that was left untouched for the birds
There's a road that traces the edges of the large ponds filled with lilies and wild flowers and some resident birds. On good days when its not muddy, its easy for a car to go around. The bird hides were not there any more (destroyed in recent typhoons) but the rest of the place is still relatively well kept.
Despite what I think is now missing in Candaba (yes there are still birds but not the same volume that I've seen over years that I've visited the place), its still a great place revisit every once in a while. You can always just sit under one of the large acacia trees and wait for some rare bird to show up :)