Keeping the greens green for the ducks

POINT OF VIEW - Michele T. Logarta - The Philippine Star

Philippine Ducks are endemic to the Philippines, meaning they’re only found here and nowhere else in the world. They’re also listed as vulnerable, with declining populations, due to overhunting and habitat loss.

So, when someone told me there was a chance we could see them, I found myself in an unlikely place, and one where I had not been in for a very, very long time – a golf course – where some of the ducks had made their home.

Golf courses have a bad reputation for the negative impact they have on the environment.

“Golf’s use of chemicals, water and other resources to maintain pristine golfing conditions has long been criticized for threatening the quality of our environment,” Audubon International, an environmentally focused non-profit organization, stated in a fact sheet published on its website.

Audubon also listed the following environmental problems that golf courses can cause: loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitats; alteration or damage to wetlands; replacement of natural plant communities with intensively managed landscapes and non-native plants and increased conflicts with wildlife.

Audubon, which runs an award-winning education and certification program that “helps golf courses protect our environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf,” believes that golf courses are in a unique position to turn the situation around and become stewards of the environment.

In Dasmariñas, Cavite, the world-class Orchard Golf and Country Club has been trying to do just that.

Yearly since 2010, Orchard Golf has asked the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) to conduct a bird survey as part of its environmental program.

The bird survey, said Anna Liza Lao Legaspi, manager of the Quality and Environmental Compliance Department and pollution control officer of Orchard Golf, “allows us to quantify the species of birds in the area. We can also evaluate our new and existing programs/activities specially in maintaining the golf course, if bird-friendly or not.”

More importantly, she added, the survey helps build appreciation of birds that can be shared with the employees and members of the Club. “Also,it is a venue for us to talk to experts on how we can further improve our environmental programs, especially for birds,” said Anna.

For this year’s bird survey held in early October, our group of birders was split into four teams to cover the Gary Player and the Arnold Palmer courses, which are named after the legendary golfers.

We boarded golf carts and pushed forward, stopping and waiting when golfers were about to hit a ball, to scan the grounds for birds.

A mixed flock of Chestnut Munias and Scaly-breasted Munias flitted about a tall grassy patch left to grow wild. Near the munias was a Tawny Grassbird.

Ponds on the edges of the greens gleamed in the morning sunlight and Black-crowned Night Herons stood very still, like statues, hidden among the reeds.

Paddyfield Pipits hopped and scurried not far from the golfers while a lone Gray Wagtail did its name proud.

Collared Kingfishers and Brown Shrikes raucously called from their perches on the branches of trees.  White-breasted Woodswallows flew low to the ground, sitting on markers on the greens.

Whiskered Terns glided overhead while Blue-tailed Bee-eaters cut elegant silhouettes on the wires.

The song of the Golden-bellied Gerygones filled the air.

The golf club, with its sprawling grasslands and lagoons, aspires to be a bird sanctuary.

Throughout the property, there are pockets of land that are designated as “environmentally sensitive areas” or ESAs. These are non-play areas within the golf course, explained Anna, that are planted with fruit-bearing trees for the consumption of birds and wildlife.

“Minimal maintenance is done on the area, like removing vines on trees.  But other than that we just let it grow wild. Players are not allowed to enter ESAs, not even to retrieve their golf balls that find their way into these areas,” Anna said.

After every visit it makes, the WBCP gives Orchard Golf recommendations on how to keep the property bird- and wildlife-friendly.

A surge of grassland birds – such as munias, grassbirds, coucals, rails, etc. – had been observed. WBCP advised the golf club to let the grass outside the course grow wild to attract more of these birds. Also, this measure lessens the cost of watering the course and work in cutting the grass.

WBCP also encouraged the introduction of plants in and around the water traps to provide a more natural habitat for birds and planting bird-friendly native tree species around the golf course.

About a thousand mango trees thrive on the property, remnants of the mango orchard it once was. The golf club’s new program to plant more Philippine native trees has been started and its aim is to gradually replace the other non-native trees on the grounds. Native tree seedlings donated by the WBCP, through its president Mike Lu, have already been planted in the ESAs.

Golf courses are notorious for the huge amounts of water they use to maintain its carpets of greens.

In terms of water conservation, Anna said the golf cllub has improved the efficiency of their irrigation system, while reducing water and electricity consumption as compared to previous years.

Forty three bird species were listed  at Orchard Golf in this year’s bird survey. New additions to the golf club’s bird list were the Pacific Golden Plover, Black Winged Stilt and the Little Ringed Plover.

But whither the Philippine Ducks?

The first record of the ducks at the golf club was in 2017.

This year, eight individuals were seen in April. Anna herself saw them last in May and June on the ponds of the Player course. The latest sighting was in August – two months from that day in early October when we were there for the survey.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, in its website, pegs the mature Philippine Duck population at 3,300-6,700 individuals. The numbers have been on a downward trend for the past 60 years. In certain sites, where hunting and trapping are rampant, the ducks have vanished.

I did not see the Philippine Ducks that day when I was at the golf course. I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to see them.

For now, I’ll take solace in the fact that a fellow birder counted 20 in the swamps of Candaba very recently and in the likelihood that they continue to make their home on the greens of Orchard Golf.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @thegreentailedwalkerph

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