At certain times of the year, the Candaba swamps in Pampanga transform into a tropical pitstop for Asian migratory birds. Some of these bird species hail as far as China and Japan, to escape the harsh winter season. They fly southward on an invisible migration highway where the Philippines is a part of. They start arriving as early as October, with their numbers peaking by December or January. They are then gone by March.
The best place in Candaba to view the birds is at the the Candaba Bird Sanctuary in Sitio Doña Simang. This was previously a 72-hectare farm of the Pelayos. All the farming activities were then stopped to have a better sanctuary for the birds. A small Php150.00 fee, which also covers simple refreshments, is collected for the upkeep of the place.
There are narrow passageways to provide discreet entrance to the swamps. On both sides are bamboo walls that have small windows for the birdwatchers to peek through. These measures were placed so as not to disturb the birds. One must also have telescopes or binoculars to better observe the birds from a distance. This may also be one of the few places in the Philippines where a point-and-shoot camera would bow to the superb magnifying ability of a DSLR.
But for those who are not into serious bird photography, the views at the sanctuary would be more than able to compensate. Aside from the generally quiet atmosphere at the swamp, the vast rice fields with Mt. Arayat as a backdrop are stunning too. Add a setting sun and you will have an image that is seemingly able to capture a hundred emotions in every pixel.
Although the Candaba Bird Sanctuary is not among the Ramsar sites in the Philippines, it still has served its purposes well: a temporary haven for thousands of migratory birds through the years, and a good observatory for birdwatching enthusiasts, photographers and everyone else in between.
Commuting to the Candaba Sanctuary: Take an RJ Express Bus at the Monumento Terminal in Caloocan City and alight by the Sta. Ana in Pampanga. At the junction, trikes could be hired to take you to the sanctuary at Sito Doña Simang.
The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines provides a beginner’s guide to birding here.