Monday, February 18, 2019

Hail to you, Liguasan Marsh

The Liguasan Marsh trip last February 8-10 was truly a pleasant surprise. At first I was hesitant to join what with my wifey again having a negative stance of the destination. Yes, Liguasan Marsh was a haven of terrorists before but the process of transformation has just started to make this place a tourist attraction especially for naturalists. A special kind of salutation is due to the 33rd Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army for always in the forefront of employing a community-based peace and development mechanism. Hats off to its Batallion Commander  Col. Harold Cabunoc.
Liguasan is indeed a paradise. Barring all the high magnitude of negative image built about the place and other surrounding environment this could have been a high end tourism product already. Liguasan is one of the two major marshes in Mindanao that serve as a water bed to several localities such as Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and Cotabato provinces. In it are valuable resources like inland fishes and birds. It also fertilizes adjacent farmlands by the huge water it transported to agricultural production areas either through manual irrigation or underground water supplementation. And lately it has been considered that Liguasan Marsh has vast deposit of oil. All these are potentials that could really convert its host LGUs into rich towns if properly manage maximize.

Meanwhile, our birding trip in Liguasan was organized by the 33rd IB, hoping that somehow Bird Watching could become a good strategy for tourists to visit the site soon. We started the navigation through the marshland by 6:00 in the morning as we still had to attend to a community immersion in barangay Midpandacan, the last community composed mainly of Maguindanaons. Some of them even members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who are now serving the community as guides and boatmen.

Right at the docking point we already saw some familiar waders such as egrets and herons but this time not very clear yet as to the specific specie because it was still dark by 6 AM. I spotted a type of Warbler in a grassland portion, but the most that I could identify was the White-browed Crake wading through the large portion of water hyacinths. The average-sized motorized boats were our transportation mode, the easiest mode by far to go through water lily routes in the marsh. Along the way there were plenty of Purple Herons, Grey Herons and Javan Pond Herons.

I suggested to our boatman to look for shallow portion so we could have good ground stability while taking bird photos. So we stopped by a certain site filled with greater numbers of Purple Swamphen. On the way further we saw some Comb-crested Jacana, the one considered by expert birders to have been last cited in 1973. This bird has a very attractive color and a lifer to me and some other guests. It is good to have it recorded once again after terrorism prevented birders for seeing them. Although a resident bird, the Comb-crested Jacana can only be seen in Liguasan Marsh and Lake Buluan, all in the province of Maguindanao and Tacurong City.

Other common birds I personally observed in the marsh are Philippine Duck, Whiskered Terns, the rare Spotted Whistling Duck and Black-winged Stilt. A special Black-winged Kite raptor was also seen in the tree canopy of Midpandacan barangay proper.

After our birding session we were invited by Col. Cabunoc to witness a Rido Settlement ceremony, a conflict-resolution mechanism for two clans who have been into war for more or less two decades. With the geographic characteristic of the locality and the traditions of its inhabitants rido is still a thing here, I mean they still resort to it whenever miscommunication and misunderstanding happen against each clan. With the able leadership of the 33rd IB the rido finally came to end.

There might a lot of reluctance when I decided to join this trip but since the invitation of Sir Lito Lim, also a birder and naturalist, was an assurance I made it all the way there. And just as expected the 240,000 hectares of beautiful marshcape of Liguasan is a total revelation.