CANDABA, Philippines — The number of birds flying south to important wintering grounds in the Philippines has fallen sharply this year, with experts saying the dramatic demise of wetlands and hunting are to blame.

Despite some harsh, cold weather across the Eurasian landmass, some waterbirds that usually migrate in huge flocks to the tropical islands have been completely absent, said Philippine-based Danish ornithologist Arne Jensen.

"The flyway populations of several waterbird species are in constant and dramatic decline," Jensen, who advises the Philippine government on species conservation, told AFP.

"Hence the urgent need to establish real and well-managed, hunting-free waterbird sanctuaries along the migratory flyways."

Candaba, a swamp two hours' drive north of Manila that has long been used as a pit stop by hundreds of species as they fly staggering distances between the Arctic Circle and Australia, appears emblematic of the downfall.

Jensen said that bird watchers routinely counted 100,000 ducks at Candaba in the 1980s as they stopped there for a rest while traversing the East Asian-Australasian flyway.

But volunteers recorded just 8,725 waterbirds and 41 species during the annual census last weekend, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines president Michael Lu told AFP at Candaba at the end of the count.

Northern pintails, common pochards, and green-winged teals were absent, and just one tufted duck was seen, while numbers for northern shovellers shrank and only garganeys were easily seen along with resident Philippine ducks.

Lu said the number of waterbirds counted at Candaba was down from more than 11,000 last year.

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