GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- Over the last two weeks, around 86,000 migratory birds were documented to have converged at an emerging sanctuary area in the coastal town of Glan in Sarangani Province.

The volume of birds broke last year's 78,817 record.

Lawyer Emma Nebran, former executive director of the Sarangani capitol-based Environmental Conservation and Protection Center (ECPC), said the number was based on the results of an ongoing migratory raptor study being conducted by the agency.

She said the annual study at the Raptor Hill of Barangay Rio del Pilar in Glan, Sarangani started last Sept. 18 and will end on Oct. 31.

Nebran was part of the ECPC team commissioned for the study, but was recently appointed to the judiciary.

“Just two weeks into the watch, the team has recorded 86,000 raptors, a record-breaking count compared to last year’s 78,817 over five weeks of the confirmatory raptor migration study,” she said.

The ECPC team and personnel from the Sarangani Information Office conducted a day-long watch last Friday in Raptor Hill.

In the entire day alone, the group counted around 54,000 raptors at the site.

“It appears that the peak season is here. Today, our team at the Raptor Hill counted around 54,000 Chinese Sparrowhawks. Like clock, the raptors are back," she said.

The autumn raptor migration study in Sarangani Province was first conducted in 2014 by Alex Tiongco and Maria Teresa Cervero who reported that Sarangani “is very likely a major migration route in autumn for raptors crossing from the Philippines to Indonesia.”

To validate the report, Nebran said the provincial government of Sarangani, through the ECPC and the Raptorwatch Network Philippines, conducted an autumn raptor migration study at the site from Sept. 15 to Oct. 23, 2016.

She said the study was aimed to establish a database of species, numbers and routes of migrating raptors as well as locate roosting sites.

A total of 78,817 migratory raptors composing of seven species were counted in the 2016 study.

“It proved that Sarangani Province is indeed a major autumn migration route for raptors crossing from the Philippines to Indonesia,” Nebran said.

She said researchers from the Japanese Society for the Conservation of Birds are expected to later join the ongoing study.

Last year, the study team conducted site reconnaissance for the arrival of the migratory birds of prey as they approach the Philippines in September and October to warm up and look for roosting sites after leaving Taiwan.

The birds were reportedly looking for thermal air currents that can be found in Mt. Latian Complex, the possible roosting site of such raptors.

Mt. Latian Complex has been identified as one of the important biodiversity areas in the Philippines. In 2002, it was declared by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as Philippine Biodiversity Conservation priority.

The presence of migratory birds in Glan was first discovered in 2014.

Nebrab said some residents around what is now called as Raptor Hill have noticed a thick flock of birds covering the sun, flying together.

The migration of the raptors is particularly a sensitive indicator of environmental health, which would draw the interest of tourists and wildlife enthusiasts. Conducting long-term counts of migrating raptors can help in the study of their migration patterns, behaviors and populations.

The raptors are spotted in Sarangani twice a year -- September to October for their arrival and in March to April for their return flight.

Raptors are characterized by their sharp vision that allows them to detect prey during flight. They usually feed on rats and insects.

Thus they serve as natural pest control in the area.

Studies and in-depth monitoring have been done in Indonesia and Taiwan. One theory states that Sarangani might be their exit point going to Indonesia and could be the major flyway.

The month-long study aims to promote coordinated actions to achieve and maintain the favorable conservation status of migratory raptors; to protect these migratory species along their flyways and to identify their important habitats, roosting sites and favored routes; and to produce a relevant research. (Serafin Ramos/PNA)