'Lost' Aussie pelican the first such bird to be seen in the Philippines

An Australian white pelican in the coastal waters of General Santos City on Sept 12, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

GENERAL SANTOS (AFP) - An Australian pelican that strayed hundreds of kilometres from its nearest known habitat to end up in the Philippines is the first such bird to be seen in the Asian archipelago, wildlife enthusiasts said.

The waterbird flew into a fish breeding farm on the outskirts of the southern port of General Santos in early September, resident Levy Discamento told AFP.

"We saw a small flock of swallows chasing this big strange bird. There was an air battle until the big bird gave up and ran towards the mangroves," Mr Discamento said, recounting his first sighting.

The mostly white pelican - a species which boasts the longest bill of any bird, measuring up to 47cm - has since attracted a flood of Filipino and foreign birdwatchers.

They rent dugouts to watch and photograph the bird while it gorges on fish in nearby Sarangani Bay, Mr Discamento said.

"We feel (it) is a blessing, bringing good vibes to people," Mr Jimmy Poja, a local fisherman, told AFP.

Mr Willem van de Ven, a Manila-based biologist and president of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, said the species is found all over Australia and occasionally as far as New Zealand, some Polynesian islands, New Guinea, and parts of Indonesia.

"General Santos is definitely the most northern place it has been recorded in recent history, and quite a bit farther than usual," he said.

He added that the birds, which do not migrate seasonally, have never been seen north of Indonesia's Sulawesi island, located more than 600km south of General Santos.

According to the club, the last previous pelican sighting in the country was in 2009 when a Dalmatian pelican was seen on the central island of Leyte but died a few days later.

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