Let There Be Ponds!

We are harnessing the power of water to restore, rehabilitate, and rejuvenate our property and make it more attractive to wildlife. One way to do this is to make a lot of ponds! The ponds catch and store rainwater so it can be used by plants and animals instead of just running off the land. We don’t use pond liners so that the water can eventually sink into the water table to recharge it.

We are making all sorts of ponds and trying different pond building techniques.

Our very first pond was built in February 2015. It’s our biggest and deepest pond. It was build by hand by 6 people.  We wanted Pond No. 1 to be deep so it would hold more water for a longer time The deepest section is two meters deep.

The workers also built two smaller ponds near Pond No. 1. We learned from these smaller ponds that even smaller ponds can hold water for a long time. It’s not that necessary to make the ponds very deep.

In 2016 Tonji decided that he wanted to build the ponds himself. We bought a small backhoe. He built Pond #4 in March 2016. This pond has a small island in the center. It was very popular with the ducks last year!

In 2017 we didn’t build any ponds. Tonji did some pond maintenance and enlarged Pond No. 3.

This year Tonji completed two ponds and is working on a third! It took him 9 days to build Pond No. 5. This pond has a back “wall” made up of mounded dirt that is supposed to hold water and add depth to the pond. At the other end it tapers out to a shallow overflow area. Tonji thinks his backhoe is equivalent to 4 men digging. This pond was finished quickly with the help of workers to move the dirt out and finish the sides by hand.

First he clears the grass with the grass cutter
Oops, stop digging while Barkely inspects the work!
Momo’s turn to inspect the work
Pond No. 5 after one day of rain

Pond No. 6 took only two days to build! It is a small pond that Tonji hopes will provide water for the trees growing by the side.

start of Pond No. 6
Pond No. 6 almost finished, will be tapered by hand

Pond No. 7 is still under construction. Tonji says this is going to be a big pond.

Day one of Pond No. 7


Tonji’s companion while digging for 3 days! 

Pond Stats:

Pond No. 1
built from 25 Feb 2015 to 27 March 2015
current dimension: 17m x 8 m

Pond No. 2
built 2015
did not measure

Pond No. 3
built 2015
current dimension: 7m x 4m

Pond No. 4
built March 2016
did not measure

Pond No. 5
built February 2018  in 9 days
current dimension: 7m x 10m

Pond No. 6
built March 2018 in 2 days
current dimension: 6m x 5m

Pond No. 7
started March 2018
still under construction






Hagonoy Eradication Project Version 2

My first Hagonoy Eradication Project Version was a failure. The good thing is, I now know why it failed! And I have a new and improved technique that works!

Version 1: Brute Strength and Fancy Tools

When I started the first Hagonoy Eradication Project in 2015, my goal was to find an efficient and safe method for removing hagonoy or Chromolaena odorata, an invasive weed that quickly spreads and can create a dense canopy that  prevents other plants and seedlings from growing. It can even climb up small trees and overwhelm them.  I thought that I could defeat the hagonoy with my brute strength and superior tools! Hahaha! I was mistaken.

For the first project site, I selected an open field that had many mature hagonoy plants growing in big clumps. I wanted to make a big impact by cleaning up the area with the biggest hagonoy plants. I thought the key was simply finding a big tool that could easily dig up the entire root of the hagonoy.  When I found a great tool that could handle the big hagonoy roots, I thought that I had the solution to my hagonoy problems. I spent hours digging up hagonoy, only stopping out of exhaustion!

At first it looked like it worked. I was unprepared for when the hagonoy returned. Today, instead of big hagonoy clusters, there are many, many small hagonoy plants covering the entire field. Argh! There are so many of them that they are even harder to remove. The field looks even worse now than before I started.

November 2015, before it was cleared
November 2015, after it was freshly cleared
March 2018 – it’s worse! Lots of small hagonoy plants and a lot of Madre de Cacao

The only hagonoy-free areas are the paths that Tonji mows regularly. It seems that mowing with a grass cutter is an effective way to keep hagonoy out. Notice how the sides of the path are full of hagonoy and madre de cacao. The area also had an explosion of madre de cacao! I don’t know if it’s related to my hagonoy removal.

2018 – no hagonoy on the path. Just Barkley!

Version 2: Use Your Brain.  And Fancy Tools Too.

In January 2017 I started version 2 of the Hagonoy Eradication Project. Instead of a big, open field I chose a much smaller, more manageable area. It is small area that is close to the cottage, easy to access, and is surrounded by trees.

While working on the new site, I noticed that the hagonoy growing inside the tree line is very easy to uproot. I realized that when hagonoy grows on good, soft soil with a lot of organic material like the soil found inside the tree line, it doesn’t spend a lot of energy on growing roots. Instead, it focuses its energy on growing leaves and branches.  When the hagonoy is in open fields where the soil is usually more depleted, then it tends to send down longer and more tenacious roots.

I was on the right track with my new site! By choosing to work inside the tree lines, I can just sit in the shade of the trees and use a hand tool. Much less effort than standing in an open field and attacking the weeds with a huge weeder-shovel!

This is  Hagonoy Eradication Site #1.  The brown area in the middle used to be a small patch of tall grass that Tonji mowed. There are different kinds of seedlings planted along the edge of the tree line. Most of the hagonoy at this site is gone. The site still requires some maintenance. There are small hagonoy plants that need to be pulled out. I think there were a couple of hagonoy that flowered in December and I wasn’t able to pull them out before they went to seed!


On the whole, I think this site is successful. It is in the stage where other plants are coming up in place of the hagonoy!

This is called Kandikandilaan. It was already present at the site and has spread even more. It attracts a lot of butterflies.

Stachytarpheta indica

We call this Limang Sugat. I never noticed this at the site before, but now there is a big patch of it there!

Pseuderanthemum bicolor

The most exciting part — the tree seedlings that just came up by themselves! Before, this was just a blanket of hagonoy that choked out everything else. Now we now have different kinds of plants coming up including new trees!

The first seedlings to show up in the area were Ipil Ipil or Leucaena leucocephala. I removed them and the tree they came from because they are a weed-like tree that can quickly form a dense thicket that blocks out all other plants.

Not sure what this is. Hauli?

This is  Hagonoy Eradication Site #2. It’s a line of trees in between the horse paddock and compost area. We also planted trees along the tree line. I will work on this site while the soil is still soft and easy to dig.


lots and lots of hagonoy!

This is a cleared section. The Talisay trees we planted are now free from the hagonoy that was choking them and blocking their light. Other things can now sprout from the ground. I used to drag the hagonoy out to the path so they would shrivel up and not suddenly spring back to life. Now I leave the hagonoy on the ground where they fall so they can serve as mulch.



I’m also going to try this tool and see if it’s easier to use than my hori hori knife.


Phase 2 – The Chipper!

In a few months when it’s summer and the ground is hard and dry, I will start Phase 2 of hagonoy eradication. Chop and drop time! There are a lot of dried branches and madre de cacao trees in the area that I can turn into wood chips. I will cover the areas around the trees with a thick layer of wood chips. This will improve the soil even more, make the trees grow better, and make any hagonoy that grows even easier to remove.  As a bonus, the roots of the madre de cacao trees that were cut will die back and become water channels. This is good for the trees other remaining trees. Soon, hard, dry, weedy soil will be a thing of the past. We will have soft, moist, hagonoy-free ground!

Hagonoy Eradication for Reforestation

There are many more areas with hagonoy at the sanctuary. I will continue to focus my hagonoy removal efforts combined with mulching with wood chips on the areas that already have trees and seedlings that we planted. This aligns with a method of reforestation called ANR or Assisted Natural Regeneration where instead of just focusing on planting trees, you also remove or suppress weeds to encourage naturally occurring wildings to survive. Removing the hagonoy in those areas will encourage the forest-like areas to expand and grow.

ANR is a method for enhancing the establishment of secondary forest from degraded grassland and shrub vegetation by protecting and nurturing the mother trees and their wildlings inherently present in the area. ANR aims to accelerate, rather than replace, natural successional processes by removing or reducing barriers to natural forest regeneration such as soil degradation, competition with weedy species, and recurring disturbances (e.g., fire, grazing, and wood harvesting). Seedlings are, in particular, protected from undergrowth and extremely flammable plants such as Imperata grass. In addition to protection efforts, new trees are planted when needed or wanted (enrichment planting). With ANR, forests grow faster than they would naturally. – from http://www.fao.org/forestry/anr/en/

Birds of February

February has been a great month for hanging out at the sanctuary. The oppressive heat of summer is still a future concern. The ground is still nice, moist, and yielding. It only took Tonji nine days to dig up Pond Number 5. I was able to clear a big swathe of hagonoy in a new area using just my hori-hori hand knife. Momo and Barkley enjoyed  long morning walks through refreshing dew-covered grass, with stops every so often to admire the birds!

The Agohos are among the fastest growing of the trees we’ve planted. Their height makes them a popular perch of the orioles and crows.

Collared Kingfisher
Large-billed Crow

We saw 5 species of doves in February. We had Philippine Cuckoo Dove, Zebra Dove, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Spotted Dove, and Philippine Collared Dove. The Philippine Collared Dove was perched on the wires along our entrance road. We saw it on the same wire on two different weekends.

Pink-necked Green Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Philippine Collared Dove


Tali and  Laiya are still around. Will they stay through summer? Or are they migrants?




There are small flocks of Olive-Backed Sunbirds high in the Madre de Cacao flowers, Chestnut Munias in the grassy areas, and jewel toned Bee-eaters on low branches.

Olive-backed Sunbird
Chestnut Munia
Blue-tailed Bee Eater

The Malabulak trees produced buds! Last year we saw only one bud that didn’t even become a flower. Tonji thinks next year will be a great year for the Malabulak.


The hot days of summer are fast approaching. All to soon it will be time to say goodbye to the cool weather and hello summer and summer projects!

Philippine Bulbul




Cool Weather and Cool Birds

It was cold and raining when we woke up. Gone were the plans to do chores and tend to projects. Out came the big lenses for bird photography, binoculars, and sketchbook. Might as well sit, enjoy the weather, and watch the birds!

or just go back to sleep if you’re Barkley

First came the Pied Harriers. There were new black feathers showing on Tali’s back and face. Tali is a male! It takes 3 years for male Pied Harriers to assume their full adult plumage. When he does, Tali will have a black head and white chest. He looks like he is almost 3 years old. Assuming that the female is the same one we saw in 2013,  there’s a good chance that this is a different offspring from the one with her in 2013.


Tali still has the string wrapped on his leg. It doesn’t seem to hinder his flight. I hope he’s able to get the string off somehow. It seems to affect his landing.

Tali – photo by Tonji Ramos

The Pied Harriers moved from the bamboo fence to a tree. Three Philippine Ducks flew past them. Then they did it again. And again! Were they buzzing the Pied Harriers? Or were they just circling the pond? Too bad we didn’t get any pictures or video.



Next came two Brahminy Kites. One was an immature. They perched on a tree and got mobbed by a Crow. This interaction definitely looked intentional!

crow and bkite 2018 tss 2.jpg
photo by Tonji Ramos

That morning, we also saw:

  • Black-naped Oriole
  • Barn Swallow
  • Pied Bushchat
  • Yellow-vented Bulbul
  • Collared Kingfisher
  • Brown Shrike
  • Pink-necked Green Pigeon, 4
  • Tawny Grassbird
  • Purple Heron
Pied Bushchat

In the afternoon the weather stayed cool and cleared up for a bit so we could go for a walk, cut grass, and do some weeding.