About 607 species were recorded in the first edition of the Himalayan Bird Count (HBC), which was concluded last week. The tri-country count, a first of its kind collaboration between India and neighbouring countries Nepal, Bhutan, was held on May 14. It was co-organised by Bird Count India, Bird Conservation Nepal and the Royal Society of the Protection of Nature, Bhutan. Nearly 400 birders, who took part in the one-day event, uploaded close to 1000 checklists.
While the exact number of birdwatchers could not be ascertained, 706 checklists were submitted by Indian bird watchers from six states and one union territory – Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Northwest Bengal, and Arunachal Pradesh. The participants – individuals, government agencies like Himachal Forest Department and NGOs and bird clubs - eagerly uploaded their 15-min checklists on the eBird app (the app is used extensively by bird watchers and experts to keep a record of their observations and monitor).
The idea for HBC was proposed last year, says Sanjay Sondhi, one of the HBC coordinators in Uttarakhand. However, it was postponed due to the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic. Like other regional bird count events in the country, such as Onam (Kerala), Pongal (Tamil Nadu) and Bihu (Assam), the HBC is intended to become an annual event for the Himalayan region, which is known to attract many migratory birds – both seasonal and altitudinal ones. “This will also help in generating a snapshot of bird distribution and abundance,” said Mittal Gala, project coordinator, Bird Count India.
From preliminary data, Uttarakhand surpassed the highest number of species and checklist count by clocking 294 species with 185 checklists. J&K, however, submitted the highest number of checklists at 193, with the same number of species count.
While Bird Count India is still collating the details regarding the species from the checklist, the results from the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) held in February this year stated that the region didn’t see any major changes in species pattern. Himalayan Bulbul, Large-billed Crow, Blue Whistling-Thrush, Common Myna and Cinereous Tit continued to remain as the five most common birds out of the 510 species reported in the Himalayan region.
In certain states, despite the low checklists, a high number of species were spotted. For instance, in Arunachal Pradesh 234 species of birds were observed with just 50 checklists, while with just 36 checklists, Sikkim birders saw 157 species. Himachal Pradesh observed 219 species, while Darjeeling district and Kalimpong district in West Bengal recorded a species count of 150 and 76, respectively. Interestingly, Ladakh – one of the smallest territories among the seven states that took part in the bird count – submitted 182 checklists and documented 104 species, indicating the enthusiasm around the event.
Lobsang Visudha, chairman of the Wildlife Conservation and Birds Club of Ladakh (WCBCL) recalls that on the day of the event, the participants faced technical difficulties with the eBird app. “All the common birds were showing as rare. So, we had to keep making comments,” he said. In spite of this, Visudha was delighted that the WCBCL team and other participants were able to document certain rare birds. For instance, the Pied Bushchat, which has never been recorded in Ladakh before, was seen in Hanle. This observation, however, is still being confirmed by the experts. The Spotted Redshank, more than a dozen individuals of Eared Grebe and the Chinese rubythroat were some of the other highlights from Ladakh.
Sondhi, who organised a bird walk within the Indian Institute of Petroleum campus in Dehradun on the day, believed that the high number of species from Uttarakhand was partly because there were more bird watchers in the states. “Uttarakhand has the best ecosystem for bird watching with many trained bird guides, hotspots, good accommodation options, accessibility to major cities, etc. It’s also the first state to sponsor a bird festival back in 2014,” he said.
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