Bhutan Bird Festival Set Bird Watching Haven Of Zhemgang Abuzz
Zhemgang is home to more than 500 species of birds, which is an area much sought after by bird watchers from around the world.
By Younten Tshedup | Kuensel
The usually quiet town of Tingtibi in Zhemgang has been abuzz lately. Its feathered friends, which are found in abundance in this locality, is the reason for bringing this town to life.
The Bhutan Bird Festival was held from 11-13 November to commemorate the 64th birthday of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo, and to pay tribute to his visionary efforts in the conservation of Bhutan’s pristine environment and biodiversity.
“The event is also held to promote community-based ecotourism and to provide opportunities for the local people to participate in the festival and enhance their income,” said Thinley Jamtsho, a Member Secretary and planning officer of the Bhutan Bird Festival.
Location of Zhemgang, Bhutan
A dzongkhag (district) that has managed to exist harmoniously with nature so far, the Bhutan Bird Festival hosted a spectacle of events over three days. Visitors got to sample some indigenous food, drinks and took part in sports and adventures activities, among others.
Zhemgang – a haven for bird watching
Zhemgang is home to more than 500 species of birds, hence the festival was held at Tingtibi, which is an area much sought after by bird watchers from across the world.
As a build-up to the main event, Birdathon - a birding expedition was organised and more than 30 national birders were engaged in spotting the bird species found in the area.
Ornithologist and Researcher with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER) in Bumthang, Sherub, also popularly known as the ‘Bird Sherub’ said that the event was organised to strengthen conservation efforts through information generation and recording of the coordinates of the various bird species in the dzongkhag.
A total of 286 bird species were identified during the three-day Birdathon as the national birders trekked through the rugged terrains and dense forest in six different stretches, in a bid to spot the rich avifauna of the Khengrig Nam-Sum region.
Source: Facebook/Bhutan Bird Festival
Their efforts paid off and a whopping 3,793 birds were counted as the birders captured pictures of different birds, along with their location co-ordinates.
The highest concentration of birds was found between Batasey and Tingtibi, where about 194 species were spotted.
In addition, a flock of 25 Great Hornbills was also sighted in Tingtibi, and a total of 40 Great Hornbills were counted during those three days.
According to the birders, the three most commonly observed birds during the event were: the Red-Vented Bulbul, the Nepal House Martin and the Orange-bellied Leaf Bird.
Zhemgang is also home to the critically endangered white-bellied heron and houses all the four species of hornbill – Great Hornbill, Rufous-Necked Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill and the Pied Hornbill. The beautiful Nuthatch is also occasionally sighted in the upper regions of the dzongkhag.
Bhutan’s Prime Minister graced the Bird Festival
Bhutan’s Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering graced the main event on 11 November, which saw him releasing a newly found bird species - the Siberian Ruby Throat, a winter visitor which breeds in Siberia but migrates south when the weather becomes cold.
Photo: Facebook/Tshering Phuntsho
A bird sherub said that the species is actually native to Siberia but has been found in other places in Bhutan such as Gelephu, Samtse and Samdrupjongkhar.
“This is the first time we have seen this bird in Zhemgang.”
Along with the Siberian Ruby Throat, the Lyonchhen also released two other species of birds – the Rufous-Necked Laughing Thrush and the Grey-Headed Canary Flycatcher as a fulfilment of a part of the festival’s theme - Giving you the wings to fly.
Besides Zhemgang, the area stretching from the Phrumsengla National Park to Limithang in Mongar is considered to be the best birding sites in the country.
The Sherub also said that given the wide range of elevation and habitats, the stretch is also regarded as the best birding site in Asia.
“We have a good diversity of birds and it is because of the conducive conservation policies that we have,” he said.
“If we continue to have these policies in place, Bhutan would remain a hotspot for different species of birds for generations.”
From 616 bird species recorded in 1996, the numbers have grown over the years.
Source: Youtube/Birds of Bhutan
“If we continue with the current progress, it won’t be long before we achieve the internationally predicated number of 770 species. It would be a time to celebrate when we hit that number.”
Zhemgang and its potential for eco-tourism
Some other events which took place include an 85 km cycling race from Tingtibi, a display of various indigenous food stalls and a river rafting session organised by the river guides of Panbang along the Mangdechhu River (from Berti to Tingtibi).
Thinley Jamtsho said that bird watching and rafting are the two unique tourist attractions in the dzongkhag and the Bird Festival was an opportunity to showcase them.
Zhemgang’s dzongrab, Kinzang Dorjee said that given the rich flora and fauna found in the dzongkhag, the event can help boost eco-tourism.
“It is also an opportunity for the people of Tingtibi to generate income as most of the time the town remains deserted without any activities,” he added.
“We are also targeting to attract domestic tourists through the display of various local cuisines and at the same time provide them with an opportunity to explore the rich wilderness of Zhemgang.”
Meanwhile, a participant Karma Dema from Bobsel in Goshing gewog (village) was excited to let the Prime Minister taste her local yams.
“It is a delicacy we savour. I want the Lyonchhen to taste what we have been eating for generations.”
She said that the festival was an opportunity for the locals to show the rest of the country and also some of the international guests their age-old traditions and culture.
A resident, Kinzang said that it is rare to have several dignitaries visit the area and it provided them with an opportunity to show their hospitality.
“It is a different and pleasing experience to have so many new faces walk the streets that remain empty most all the time.”
This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.