Birding in Bhutan: An author reflects

Yeshey Dorji, Bhutan's foremost birding enthusiast, and author of an authoritative birding book, on the joys and opportunities of bird-watching in Bhutan.

Birding in Bhutan is an extraordinary opportunity when you see how it stacks up to the United States, a country nearly 167 times larger. The numbers are close to 700 species for Bhutan and 877 for the entire United States.

Of the 700 found in Bhutan, 18 are considered “globally threatened.”

Highly endangered Black-necked Cranes winter in Bhutan from fall through early spring. As of December 2012, Bhutan had an estimated 369 Black-necked Cranes in the kingdom’s protected areas from West to East Bhutan. Another critically endangered species found in Bhutan, the White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis), is considered the rarest heron. So rare, in fact, that the estimated global population is a mere 50 to 200 birds. Of those, an incredibly high percentage has been sighted in Bhutan. In fact Bhutan is one of the few places in the world where this highly threatened species can be seen relatively easily.

Exotic and colorful, Bhutan's Satyr Tragopan ranks high on most birders' life-lists. © Yeshey Dorji

The crimson and speckled (male) Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra) (pictured above) is one of the most colorful birds in the world and Bhutan’s “must-see bird.” Bhutan is also home to a large number of other exotic bird species, such as the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus), Ward’s Trogon (Harpactes wardi), Beautiful Nuthatch (Sitta formosa), Blyth’s Tragopan (Tragopan blythii), Pallas’s Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), Chestnut-breasted Partridge (Arborophila mandellii), Wood Snipe (Gallinago nemoricola), Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis), Yellow-rumped Honeyguide (Indicator xanthonotus), and Blyth’s Kingfisher (Alcedo hercules).

In 2010 the Bhutanese non-profit Royal Society for the Protection of Nature, which is involved in Black-necked Crane and White-bellied Heron conservation, received the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions (MACEI). Bhutan is also recognized as one of 10 bio-diversity ‘hotspots’ around the world. Environmental laws codified in the kingdom’s constitution seek to maintain a forest cover of 60 percent for all time while providing institutional support for a series of protected areas covering more than a quarter of the country (9,941 square miles). Forests currently constitute 72.5 percent of Bhutan’s total landmass.

In recent times Bhutan has gained prominence on the world stage as the country that propounded the concept of Gross National Happiness. It may take a while for world leaders and economists to adjust to the paradigm shift, but for all the reasons stated above, a growing number of birders from around the world have already been finding their Gross Personal Happiness in Bhutan! ~

Yeshey Dorji is the author of Bhutan Birds. In the book, Yeshey Dorji has captured exceptional images of the birds of Bhutan in their native habitats. Each region of the country has its own chapter where he describes the area’s natural history, accompanied by spectacular photographs of the local birdlife.

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