Team Hornbills won the daylong race by spotting 146 birds

Nature: As they heard the first calls of the birds at dawn, forestry officer, Dorji Rabten and his wife Singye Wangmo sets out with a camera and binoculars to attend to the calling of the birds in Gelephu.

The couple is going birding to compete in the first birdathon held in Bhutan on October 7.

Dorji Rabten who is stationed in Thimphu drove to Gelephu on October 6 to join his wife who works as a forestry officer at the Royal Manas National Park (RMNP). They then drive to Tingtibe, the country’s hotspot for birds.

“The competition is to encourage birding besides documenting natural history and bird diversity around this time as migration has begun,” UWICE ornithologist, Sherub said.

The birdathon was a daylong race, which began at 1am. As the couple drove to Tingtibe, they stopped every time a bird was spotted. Or, they waited in some places to spot birds and to prepare a checklist of every bird they come across. They also had to photograph the birds as evidence.

“The participants can also take bird calls if they are equipped with recorders,” Dorji Rabten said.

Birders usually start by dawn because it is considered an ideal time when the sun is mild and disturbances least.

“There is higher probability to catch more birds as they are usually active in the morning,” Dorji Rabten said.

UWICE’s ornithologist, Sherub said birds are active in the morning because that’s peak communication time. “That’s when the birds make lot of contact calls signaling each other that they are safe,” he said.

Dorji Rabten and Singye Wangmo started birding from Jigmeling, which is a hotspot for Hornbills and water birds such as White-capped Water Redstart, Cattle Egret and Forktails. Just around Gelephu airport, the couple spotted over 30 different bird species such as Indian Peafowl, Parakeets, Ashy Mountain Imperial Pigeon and Barbet among others.

Another participant was a lady from Panbang community, Dorji Yangki, whose love for birds continues to build more passion in birding. She wishes to encourage bird watching among the village women.

“The competition was delighted to have a couple participating who are actually based in different regions but happen to share bird watching as hobby,” UWICE research assistant, Rinchen Singye said.

But the couple weren’t lone contestants because seven more groups of 18 competitors mostly foresters from parks and territorial divisions also joined the race.

“I didn’t expect 20, which is quite a significant number for the first birdathon,” Sherub said, adding that the contest was interesting and encouraging since contestants were listening to the hooting of owls and night birds from 1am.

Calling themselves Hornbills, a group of foresters led by RMNP senior ranger, Dorji Wangchuk with foresters D K Gurung and Tashi Phuntsho were birding and looking out for nocturnal and night birds from Darachu.

“Winning isn’t the sole reason. It’s because the contest helps us understand better about which birds migrate at this time of the year,” Dorji Wangchuk said.

Another group of senior foresters from Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Kado Rinchen and Namgay Dorji and senior forester from the Royal Botanical Park in Lamperi, Jas Bdr has also joined the adventure from Berti towards Tingtibe.

“I chose Berti because it’s a hotspot for birds with high probability of spotting the White-bellied Heron,” Kado Rinchen said.

Although Kado Rinchen’s team didn’t spot the White-bellied Heron, the groups within a short distance managed to enlist over 71 birds such as the White Wagtail, White-browed Wagtail, Great and Rufous-Necked Hornbills, Brown Dipper and Little Fogtail.

By nightfall when Dorji Rabten and Singye Wangmo reached Tingtibe, they submitted a count of 80 different birds. Their list however was close behind Manas drongo’s list of 83 birds.

Druk birders from Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park listed 143 birds while the top position flew to the Hornbills, which had listed 146 different birds.

“Bhutan is a small country but has a biodiversity as rich as any big countries with so much yet to explore it,” Dorji Rabten said.

Tempa Wangdi, Tingtibi