It’s a cold evening in Yangtse. Almost everyone in town has locked themselves up inside their cosy homes. As clouds of smoke gush through the chimneys, the sky above the town remains under overcast.

Save for the occasional vehicle honks, the town is disturbingly quite.

However, one sound is all it takes to break the spell. It is the sound of the black-necked cranes. As the cranes prepare to fly back to their roosting grounds, a high-pitch sound (usually an alarm call) is made.

Through the windows and many from the balconies, residents, young and old gather to bid farewell to the winged-visitors until the next day. “Bye-bye thrung-thrung. Do come over tomorrow. Bye-bye,” shouts the kids’ as the adults’ wave towards the sky.

The majestic birds are home again. As of yesterday, a total of 97 cranes have arrived at their winter roosting and feeding grounds at Bumdeling valley in Trashiyangtse, with the first pair arriving on October 5 last year.

Although the number of visitors fluctuates over the years, this year the number has increased by six from 91 in 2016. There were 108 in 2015.

Aum Dawa, 70, first saw the cranes when she was 10. Walking around with her six-year old grandson, she said: “The birds never cease to amaze me. I remember waking up to the sound they make early in the morning.”

Over the years, residents of Yangtse and Bumdeling have developed an attachment with their winged-visitors. “It’s always a delight to see the birds come here,” said a resident. “Whenever the birds are here, there is a satisfaction that we get from their presence. When they leave, it’s an emotional moment for all of us.”

Sangay Dema from Bumdeling said that some ten years ago there used to be hundreds of cranes feeding on the paddy fields. “The number has decreased now and it could be because of rapid urbanisation and human encroachment into the feeding grounds of the birds.”

Senior ranger at the Dumzam range office in Bumdeling, Sangay Drukpa, said that developmental activities remain one of the biggest challenges in conserving the black-necked cranes.

Although no causalities were recorded in the recent years, feral dogs are a threat and are often seen disturbing the cranes at the feeding sites, said Sangay Drukpa.

Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) has taken several initiatives to develop the roosting area at the sandbank in Bumdeling. Two conservation and support groups each at Yangtse and Bumdeling have been formed to clean and clear any obstacles that could possibly disturb the flight of the cranes at the roosting and feeding areas.

“The debris and bushes at the roosting place needs to be cleared so that the cranes can sight intruders instantly,” said Sangay Drukpa. Awareness campaigns on conserving the cranes are also conducted in the community on a timely basis.

Meanwhile, range officials said that several new characteristics and behaviours of the endangered species are being revealed.

The cranes usually fly in a flock. However, some juveniles that misguidedly dashes along with the flock are seen returning if their parents are left behind.

The popular crane dance associated with courtship can be seen at the feeding grounds in groups. The dance includes flapping the wings, bowing, running, jumping and tossing of grasses.

A softer version of the alarm call is used by the cranes to locate the roosting site when it becomes dark while returning from the feeding areas.

Younten Tshedup | Bumdeling