The Burmese shrike adds itself to a now 693-strong Bhutanese family of feathered friends 

UWICE: Bhutan is rich by one more species of bird, the Burmese shrike (Lanius collurioides) after a mist-netting programme at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) on April 2 discovered the bird.

“The shrike we found is a new record for Bhutan,” bird enthusiast, Ugyen Tenzin, who removed the bird from the mist net line, said.

UWICE ornithologist, Sherub, said that the Burmese shrike in Bumthang nestled at an altitude of 2600m above sea level, is the highest elevation to record the bird until now.

“While its distribution in the Himalayas was north-east India, the discovery here will be its furthest distribution towards the west,” Sherub said.

According to UWICE, the Burmese shrike was caught in mist netting line pitched outside its campus at Lamai Gonpa around 8am.

Mist netting is the process of catching a bird in a minute delicate net pitched in an open field, mostly by its feeding area, or habitat where the frequency of bird movement is high.  When the bird in flight hits the net, it falls into a pouch at the bottom of the net.

The fall however causes no harm to the bird.  As it struggles to escape from the net, it ends up entangled from where the officials remove it for documenting.

The birds are then released safely after recording the details.  The discovery of the Burmese shrike takes the bird species record in Bhutan to 693.

The male bird, which was almost the size of a bulbul, weighed 26.7g.  It was 17-20cm long.

“Its distinctive features are chestnut-coloured mantle and rump with two white lateral feathers at the base of its tail,” Sherub said.

The Burmese shrike was banded before its release later that day.  Ringing or banding is done to keep track of the particular bird in future. “Banding will help us share information on the bird if it’s caught in another location, such as India,” Sherub said.

To date, UWICE, which initiated the mist-netting program in August 2013, has banded around 1,500 birds.  Some of the bird species banded include the gold crest, golden bush robin, Eurasian tree creeper and orange-flanked bush robin.  The red-billed chough is the biggest bird banded among the 1,500.

The mist netting is a long-term programme spearheaded by Sherub, Ugyen Tenzin and Karma Wangdi.  They carry out the mist netting every day from 6-9:30am.

The programme aims to learn and document bird diversity with the change in season.  Mist netting will also enable the institute to learn about birds’ community, breeding biology, age structure and record morphometric data of every species of bird captured.  Students from nearby schools are also given an opportunity to take part in the exercise sometimes.

By Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang