Black-necked cranes aren’t summer birds in Bhutan. Flying over the mighty Himalayan mountains, they come home in winter for a brief sojourn. As mid-February warms up to early spring, they are gone, back over the tall, snow-capped mountains to the great Tibetan plateau.
These beautiful and majestic birds keep impeccable timing and are known for taking the same sky route back and forth. There is also something so very ritualistic about their arrival and departure. These birds so are loved, adored and respected like we do no other aerial gliders.
But the times must be changing and with it the bird’s habitats. When forestry officers of Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve (JKSNR) on August 22 sighted three cranes at Lhangzab, Haa La Jula area, it came as a bit of shock. Herders in Lhangzab informed the park officials about the cranes in May this year.
JKSNR’s chief forestry officer, Ugyen Wangchuk, said that the sighting of wintering cranes in summer was unusual.
“The pristine environment of the strict reserve could have encouraged the birds to stay behind in Bhutan,” he said. It could also have been that the birds could not fly back to Tibet because of some injury.
Records with the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) show that 545 cranes visited Bhutan last winter.
Back in May when herders in Lhangzab informed the park officials about the cranes, the foresters confirmed the presence of two cranes.
“During the recent snow leopard survey when the foresters visited again, they saw a juvenile with the cranes,” Ugyen Wangchuk said.
The cranes, he said, seem to be in good health.
Herders say that cranes were spotted in the summer of 2021 as well.
Lhangzab is located at 4,108 metres above sea level, and it is about seven hours’ walk away from the road.
Ugyen Wangchuk said that the herders have been told to monitor the cranes and take pictures if possible to monitor the growth of the juvenile.
“We have also asked RSPN and bird experts to visit the site,” he said.
A researcher at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research, Sherub, known popularly as Bird Sherub, said that the presence of the birds in Haa indicates good wetland habitat and food resources suitable for the cranes.
“It is nice that Bhutan has a crane breeding area,” he added.
He said that it is possible that the cranes that are seen today could be from those in 2021. “Animals often scout and look for habitat. The pair last year could have found food in the area and used it for breeding.”