Chhimi Dema 

Eighteen tour guides completed the first-ever upskilling training on bird-watching conducted in Bumthang last week.

The training was conducted by Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Forest Research and Training (UWIFoRT) with support from the Ministry of Education and Skill Development, and the Department of Tourism.

The participants were taught bird identification through sightings and calls, how to record bird songs, know the strategic bird hotspots, understand the socio-ecological significance of bird species, the threatened status of birds in Bhutan, and historical exploration of birds in Bhutan.

The training was conducted from December 15 last year to January 21 this year.

UWIFoRT’s deputy chief forestry officer, Rinchen Wangchuk, said that birding tourism is preferred compared to other aspects of nature-based tourism in the country owing to the diversity of birds with varied habitat conditions or vegetation zones.

He said that bird-watching is important for biodiversity conservation as it can support biodiversity or forest custodians in monitoring and reporting incidences, and conducting research on the presence or absence of local birds.

The training course was designed to provide knowledge, skills and attitudes for an individual to become a competent bird guide following tourism and forestry standards.

The training included theory classes, assessment, and practical tours to bird hotspot sites such as Darachu, Serzhong to Tingtibi stretch, Norbugang and Tshobali in Nanglam, and others.

Rinchen Wangchuk said that the upskilling training, as a specialised course on learning about birds, is a first-of-a-kind training conducted in the country.

Until recently, only nature guide training covering basic identification of the biodiversity species such as birds, plants, mammals, and butterflies was conducted.

UWIFoRT since 2011 conducted 17 training and trained 336 nature guides.

Rinchen Wangchuk said that the varied zones of Bhutan’s mountain and forest ecosystem provide a haven to iconic birds and globally-threatened species which are not seen in other countries.

International research shows that bird-watching is considered one of the fastest-growing nature-based tourism sectors in the world.

An international report on the impact of bird tourism shows that “bird tourism provides critical cash flow and rare employment and income opportunities for local communities, presenting viable alternatives to resource extraction.”

Currently, Bhutan records 762 bird species out of which 52 birds are globally threatened and 11 birds are restricted range species including the critically endangered, White-bellied Heron.

Some of the birds that tourists look out for in Bhutan are Himalayan Monal, Satyr and Blyth’s Tragopan, Blood Pheasant, Kalij Pheasant, Grey Peacock Pheasant, Partridges, Wards and Red-headed Trogons, among others.