Choki Wangmo

Many bird enthusiasts and conservationists were thrilled earlier this week to witness huge flocks of water-birds arrive at the sewerage ponds in Babesa, Thimphu.

With the ongoing developmental activities in the area and the consequent threat to water-birds’ habitat, most of them, however, are worried about the future.  The members of Bhutan Birdlife Society (BBS) are in the process of raising the issue with Thimphu Thromde.

In the last three days alone, the two sewerage ponds have recorded 13 water-bird species, which, according to birders, is the highest record. “I’ve been birding for the last decade but this is the first time I saw such huge flocks,” a birder, Kelzang Dorji said.

The largest flock is of red-crested pochard with 126 individuals.  The ponds were home to only five individuals in the past.  According to e-bird, an online platform to record bird sightings, the sewerage ponds are home to 65 migratory water-birds.

The sewerage ponds are home to 65 waterbird species

Founding member of BBS, Thinley Wangchuk, said that, this year, the arrival of water-birds in Thimphu had seen a dramatic increase in numbers.  He said that it could be due to severe weather fluctuation observed in recent days in Bhutan that coincide with many water-bird species picking their migration back to summer breeding grounds in the north through Bhutan as a flyaway zone.

“Thimphu received one of the highest water-bird flocks in a single day so far with diverse species; species richness and abundance too,” BBS’s social media page on February 28 stated.

The arrival could change in the future once the automated sewerage system starts working.  According to birders, the thromde has plans to fill the ponds and create recreational parks within three years.  One pond has been already covered to accommodate the construction of the automated sewerage system.

This week, BBS is proposing to lease out the area from thromde, which will then be recreated as an ecological park to keep the ponds intact.

“There’s a need for developing the area that’s suitable to both the public and birdlife. We need to find a common ground,” Thinley Wangchuk said, adding that filling the ponds would endanger one of the birding hotspots within the capital.

He said that, considering that the area was visited by international and local birdwatchers, conserving the area for future economic activities has become more important.

The land-use change, he said, would significantly impact water-birds and shorebirds that visit Thimphu. “It’ll also impact the citizens seeking recreational activities and learning in nature.”

A bird enthusiast, Hishey Tshering, said that the arrival of different bird species showed the importance of such habitats for birdlife, and that the thromde should take such observations into account while developing the city.

In the past few days, numbers of water-birds like ruddy shelduck and common mergansers were also reported in the area.

Another birder said that the thromde needs to promote and protect such areas for water-birds to draw attention to the rich avifauna of the country and attract visitors.

BBS also proposes to incorporate a waterhole in the area since most of the water-birds like the red-crested pochard feed and live on stagnant waters.

Other dzongkhags like Paro and Lhuentse also recorded high water-bird arrivals recently.

“This year, Kurichu in Lhuentse received hundreds of waders like the red-crested pochard, gadwall, ferruginous duck, northern pintail, Eurasian wigeon, green-winged teal, and common shelducks,” a forester, Gyeltshen, said.

Meanwhile, Kuensel learnt that the thromde hasn’t decided on the plan yet.