Yangyel Lhaden

March 4, 6:00am: Sonam Tshering steps out into the serene morning.

The air is filled with the delightful chirping of birds as he prepares himself to join the forest officials and their Local Conservation Support group (LCSG) in conducting a survey of the white-bellied heron (WBH) population along the Punatsangchhu river.

Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) completed conducting nationwide five-day annual population survey yesterday for the critically endangered WBH.

Last year, RSPN recorded 27 WBH. There are less than 60 individuals [birds] recorded in the world.

Sonam Tshering is a senior research assistant with RSPN and a supervisor for the survey along the Punatsangchhu basin.

At the first site Sonam visits, a forest official Kinley Phub is already there. โ€œ Kuzuzangpo, sir!โ€ Sonam says. โ€œDid you see the WBH today?โ€

ย โ€œNot so far, but I saw one yesterday,โ€ says Kinley.

He wakes up by 5:00am in the morning and stays at the site till 6:00pm; vigilantly monitors the site, like other required bird watchers he also updates data between every one and two hours in Epi collect 5.

โ€œIt is my first time being engaged in this survey, and it is fun as I can observe other species as well,โ€ Kinley says. He has seen grey langur, capped langur, jungle fowl, and many water birds.

Kinley says that the lone WBH heron he saw has built three nests so far, and he is calling for his mate, but up till now, the female has not shown up.

As Kinley and Sonam converse, around 7:40 am, the WBH heron returns to its nest and takes a flight along the river.

Along the Punatshangchhu basin, the bird watchers can come in the morning from home and leave at night, but it is not the same in other sites where surveyors are challenged by inaccessible roads and having to camp in the middle of the forest. They survive on a meager supply of Parle G and instant noodles during the daytime, but they make sure to have a hearty meal at night after they complete the survey.

RSPN completed nationwide annual population survey yesterday

Among the surveyors is a lone woman, Dawa Zam. She had seen the WBH while growing up but came to know that it is a critically endangered bird only last year. โ€œI was intrigued and became part of the LCSG member and since I am always looking for the bird, I even see it in my dreams,โ€ Dawa Zam says.

โ€œThe earnings from the survey and being an LCSG member greatly help her familyโ€™s livelihood.โ€ She has a child with a disability at home.

A forest official, Richen Dorji, has seen a new nest at his site. He climbs down about a treacherous 300 metres from the road to observe the bird and its habitat every day.

As RSPN wrapped up their survey yesterday; Kinley has observed another WBH coming to his site.

RSPN expects to publish the status of WBH in the country by the end of this month.