Two new species of birds, the Oriental pratincole (Glareola maldivarum) and Desert wheatear (Oenanthe deserti) were discovered in Wangduephodrang and Punakha respectively on April 25.

While a teacher from Bajo Higher Secondary School and a keen bird watcher, Tshering Tobgay spotted the Oriental pratincole on April 25, Jigme Dorji National Park senior forester, Lekey Wangdi spotted the Desert wheatear on the same day. The Oriental pratincole was found in the Punatshanchhu and the Desert wheatear was spotted at Khawajara in Samdingkha that morning.

With the two additions reported less than a month after the discovery of the Godlweski’s bunting in March, Bhutan now has 721 bird species. In February, the Yellow-eyed babbler was recorded at the Royal Manas National Park.

Lekey Wangdi who has an interest in high altitude birds said this is his first discovery. He said he did not know if the bird he spotted is a new species. He shared a photograph of his finding on the Birds of Bhutan Facebook page, where an ornithologist of Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation of Environment, Sherub and others confirmed the bird as a Desert wheatear.

Birds of Bhutan is a popular Facebook page for Bhutanese bird watchers, where some prominent local and global ornithologists share information, videos, bird song records and photographs of birds.

Tshering Tobgay who spotted the Oriental pratincole took to Facebook to express his excitement on the discovery. “I can’t enjoy more than this – sighting of this species in Bhutan,” Tshering Tobgay wrote. Both local and global ornithologists confirmed the bird in his photograph as the Oriental pratincole.

Tshering Tobgay however expressed concerns over mining activities in the Punatshangchhu, which he claimed is a hotspot for water birds. “Almost all water birds found in the country are found here in Punatshangchhu,” he said.

The critically endangered White-bellied heron and River Lapwing, which are categorised as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are both found in the river. Other water birds roosting and feeding in the river include, the Mandarin duck, Mallard and Grey heron.

Tshering Tobgay urged the need to regulate and reduce mining activities along the Punatshangchhu. “Sand quarries and other forms of environmental degradation can be detrimental for the water birds so it’s important to conserve and protect the river by reducing disturbances,” he said.

Bhutanese bird enthusiasts are also planning to participate in the upcoming Global Big Day for the second time on May 4. Last year during their debut in the Global Big Day, they recorded 165 bird species. Global Big Day is an international annual bird-watching event contested by bird watchers across the world on a single day.

Tempa Wangdi