Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The study on the birds in this part of the Himalaya carried out by Trevor Price and his team is focused to identify the number of species and its density, perhaps through DNA sequence and how many species in this stretch will survive in the face of global warming

GANGTOK, June 12: The Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve (KBR), which is part of the Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP) located in West Sikkim, holds substantial population of bird species, which are globally threatened. This was discovered by a five- member team led by Trevor Price, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago.

The census carried out by Mr. Price found rare bird species like Rufous Breasted Bush Robin and Blue Fretted Blue Robin, which were globally threatened species, in good numbers at the KNP.

Other members of the team consisted of Nitin Jamdar of the Bombay National History Society, Dhananjay Mohan, Scientist, IFS, Wildlife Institute of India, Pratap Singh, Researcher in the Wildlife institute of India and Moushmi Ghosh, Researcher.

The census, which was conducted from May 2 to June 9 at the KNP, was part of the five-year joint project on “Study of Bird Species, Numbers and Densities in East and West Himalayas”, of the National Science Foundation of the US and Wildlife Institute of India (WWI) to study the bird species numbers and density in Eastern and Western Himalayas. “Birds found here are of world wide threat. Species of birds, for example, the Black capped strike babbler, Rufous Breasted Bush Robin and Blue Fretted Blue Robin are in good number at KBR because nests of some of these birds which were not yet seen was discovered between branches built like a cradle, 10 ft from the ground. Nitin Jamdar was able to see three eggs as well as spotted both male and female sit on the eggs and also saw chicks come out after few weeks”, Mr. Price said during the presentation held here in a hotel on June 11.

Mr. Price, who has been in India studying on birds for the last 35 years in places like Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, Vizag in Andhra Pradesh and Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, feels that KBR is a fantastic place to study birds. He added, “Sikkim is twice richer in birds than the Western Ghats and has more species than the whole of Europe. But if only you keep it!”

However, keeping in mind the real problem of habitat loss and destruction and the related consequences of global warming, the need for a long term monitoring system in the Himalayas was felt and so the study on birds. This study is funded by the National Science Foundation, USA in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India and will be completed in five years. It is learnt that a major chunk of the fund will, however, be used in the DNA sequence of all species, primarily because birds appear similar but are of different species considering the sound and the DNA sequence.

From next year onwards, another team will be formed and parallel works will be carried out in the Western Himalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal. The team has also found the need to do more research and study more birds from sea level to the Himalayas. Moreover, the team will also come back next year to KBR and will study on the KBR’s vegetation as well.

In their first ever attempt in this part of the Himalaya, the team did their study in three parts taking 250 x 200m plot in three places – Sachen (2300m), Tsokha (3200m) and Dzongri (4025m). In the first survey site, they witnessed effective destruction on either side of the valley. They could not spot some birds but could record bird song singing from a tree. Since Sachen had broad leaved forest with canopies up to 30 m high, the team recognized quite a large number of birds on trees. The team found at least 30 breeding species in three weeks time.

“Every time we sat for a cup of tea, there were a pair of cross birds at Tsokha”, Mr Price said adding that these birds are found where the hemlock are so as to feed on the seeds. “There was a large turnover at Tsokha and Sachen with 56 species identified. Only about nine species were common in both the places”, Mr Price said.

Why so many species in this party of the Himalaya? There may be a hundred hypothesis but the team put forth reasons like the variation of vegetation from tropical to coniferous to artic. Secondly, Sikkim is wet and rainy and so the affinity because many bird species originated in tropical wet areas while others originated in South East Asia and spread to the Himalayas perhaps because of less food.

No doubt Sikkim along with Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh is considered the second largest region in the world in density of bird species after the Andes on the equator in South America.

During the meet, Lukendra Rasaily of the Sikkim Ornithologist Society announced that a course on bird watching will be given soon to some of the youth enthusiasts. He also suggested reading a recently released book on birds published by the state forest and wildlife department. The book has descriptions on important areas of birds in Sikkim, of India’s eleven important bird areas as well as illustrations of 130 birds of Sikkim.