Fourth Gull species sighted in Bhutan

With entry of the latest new bird species, UWICE said Bhutan’s bird tally now stands at 689

Bhutan is considered to be one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world. Such a tagging is befitting, for Bhutan has been able to maintain large forest coverage, both rich and intact. This provision provides a safe haven for many floral and faunal species to thrive unperturbed. Moreover, the huge altitudinal ranges that rises from tropical forests in the south to the alpine region in the north also is one reason why Bhutan is home to a huge collection of flora and fauna.

In the most recent incident, Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) was able to record a new bird species known as the Black-headed Gull, scientifically termed Larusridibundus.

The latest bird species was sighted at the Royal Manas National Park’s vicinity last month.

UWICE’s researcher, Tshering Dendup, who was involved in the sighting of the bird, said it is the fourth species of Gulls recorded in Bhutan. The other three include Pallas’s Gull, Slender-billed Gull and Brown-headed Gull.

He said with the entry of the latest bird species, Bhutan’s bird tally now stands at 689. The record of bird species in Bhutan is maintained and updated by the Ornithology division with the institute. Tshering Dendup said, “Gulls in Bhutan have been rare partial winter visitors and passage migrants.”

The sighting, Tshering Dendup explained, was made on November 23 this year. UWICE was engaged in training forest officials on Monitoring Mountain Biodiversity (M3B). As part of training requirement, the training attendants were taken along the shoreline of the mighty Drangme Chu (Manas) watching, identifying and recording birds spotted on their way. That was when the new species was sighted.

“The schedule for the day was to conduct water bird watching along the river from Panbang to Mathang Guri,” Tshering Dendup said. He added that they were on the inflatable raft boats of Royal Manas National Park rafting along the river as they recorded each

bird they sighted. “The first batch of participants had already boarded the wooden canoe, which is used to ferry people from the Park Range campus to the other side of the river.”

However, it was towards the later part of the day when few of the participants were walking towards the river and then spotted a bird, a white one, specifically airborne flying along the river from the north. They had taken several pictures of the airborne bird at high shutter speed.

At first, the team which consisted of UWICE’s ornithologist popularly known as Bird Sherub identified the white bird as Brown-headed Gull. The picture of the bird was further scrutinized in the evening, studying its characteristic field marks. It was after a proper scrutiny that the bird was confirmed as a Black-headed Gull, a new record and the fourth species of the Gull.

The bird is said to have a dark red bill, standing on red legs. The special feature of the bird is a dark spot at the ear-coverts, sooty dark above, below and frontal of the eye which makes it unique to the species and also differentiates the Black-headed Gull from other three cousins.

However, the officials who spotted the birds said that for a layman it is difficult to separate the Black-headed Gull with its closest cousin the Brown

headed Gull. The UWICE researcher said that the difference becomes more prominent when airborne.

“In flight, the Black-headed Gull has more pointed wings, with white on the outer primaries extending along most of the wing length, rather than in a small area near the wing-tip border,” he said. He added that this species is a regular on the Brahmaputra in Assam.

While welcoming the record of one more additional faunal species, the Department of Forests and Park Services’ (DoFPS) officials said despite huge numbers of plants and wild animal species officially recorded, there are equal numbers of both species yet to be sighted, spotted and recorded. They shared that there is the need to initiate and conduct similar programs to be able to record more and more plants and animals species.

The country’s policy has always been very conducive for flora and fauna diversity to thrive, as is evident from the constitutional requirement to maintain 60 percent of the land under forest coverage for all times to come. This is supplemented by strong political will, as well as nationwide conservation efforts, by the government.

Through the ‘Measuring & Monitoring Mountain Biodiversity (M3B)’ program, UWICE hopes to make many more plants and animals species discovery.

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