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Thimphu valley loses Wood Snipe
Wood Snipe

Even as tourists visiting Bhutan are on the rise some rare and at one time, regular visitors to Thimphu valley have stopped coming altogether.

The Wood Snipe (Gallinago Nemoricola), an endangered species, which used to be found in marshy areas around Thimphu are no more seen today according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature.

About four Wood Snipes were last seen near the RICB colony in 1999 by the society's ornithologist Rebecca Pradhan. "Four is a good number because they are hardly seen and since then we have not seen a single Wood Snipe in the valley."

Their gradual disappearance is attributed to the destruction of their natural habitat by increasing human activity in the city. The construction boom, other developmental activities and indiscriminate disposal of waste in the capital have destroyed most of the marshy areas forcing the Wood Snipes to abandon their homes according to the society.

Though the exact number of Wood Snipes in Bhutan is not yet determined, the worldwide population of the bird is estimated to be around 2,500 to 10,000.

Wood Snipes breed in the Himalayas and the mountains of China wintering south-wards to southern India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand and Bhutan.

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620 recorded bird species in Butan
Birds in Bhutan
With the marshy areas around the town being encroached by human beings, the population of winter migrant birds like the Wood Cock (Scolopax Rusticola), Jack Snipe (Gallinago Gallinago), Button Quail (Cortunix Cortunix) and Crakes (Porzana Fusca) are also fast losing their homes.
"Birds are an important link in the ecology and losing them would mean losing an important link that would indirectly affect us," said Rebecca.

Another bird species that has drastically reduced is the Common Finch or Snow Birds (Carpodacus Erythrinus).

"According to the society, the finches were a very common sight during the winter in the early seventies. A single flock of hundreds of finches would be seen swooping and flying during winter when Thimphu was covered in heavy snow.
The number have now dwindled to about 20 to 30 birds with less snow fall in the capital over the years, the society says. Thimphu with a small population was a far colder place during those times hence getting far more snowfall than today, according to the society.

The society also points out that the on-going construction of the Thimphu-Babesa Expressway has also destroyed a lot of bird habitats. The birds, because of increased movement of traffic, frequent less the few marshy areas alongside the expressway. Similarly, the on-going river diversion work of the Thimphu-chu has also resulted in further loss of bird habitats. According to the 'Birds of Bhutan' compiled by Carol and Tim Inskkip, there were about 620 recorded bird species in the country.

Bird habitats of Bhutan are roughly divided into forest, scrub, wetlands, and alpine habitats, agricultural land and around human habitation

White-bellied Heron
Forests and bushes supported 84 percent of the country's breeding birds with 57 percent of the country's globally threatened birds and 90 percent of the country's restricted-range birds dependent on forests.

Bhutan is also home to other rare and globally endangered species like the Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros Nipalensis), Beautiful Nuthatch (Sitta Formosa), Chestnut-breasted Partridge (Aborophila Mandellii), White-bellied Heron (Ardea Insignis) and the well-known Black Necked Cranes (Grus Nigricollis).

Contributed by Kuensel journalist Kinley Y Dorji

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