From Ladakh to Arunachal, birdwatchers join hands for Himalayan bird count

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As part of a global effort, scientists and birdwatchers in the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Bhutan came together and documented as many birds of the mountain range as possible.

As part of a sub-programme of the global big bird day event, the bird count took place between 12 a.m. on Saturday till 11.59 p.m. at night.

“This is a competition cum campaign. Birdwatchers from Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, North Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, as well as Nepal and Bhutan, took part in the initiative,” Dibyendu Ash, a Bird Tour Leader, told IANS over phone from North Bengal.

He said that from the westernmost Ladakh to the easternmost Arunachal Pradesh, this is the first edition of the Himalayan Bird Count (HBC) which aims to celebrate the incredible bird diversity and bring attention to the threatened habitats of the region.

Ash said that this process is to generate awareness among the birdwatchers to promote citizen science activities.

“The regular birdwatchers can observe the bird and their varied species and then they can upload these birds to the particular sites,” he said.

The event is organised by Bird Count India, Bird Conservation Nepal and Bhutan’s Royal Society for Protection of Nature working together to bring the Himalayan birding fraternity together for a common good.

The organisations have collectively decided to do this event on “Endemic Bird Day” to spread awareness about Himalaya’s bird biodiversity.

The Himalayas, the tallest mountain range in the world, has fascinated millions by its sheer might and beauty.

The snow-capped mountains, cold deserts, lush green forests and grasslands, and the white waters of the rivers are home to several unique birds.

Sahil Nijhawan, a scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation, told IANS that any citizen can upload pictures of birds through the “eBird App”, which is one of the world’s largest biodiversity-related science projects, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed annually.

“If the environment is affected then the bird can realise this first. If the reasonable number of birds disappear, then we should think that there is no sufficient habitat for the bird and areas of the forest in particular areas have declined,” Nijhawan pointed out.

He said that the amount of birds would tell the health of the forests and environments.

But these fragile ecosystems and their inhabitants are threatened by rapid warming at a rate estimated to be three times faster than the global average.

Nijhawan, who has worked extensively in Arunachal Pradesh, said: “Himalayan Bird Count is a hugely exciting event that brings scientists and experts together with regular citizens to understand what is happening to birds in one of the planet’s most iconic mountains.”

It will give us a glimpse of the status of birds across the Himalayas, an important indicator of the health of this fragile ecosystem on which millions of people depend, he added.

“Himalayan Bird Count can provide consistent, snapshot information of bird diversity in a region that is increasingly threatened by climate change. This kind of information, across years, can help us understand what is happening to our country’s birds,” said Ghazala Shahabuddin, Senior Fellow, Centre for Ecology, Development and Research (CEDAR) working in Kumaon Hills, Uttarakhand.

The biological diversity of the Himalayas is under unprecedented threat due to large-scale infrastructure development too.

Anyone present in the Indian states and union territories were allowed to participate in this event.

The basic activity is to watch and count birds from anywhere in the listed Himalayan region for at least 15 minutes on May 14 and upload bird lists to the bird recording platform eBird (www.ebird.org/india).

Lobzang Visuddha, a member of Wildlife Conservation and Birds Club of Ladakh, said: “We celebrated this event with several bird walks and trails across Ladakh, in Nubra Valley, Hanley, Changthang, Sham Valley, Zanskar, Kargil and others.”

“Birds of Jammu and Kashmir has formed a team of volunteers for the event. We have observed the bird from some of the most remote and inaccessible areas of Kashmir Himalayas,” said Parmil Kumar from the University of Jammu.

According to the India State of Forest Report 2021 (ISFR 2021) released in January this year, the forest cover in the 140 hill districts of the country has shown a decrease of 902 sq km (0.32 per cent) with all eight states of the northeast region also showing a decline.

As per the current assessment, the total forest cover in the hill districts is 2,83,104 sq km, which is 40.17 per cent of the total geographical area of these districts. Hill districts are those which have 2/3rd area as hills.

Arunachal Pradesh, that has 16 hill districts, has shown a loss of 257 sq km forest cover compared to 2019 assessment, Assam’s three hill district (-107 sq km), Manipur’s nine hill districts (-249 sq km), Mizoram’s eight hill districts (-186 sq km), Meghalaya’s seven hill districts (-73 km), Nagaland’s 11 districts (-235 sq km), Sikkim’s four districts (-1 sq km), and Tripura’s four districts (-4 sq kms).

In the case of the other districts in the Himalayan states and UTs, not all have shown decline.

West Bengal’s sole district has shown a slight decline (-18 sq km), Jammu & Kashmir’s 22 districts (29 sq km), Ladakh’s two districts (18 sq km), Uttarakhand’s 13 hill districts (2 sq km) and Himachal Pradesh’s 12 districts (9 sq km).

Total forest cover in the northeastern region is 1,69,521 sq km, which is 64.66 per cent of its area.

The latest assessment shows a decrease of forest cover to the extent of 1,020 sq km (0.60 per cent) in the region.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

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