Black necked cranes in Bhutan: Honeymoon or winter holidays?
Just a few days ago, a pair of two adult black necked cranes landed in the winter habitat at Phobjikha, after flying a distance of around 200 km over high barren hills of the Tibetan plateau. It marks the beginning of migration by the cranes to the winter roosting ground in Bhutan. Phobjikha receives between 300 to 400 cranes every winter. In 2012, the first batch of 27 cranes landed at Phobjikha in October.
It is believed that cranes come either from Bamtsho/Yamtsho and Yumstho, the summer habitat in Tibet, according to Jigme Tshering, field coordinator of the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) in Phobjikha. It is a common sight to see cranes arrive in pairs or groups of 30 to 40.
After a day-long flight, they immediately feed on the ground right after landing, said Jigme Tshering. Earlier this month, the roosting ground was cleaned and expanded to welcome the winged visitors and for their comfortable and safe roost. The common roosting ground, which is 70 m in length and 40 m wide, has been expanded to 100 m length and breadth wise, and dug to a depth of 1.5 ft. “Every winter, between 50 to 60 cranes roost in the pond,” RSPN’s Jigme Tshering said.
A proper roost is an integral part of the crane’s life at night, when predators like the red fox and common leopard are sighted often.
The cranes continue to come from the third week of October until the end of December. This year, the Phobjikha wetland of 2,027 hectares will host the cranes in seven roosts, of which three are artificial.
According to Jigme Tshering, cranes preferred artificial roost to natural ponds, as the former provided enough water for a good roost. “Natural ponds are marshy and partially filled with grass, which made it difficult for the cranes to notice predators approaching at night,” he said. “In the artificial roost, even a slight movement of the water by the predators warns the cranes to fly to safety,” Jigme Tshering added.
Last year, 368 cranes, of which 46 were juveniles, roosted in the valley.
Of the estimated 11,000 global black-necked crane population, 500 of them fly to winter habitats of Bumdeling in Trashiyangtse, Chumey in Bumthang and Phobjikha in Wangdue.
There are no reports of the cranes’ return to Bumdeling and Bumthang.