Oct 25, 2012 The 686th bird species

The  Oriental Bay Owl spotted in Nangkhor gewog, Zhemgang (Photo courtesy: Tashi Dhendup, Forest ranger, Zhemgang forest division)

Oriental Bay Owl Bhutanese ornithologists recently confirmed the presence of a new species of bird in the southeastern part of Zhemgang, the oriental bay owl, scientifically known as Phodilus badius.Forest ranger Tashi Dhendup, 32, first saw the bird on September 11, near Kikhar village under Nangkhor gewog in Zhemgang, while conducting a cable car line survey.Tashi Dhendup said the owl had a heart-shaped face, a broad vertical chestnut-brown zone through each eye, and feathers tipped blackish and chestnut-brown.The forehead is V-shaped and pale brownish-grey, eyes dark brown or brownish black and relatively large.  Its eyelids are whitish and its bill creamy yellow.

“The owl was resting on a broadleaved tree around the worksite,” Tashi Dhendup, who enjoys birdwatching during his spare time, said.A group of people, including forest officials and local workers, he said, were drawing out cable lines for the survey around noon.“At the first glance itself, I knew it was a new type of owl in the country,” he said. “I had to ask people around to keep quiet, lest they would scare the bird away.”

He took three shots of the owl on his Nokia mobile phone.“My phone battery was almost out, but I was lucky to get a few pictures of the owl,” he said, adding that, no sooner had he taken pictures of the bird, it flew away.“I was about 600m away and maybe it was the clicking sound of my mobile phone, or our whispers, that scared it away,” he said.In the evening that day, Tashi mailed the pictures to local ornithologist, Bird Sherub, who, after referring the listed birds found in Bhutan, confirmed the next day that it was a new finding, the oriental bay owl.

Tashi Dhendup’s interest in bird watching started within the last few years, mainly after he attended a course on birdwatching in 2010.Since then, whenever time permitted, he walked in the forest with his mini-camera looking for birds.“Birdwatching is very entertaining and catching sight of such birds as the oriental bay owl heightens that excitement,” he said. “It really encourages me to know more about birds, and I’m excited about future findings by experts on the oriental bay owl.”

Bird Sherub said now, including the oriental bay owl, 686 species of birds have been spotted in Bhutan, of the estimated 770 species. “Contributions from people of all walks of life over the years regarding new bird species have been huge,” he said.  In June this year, a forest official in Punakha saw a barn owl, also a new spotting.“It’s a very impressing and interesting finding for ornithologists all over the world,” he said.The oriental bay owl has been added to the central ornithological database that the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute of Conservation and Environment in Bumthang maintains.

courtesy: Kuensel