Tuesday, January 31, 2012

CQ .... CQ .... Alpha Five One Yankee Doodle Calling .... CQ ... CQ

“CQ” is a ham radio or amateur radio Code. When I call out “CQ, CQ” over my radio, I am inviting any ham radio operators listening in on the active frequency to respond to my call. “Alpha Five One Yankee Doodle” is supposed to be my unique amateur radio CallSign which will be recognized by amateurs around the world listening in on my call that I am an operator from Bhutan. In truth, my national CallSign is Alpha Five One Alpha Alpha (A51AA). I am using Alpha Five One Yankee Doodle (A51YD) since this is not a call made over the radio waves. Actually, if I was on air, I would be committing an act of piracy since the CallSign A51YD is already allocated to someone else. Under the amateur radio Code of Ethics and Conduct, it is a serious offence to use someone else's CallSign.

As some of you may have guessed, “Yankee Doodle” stands for my initials: YD. The international community recognizes "A5" as Bhutan’s country prefix and the number “1” after the A5 indicates that I am a national operator: under the BICMA amateur radio CallSign allocation conventions. Visiting Hams will be allocated a temporary national radio CallSign consisting of their 2-alphabet initials of choice, preceded by the alphanumeric "A52".

Now, the reason for this CQ: I am sending out this amateur radio code today in fulfillment of the commitment I made to some of you readers - to allow you a live demonstration of how an amateur radio operator operates. I would like to announce to all those to whom this may be of interest - that an English/British Ham will be operating from Paro as of the 11th February, 2012. He will remain on air until the night of 16th February, 2011.

Anyone interested to observe the proceedings is welcome to visit the ham shack in Paro. I will set aside a day - any one day that is convenient to you: between 11-16th February, 2012. Please let me know if you are interested and which date would suite you. Please note that it would be unfair to distract the ham operator beyond one or two hours. I think 12th February would be a good day since it falls on a Sunday.

Please mail me at: yesheydorji@gmail.com. Lunch is on me - after the demo and a chit chat with the operator who is visiting Bhutan for the first time – specifically for ham radio operation.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bhutan: Birding Capital Of The World

My following article appeared in the 2011 issue of "Window on Bhutan" a yearly magazine published by the Royal Bhutanese Embassy, New Delhi, India.

BHUTAN: Birding Capital of the World

The recently released Guinness Book of World Records 2012 features an extremely rare bird photographed in Bhutan – that of the White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis). It is listed as the rarest of the Heron species. The bird, whose global population is estimated at between 50 to 200 individuals, is so rare that Professor Peter Frederic PhD, a world renowned heron expert at the University of Florida, USA had never seen it before, until his coming to Bhutan in 2006. Since then, he has been coming to Bhutan every year and has greatly contributed to the ongoing study of the bird’s biology and ecology, spear-headed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN).

My photo of the White-bellied Heron as it appears in the Guinness Book of World Records 2012

Although the presence of this bird is reported in a number of other countries such as Burma and India, Bhutan is the only country where it can be seen without much difficulty. As on last count, 26 individuals have been enumerated in Bhutan where they can be easily sighted along the Punakha Phochu/Mochu Rivers and around the Berti/Mangdechu areas in Zhemgang. It is for this reason that American diplomat and one of the world’s top birders, Mr. Peter G. Kaestner, choose to come to Bhutan, in April, 2009, to sight two of his life birds - the White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) and the Fulvous Parrotbill (Paradoxornis fulvifrons). Upon request from the Royal Bhutanese Embassy, New Delhi and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thimphu I accompanied Mr. Kaestner on his birding trip to Punakha. Not surprisingly, he was able to sight both his life birds - in a matter of less than one and a half days. Elsewhere in the world, it would be years before one can sight one’s life bird, if at all.

Mr. Peter G. Kaestner who was then the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs and Counsel General at the US Embassy, New Delhi is considered among the world’s top 5 birders, having recorded a life list of 8,399 birds, as of 2011, a record rivaled only by Ms Phoebe Snetsinger, another American, who has a record of over 8,400 sightings.

Among Bhutan’s famous birds are the Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra), which ranks as the 10th most colorful bird in the world.


Another bird that is the delight of most of the birders who visit Bhutan is the unusual Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii) – ranked as the 21st most beautiful bird of the world.

The world birding community considers Bhutan as one of the prime birding destinations in the world. Besides the White-bellied Heron, Bhutan is home to a large number of other globally endangered bird species, such as the Ward’s Trogon (Harpactes wardi), Beautiful Nuthatch (Sitta formosa), Rufous-necked Hornbill (Buceros hydrocorax), Pallas's Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), Blyth’s Tragopan (Tragopan blythii), Chestnut-breasted Partridge (Arborophila mandellii), Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus), Wood Snipe (Gallinago nemoricola) etc., to name a few.

The diversity of Bhutan’s avifauna is stunning. At close to 800 species, it is almost equal to the combined population of 925 species found in all of USA and Canada. The country’s wide altitudinal range produces suitable climactic conditions that help support Bhutan’s enviable biodiversity. However, its conservation is the result of the progressive environmental policies of Bhutan’s successive monarchs and the people who, being mainly Buddhists, revere and respect all natural elements. Bhutan is perhaps the only country in the world that has made a constitutional commitment to maintain a forest cover of 60% for all times. It is no wonder then that Bhutan has been the recipient of prestigious international awards such as the UNEP’s Champion of the Earth Award as well as the coveted J. Paul Getty Conservation Award.

In recent times, Bhutan has gained prominence on the world stage as the country that propounded the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH). While it may take a while for world leaders and economists and planners to adjust to the paradigm shift, a few thousand birders around the world have been finding their Gross Personal Happiness (GPH) at a short stretch of forest in Eastern Bhutan that offers an unmatched variety of avifauna. Birders around the world have declared that short stretch of broad-leaved forest between Sengore and Yongkola in Mongar Dzongkhag as the “Birding Capital of the World.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

World's Largest Colony Of Bee Hives

The photo on my blog banner above was taken over a year back. It shows over one hundred abandoned honey combs on an imposing cliff face rising about three hundred meters above the motor road that runs beneath it. The site of this most amazing natural phenomenon is located in the most deprived Dzongkhag of Bhutan - Zhemgang.

I have not heard of such colonization on such a massive scale, anywhere else in the world. Therefore, I am encouraged to believe that this is a unique and one-of-a-kind occurrence. In the next few days, I am going to submit an entry to the Guinness Book of World Records to declare this site as the “Largest Colony of Bee Hives in the World”. I am not sure that it will qualify or even that such an entry will be accepted by the Guinness Book of Records – but I am going to try any way. And, if it does not qualify at this time, I am going to work at making it qualify in the next few years.

It is my hope that one day this extremely rare occurrence will qualify to be designated as one of Bhutan's Natural Heritage sites. For the moment, we need to work at minimizing destructive human intrusions in the vicinity of this natural wonder. If we can do that, I am sure that the colony of bee hives will grow to number even more!

In addition to being a natural wonder, these abandoned honey combs attract one of Bhutan’s rarest birds and one of the world’s near endangered bird species – the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide (Indicator xanthonotus).  Thus, although until recently the area was out of bounds for tourists, the governemnt has recently lifted the ban thereby opening up the area for bird watchers. For the thousands of bird watchers who visit Bhutan every year, this site can become one of the most dependable birding destinations - to sight their life bird (for a large number of birders around the world, the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide remains a life bird).

By the way, although the photo shows that the bee hives have been abandoned, I am happy to say that duirng my visit to the area about a month back, I noticed that they have been re-colonized and the number of hives have increased even more.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Great Comments

On 2nd November, 2011, I posted an article on this Blog titled “Shangri-la, GNH and Chewing Gum”. Of the 9 comments, I am so impressed by one comment posted by a Singaporean that I want to reproduce it below for the benefit of other fellow Bhutanese. I totally agree with the comments and I have been meaning to post it on the main page so that others may benefit from it.


Disclosure: I'm a Singaporean but I've spent significantly more time in Bhutan than our Development minister.

While I do not necessarily agree that Singapore is the Shangri-la that Bhutan wants to emulate, I am somewhat amused by his very public assertion that Bhutan is not the Shangri-la on earth.

What is a Shangri-la? "Shangri-la" has always been a western invention. It originated in a work of fiction, but has evolved into a term used to describe anything that fits the Western romantic notion of an exotic eastern isolated haven. I always found it very annoying that Bhutan is tagged as the Last Shangri-la. Like you said, Shangri-la is a mythical construct, like Zeus or even Snow White. From some of the responses I've read online, it seems that this silly Shangri-la notion has gone into the heads of some.

I too am often bewildered by this abstract concept of GNH and it's relevance to the common people. K5's premise that GNH is "development with values" is enough of a definition for me. Coming from a former colony that was also invaded by an imperial power, I assure you that I'm not a fan of any monarchy, benevolent or not. However, I see in his words an undertone of pragmatic recognition that the long-term happiness of his people must lie in development, and not as an isolated Shangri-la.

Speaking of development, I understand the sentiment behind why Passu wrote "If we start mining our mountains and lumbering our forests, we can become Singapore in a year...". Passu is as guilty of being presumptuous as much as our minister. Even if Bhutan were to dam every river, mine every mountain, and cut down every tree, it will not be Singapore in even a decade.

Beneath the sparkling veneer, much much work and societal engineering takes place. Not all policies were gold (and many, such as the stop-at-two policy, would come to haunt us later), but almost all were implemented to the letter. That's what Bhutan lacks... execution. Too much said of abstract concepts and grandiose plans, but too little done in concrete matters. Bhutan is more than half-way past its first parliamentary term and the next general elections looms on the horizon. Will the government be held to account for its campaign promises? How will the people vote the second time round, based on the party or the representative?

A footnote. The hoopla about the chewing gum was really a storm in a teapot. I disagree with the spirit of the legislation but in day-to-day terms, banning chewing gum has had little impact. That said, I must confess. When I was living in Bhutan, every time I walked passed a pillar or on a red-stained pavement, I would wish that there was a ban on doma!

November 3, 2011 6:50 PM

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

I watched, fascinated, as this little fellow went about fishing for his breakfast. It is a beautiful little bird - dainty and colorful. Nature has designed its outsized beak for one specific purpose - to grab and hold fish. I was in the Bertey-Chabang areas of Zhemgang - hoping to photograph the elusive and extremely rare White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis). For the past few years I have been visiting the area since it looks like this stretch of forests in the sparsely populated villages of Bertey and Chabang is destined to be an important and even critical White-bellied Heron habitat in the future.

As I patiently waited and watched, I saw this darling of a bird appear out of nowhere and perch on a small rock by the rivulet next to the Mangde-Chu in front of me. As I trained my camera and lens on it, the little fellow levitated and started to flutter and flap its little wings - while maintaining a perfectly stationary position horizontal to the rivulet. Suddenly, it plunked into the water and emerged out of it - with a fingerling wedged in between its outlandish beaks.

After twenty minutes or so of fishing and feeding, the little bird flew away and perched on a tree branch and seemed to be dozing off - his food gathering and feeding over for the present.

I looked on for a little while longer and - wondered! How so very nice that the animals in the wild hunt for only what they need; it is not in their character to amass and hoard for tomorrow. The human animal, on the other hand, is a compulsive hoarder; we are solely focused on amassing, building and hording for tomorrow. This endeavor is seen as a necessary measure of securing and providing for our future; for growth and progress – oblivious of the fact that the very act of safeguarding our tomorrow is what is putting it to peril!

Slaty-backed Forktail (Enicurus immaculatus)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Yellow-rumped Honeyguide (indicator xanthonotus)

One of the highlights of my trip to Trongsa and Zhemgang (from where I returned a short while ago) this time was that I managed to get a folder full of one of Bhutan's most beautiful birds - the globally threatened Yellow-rumped Honeyguide perched on a honeycomb (these birds feed on the beewax once the bees abandon the hive). But it came at a price - I was stung by the bees twice on my head because I was going closer and closer to the bee-hives. But what an image I got for my pains :)-


Did you know?
Honeyguides are so named because one or two of these bird species have the exceptional ability to lure humans, bears and Honey badgers to colonies of bees. They do so because once the honey is taken, the crafty birds are then able to feed on the remaining beeswax and larvae.

In total there are seventeen species of these birds grouped under four different genera. Two are found in Asia and the rest are in Africa. Bhutan has one of them: Yellow-rumped Honeyguide which is NOT the species that leads humans and other bee hunters to beehives.

It is called "Yellow-rumped" because it has a bunch of yellow feathers on its rump - the abu :)-