Friday, April 29, 2022

Know Your Bja Throong Throong Karm

I have been photographing birds for close to two decades. I had never intended to be a bird photographer - but we have seen that our life’s pattern is not woven in the way we will it, nor do we always arrive where we intended to. Life seems to have a life of its own – distinct from how we desire it. So it has been with my journey of bird photography – of all things, it was set into motion by the accidental capture of an image of a very scrawny, heart-wrenching female bird called Plumbeous Water Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosa). That puny little bird triggered my lifelong passion for bird photography – I never looked back since. My bird images have been featured in publications spanning the glob. One of them have even featured in the “Guinness Book of World Records 2012” – another one is included in a book titled “100 Birds To See Before You Die”.

My image of the White-bellied Heron featured in this book as the world's rarest heron

My image of the Little Forktail featured in this book titled "100 Birds To See Before You Die"

Number of birds found in Bhutan is approaching a whopping 800 species, which is more than most bigger countries. Of this number, I believe that a large number of Bhutanese would have heard of, or know of, the migratory bird called the Black-necked Cranes (Grus nigricollis). The bird is known by the local name of Bja Throong Throong Karm. These birds migrate to Bhutan during the winter months.

In an attempt to enhance the knowledge of the Bhutanese about the famous bird, I present the following images which I have captured over the years. But before the images, let me present some facts of the birds:

Bird Count
Current estimated global count of the birds: 8,000 – 11,000 individuals.

Life Expectancy
Between 20-30 years.

Alpine meadows and wetlands

Countries Where They Are Found
Tibet China

Physical Attributes Of The Birds
Adults: Head, neck, wings and tail are black - with a red crown and a small light grey spot extending backward from yellow eyes. Body has ashy gray feathers, with tall legs.

Juveniles: black and gray body plumage, with cinnamon-brown head.

Identification Of The Sexes
Both male and female look the same thus rather difficult to make a distinction. However, the male is supposed to be marginally larger than the female.

Threat To The Birds
Loss of habitat due to human pressure on the wetlands and increased grazing on the limited pastures near the wetlands - leading to the degradation of the wetland habitat.

The Black-necked crane is the State Bird of the Union Territory of Ladakh, India.

Threesome: father, mother and offspring

Riding the thermals to arrive and depart Phobjikha valley, which they make their home during the winter months

Faithless - nevertheless they pass by a Buddhist stupa and white prayer flags fluttering in the winds

A dainty Black-necked Crane lass - welcoming and ready for any male with adequate levels of testosterone

The show-off - preening for attention

Executing the mating dance: a male with adequate levels of testosterone

The birds in front of a traditional Bhutanese house: testimony that these birds are indeed resident in Bhutan. Without the inclusion of the Bhutanese traditional house, the bird could have been photographed in any one of the other three countries where they are also found

On the runway: all set to ride the thermals - to depart for their summer homes

Bhutanese Myth Surrounding The Bird
The Bhutanese people believe – erroneously – that the birds circumambulate the Gangtey Goenpa (Gangtey monastery) in reverence, upon arrival in Phobjikha valley. They are said to do the same – when departing for their principal habitats in the North. That would not be true - the Black-necked Cranes are not Buddhists by religion – all birds are faithless creatures.

The reason why they run circles around the valley is to lose or gain height as they land or begin their long distance flight. In the process of circling the valley upon arrival, they are able to lose height gradually and steadily, so that they are able to land softly or gently – landing at once would kill them. The birds gain height by circling – to get lift and enter the zone of the thermals – which help reduce the amount of energy needed to stay afloat and remain in constant flight.

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