Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Black-necked Cranes

The Black-necked Crane has an average height of 1.5 meters, weighs about 5.35kg and lives approximately 70 to 80 years. With only 5,000 – 6,000 individuals left in the world, the 300 or so who overwinter in the Phobjikha valley form an important group within the overall conservation of this mystical bird. Perhaps their habit of establishing territories and feeding near human habitation has led to their being part of the folklore of the lands where they breed and feed. These local religious beliefs play a critical role in safeguarding the Black-necked Cranes over much of its range.
In Bhutan, the Black-necked Crane is also known as Thrung Thrung Karmo and is deeply revered as a heavenly bird (lhab-bja), which has harmoniously coexisted with the residents largely due to strong Buddhist beliefs. The lhab-bja appears in many Bhutaneses folk lore, songs dances and historical references.

Phobjikha in Wangdue district and Bomdeling under Trashi Yangtse district are two major wintering sites of Black necked Cranes. Gyetsa in Bumthang and Khotokha in Wangdue are two other wintering habitat of the cranes. Every year the birds arrive on their wintering grounds between mid-October and early December and remain until March through mid- April.
At an elevation of 3,000 metres on the western slopes of the Black Mountains, Phobjikha is one of Bhutan's few glacial valleys. Even today, the valley has no electricity (except solar and mini-hydro) or telephones out of fear that stringing up power lines could injure the cranes. In this wintering habitat the Black-necked Cranes forage on harvest residue in agricultural field; their principal food crops include the residue of barley, spring and winter wheat and potatoes. In addition, they feed on tubers, seeds, earthworms, beetles and snails.
In order to highlight the conservation of the Black-necked Cranes, a festival has been inaugurated in Phobjikha and takes place in November when most of the cranes will have arrived in the valley. A day of masked, costume dances are performed by monks, students, women and children, with the Dance of the Black-necked Crane taking pride of place. A small fee is charged to tourists, with a nominal contribution being collected from local and expatiate residents, which go towards covering the costs of the festival. Any extra is given to the conservation fund.

When the cranes arrive, so the local people say, they appear in the sky above the valley, head for the Goemba and circle over the building, before coming into land in the marshy area of the valley floor. Again, when the cranes decide to leave, they gather together, then take off flying towards the Goemba again, circling the building once again before heading out of the valley to fly north to their breeding grounds.
More details about the cranes can be found at the International Crane Foundation website, http://www.savingcranes.org/species/black_necked.cfm