Black necked cranes are highly revered in Buddhist traditions. They sort of have a mythical legacy in Bhutan and are very well protected, both legally and culturally. These birds breed in the high plateaus of Tibet during summer and come down to parts of India and Bhutan for the winter.
Phobjikha valley in Bhutan is one of their wintering destinations. This place is a vast glacial valley in central Bhutan, situated at an elevation of around 3000m. It is also known as the Gangteng Valley, name coming from the famous Gangteng monastery there. It is believed that the Black necked cranes, upon arrival in the valley, circle this monastery three times before settling down and also repeat this process before returning to Tibet.
A quaint little village surrounded by high mountains, Phobjikha or Gangteng does receive moderate to heavy snowfall during the winter months. When we landed there late evening, it had just started to snow, not very heavily though. Our first sighting of the cranes happened in an open field, just as we were heading to our place of stay. The light was very low and it was drizzling too. Took a few shots and left. We thought that this probably might the closest we will get to these beautiful birds.
We went to our place of stay, freshened up and had a fabulous dinner. I particularly loved the fried potatoes. It was the whole potato, steamed first and then fried to get its skin crisp. Was just mouth watering and finger licking good :-)
Snowing had picked up steam late in the night and continued all through, leaving the valley covered in a lovely snowy carpet, the next morning. In a snow setting, is how, we wanted to see the cranes and we were lucky that it turned out to be so.
The valley is a huge marshland that is home to many globally threatened species apart from the cranes. A major part of the valley has been declared a protected area. Here’s a view of the winter home of the black necked cranes.
The cranes have a vast area of the valley to roost in and thus are widely spread out. Even when seen, they are usually far inside the protected area, grazing happily, away from any kind of interference. Getting them up close is mostly a matter of chance.
They do sometimes come out of the protected areas, into the fields, to feed and that is when, one can get them relatively closer. As we started going around looking for them on a rather cold winter morning, a small flock of four came and landed very close to our pathway. They did notice us, but seemed not too perturbed. As we kept our distance, they went on with their business, albeit moving away slowly, feeding along the way.
A juvenile on the left and an adult on the right, engaged in some discussion :-)
An opportunity for a portrait…
Another close up…
After these guys moved away, we came across another flock, but this time, they were well inside the protected area.
Having watched them for a while, we decided to move on. Just then, the flock took flight, probably trying to get to another patch of the grazing area. A final showdown to call it a day for us.
Was very pleasing to see the black necked cranes so relaxed, undisturbed and at home in the vast Phobjikha valley. Snow, was just the right icing on the cake, adding to the whole experience. One of the sightings that will remain with me for a long time.
Hope you enjoyed the series of posts on my experiences of, I would say, some opportunistic birding in the wonderful country of Bhutan.