In a first scientific bird survey, Nepal Park records 197 species

Chandan Kumar Mandal

KATHMANDU POST – When Hari Sharan Nepali, who is known as the first ornithologist of Nepal, visited the United States (US) in 1978, he had the opportunity to meet President Jimmy Carter. During a brief meeting at the White House, Carter told Nepali that he would one day come to Nepal.

“He told me that he was busy at that time,” said Nepali, who is known as Kaji Dai. “He said to me, ‘Kaji, I will meet you in Nepal.’ “

Nearly 29 years later, Carter would indeed meet Nepali in Nepal.

The 39th president of the US visited the country in 2007 to observe the activities of his eponymous Carter Center which was monitoring the peace process after the former Maoist rebels had signed a peace deal with the government. The Carter Center had contacted Nepali to take the former president for birding in the Shivapuri area, north of Kathmandu.

Nepali, 91, remembers going there with another ornithologist a day before to collect garbage littering the planned route.

A Hoary-throated Barwing (Sibia nipalensis) sighted inside Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. PHOTO: SANZEEV ACHARYA

During a short birdwatching trip, Carter could see around 20 species of birds, according to Nepali.

“He was happy after the trip,” said Nepali, the country’s first self-taught ornithologist. “It remains one of the most cherished memories of my life, although I have taken several foreign ambassadors birding.”

Carter may have sighted just 20 species of birds at Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, but bird enthusiasts in the past have recorded 320 species there, according to park officials.

But that record was made informally without any scientific basis.

In an attempt to make an official count of the number of species, park authorities have started a survey and the first of such three counts that took place earlier this month found 197 birds in the park.

“In the past, there had not been a record of birds through a proper survey,” said Laxman Prasad Poudyal, the chief conservation officer at the park. “The previous data on bird species was based on birders’ records.”

The counting of birds went on for 11 days – three days in the Nagarjun forest area and eight days around the Shivapuri area forest patch. Enumerators had covered motorable roads, walkable trails, vantage points, rivers and streams and other areas within the park.

They not only kept a record of bird species but also individual numbers of the sighted birds and the number of times the individual species were sighted.

“This is the first time that the park authority has conducted a scientific survey for keeping a systematic record on bird species in the park,” Poudyal told the Post. “We wanted to record and update the bird species in the park.”

Although the number of bird species recorded during this count is significantly less than the previously ‘recorded’ number, the park authority says the number is nonetheless impressive for the winter season.

“A one-season survey will not be enough to ascertain total bird species in the park. Some might have migrated elsewhere. There are also altitudinal migratory birds,” said Poudyal. Birds are known to migrate during winter in search of warmer climate and given the altitude of Kathmandu Valley, this is more so.

The park authorities have plans to conduct two similar surveys to determine the number of bird species inside the park. The next survey is planned for mid-May and another in mid-November.

Despite the relatively smaller number of species seen in this survey, enumerators recorded some newer bird species like spotted laughingthrush and hoary-throated barwing, according to Poudyal.

Also, two duck species were recorded in the park’s wetland areas. Never before had duck species been seen at Shivapuri, Poudyal said.

“But other species like cuckoos, which come from Sri Lanka, were not recorded this time,” he said.

The detailed report of the survey is yet to be released and after three rounds of the survey, a comprehensive report on birds in the park will be published.

“Hopefully, the final report on bird species will match the previous recorded number of birds,” he said.