In the Upper Siang region in Arunachal Pradesh, 252 bird species have been recorded in a recent survey. The number, however, according to Anirban Datta-Roy, one of the three researchers (the other two being Vivek Ramachandran and Karthik Teegalapalli) of the survey, is “still very less for the area”. Datta-Roy believes there are many more species. And if investigated further, more names will definitely come up. Their paper, “An annotated checklist of the birds of the Upper Siang region, Arunachal Pradesh, India” published in the“Journal of Threatened Taxa” on April 26, however, is one of the most extensive surveys of this nature in the region.
The Orange-bellied leafbird. (Photo by Anirban Datta-Roy)
It is a result of a six year long research (2010 – 2016) in geographies that fell outside the boundaries of the “protected areas.” The results have thrown up 252 bird species, out of which 66 have been recorded for the first time. The list also includes six globally threatened species. “We looked at areas managed by the indigenous Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. These were community-managed forests in villages like Bomdo, as well as remoter villages further north: Ramsing, Karko, Shimong, Janbo and Gelling, which shares its border with China,” says Datta-Roy, who is pursuing his PhD with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment in Bengaluru.
The study reveals the existence of nine species of cuckoos (Asian Emerald, Common Hawk, and Drongo, among others) and migrating waterfowl (Greylag Goose, Common Teal, Northern Pintail, Little Grebe and Mallard), which had not been reported earlier. “It’s perhaps because many species come here towards the end of winter,” he says, “Earlier studies have been restricted to the winter months.” Over the past six years, Datta-Ray alongwith Ramachandran and Teegalapalli, both of whom are from the National Centre of Biological Science, carried out the survey across seasons - from October to May - which is why the new species were spotted. The paper also builds a strong case for the traditional practice of shifting cultivation in the region. “The biodiversity is richer in areas with shifting cultivation as compared to monoculture plantations,” he says. Recent developments imply that the traditional shifting cultivation is being replaced by permanent cultivation in the region. “Also, there are plans to build a 10,000 MW dam on the Siang,” he says, “There is a lot of local opposition to that. Data from our paper — that shows how shifting cultivation is intrinsically related to rich biodiversity — will help in building a case against it.”