Across the world, there are 290 species of fowl- or chicken-like birds. They belong to the order Galliformes: largely ground-dwelling birds that spend their days scratching the ground for insects, worms, and seeds. They are found in nearly every habitat on Earth except Antarctica, from snow-capped mountains to tropical coastal landscapes. The most common of these is, of course, the domestic chicken, but the order includes turkeys, quails, peacocks, grouses, pheasants and many others.
Among the lesser-known Galliformes are the Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus) and satyr tragopan (Tragopan satyra), both residents of the Himalayas. Monals are striking pheasants characterised by iridescent plumage in blue, green, and coppery red colours, somewhat similar to peacocks. Satyr tragopans are also vibrant, with crimson feathers, speckled with black-and-white dots. Both species inhabit dense forests of rhododendron, conifer, and bamboo, and are known to be extremely elusive.
I had been trying to photograph the satyr tragopan in India since 2008, and made several visits to Singalila National Park in West Bengal, and parts of Northeast in pursuit of this rare species. I would see them, but from a distance, and they would run away the minute they spotted me. On one trip, I stayed in Singalila for 40 days trying to photograph the tragopan, with no luck.
This happened repeatedly until 2013, when I finally got close enough to photograph the bird in all its glory. It was extremely difficult to photograph these birds, so imagine my surprise six years later, when I saw not one, but eight satyr tragopans peacefully foraging around a house in Bhutan! That was February 2019 and my third visit to the country. I travelled to Bhutan because I’d heard of communities in Bhutan coexisting harmoniously with this species and I wanted witness this for myself. I saw satyr tragopans, Himalayan monals, gorals, and black-necked cranes in close proximity to humans, sometimes as close as a few inches away. These animals were not at all skittish, and seemed fearless and unbothered by human presence.