In the month of March of 2017,a grand tour to Bhutan we have conducted; which went on for 11 days. In those 11 days of cross country birding drive we have covered all the major birding destinations of Bhutan.
Route Taken: Phuntseling-Wangkha-Paro-Chele La-Paro-Shaba Dekha-Thimphu-Simidokha-DochuLa-Lampelri-Lumasawa-Punakha-Phochu-Sobsokha-Mochu-Punkha-Chuzomsha-Nobding-Phobjika-Luntha-Chazam-Trongsa-Bumthang-Ura-Sengor-Yongkola-Yongkola-Lingmethang-Mongar-Trashigang-Rongthang-Wamrong-Samdrup Dzonkhar-Guwahati [Overnight stays are shown in Red]. P.S. All the Hotel and/or Resorts where we stayed were of minimum three star (3*) category
Driving Distance: 2100 Kilometers.
The daily travel log has been put down below
10th March 2017: [Phuntseling-Wangkha-Paro]
We started our birding as soon as we left Siliguri. Every participants had to be picked up from different locations in and around Bagdogra and Siliguri. We started around 9AM that day; in the first leg of the birding session, we went to Phuntseling by Innova cars and thereafter we had a Toyota Hiace Van (which was with us for the rest of the trip). On our way, we had our lunch at Phuntseling and the permit had done from the check post. Making of permit took time and we from our side made initial arrangement for SIM cards for our guests. Though we couldn't do major birding but on our way from Jalpaiguri to Phuntseling; but we saw Indian Roller, Great Cormorant, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Shikra, Spotted Dove, Cattle Egret, Starlings and Mynas. Around 2 PM after reaching Phuntseling, we took our lunch with the participants and met our driver Damchi and Bhutanese tour guide Tashi. Their hospitality just amazed us. As we left Phuntseling we strted heading towards our destination at Paro. The road at places were of very bad condition and we went to Wangkha at 9:30 PM, at Wangkha we had our dinner and we checked in at our hotel at Paro at 11:30 PM. I could see the entire Paro city thickly covered under snow blanket. The worse part was heavy snowfall and downpour at night, which left us without any power at hotel.
11th March 2017: [Paro-Chele La-Paro-Shaba Dekha-Thimphu]
As planned we had to start our birding by 5:30 AM in the morning. Th entire night rained and snowed a lot and the valley was covered with snow, with very little bird activity, in disappointed mind we started to drive uphill towards Chelela and try our luck for magnificent Blood Pheasant. Just few bends up our driver told me not to take the risk of driving uphill in such a slippery snow covered road.
I told and explained the situation to all the participants and decided to do birding in and around Paro Chu. As entire Paro was thickly covered by snow and it was tough to walk on the outfield, thus most of the participants except few decided to walk with me. Just on the river bank we saw River Lapwing, Brown Dippers, Rufous-breasted Accentors, Rosy Pipits etc. Sometimes it was snowing so heavily that photographing birds or even having a look at them were becoming tough. All on a sudden a participant called me to and said she saw some snipe like bird. After a thorough look I found the bird as a Solitary Snipe. It is one of the rarely seen birds of Bhutan and one of the least photographed bird species as well. Thus seeing this skulker and rare bird from Bhutan, bird watchers and bird photographers of the team was very much overwhelmed. After this special sighting we also saw Little Buntings in huge flock, Black-throated Thrushes and Plain Mountain Finch. Around 4 PM on our way towards Thimphu (the capital of Bhutan) we saw a juvenile of Blandford's Rosefinch; the individual was foraging on the ground. It was a lifer for all the birders. Later we checked in to the hotel at Thimphu (at 6:15 PM) and wrapped up our birding for that day.
|Solitary Snipe at Paro Chu, Paro||Hello Birder, you have seen River Lapwing closely; but have you seen it on snow?|
12th March 2017: [Thimphu-Simidokha-DochuLa-Lampelri-Lumasawa-Punakha]
Next day as well it was very cold. In west Bhutan for the previous two days, heavy snowfall had blocked all the road connection between west and east. Same as day before it started raining in the early morning. The police at the exit point at Thimphu was not allowing vehicles to Punakha. Thus we were complete in the darkness that whether we would be allowed to drive forward or not till road situation improves. In the morning session we did birding in different birding trails in and around the Thimphu City and got Golden-naped Finch, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Scarlet Minivet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Periparus Tits, Turdus Thrushes of two three types, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Himalayan Bluetail, Alpine Thrush, Black Eagle etc. As the traffic started moving we got into the vehicle and started going towards Dochula via Simidokha. On our way in some birding trails we saw Himalayan Buzzard and Snow Pigeon. Later we took our lunch at Dochu and photographed the magnificent beauties of the high altitude pass. The pass at Dochu is not only a birders heaven but also a place for landscape photographers.
Later in the afternoon we faced a heavy traffic congestion between Dochula and Lampelri due to snow. As we crossed lampelri, traffic congestion thinned little bit and we drove to Jigme Dorji National Park. Here again we did birding for 3 hrs on 12th afternoon and saw Kalij Pheasant, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Blandford's Rosefinch (again for the second time, in two consecutive days), Hume's Bush Warbler etc. Now we were heading towards Lumasawa to take a short break for tea. Just after stopping by few minutes I started exploring a nearby birding trail just beside a tea shop I found both male and female of Lesser Kestrel on a dry tree; all the participants got beautiful shots of the rare beauty. The light became dim by 5 PM and we wrapped our birding for the day and drove to Punakha.
|Blanford's Rosefinch from Jigme Dorji National Park|
13th March 2017: [Punakha-Pho Chu-Sobsokha-Mo Chu-Punakha]
Today was the day, when our main concentration was mostly on waders (aquatic birds) of Himalayan Ecozone. The day started with sighting of Eurasian Wigeon, Ruddy Shelduck, Mallards, Gadwals, Greater Cormorants, Goosanders, Brown Dipper etc. Near Po Chu and Sobsokha we tried in a birding trail for White-bellied Heron but couldn't find any trace of the bird. However, other beautiful species like Scaly-breasted Munia, Lemon-rumped Warbler are few to mention. The major highlight from the morning birding session was photographing Fire-capped Tit at the close distance. We saw an entire flock consisting of 6-7 individuals, both male and female. Later major sighting before lunch was Asian Barred Owlet, Large Niltava, Slaty-backed Flycatcher etc. In another birding trail, me accompanied by other participants saw a Barking Deer, Grey-winged Blackbird and some other commoners. At sobsokha we took our lunch and post lunch according to our plan; we drove to Mochu. The river side of Mochu yielded same avian fauna as we saw beside Po Chu. Thus we decided to spent some more hours at Pho Chu for White-bellied Heron, alas we couldn't spot any. However, Brown Dipper and Crested Kingfisher were seen. Later light became poor and we came back to our hotel.
|t is all about enjoying the greenery of the forest and its dwellers. We were blessed seeing the beautiful Fire-capped Tit!||One of the most lucrative flycatcher from eastern himalayas and parts of north-east. This March during our visit to Bhutan we saw this beauty near Po Chu; while we waited for Heron. With no luck of Heron, we got this beauty.|
14th March 2017: [Punakha-Chuzomsha-Nobding-Phobjika]
Next day we started by 5 AM in the morinng since we had a long way to go. We reached Chuzomsha by 8 AM, between Punakha and Chuzomsha we photographed Ashy Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, Golden-throated Barbets, Slaty-blue Flycatcher, Little Pied Flycatcher, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker etc. After Chuzomsha our next stop was at Nobding for Lunch, during the lunch hours as well, we saw Himalayan Shrike-Babbler, juvenile of Mountain Hawk Eagle, Wallcreeper etc. We left Nobding by 1 PM and on our way to Phobjika we did afternoon birding in a separate birding trail where we found Upland Buzzard, Brown Parrotbill, Spotted Nutcracker, Grey-crested Tit, Alpine Thrush etc. As we entered Phobjika Valley my heart bit rose in the tension for the sighting of Black-necked Crane. For most of the birders in that group it would be a lifer. All on a sudden a pair was seen from a distance. Participants saw it and photographed it nicely in the alpine steppe grassland. Little later Eurasian Magpie, Greater Short-toed Lark and a male of Hen Harrier were seen. The sighting of Black-necked Crane from Bhutan was really enchanting, since Phobjika Valley is considered the holy place for the Black-necked Crane. Some ethno-ornithological relation is there too through tibetology.
|Black-necked Crane from Phobjika Valley|
15th March 2017: [Phobjika-Luntha-Chazam-Trongsa-Bumthang]
We just had one night stand at Phobjika, and on the next day we tried our luck for Cranes again; however, today we didn't spot any. As usual the morning was very windly in Phobjika valley, the higher ridges were still covered by snow. We saw massive flocks of Plain Mountain Finches all over the Valley, Yellow-browed Tit and Grey-crested Tit both were foraging on Rhododendron. Amidst the Birch and Rhododendron forest, an Eurasian Sparrowhawk was seen too. Participants got awesome photographs of the beautiful raptor. Little later we decided to take our breakfast in a nearby place called Ura. When participants were taking their breakfast, I was out in the field to see and check bird activities, if I could spot any. All on a sudden a huge raptor flew over my head and I called all the birders from the GoingWild's participation team. All I could do is to take a record image from behind. The magnificence of such a graceful raptor would have been a good lifer for participants as well. They could just see the bird, but couldn't manage to photograph it. In central and eastern parts of the country road works are going on; however, in those disturbed places as well we continued our birding and the outcome was very affirmative. Just beside a construction site, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Dark-rumped Rosefinches were seen. Today we had a long way to go and as per schedule we were supposed to reach at hotel by 8PM; thus without wasting our time we drove continuously and didn't stop unless we saw any birds. However, commoners were seen and photographed like Minal, Siva, Babblers, Warblers etc. Later we checked in at hotel.
|The lesser Tits were many in numbers; as we came down from Phobjika valley, we saw a huge flock of Plain Mountain Finch alongside Rufous-vented Tits, Yellow-browed Tits and Spot-winged Tits. People have a question in mind, why Yellow-browed Tits don't have prominent yellow brow?|
16th March 2017: [Bumthang-Ura-Sengor-Yongkola]
We started the day early since we had a long way to drive. Today was the last day for us to see and photograph pheasants for the last time. As we were driving though pine forest, we saw Himalayan Monal at an altitude of near 10,000 ft; little later we also saw White-winged Grosbeak. Red Crossbills were seen on the tp of the pine trees. At one birding trail, seeing the droppings of pheasant I found an entire flock of at least 15 Blood Pheasant; participants got good photographs of the species and enjoyed a lot. A relief after searching for the species for quiet a long time during the tour. Despite being inclement weather on first two days we missed the Blood Pheasant and at last got it 16th. We saw three flocks of Blood Pheasant in the whole day. Just near Sengor, saw a Beautiful Rosefinch too (previously saw it in Singalila National Park). After spending sometime with a Hoary-bellied Squirrel, we photographed some of typical high altitude bird species like Spotted Nutcracker, White-throated Redstart, Rufous-fronted Tit, Himalayan Bluetail, Spot-winged Tit, Rufous-fronted Tit, Alpine Accentor etc. No doubt today was a very productive day for us. At night just before reaching Yongkola, we saw a Grey Nightjar too, but we could not photograph the species; but the sound was very much known to me. Similarly a Mountain Scops Owl was calling too just adjacent to the hotel we stayed at Yongkola.
|White-winged Grosbeak was seen along with mixed flock of Crossbills, Rufous-fronted Tit and Spotted Nutcracker.||The beauty of being a beautiful Rosefinch!||Almost regularly we have seen Spotted Nutcrackers whenever we were between 7,000 ft to 9,500 ft in March. Most of the time they were seen with White-winged Grosbeak and White-throated Redstart.|
The beauty of being a Blood Pheasant! Previously from Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary in East Sikkim, I have mostly seen "affinis" subspecies; from Bhutan this time saw "tibetanus". Yet to see "beicki", "marionae". Lovely they are!
17th March 2017: [Yongkola-Yongkola]
In the morning at Yongkola we decided to do birding towards south-eastern birding trail and in the afternoon session we will cover the western side of the village. As planned, the morning birding session was full of Laughingthrushes - White-creasted Laughingthrush, Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, White-throated Laughingthrush, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers etc. As the day progressed, bird activity rose to a significant level and we god mixed flock consisting of more than 10 species together at Yongkola. At one corner of the village, I noticed Rufous-throated Partridge as well, but couldn't photograph it due to torrential rain. Hopefully next time, those Rufous-throated Partridges will not be that shy. In the mean time, we saw two endangered species as well; one pair of Rufous-necked Hornbill and a Yellow-rumped Honeyguide. While we were driving through rain, the nasal honking sound of Rufous-necked Hornbill drawn my attention and I took the participants to the spot and they got relly nice image of the Hornbill; however, during the sighting of Honeyguide the rainfall increased significantly and hardly two participants got doen from the Hiace van to have a look at the species, though they couldn't manage to photograph it that day. Just at the ridge of an open rocky slope another endangered mammal Himalayan Brown Goral was seen too. From other mammals we saw Capped Langur as well that day. From 12 PM to 2 PM it rained a lot and we resumed birding again at 2:30 when it was still drizzling. The afternoon birding session yielded Red-faced Liocichla, Grey-sided Laughingthrush, Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Rufous-headed Parrotbill - All star species in a single flock. The bird photographers were purplexed, which one to photograph and which one to leave.
|This is how one can experience Bhutan with GoingWild. After a heavy shower all were out, it was really a birders delight for 15 minutes.|
18th March 2017: [Yongkola-Lingmethang-Monagar-Trashigang]
As previous day was bombastic, thus we were waiting for more to happen and tried for Honeyguide again and today we got the beautiful bird from a closer distance in the morning. Next day in the beginning we photographed Bay Woodpecker and Scarlet Finch along with Black-eared Shrike-babbler. The most beautiful catch of the day was the sighting of female of Rufous-necked Hornbill. Nepal Fulvetta, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Capped Langur and Dark-breasted Rosefinch was nice to experience as well. Last but not the least before leaving Yongkola was the sighting of Bhutan Laughingthrush, Yellow-cheeked Tit and White-naped Yuhina. Assamese Macaque was seen just beside the road. In the late afternoon Steppe Eagle, Orange-bellied Leafbird was seen, by that time light became very dim and we couldn't see the birds properly and we wrapped up for the day.
|Active, abandoned, cells filled with honey. This image shows the habitat of Yellow-rumped Honeyguide in Apis dorsata colony. Though they have a typical flycatcher like behavior; they know how to feed on without disturbing the colony labors||The problem of being so close. All our way back from 15th March onwards, we had multiple sightings of Bhutan Laughingthrush.|
19th March 2017: [Trashigang-Rongthang-Wamrong-Samdrup Jongkhar]
Today was the last full day before the end of the Bhutan Birding Tour. The morning birding started with sightings of White-crested Laughingthrush, little later a tiny Wallcreeper kept us busy for 15 minutes. After having our breakfast we found Tibetan Serin; participants got good photographs of the species. Also we saw an Eurasian Sparrowhawk with a kill and Himalayan Buzzard from close distance. In the afternoon near Rongthang, we saw mixed flock of exotic birds like Fire-tailed Myzornis and Grey-headed Bullfinch. In a open rock surface we saw third time Himalayan Brown Goral in our tour. It was not at all an easy sighting of Myzornis and Grey-headed Bullfinch. Though photographs of Fire-tailed Myzornis now-a-days is becoming commoner; but very few sighting records are there for Grey-headed Bullfinch. In the last light of the afternoon we saw a Dark-sided Thrush; only one participant could manage photographing the bird.
|In the last leg of our Bhutan Tour, we saw many Tibetan Serin along with a mixed flock of white-eyes. Participants got awesome photographs of this beautiful birdie! Photographed one shown here is a male of the species.||Grey-headed Bullfinch was there alongwith Red-headed Bullfinch. That afternoon we stopped for a while seeing another mixed flock of birds; it drove us to the flock of Bullfinches.|
20th March 2017: [Samdrup Jongkhar-Guwahati]
With heavy heart we had to leave Bhutan today. However, the morning we didn't want to miss and went for birding for 3 hours and found some of the common species expected to be seen in Himalayan foothills - Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Golden-fronted Leafbird. On our way back we saw a Capped Langur too. By 8:30 we checked out from our resort and headed towards Guwahati. Once we were inside the city, we planned to see the garbage dump area for Greater Adjutant Stork as well. On our way to airport, we saw Lesser Adjutant Stork as well. In the end all the birders grouped together and took a group photograph.
|Greater Adjutant from the Garbage Dump of Guwahati. Photographed on 20th of March 2017, when we were returning back.|
If you want to download the checklist of birds from this March 2017 birding tour from Bhutan, you just click on the button below mentioning "Download The Bird List". For further queries about the birds of Bhutan kindly write us at [email protected] ; we would be delighted to serve you. Cheers!
Nirvana Trip - Excellently detailed. Thanks. Have been thinking of driving to Bhutan. Looking forward to any other posts...!