Bhutan 2009
Trip report

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Trip Report symbol © Sumit Sen             Bhutan Trip Report
             Text & Images: Ravi, Namita & Medha Potluri
             2 April - 12 April, 2009



© Potluri
Golden-throated Barbet

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We are just back from a fantastic 10-day birding trip to Bhutan, a country remarkable for its extensive forest cover (65% !!) and being “at the junction of 2 major bio-geographical realms – the temperate Palaearctic and the tropical Indo-Malayan – and extreme variations in climate and altitude”, in possession of a remarkable diversity of birds. Birding in this country is almost entirely done from the road, and while off-road birding is possible, there is so much one could see from the road itself that one need not venture beyond.

We traversed from the south-east of the country and exited Paro in the central west, travelling along Bhutan’s main arterial road, and covering a variety of habitats and altitudes. We birded around Samdrup Jongkhar, the stretch from Deothang to Trashigang, around Korila and Mongar, Limithang-Yongkola-Sengor (a truly spectacular stretch of forest and bird diversity), Thrumsinghla Pass, Yotongla, had brief stops at Pelela and Phobjikha valley, Jigme Dorje NP along the Mo Chhu, Dochula Pass and the Chelela Pass.

We managed to get exceedingly good and multiple sightings of the top 3 birds in our target list – the Satyr Tragopan, the Himalayan Monal and the Blood Pheasant. Of the other target birds we had, while we dipped on a few, we bagged a few surprises which more than made up. In all, we had close to 200 species (highlights below), many of which are lifers to us, and were a pure delight to be able to see after only fantasizing about them all these years.

© Potluri
Satyr Tragopan

The Satyr Tragopan has to be seen to be believed – it is that rare combination of exceptional beauty and elusiveness that makes this bird highly desired. And when we saw it feeding on the edges of a clearing in the forest for about 15 minutes, the thrill that permeated us was perhaps one that we had never felt before in our birding lives. While even in bird book illustrations this pheasant makes one salivate over, in flesh and blood it is something else – the body effuses a deep ochre-red and positively illuminated the drizzly evening landscape that we saw it in. On its exceptional canvas of red, the white spots spread over the upper and under-bodies shine out like stars on a clear Himalayan night sky. As if this wasn’t enough, there is a luminescent blue around its head that catches your eye at certain angles when it is feeding. All in all, simply magical ! If we hadn’t seen a single other bird, this trip would have been worth it !!

The Monal was equally spectacular, with its kaleidoscopic plumage, and we had some truly great sightings including of one which was feeding just by the roadside just a little short of the Thrumsinghla Pass at 3700 metres. As we rounded a bend and came upon it, the startled bird decided to pause for a fleeting second allowing us to take in its wondrous colours glowing in glorious evening sunlight, before taking flight across the valley and showing off its golden luminescent tail. Even though this episode would have lasted no more than 2-3 seconds and our other sightings of the bird were for considerably longer, it is something which will reside in our memory forever.

© Potluri
Blood Pheasant

The Blood Pheasants, of which we had the most sightings, and which in Bhutan appears to be a certainty for birders, is just as fantastic as Ramki’s image of it from their trip in November last (and which incidentally inspired our current trip). The blood-red tinge to the feathers on the breast and the tail on the otherwise immaculately white male and the striking pattern on the head make this bird stand out spectacularly in the barren/icy landscapes that we usually found the bird in.

In addition to this triumvirate, the highlights included the Great and Rufous-necked Hornbills, 4 species of parrotbills (Great, Grey-headed, Brown and Black-throated), 13 species of laughingthrushes (including clearly the star of the lot – the Spotted), the Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Cutia, Rufous-throated Partridge, Red-faced Liocichla, 3 species of shrike babblers (White-browed, Black-eared, Green), Rufous-throated Bush Robin, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, 2 sightings of the Sapphire Flycatcher, Silver-eared Mesia, 2 species of Minla, 5 sps and 4sps each of Yuhinas and Fulvettas, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Black-tailed Crake, a lone Black-necked Crane, Emerald Cuckoo, Red-headed Bullfinch, Crimson-browed and Gold-naped Finches, 5 species of sunbirds (Fire-tailed, Mrs Gould’s, Green-tailed, Crimson and Black-throated), Barred Cuckoo-dove, Large Niltavas and glimpses of 2 Tesias.

To make us want to return to this inviting country, we were eluded by the Beautiful Nuthatch, either of the Trogons, any of the Wren-babblers (we did not invest much time owing to the lack of tapes) and the Golden-throated Fulvetta.
We carry with us several abiding memories of this trip in addition to the fantastic birds that we saw – the genuine warmth of the simple, © Potluriapparently uncomplicated Bhutanese people, some great local food that kept us going (including the fiery Ema Datsi – the chilli-and-cheese concoction), the miles of spectacular undisturbed Himalayan forest spread over hill after hill and adorned with the blossoming magnolias, the 2 nights of camping at Sengor including the one when just after we returned from birding, it rained hailstones and left the camp in a cover of white, and the ride over the 3700+ metre Thrumsinghla Pass which as a result of the previous night’s snowstorm was like a Christmas picture postcard – snow all over on the roads and the fir and rhododendron trees that dot its hillsides.

It is also noteworthy that there is a lot of similarity in terms of bird diversity to Eaglenest which we visited a couple of years back – the parrotbills, the trogons, the myzornis, the wren-babblers, Cutia, Beautiful Nuthatch, the fulvettas and minlas, the babblers, but the 3 special pheasants and the opportunity to appreciate the Bhutanese people – their way of life and their religion, as also spectacular scenery (icy Himalayan peaks, lush large swathes of forest, booming valleys and rolling plateaus), make this place different. The more culturally oriented could also fit in visits to the various dzongs and monasteries that dot its landscape.

Weather in general was co-operative, the latter half of the trip was in glorious sunshine, and even in the first half, the occasional drizzle/rain did not affect our birding time for the most part.

The importance of having a good bird guide who is familiar with the local hotspots and with bird calls is well appreciated by birders, but its criticality is underscored even more in places like Bhutan and Eaglenest which, other than hiding a lot of skulkers, throw at you these fast-moving hunting flocks comprising multiple little jewels. We were to unfortunately discover the raw end of the stick in the first half of the trip when we ended up with a complete disaster of a guide by which time we were done with the hotspots for a few of our target birds. The contrast was stark in the second half of the trip when an exceptionally good guide helped us to some of the star targets.

Birding-oriented tourism in Bhutan is quite mature and popular, with ample tour operators, recognised hotspots, well-furnished vehicles and well-trained staff, and hotels catering to the requirement of providing packed breakfast and lunches as early as 3am, and mind you these are quite elaborate affairs, not just bread/parathas.

Below is a detailed trip report covering our itinerary for those of you who may plan a visit to this fascinating country – something which we wholeheartedly and highly recommend !


© Potluri

April 2 (Delhi-Guwahati-Samdrup Jongkhar)

We flew in to Guwahati by an early morning flight, and transferred in about 2.5 hours to the border town of Samdrup-Jonkhar (Darrang – the town on the Indian side), where the immigration staff had been forewarned of our arrival. We sped through to our modest hotel in this quaint little modest town where we were met with by our birding guide Tandin and our driver Mangal, who as we were to discover many a time during the trip, had an exceptionally keen eye for birds and who helped spot some great ones for us, some even while driving !

Over lunch, where we were introduced to Ema Datsi, a dish made from red/green chillis and cheese and which as we were to discover is a staple Bhutanese food and part of each meal – with only the degrees of fieriness varying from cook to cook. Most meals on the trip also had another form of Datsi (cheese-based dish) – either with potato (Kewa Datsi), with ferns harvested from the jungle, with spinach or even with cauliflower. All of us really took to the Datsis quite well, and which along with the meat dishes (beef/lamb/pork/fish) made up our spread, made us look forward to our lunches and dinners.

To finish off the topic of food, it was remarkable that breakfast and lunch would be made ready and packed in our car irrespective of the time of start for the day – our average time of departure was 4am, with the earliest start being at 3am.

After lunch, we proceeded to get our permits which took less than an hour to organise and which were to be our official travel documents for the trip (please remember to retain this to be handed over at the airport immigration at Paro upon exit). Done with immigration, we proceeded to commence our birding where we drove up a few kilometres and walked down a gully to a river. While most were regular low-hill birds, a brown bird that flew into a low scrub turned out to be a Siberian Rubythroat, something which pops up over north India in the winters quite regularly but which had been eluding us. The rubythroat that kept bobbing in and out as it called was truly spectacular, particularly standing out in the pale brown bush that this otherwise pale brown bird had decided to dive into. The river had a couple of nest-building Black-backed Forktails – in fact, as we were to come across during the trip, there were many a birding pair in various stages of domesticity and love-making, not surprising given the time of the year.
As we made our way back, we came across groups of men showing off their archery skills as they tried finding tiny targets 140 metres away, before ending the day by seeing a mating pair of Asian Barred Owlets. Archery is obviously a national pastime here as we were to see this scene repeated across the country.

April 3 (Samdrup Jongkhar-Deothang-Wamrong-Trashigang)

© Potluri
Grey-headed Parrotbill

During the course of birding that afternoon and our conversation with Tandin (our bird guide) over dinner, we began to have our first doubts on his birding ability. By early next day, while our doubts grew stronger as we birded beyond the town of Deothang en route to Trashigang in lush mid-altitude (1200-2000 m) forests, we had some excellent birds to keep us busy and not get too worked up about it yet. We saw the first parrotbill of our trip (Grey-headed) – we had great looks as a pair of these were busy nest-building close to the road, Bay Woodpecker, Black-throated Sunbird, Sultan Tit, Green Magpie, Small Niltava, Silver-eared Mesia, a few laughingthrush and the Maroon Oriole. We stopped at a couple of hotspots for the Beautiful Nuthatch but this much-sought after bird eluded us, as it did for the rest of the trip.

April 4 (Trashigang-Korila-Mongar)

After the night at Trashigang we headed out to Mongar via Korila – here again the inexperience of the guide robbed us of the critical early hours of birding, as by the time we got to prime birding habitat, it was nearly 8.30, i.e. barely half an hour before the early morning theatre that is staged by birds in these forests draws to a close. Yet, we found some great birds there such as the super-skulker Red-faced Liocichla (this one is owed entirely to our 11-year old Medha’s talent to scour and pick out birds from the undergrowth such as this one and several laughingthrushes during the trip), a few species of Laughingthrush, Greeen-billed Malkoha, Red-tailed Minla, Black Eagle, Oriental Cuckoo, Speckled Wood Pigeon, Brown Parrotbill etc.

© Potluri
Black Eagle

As we birded our way to Mongar in the afternoon, and we were feeling a little let down at our relatively modest catch for the day, the 2 women demanded 5 birds to show up by 5pm, i.e. in about 15 minutes. Just as we turned a bend at 5pm, Mangal spotted a tree with 3 different woodpeckers on it, and before we knew it, we added 2 more birds to our list !

April 5 (Mongar – Limnithang-Yongkola)

After the night stay at Mongar, we headed out for what was billed to be the most exciting leg of the trip – the Limnithang Road. Starting at just over 700 metres at Limnithang village, this stretch climbs through Yongkola (1600m) past Namling (2500m) to end at Sengor (2900m), just 19 kms short of the Thrumsinghla Pass (3800m). Right at L’thang village, we started off with good flight views of 5 Great Hornbill and 2 Rufous-necked Hornbill, however we didn’t get anything very significant till early afternoon, by which time we had reached Yongkola. We birded the forests above Yongkola in the late evening, and other than a surprise Rufous-throated Partridge (!), we did not get much other than some more additions to our growing list of laughingthrushes. By this time, panic set in as we were well into prime birding territory and we hadn’t yet found any of the highly-billed stars, and we decided to take action and messaged the tour operator of the ineptitude of the birding guide.

April 6 (Yongkola-Namling-Sengor)

© Potluri
Sapphire Flycatcher

After camping the night at Yongkola, we set out to reach Sengor by the evening. Soon after leaving Yongkola, a board announced our entry into the Thrumsingla NP – a truly spectacular protected area with pristine forests and commencing from 1600m reaching 3700m at the Pass and eventually ending at 3100m past the Pass en route to Ura. The day started off brilliantly with an excellent sighting of a Rufous-necked Hornbill pair at close range, and we were soon in the midst of a flock of minlas and fulvettas to be closely followed by a surprise sighting of the Rufous-throated Bush Robin. We then got the Black-eared Shrike-babbler and we started getting sated somewhat. A random stop thereafter proved nearly unproductive till a bird call from a moss-laden tree led us to a delightful sighting of 5 Cutias feeding merrily in the moss. We also got the Nepal Fulvetta and then as we rounded a bend, Mangal, our driver-doubling-as-a-spotter picked out an Emerald Cuckoo sitting on a bare tree, to tick off a much-longed-for bird on our list.

We also got a few species of laughingthrushes on the way, and late afternoon birding produced a few other yuhinas and fulvettas before we reached camp at Sengor. In the late evening light, as we were wandering around our camp, Medha spotted 2 Spotted Laughingthrushes, merrily feeding in the open barely a few feet away from us, revealing clearly the spectacular pattern of their plumage, and at least for us establishing themselves to be the most special of the 13 species of laughingthrush that we would see through the trip. This marked the end of what was easily the most satisfying day for us and justified the prime billing that the Sengor-Yongkola section got from birding literature – and this despite the lack of a good bird guide and without the help of bird call tapes.
The Sengor camp was set in amazingly beautiful surroundings – out on a pasture, surrounded by hills of high-altitude forests and towering beyond them icy Himalayan peaks, with the wails of the Tragopan – ‘guwaah, guwaah’ renting the air from time to time. As we settled in for an early dinner, we were informed that we would bird with Tashi, the bird guide who accompanied Sumit Sen and co during their trip late last year and who had their approval. Tashi was accompanying a British birder, Gordon, and it was agreed that we would meet up with them past Thrumsinghla Pass where they would be arriving from Bumthang (they were birding the more conventional west-east direction, i.e. starting from Paro and ending at Samdrup Jongkhar while we were doing it the other way – more on this later).

April 7 (Sengor-Thrumsinghla Pass-Gayzomchhu-T’la Pass-Sengor-Namling-Sengor)

We set off at 3.30am only to have to shudder to a halt about 5kms short of the Pass as it had snowed the previous evening at the Pass, and Mangal, our experienced driver did not have the confidence in our Toyota Hiace, which otherwise proved to be a comfortable and spacious vehicle during the trip, to trod over freshly fallen snow. We waited for a few minutes for a more rugged vehicle to make the journey ahead of us so as to create the tracks in the snow that we could then use, however realizing the unlikelihood of this possibility given the time of the day, how bitterly cold it was, and how sparse traffic on this stretch of the road anyway is, we returned to camp, and decided to wake up the driver of the Mahindra Bolero which had ferried the camp staff over to Sengor from Thimphu.

After a delay of nearly 2 hours from our initial start, we set off back for our rendezvous with Tashi/Gordon, and just prior to and past the Pass, we came across 2 flocks (2+8) of Blood Pheasant, spectacularly standing out against the icy backdrop with their brilliant plumage. We got great prolonged views as also some decent pics, and before it became too bright and late to get the Monal, our other target bird of the morning, we pushed onward and by the time we got there it was nearly 7.30

Over the next hour, we had a few sightings of the male Monal as they lit up the valley below when flying across them, and also scoped views of a male Monal as it slowly made its way up an adjoining hill. As we got into our vehicles, we saw a female Monal ambling across the road in front of us in no great hurry.© Potluri

Thrilled at having got great views of these 2 fantastic pheasants, we birded on our way back to camp, and after lunch birded below Sengor – it was great to have Tashi and Gordon with us, their familiarity with calls and ability to quickly ID the more familiar species proving to be invaluable – something which we sorely missed thus far in the trip. We added the Red-billed Chough, Spotted Nutcracker, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and White-winged Grossbeak at the higher altitudes, and in the forests below Sengor in the afternoon were rewarded with great views of Fire-tailed Sunbird to add to the Mrs Gould’s and Green-tailed Sunbirds that abound these forests. To add to the bounty for the day, we got Crimson-browed and Gold-naped Finches in close proximity, and a short while later we got the Green Shrike-babbler.

It was a little late into the evening and it was now time for the Tragopan to show up – Sengor is the best area for this pheasant in Bhutan, and we were keen to get this bird before we moved on from here. It started drizzling as we waited by a clearing in the forest, and Tashi decided to walk up a little beyond the clearing to play the tape. After about 15 minutes, Mangal picked out the Tragopan making its way down from the hill on our right. As each of us desperately fell over each other trying to pick out the bird in the distance in fading light, it decided to drop down to the road affording us clear views. It then crossed over to the clearing on our left and for the next 15 minutes we took in at leisure the radiant beauty of this bird as it fed at the edge of the clearing and the light had also improved to help us appreciate the bird better.

This was clearly by far the best day of the trip for us, having got all our target pheasants on this one day. That night as we got back to the camp, the skies opened up and it poured heavily – initially rain followed by a shower of hailstones as heavy winds battered our fragile tents. It poured till past midnight and made it a bitterly cold night, and it was a relief to get up and get on with birding the following day.

April 8 (Sengor-Namling-Sengor-Thrumsinghla Pass-Bumthang)

Tashi decided to spend some time looking for the Bar-winged Wren-babbler and we invested an hour of the precious early morning time trying to lure this bird out with the taped calls. Failing to elicit a response, we moved down to the Namling area, which proved more productive, as we got the spectacularly beautiful Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, 2 sightings of the tiny jewel Sapphire Flycatcher, Large Niltava and soon a flock of 30+ Black-throated Parrotbills whizzed past us. However, the Ward’s trogon played truant despite Tashi’s best efforts to lure it out. We then moved to a waterfall gully where we proceeded to have lunch, over which we continued scoping the area below with large beehives on the rock faces, and were soon rewarded with good extended views of the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide.

We bid our farewell to Tashi/Gordon as we had to clamber our way back to the Thrumsinghla Pass and descend to Bumthang via Ura. Just short of the Thrumsinghla Pass, we had our best sighting of a male Monal as we caught it by surprise just next to the road, and it glittered in glorious evening light before flying down the valley slope. We also had a view of another male Monal, at least 2 flocks of Blood Pheasant feeding on the road right in front of our car as Mangal switched off the engine with alacrity. As it was getting late, we decided to press on after just pausing to take in a couple of Monals flying across the valley. On our way to Bumthang, our headlights caught an owl flying ahead of us and perching on a rock face just next to the road. By the time we could discern any detail of the owl, it decided to fly up into the jungle. All we could make out was its size – it was medium-sized and seemed to have a roundish face.

© Potluri
Mangal and Kencho

We were welcomed at the hotel in Bumthang by Kencho, our new bird guide, and just the enthusiasm in his voice gave us hope. While the hotel and our rooms had a river view, given the time of our arrival in the hotel after dark, and our departure prior to daylight – which was in fact our theme pretty much through the tour – meant we could not appreciate it.

The hotel was very comfortable and it was a great relief to be able to shower and clean up after 3 nights of camping. Over dinner, Kencho asked us our target birds for the rest of the trip and promptly laid out for us a plan on how/where to get them. We also had with us milestone markings that Tashi had shared with us for some of the birds that they had seen on their drive from Paro.

April 9 (Bumthang-Yotongla-Pelela-Gangtey)

© Potluri
Great Parrotbill

We started early and started looking for the Brown Parrotbills at Gaytsha, 8kms short of Yotongla Pass (3350m), where Kencho was confident he would be able to see the bird. Despite persisting for close to an hour, there was no trace of the bird. Not a great start with Kencho, and the pressure on the poor man was easy to tell, despite our best efforts to lighten it. We then birded our way to Yotongla Pass, without any great new addition to our trip list. However, soon as we crossed the Pass, Kencho called for Mangal to halt the car, and we were bang in front of a flock of Great Parrotbills which entertained us for a good 10 minutes after that.

© Potluri
Red-headed Bullfinch

Now charged up, we decided to look for the Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler. When scouring the bamboo bushes while playing the tape, Namita chanced upon a pair of Red-headed Bullfinches merrily feeding on juniper pine seeds just by the roadside and completely oblivious of our presence for at least 15 minutes that we enjoyed watching them. We then carried on to the precise milestone which Tashi had indicated would be a good starting point for the SBSB, and after some persistence, Kencho heard the alarm call of the birds from bamboo bushes just above us. He quickly proceeded to play the tape yet again and got the response call. For the next 10 minutes, we got good views of a pair of these much-desired birds through the bamboo bushes as they kept hopping around the place.

With 3 good birds in our bag, we decided to scan a promising section of © Potlurirhododendron forest (at 3050m) for the Fire-tailed Myzornis – a bird that eluded us on our Eaglenest trip. While there was no luck with the myzornis just yet, we were lucky to see 3 yellow-throated martens in the understory scurrying away. We then decided to break for lunch, and just as we served ourselves, we had to drop our plates as a myzornis popped up right in front of us and over the next 5 minutes of furious action trying to get as good views of the myzornis as it flitted from rhododendron flower to flower as part of a mixed flock containing some yuhinas and fulvettas. Just in the midst of all this action, a few Spotted Laughingthrush also decided to add to the chaos by landing up a few feet away from us and begging to be photographed. With various members of our party hollering in excitement trying to share with the others what they were seeing, there was complete pandemonium at the end of which all of us got good views of the myzornis, a decent pic of the bird but no pics of the laughingthrush. Lunch couldn’t have tasted any better after this terrific morning.

We had a long way to go before we got to Gangtey via Pelela, and we unfortunately had to move on from the excellent rhododendron forest. In a spectacular drop from 3300m to 2150m in just 25kms, not recommended for the faint-hearted or those with altitude sickness, we descended to Trongsa while constantly accompanied by hills of pristine unbroken forest on the southern side and sped through the town before ascending all the way back to 3350m (Pelela). We tried to get parrotbills but gave up after a while as we retreated to the comfort of our car from the chilly winds the pass was being subjected to.

We then descended to the spectacular Gangtey valley covered with large swathes of dwarf bamboo where we got good views of a hen harrier quartering the bamboo groves. We hurriedly rushed to the Phobjikha valley to sight the lone Black-necked Crane which we heard was left back in the valley owing to a broken wing as the 317 other cranes wintering here in January had proceeded to their breeding territories in the higher Himalayas, and in fading light got scoped views of the poor bird standing alone in a marsh.

That marked the end of a highly rewarding day – our first with Kencho. During the day and over the course of the next 3 days, we would be repeatedly awestruck by his uncanny ability to pick out bird calls from the forest. Even early morning, when there would be complete pandemonium in the forest with bird calls renting the forest, he would easily pick out the uncommon ones, and sure enough, the renderer of the call would soon make its appearance from the direction Kencho would point out. He could easily mimic most bird calls quite effortlessly and mellifluously – and this great asset with bird vocalizations made Kencho invaluable for us. To top it all, this little bundle of energy was a great human being, taking exceptionally good care of us while perpetually sporting a huge smile/grin on his face. Wish we had a guide of half his ability/attitude for the first part of our trip.

April 10 (Gangtey-Jigme Dorji NP (Trashithang) – Wangdi)

By this time, our main target birds left were either of the trogons, and we decided to look for them in the Jigme Dorji NP around Trashithang and at the farm road (1500-2000m) after starting off from Gangtey at 3am – our earliest start of the trip. The full moon lighting up the forested valleys made it rivetingly beautiful as we made our way through the Gangtey and Wangdi valleys. While we birded the excellent Jigme Dorji NP forest, and were rewarded with Collared Owlet, Barred Cuckoo-dove, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Large Niltava, Grey and Slaty-bellied Tesia, almost all of which we were able to spot only because of Kencho’s picking out their calls from the forest and then our seeking them out from the forest depths.

The trogons proved elusive as a section of the forest where they are usually sighted was disturbed owing to road widening, and for the first time in the trip, we decided to call it a day early and reach our hotel before nightfall – perhaps a sign of fatigue setting in after a week of 4 am starts, birding through the day and getting to the hotel after dusk. On our way, the Mo Chhu river yielded a vagrant male Tufted Duck and an Osprey with a catch on a rock.

April 11 (Wangdi-Dochula-Thimphu-Paro)

© PotluriWe birded the Botanical Garden short of Dochula Pass (3100m) the following morning where we added a Besra and Eurasian Jay, did not add any to our list at or near the Pass, then descended to spent an hour shopping in Thimphu (2370m) before having lunch, and then got a male Wigeon and 2 female Tufted Duck in the Thimphu sewerage pond on our way to Paro (2200m) where the obligatory Black-tailed Crakes were lured out from a nondescript roadside marsh. We didn’t spend too much time looking for the Ibisbill, as we had seen this bird on more than one occasion previously.


April 12 (Paro-Chelela-Paro-Delhi)

The next morning, our last in Bhutan, we headed out at 3.30 am to Chelela (
3800m), the highest motorable point in the country, where we got White-browed Rosefinch, 3 more Blood Pheasant, Grey Nightjar, Rufous-vented and Rufous-fronted Tits, and as the last bird of the trip, Collared Grosbeak which we owed solely to Kencho’s persistence as he ran all over the mountainside playing his tapes and trying to bid us farewell with this beautiful bird. The bird obliged us just as we were about to board the car on our descent to the airport, by perching on an excellent post with a great background and giving us great views.
We rushed to the airport and after nearly an hour in the queue waiting for baggage to be screened, boarded our Druk Air flight to Delhi, after a bit of panic induced by our not carrying the travel permits with us which were issued to us in Samdrup-Jongkhar. The matter was quickly addressed by Mangal, who had in the meanwhile picked up his next consignment of tourists and driven out to Paro town, but got them delivered to the airport just in time for us to make the flight. As advised, we took the seats on the right and were rewarded with great views of the Kanchenjunga and then the Everest - the pilot was kind enough to point these out - on a clear, sunny day.

That marked the end of a truly fantastic 10-day trip to this magnificent country, and our super thanks to Mangal and Kencho, 2 truly remarkably warm human beings who made our trip memorable, not only with their driving/birding skills but also with the exceptional care with which they looked after us.

Thanks also to Sakten Tours for organising the trip, and to Sumit Sen for helping us out generously in the planning of the trip.

© Potluri

a) While we decided to fly to Guwahati, drive to Samdrup-Jongkar and then bird our way to Paro, most birders do it the other way around, partly because SJ was opened as an entry point only about a year back, and thus Paro-SJ was the only option till recently. We decided to not fly in to Paro so as not to rely on the reputedly unreliable Druk Air on our way in and thus potentially risk screwing up the itinerary.
In retrospect, in terms of birding, it does not appear to matter much. While some of the birding hotspots were easier to reach early morning when birding west-east (Korila and pre-Korila from Mongar, Limnethang from Yongkola and Trashithang from Punakha), some others were quicker to reach east-west (Thrumsinghla from Sengor instead of from Bumthang, and Yotongla from Bumthang instead of from Gangtey).

b) Most of the target birds give you multiple opportunities (myzornis, trogon, honeyguide, parrotbills, pheasants, scimitar babblers, laughingthrushes are likely to be found at the passes in the west/central sections of the country – Chelela, Dochula, Yotongla as also in the Sengor-Yongkola sections, so missing them on the early part of the trip would give you a repeat chance later in the trip).

c) If one has the luxury of time, a 2-day detour to Tingtibi (Shemgang) from Trongsa is highly recommended as it gives you the opportunity to bird the lower altitude forests – which are reputed to yield much easier sighting of the hornbills, Beautiful Nuthatch, Long-tailed Broadbill and some of the wren-babblers.

d) Indian Rupees, upto Rs 100 denomination, are accepted on par with the local currency, the Ngultrum.

e) This time of the year, we did not encounter any leeches, but were bitten by small bugs in Jigme Dorji NP.

f) You are advised to carry adequate woollens as the higher passes are quite cold, with temperatures dropping to near-zero, and if there is rain and wind, it does get uncomfortably chilly.

g) It is mandatory to take the services of a local tour operator when visiting Bhutan, and we used Sakten Tours and Treks (contact : Tsewang Rinzing +975-2325567), who were most efficient other than the unfortunate issue of lumping us with a poor bird guide for the first few days of the trip, who we believe was highly recommended to them but was not someone they had used in the past.

Trip list


Bhutan Trip Reports


Sumit K Sen 2001 - 2009    I   
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