Birding Tour Bhutan: The Himalayas and Black-necked Crane Trip Report

By January 29, 2017 Trip Report


Birding Tour Bhutan: The Himalayas and Black-necked Crane

Trip Report 1 – 12 November 2015

By Duan Biggs


Bhutan, “the Land of the Thunder Dragon”, is an awe-inspiring place to bird. Birding amidst its spectacular scenery and ancient Buddhist dzongs is an experience relished by all who undertake it. Our November tour targets White-bellied Heron, one of the world’s rarest birds, as well as the overwintering Black-necked Crane. We had brilliant views of both of these key targets. Bhutan is fantastic for pheasants, and all participants enjoyed great views of Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, and the more common Kalij Pheasant on this tour. The much sought-after Satyr Tragopan is a species that is much more likely to be seen on our spring tour to Bhutan (Spring in the Eastern Himalayas 2016). On this tour, however, we only got close to a vocalizing individual. In addition, our itinerary is designed to include sites of the range-restricted Beautiful Nuthatch (we had brief guide-only views only on this trip, unfortunately). Moreover, on this November 2015 tour we were treated to sterling views of Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler and an unexpected group of Himalayan Cutia. More than one sighting of the elusive migratory Maroon-backed Accentor was also a bonus.

Day 1. Arrival

Due to scheduling problems with Druk Air, this time our Bhutan tour started by entering “the Land of the Thunder Dragon” by flying into Bagdogra in north-east India and entering through the border town of Phuentsholing. Unfortunately, as often happens in the subcontinent, our flight to Bagdogra was delayed by two hours. When we did get there the birding started straight away! In the Bagdogra parking lot we had our first Jungle Mynas and Pied Mynas. This was followed soon thereafter with the petite, yet attractive Coppersmith Barbet. En route out of the rapidly-expanding city of Siliguri, which is served by the Bagdogra airport, a Vernal Hanging Parrot jetted over. Much better views of this species were to be had later by those who came on the Assam extension. The Siliguri traffic frustratingly thwarted our progress, so we did not get to some good patches of lowland forest until after dark. However, we did enjoy sightings of the lowland Red-naped Ibis and our first stunning Rufous Treepie.

Day 2. Ascending into the Himalayas

We had an early start exploring the birdlife along the banks of a tributary of the Torsa River. We became more familiar with some of the delightful, widespread birds in this part of the world, including both male and female Oriental Magpie-Robin and the noisy Alexandrine Parakeet. The photographers in the group were particularly elated by a Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, which perched up close. Groups of Oriental White-eyes are also a pleasure to see.

It was time for border proceedings. Bhutan has decided to become more formal with the process, which meant more time in the customs office and therefore unfortunately less time birding. Still, Bhutanese border officials are of the friendliest in the world, and once formalities were complete we were on the road to Gedu and then on to Thimpu. With ongoing development and growth in Bhutan the road was busier than I recall from a few years ago. The scenery and the birding were, however, still mind-boggling!

An early stop at a bird party had us very excited by the electrically-colored Common Green Magpie. In a tree nearby were our first Grey Treepies. A bird party (or wave, as they are also called in this part of the world) moved into the tree above the van. This included our first Common Iora and our first of many groups of vividly-colored Scarlet Minivets. A little higher up into Bhutan a group of aerial feeders contained both Asian House Martin and Blyth’s Swift. We screeched to a halt around a mountain bend for a bird of prey that turned out to be a Booted Eagle – a rare species in Bhutan.

We ascended higher still into the fresh mountain air, where we were treated to our first Crested Goshawk. We were about to head off when our local guide Gyeltshen, who is always on the scan, drew our attention to a bird party that held our first group of Blue-winged Minlas. Here we also had our first Whiskered Yuhina and Yellow-bellied Fantail nearby. Our Eastern Himalayan birding had begun in earnest!

Our next stop was at a flowering cherry tree that harbored much activity. Here we were treated to both the dazzling Fire-tailed Sunbird as well as the colorful Green-tailed species. White-naped Yuhina was added to the list, and the attractive Rufous Sibia was already becoming known to all tour participants as a “trash bird”, since it is an abundant species in Bhutan.

As the afternoon wore on the birds became quieter, but we were not done yet.  We worked hard to try and get everyone onto a group of the very skulky Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush. The Chestnut-crowned is one of the more common laughingthrush species in Bhutan, but it was our first laughingthrush and generated great excitement. Finally we arrived at a crisp Thimpu, the capital city of Bhutan.

Day 3. The Himalayas lit up in all their birding splendor

In the icy morning air at 5 a.m. we hit the road to the Dochula Pass. The new giant golden Buddha that sits on the ridge above the capital city was lit up and therefore quite a sight in the darkness of early morning mist. We arrived at the top of the Dochula Pass as the sun was rising.

The glorious Eastern Himalayas were spectacularly lit up by the early morning sun. Here we enjoyed some espresso coffee and breakfast before the birding kicked in. It was not long before Fabio got onto our first flock of White-winged Grosbeaks, which flew past. After breakfast we were treated to our first group of adorable little White-browed Fulvettas, our first Black-faced Laughingthrush, as well as our first good looks at the common but very impressive Blue Whistling Thrush. Most of us agreed that “Giant Blue Thrush” would be a more apt name for this species.

It was time to make our way down the eastern slope of Dochula. Unfortunately, the roadworks here (as in many parts of Bhutan at the time of our tour) are negatively affecting the forest habitat and therefore the birding. Nevertheless, lots of spectacular birding is still to be had. We kicked off with a group of brightly-colored, regal-looking Yellow-billed Blue Magpies. Soon thereafter a large bird wave was picked up in the distance. Between the many Whiskered Yuhinas and Blue-winged Minlas we got onto our first Hoary-throated Barwing, Rufous-breasted Accentor, and Bar-throated Minla. Fabio and Elsie managed to pick out a stunning Golden-breasted Fulvetta in this active bird wave.

Our next stop was the Lamperi Royal Botanical Park a little lower down. Once again the sight delighted all. Not long after arrival we got onto our first Dark-breasted Rosefinch. Our first Rusty-flanked Treecreeper also caused a lot of excitement, but not as much as the first looks at Spotted Laughingthrush, which came soon thereafter.  The upper end of the gardens contains healthy stands of bamboo and borders some lovely montane forest. Along a fern-covered stream we were all treated to spectacular close-up views of the tiny Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler. After we all relished this little skulker we moved on and picked up Slaty-blue Flycatcher. A Brown Parrotbill was vocalizing from the bamboo stand higher up, but frustratingly only some of us managed a fleeting glimpse. Fortunately, we were all treated to much better views later on in the trip. The pond in the gardens held Tufted Duck, and just before we left we were treated to our first Mountain Hawk-Eagle.

It was time to make our way to Punakha, but not before enjoying the aptly-named Great Barbet and more good views of Grey Treepie. Once again, however, we were not yet done. In the dying moments of daylight we ground to a halt once more to enjoy an exquisite pair of both Little and Spotted Forktails at a stream crossing. What a way to end the day!

Day 4. White-bellied Heron 

We started with another 5 a.m. breakfast on a cool but beautifully misty Himalayan morning. Then we headed out to our special site on the Po Chu River for one of the world’s rarest birds: White-bellied Heron. It was an active morning and, with so much about, it was challenging to stay focused on our heron search…

Our first stop was for a Crested Kingfisher perched down in the Po Chu River. A scan in the area produced good views of White-throated Kingfisher as well as our first Plumbeous Water Redstart. But he action had just begun. Barely two seconds later came the shout of Brown Dipper. We descended closer to the river onto the sandbanks of the Po Chu for better looks and photos of the dippers. The views were indeed great. But not as great as the two Ibisbills they swam towards, which were feeding between boulders in the river and hidden from view higher up. Wow!  Gyeltshen had to drag us away by force to get to our heron stakeout.

We arrived at our special spot, and we had hardly started searching when John nonchalantly said that he had found the heron.  We all enjoyed great views through the scope of White-bellied Heron, before it did a stunning fly-by on the way to another feeding area. What a morning!

We moved onto a little village higher upstream, where we added the delightful Black-winged Cuckooshrike to our list, as well as Little Bunting, Scaly-breasted Munia, and our first of very many Hodgson’s Redstarts.

We returned past the exquisite Punakha Dzong up the Mo Chu River to the eastern section of Jigme Dorji National Park. We stopped to enjoy a group of 12 Ruddy Shelducks feeding in the Mo Chu River below. Soon thereafter we came to a stop for a Grey Wagtail feeding in the road. Some bird activity led us up the creek to a vocalizing Chestnut-headed Tesia. We entered into a small patch of forest, and here we were treated not only to the tesia but also to Speckled Piculet and the startlingly attractive Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush.

Sadly we had to tear ourselves away from this party of birds back to the van. The day had started warming up, and the wind had picked up a little – not ideal birding conditions. Nevertheless, the next bird party we stopped for turned out to be a real monster of a bird wave. Everyone was treated to great looks at the stunning Rufous-winged Fulvetta. This wave also treated us to Rufous-capped Babbler, the electrifyingly-blue Small Niltava, and that stunning Seicercus warbler – the Chestnut-crowned Warbler.

It was onwards to our lunch stop at a beautiful creek and campsite. After some scratching about we managed to get views of the elegantly-colored Slaty-backed Forktail.

Our afternoon session was quiet, and it was time to head back to the Punakha Dzong for a cultural visit, but not before stopping for an Asian Barred Owlet that Elsie picked up on the way. This spectacular dzong dates back to the early 1600s and is both Bhutan’s second-oldest dzong and its second-largest. It was a fitting way to end another great birding day in the Himalayas of Bhutan.

Day 5. Honeyguide and Myzornis time!

It was another very early start as the mist was rising from the Mo Chu River below. Our first stop was Gyeltshen’s stakeout for a Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler. We started off walking down to the river, where we enjoyed a large flock Little Buntings. The scimitar babbler started calling not long thereafter. We walked in its direction, and in no time at all we were all treated to exquisite views and photos of this cracking bird.

Next, we headed up to the Pele La Pass in cool, overcast conditions. At the bottom of the pass we enjoyed our first group of Black Bulbuls – very elegantly-colored indeed. Higher up the pass we encountered a tremendous wave of activity. Our stop here produced Mountain Bulbul, great views of Golden-throated Barbet for all, as well as the attractive Grey-headed Woodpecker. We followed the party up the slope on foot, where we were treated to a pair of Verditer Flycatchers. The party was not yet over, and some of us could not stop clicking our cameras as an Orange-bellied Leafbird landed nearby.

Once again Gyeltshen had to drag us away. We stopped at some bird parties on the way up but did not encounter new species. As we came around a bend with a small cliff on the right, Gyeltshen shouted “Stop. Yellow-rumped Honeyguide!” We all bundled out of the van and enjoyed great views of this special bird. While we were enjoying the honeyguide a Mountain Hawk-Eagle flew very close by, providing us with amazing views.

With all this action it was difficult to get ourselves to enjoy the morning tea our other local guide, Thinley, and our driver, Tej, had prepared. When we finally got to enjoy our morning coffee and tea, another wave of bird activity struck up. Bhutan Laughingthrush! Until a few years ago this species had been considered to be a subspecies of the Streaked Laughingthrush. Also in the party were our first White-tailed Nuthatch and Buff-barred Warbler. But that was not all. A group of petite, but very strikingly marked Black-throated Bushtits joined the fray. Then it was finally back in the van and upwards.

Only for a while, thought. Oh bother! We had encountered a traffic jam due to the muddy conditions during road construction, and all the cars on this mountain pass had stopped. We decided to make the most of the situation and hopped out of the van. Fortunately, we happened to be near a flowering cherry tree. We scanned the tree, and in no time picked up on Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird and our first of those east Himalayan gems – Fire-tailed Myzornis. It was a traffic jam to remember!

Soon after the myzornis the traffic started moving slowly again. Higher up the pass the rain started falling. Despite this we tried hard for Ward’s Trogon, but with no success. This species is certainly harder to find amidst the disturbance of all the road construction. Before lunch, however, we did get onto Rusty-flanked Treecreeper.

We enjoyed a scrumptious lunch in the oddly-named town of Nubding while it was pouring with rain outside. After lunch it was upwards again into the cold, misty pass. As we entered into the Phobjika Valley we stopped for some yaks, of which everyone enjoyed taking photos. Lower down into the valley we had more Black-faced Laughingthrushes as well as great looks at Spotted Laughingthrush. Before darkness set in we added Coal, Grey Crested, and Rufous-vented Tits to our list and later a group of Brown Bullfinches in poor light.

We arrived at our lovely warm cabins, where we enjoyed great food with some Bhutanese Druk 11000 beer. During dinner our Brazilian contingent thought it would be a good idea if automakers started naming their vehicle models after bird families. We considered this for a while over dinner: Mercedes Minivet, Toyota Tapaculo, Nissan Niltava, Citroen Coot… Maybe it will catch on?

The Black-necked Cranes that we come to the Phobjika Valley to see on our November tours had not yet arrived. They were over two weeks late! We hoped that as we slept the first bird would arrive.

Day 6. East to Trongsa

We started at 5:30 a.m. with a hearty breakfast that included pancakes and honey. As the sun rose and we looked over the valley we saw that there still were no cranes yet. We did, however, find our other targets that included a flock of Oriental Skylarks, which after some time offered great views. While the skylarks fed below, a huge flock of Red-billed Choughs filled the crisp morning air above. Next a Hen Harrier swooped low over the valley, offering grand views to all, while a Paddyfield Pipit was also on show. A crane arriving would certainly have completed the picture, but it was not be. Luckily we had a crafty plan to secure this species later on our tour.

We returned to the top of the Pele La Pass at 3390m. On the way up we first had fog and then light rain. When we stopped at the top we decided to give it a try and start walking down the old pass track in the light rain. The rain turned into sleet and snow, but we continued, because birds were moving. We had groups of White-browed Fulvetta, and Red-headed Bullfinch was calling in the distance. As we descended, walking down the old pass, the weather improved. A bird party near the old pass delivered both Dark-rumped and Dark-breasted Rosefinches. At around 9 a.m. Gyeltshen sprinted towards us from below, where he had been exploring: Himalayan Monal! We continued down and saw first a female and then a male in the improving morning light. Wow! But we were not done. A little lower down the old pass Fabio and Joao reported hearing a strange call. We followed it up, and it turned out to be a Satyr Tragopan. We spent the next two hours skulking this sought-after bird. It came closer to the road, and we tried different positions and angles to try and see it. At one point it sounded like it had crossed the road, but we still had not seen it. Tragopans are notoriously hard to see outside of the breeding season. After a long session of trying for visuals, without success, it sadly was time to move on. But then we enjoyed stunning close-up views and got great pictures of Alpine Accentors on the way back up the old pass. At the top of the pass Joao got stunning pictures of a nearby Spotted Laughingthrush. And here we also had a flock of Plain Mountain Finches.

We started descending the east slope, where birding was quiet. We ground to a halt for an Upland Buzzard, and a little later for three Steppe Eagles. Many in the group had seen Steppe Eagles before in the arid savannas of southern Africa, and seeing them in the cold, wet Himalayas as well was quite something.

The mist set in again, and then it started raining. With the muddy roads under construction it really was tough going. In the late afternoon we stopped for a Yellow-rumped Honeyguide above the road and also had Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher. Once again our afternoon birding was rather quiet overall, and we arrived at Trongsa at 7 p.m. for a welcome dinner.

Day 7. Zhemgang!

It was another early start in Trongsa with a 5:30 a.m. breakfast. It was worth it, though; the birding from the get-go was mind-boggling. First up, a Long-billed Thrush flew off the side of the road and then perched, offering good views from the van. Next we were treated to an enormous flock of attractive White-throated Laughingthrushes that crossed the road in front of us. A little later we stopped at a bird party, which provided fantastic views of the delightful Small Niltava for everyone in the group, and a skulking Chestnut-headed Tesia provided good views to some. We managed to get some cracking views of a vocalizing Spotted Elachura in the dark forest undergrowth. As we got back into the van after the elachura we screeched to a halt almost immediately as a Kalij Pheasant crossed the road in front of us. We could not relocate the pheasant, but we did get onto a pair of gaudy Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers at the same spot, as well as more Rufous-gorgeted Flycatchers.

It was time to cross a rather hair-raising section of roadworks by the Empire Construction Company on the road to Zhemgang. With a drop-off of over 100 meters and vehicles traveling both ways on this very narrow cliff-edge road, the group decided to walk for some sections, our nerves could not take it. Tej, our driver, was amazing in navigating such tricky conditions.

Gyeltshen made sure that we could not feel nervous for long, through. Soon we were at his stakeout for the awesome Rufous-necked Hornbill. There we started working through a large wave of Yuhinas and Phylloscopus warblers when Gyeltshen yelled out excitedly: “Hornbills!” We all enjoyed wonderful perched and flying views. After marveling at the hornbills we could get onto the rest of the party and had great views and photographic opportunities of Golden-throated Barbet. A vocalizing Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler came out for some cracking photos.

It was time to move on, since we had a Beautiful Nuthatch stakeout to get to by 3 p.m. A stop for tea a bit later was rewarded with stunning views of Black Eagle. Also numerous Mountain Hawk-Eagles passed by overhead on the way to Zhemgang. As the day warmed up, things quieted down. Unfortunately, our stop for the gaudy Sultan Tit was unsuccessful. Shortly after crossing the river before Zhemgang we screeched to a stop for a perched Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo – what a bird! Now it was onto Zhemgang and straight to the spot for the Beautiful Nuthatch. Upon arrival at our nuthatch stakeout, Thinley started preparing our late lunch.

As we approached the site on foot, a very noisy Bay Woodpecker came out and provided views, but it was time to focus on the nuthatch. After some time Gyeltshen came running; he had located a pair. We ran up, but when we arrived it was too late, all that was left was a pair of White-tailed Nuthatches. It was starting to get cool, and Duan and Sarah walked back to the van parked a few hundred meters away and found a pair of perched Blue-bearded Bee-eaters. More effort around the nuthatch tree produced Lesser Yellownape, but no more Beautiful Nuthatches.

We continued down to our tented camp and a very pleasant dinner. A Collared Owlet was calling upon our arrival, but we could not see it or attract it into view. After dinner we enjoyed a night walk in the montane forests, which delivered yellow-throated marten, an attractive mammal species, and then later a vocalizing Mountain Scops Owl.

Day 8. Cutias, Liocichlas, and Sultan Tits

It was another very early start with a 5 a.m. breakfast in our camp and a 5:30 a.m. departure. We spotted a small owl on the way back up to the nuthatch stakeout, but it got away before we could get onto it.  When we arrived at the nuthatch stakeout the Bay Woodpecker was still around and noisy, but the nuthatch was sadly nowhere to be found. Duan tried scouting up the road with part of the group, while the remainder stayed, observing the nuthatch tree. It was not long until Fabio shouted out. A strange bird he saw needed to be checked in the field guide. Very quickly he worked out that they were a group of Himalayan Cutia. Wow! They hung around for long enough for all to come and enjoy a good look.

The next stop was a stakeout for the Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler. Unfortunately, progress was marred by fog and then heavy rain. Yet we persisted and were suitably rewarded. While we were chasing after a vocalizing Grey-sided Bush Warbler, two dark birds flew into the undergrowth nearby in the rain. Red-faced Liocichla! The rain became heavier and heavier, and the liocichlas disappeared out of view. It really was time to return to the van.

As we descended the weather started to improve, and the birding became more and more impressive. First we added the impressive Black-headed Shrike-babbler to our list. This was followed by a Great Hornbill flying in the distance in the valley below. Time for morning tea had arrived. While we were enjoying our coffee and biscuits we added Black-throated Prinia to our lists, and after some effort Blue-winged Laughingthrush was also briefly visible to some.

After morning tea we continued down towards the small town of Tingtibi. The weather continued to improve, and we stumbled upon a bird wave of astonishing proportions. Here we really did not know where to look. Short-billed and Grey-chinned Minivets were feeding in the canopy above, while in the mid-stratum our first White-bellied Erpornis (previously Yuhina), more Black-headed Shrike-babblers, and Chestnut-crowned and Yellow-vented Warblers were feeding. The most exciting of all in this party, though, was our first Sultan Tit. What an outlandish-looking, gaudy bird!

We made further stops as we descended that produced our first exquisitely-colored Rufous-bellied Niltava, Slaty-backed Forktail, and our first White-throated Bulbuls. A Hair-crested Drongo got away before most of the group could get onto it, Grey-throated Babbler showed well to all, and Golden Babbler was its normal skulking self and was very hard to see.

We descended further down towards Tingtibi, and along the river just above the town, with Gyeltshen’s expert local knowledge, we managed to get onto Streaked Spiderhunter (brief views) and some aptly-named Black-crested Bulbuls. The star of the Tingtibi show was most certainly a group of very noisy Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes. They came right onto a road and offered stunning views and photo opportunities for all.

On the long and spectacular road back to Trongsa we heard White-crested Laughingthrush more than once but never got visuals. We did, however, find large groups of Striated Yuhina. A late afternoon stop produced Black-hooded Oriole, Lemon-rumped Warbler, and a range of minlas, of which we all enjoyed more views. Our drive back to Trongsa included passing through the construction cliff-edge site – by this time everyone had realized how good a driver Tej was, and no one felt the need to walk ahead of the van again…

Day 9. Black-necked Cranes at last!

We started bright and early in Trongsa for the long road to Thimpu. It is normally about a seven-hour drive, but with all the road construction it was now ten hours or more. Thanks to great driving by Tej we still had some good time for birding on the way.

As the sun’s rays passed into the Himalayan valleys larges flocks of White-throated Laughingthrush started crossing the road. It was not long before we screeched to a halt for our first Speckled Wood Pigeon. A stop at a bird party produced our first Green Shrike-babbler in a party with Whiskered and Stripe-throated Yuhinas and Whistler’s Warblers. Luckily on this day we had fewer roadwork stops than expected, and we used them for taking photos of the stunning Bhutanese landscapes. Our morning tea stop in a bamboo patch failed to deliver any new species, but we did get onto a Crested Honey Buzzard that at first was perched and then took off and flew directly past us for really great views.

Gyeltshen had told us the day before that the cranes had started arriving in good numbers – finally!  Thus we took a detour to the Phobjika Valley on the way to Thimpu.  The sun was shining into the valley, and Black-necked Cranes were calling and feeding. What a sight! We enjoyed great scope views and a hearty lunch while looking over the Phobjika Valley and the cranes. After the cranes it was time to give Ward’s Trogon a go again, but without success. We tried a number of sites and walked into the forest both up and down the Dochula Pass. The mid-afternoon lull had unfortunately set in. A pair of barking deer (northern red muntjac) was the highlight. We arrived at the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong as the sun was setting. Here we enjoyed a wonderfully warm cup of coffee and ginger tea at a nearby restaurant before taking the road to our hotel in Thimpu.

Day 10. Takins and Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler

We started early in a crisp Thimpu, and thankfully the sunshine from the day before continued. Gyeltshen took us to his first stakeout, a spot for the Black-tailed Crake. What felt like two minutes after arrival Thinley flushed one, and soon thereafter, with the help of some playback, it came into full view for all of us. On our way back to the van a Peregrine Falcon zipped over.

The crake in the bag, with a bonus peregrine, it was time to hit the road to the part of Jigme Dorji National Park that lies in the Cheri Chhu valley. We had seen the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide numerous times by the time we arrived, so we did not have to spend time on it at its normal stakeout. Instead we worked the track that heads up to the stupa. It was very active here, including Dark-breasted Rosefinch, Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch (Fabio only), and Lemon-rumped Warbler. Duan picked up on Brown Parrotbill calling, and it was not long until everyone had cracking views of this enigmatic bird.

We moved on, and before we could get to the van a flock of adorable little Rufous-fronted Bushtits came to feed in the tree where the van had been parked. We continued to the entrance of the park proper, where we parked to start walking. Fabio and Joao very quickly got onto some Yellow-billed Blue Magpies close-in for photography. Hardly had they started photographing when Gyeltshen shouted out a flock of Snow Pigeons. After a while and over morning coffee/tea we all enjoyed good flight views of these lovely pigeons.

We then moved on to enjoy the track heading towards the high mountains. A Rufous-breasted Bush Robin feeding on the side of a small cliff came as a delightful surprise to all of us. We moved on and heard some White-collared Blackbirds calling, but we could not get onto them visually. But we did manage to get great views of Hoary-throated Barwing and got some stunning photographs. We thought it was time to move on and leave the barwings behind. Frederick was onto a bird creeping around the undergrowth, and we watched it for a while to see what it was. When it came into view we could not believe our luck: Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler! It put on a fantastic show for the next 30 minutes, and all of us enjoyed cracking views and took some mind-boggling photos of this awe-inspiring bird.

It was time to return to Thimpu. We took some photos of the Tashichho Dzong in Thimpu and then visited the nearby takin breeding program to enjoy views of this bizarre goat-antelope. Spotted and White-throated Laughingthrushes were feeding below the takins. Then we went into Thimpu for a scrumptious Bhutanese lunch, which was followed by some shopping.

After shopping was complete we moved to the sewage works just outside of Thimpu. Here we added Common Sandpiper to our trip list, and we also saw a strange pochard. We thought it might be a vagrant Baer’s, but after much reflection and evaluating photos we decided on an odd-looking Common Pochard. Then we were off to the river near Paro, where Solitary Snipe had been recorded before. Unfortunately there were too many dogs and construction disturbance, and so we had no luck with the snipe. We did, however, pick up on a giant flock of Russet Sparrows.

Soon it was time to head to our wonderful hotel in the crisp evening air of Paro. After a delightful dinner we were off to bed for a 5 a.m. start for pheasants the following morning.

Day 11. The Blood Pheasants of Chele La

It was rather crisp as we departed at 4:30 a.m., and it became crisper as we gained altitude. The ground was white with frost. It was worth bearing the cold and the early rise, though. Not long after arriving at Gyeltshen’s stakeout for Blood Pheasants, Tej spotted a group. We all enjoyed lovely views and then attempted to sneak up on them for photos with some success. Red Crossbills started calling above, but we could not see them.

It was time to hit the top of Chele La Pass at nearly 4000m altitude. From the top we had lovely views of Snow Pigeons in flight and also had great scope views of them feeding on the ground. As we walked down we got onto both male and female White-throated Redstart, and good views of Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch and White-winged Grosbeak were had by everyone.  We walked down the western slope of the Chele La Pass, and it was rather quiet. We finally did get onto a large flock that included Grey Crested, Rufous-naped, and Coal Tits, as well as more Himalayan White-browed Rosefinches and the ubiquitous high-altitude White-browed Fulvetta.

Then it was back down to the eastern slope and the shed for tea. Here another moving party included a stunning male Dark-rumped Rosefinch, which puffed himself up in the morning sun for some great photos.

We moved farther down, and at around 11 a.m. Frederick headed off in a taxi to take the afternoon to hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.

The rest of us continued finding more groups of tits and added Goldcrest to our list. We enjoyed a relaxing packed lunch in a forest clearing. Not long after lunch some more tit parties, but then our attention was drawn to some strange, dark birds that took off from the forest floor. After some time Duan got a fix on one: Maroon-backed Accentor! After some time everyone got onto this exquisite but elusive accentor. Lower down we finally found a male Kalij Pheasant. This was our first of many groups of this attractive and confiding species. In between enjoying and photographing the many Kalij Pheasants in the late afternoon, we managed to dig out a male and female Golden Bush Robin.

We returned to our hotel for an evening of festive drinks with Gyeltshen, Tej, and Thinley to celebrate an unforgettable tour of Bhutan packed with cracking birds!

Day 12. Tiger’s Nest Monastery and Departure

On our last morning, Frederick and Joao left early for their flights home. The remainder of us, who were on the Assam extension, went to the trailhead for the walk up to the legendary Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Here we tried hard for Darjeeling Woodpecker, but without success. It was a pleasant and peaceful last morning in Bhutan. But then it was time to say our sad goodbyes to Thinley, Gyeltshen, and Tej and get our flight to Guwahati on the plains of Assam for the Assam extension (Birding Tour India: Bhutan Extension – Assam November 2016).


Status: NT – Near-threatened, VU = Vulnerable, CE – Critically Endangered
Common Name (IOC 5.4)Scientific Name (IOC 5.4)Trip
Ducks, Geese and SwansAnatidae
Ruddy ShelduckTadorna ferruginea1
GadwallAnas strepera1
Tufted DuckAythya fuligula1
Common PochardAythya ferina1
Pheasants and alliesPhasianidae
Blood PheasantIthaginis cruentus1
Satyr Tragopan – NTTragopan satyraH
Himalayan MonalLophophorus impejanus1
Kalij PheasantLophura leucomelanos1
Ibises, SpoonbillsThreskiornithidae
Red-naped IbisPseudibis papillosa1
Herons, BitternsArdeidae
Indian Pond HeronArdeola grayii1
Eastern Cattle EgretBubulcus coromandus1
Grey HeronArdea cinerea1
White-bellied Heron – CEArdea insignis1
Little EgretEgretta garzetta1
Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo1
Western OspreyPandion haliaetus1
Kites, Hawks and EaglesAccipitridae
Crested Honey BuzzardPernis ptilorhynchus1
Upland BuzzardButeo hemilasius1
Black KiteMilvus migrans1
Himalayan Vulture – NTGyps himalayensis1
Crested Serpent EagleSpilornis cheela1
Booted EagleHiraaetus pennatus1
Steppe EagleAquila nipalensis1
Hen HarrierCircus cyaneus1
Crested GoshawkAccipiter trivirgatus1
Rails, Crakes and CoorsRallidae
Black-tailed CrakePorzana bicolor1
Black-necked Crane – VUGrus nigricollis1
IbisbillIbidorhyncha struthersii1
River Lapwing – NTVanellus duvaucelii1
Red-wattled LapwingVanellus indicus1
Sandpipers, SnipesScolopacidae
Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucos1
Pigeons, DovesColumbidae
Rock DoveColumba livia1
Snow PigeonColumba leuconota1
Speckled Wood PigeonColumba hodgsonii1
Oriental Turtle DoveStreptopelia orientalis1
Eurasian Collared DoveStreptopelia decaocto1
Spotted DoveSpilopelia chinensis1
Barred Cuckoo-DoveMacropygia unchall1
Wedge-tailed Green PigeonTreron sphenurus1
Mountain Scops OwlOtus spilocephalusH
Asian Barred OwletGlaucidium cuculoides1
Himalayan SwiftletAerodramus brevirostris1
House SwiftApus nipalensis1
Blyth’s SwiftApus leuconyx1
Common KingfisherAlcedo atthis1
Crested KingfisherMegaceryle lugubris1
White-throated KingfisherHalcyon smyrnensis1
Blue-bearded Bee-eaterNyctyornis athertoni1
Chestnut-headed Bee-eaterMerops leschenaulti1
Eurasian HoopoeUpupa epops1
Great Hornbill – NTBuceros bicornis1
Rufous-necked Hornbill – VUAceros nipalensis1
Asian BarbetsMegalaimidae
Great BarbetPsilopogon virens1
Golden-throated BarbetPsilopogon franklinii1
Blue-throated BarbetPsilogogon asiaticus1
Coppersmith BarbetPsilopogon haemacephalus1
Yellow-rumped Honeyguide – NTIndicator xanthonotus1
Speckled PiculetPicumnus innominatus1
Rufous-bellied WoodpeckerDendrocopos hyperythrus1
Lesser YellownapePicus chlorolophus1
Grey-headed WoodpeckerPicus canus1
Himalayan FlamebackDinopium shorii1
Bay WoodpeckerBlythipicus pyrrhotis1
Caracaras, FalconsFalconidae
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus1
Old World ParrotsPsittaculidae
Alexandrine Parakeet – NTPsittacula eupatria1
Vernal Hanging ParrotLoriculus vernalis1
Common IoraAegithina tiphia1
Black-winged CuckooshrikeCoracina melaschistos1
Grey-chinned MinivetPericrocotus solaris1
Long-tailed MinivetPericrocotus ethologus1
Short-billed MinivetPericrocotus brevirostris1
Scarlet MinivetPericrocotus speciosus1
Brown ShrikeLanius cristatus1
Long-tailed ShrikeLanius schach1
Grey-backed ShrikeLanius tephronotus1
Vireos, GreenletsVireonidae
White-bellied ErpornisErpornis zantholeuca1
Black-headed Shrike-babblerPteruthius rufiventer1
Green Shrike-babblerPteruthius xanthochlorus1
Figbirds, OriolesOriolidae
Black-hooded OrioleOriolus xanthornus1
Bronzed DrongoDicrurus aeneus1
Lesser Racket-tailed DrongoDicrurus remifer1
Hair-crested DrongoDirurus hottentotus1
White-throated FantailRhipidura albicollis1
Crows, JaysCorvidae
Eurasian JayGarrulus glandarius1
Yellow-billed Blue MagpieUrocissa flavirostris1
Common Green MagpieCissa chinensis1
Rufous TreepieDendrocitta vagabunda1
Grey TreepieDendrocitta formosae1
Spotted NutcrackerNucifraga caryocatactes1
Red-billed ChoughPyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax1
House CrowCorvus splendens1
Large-billed CrowCorvus macrorhynchos1
Fairy FlycatchersStenostiridae
Yellow-bellied FantailChelidorhynx hypoxantha1
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcherCulicicapa ceylonensis1
Tits, ChickadeesParidae
Rufous-vented TitPeriparus rubidiventris1
Coal TitPeriparus ater1
Grey Crested TitLophophanes dichrous1
Green-backed TitParus monticolus1
Yellow-cheeked TitMachlolophus spilonotus1
Yellow-browed TitSylviparus modestus1
Sultan TitMelanochlora sultanea1
Oriental SkylarkAlauda gulgula1
Striated BulbulPycnonotus striatus1
Black-crested BulbulPycnonotus flaviventris1
Red-vented BulbulPycnonotus cafer1
White-throated BulbulAlophoixus flaveolus1
Mountain BulbulIxos mcclellandii1
Ashy BulbulHemixos flavala1
Black BulbulHypsipetes leucocephalus1
Swallows, MartinsHirundinidae
Nepal House MartinDelichon nipalense1
Asian House MartinDelichon dasypus1
Scaly-breasted Wren-babblerPnoepyga albiventer1
Pygmy Wren-babblerPnoepyga pusilla1
Cettia Bush Warblers and alliesCettiidae
Black-faced WarblerAbroscopus schisticeps1
Grey-sided Bush WarblerCettia brunnifronsH
Slaty-bellied TesiaTesia oliveaH
Chestnut-headed TesiaTesia castaneocoronata1
Black-throated BushtitAegithalos concinnus1
Rufous-fronted BushtitAegithalos ioschistos1
Leaf Warblers and alliesPhylloscopidae
Tickell’s Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus affinis1
Buff-barred WarblerPhylloscopus pulcher1
Ashy-throated WarblerPhylloscopus maculipennis1
Lemon-rumped WarblerPhylloscopus chloronotus1
Yellow-browed WarblerPhylloscopus inornatus1
Greenish WarblerPhylloscopus trochiloides1
Yellow-vented WarblerPhylloscopus cantator1
Grey-hooded WarblerPhylloscopus xanthoschistos1
Hume’s Leaf WarblerPhylloscopus humei1
White-spectacled WarblerSeicercus affinis1
Chestnut-crowned WarblerSeicercus castaniceps1
Whistler’s WarblerSeicercus whistleri1
Cisticolas and alliesCisticolidae
Black-throated PriniaPrinia atrogularis1
Common TailorbirdOrthotomus sutorius1
Rusty-cheeked Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus erythrogenys1
White-browed Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus schisticeps1
Streak-breasted Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus ruficollis1
Slender-billed Scimitar BabblerPomatorhinus superciliaris1
Rufous-capped BabblerStachyridopsis ruficeps1
Grey-throated BabblerStachyris nigriceps1
Golden BabblerStachyridopsis chrysaea1
Fulvettas, Ground BabblersPellorneidae
Rufous-winged FulvettaAlcippe castaneceps1
Nepal FulvettaAlcippe nipalensis1
White-crested LaughingthrushGarrulax leucolophusH
Rufous-chinned LaughingthrushGarrulax rufogularis1
Spotted LaughingthrushGarrulax ocellatus1
White-throated LaughingthrushGarrulax albogularis1
Rufous-necked LaughingthrushGarrulax ruficollis1
Striated LaughingthrushGarrulax striatus1
Bhutan LaughingthrushTrochalopteron imbricatum1
Blue-winged LaughingthrushTrochalopteron squamatum1
Scaly LaughingthrushTrochalopteron subunicolor1
Black-faced LaughingthrushTrochalopteron affine1
Chestnut-crowned LaughingthrushTrochalopteron erythrocephalum1
Himalayan CutiaCutia nipalensis1
Blue-winged MinlaMinla cyanouroptera1
Bar-throated MinlaMinla strigula1
Red-tailed MinlaMinla ignotincta1
Red-faced LiocichlaLiocichla phoenicea1
Hoary-throated BarwingActinodura nipalensis1
Red-billed LeiothrixLeiothrix lutea1
Rufous SibiaHeterophasia capistrata1
Sylviid BabblersSylviidae
Fire-tailed MyzornisMyzornis pyrrhoura1
Golden-breasted FulvettaLioparus chrysotis1
White-browed FulvettaFulvetta vinipectus1
Brown ParrotbillCholornis unicolor1
Striated YuhinaYuhina castaniceps1
White-naped YuhinaYuhina bakeri1
Whiskered YuhinaYuhina flavicollis1
Stripe-throated YuhinaYuhina gularis1
Rufous-vented YuhinaYuhina occipitalis1
Black-chinned YuhinaYuhina nigrimenta1
Oriental White-eyeZosterops palpebrosus1
Goldcrests, KingletsRegulidae
GoldcrestRegulus regulus1
Spotted ElachuraElachura formosa1
Eurasian WrenTroglodytes troglodytes1
Chestnut-bellied NuthatchSitta cinnamoventris1
White-tailed NuthatchSitta himalayensis1
Beautiful Nuthatch – VUSitta formosa1
WallcreeperTichodroma muraria1
Hodgson’s TreecreeperCerthia hodgsoni1
Rusty-flanked TreecreeperCerthia nipalensis1
Starlings, RhabdornisSturnidae
Jungle MynaAcridotheres fuscus1
Common MynaAcridotheres tristis1
Pied MynaGracupica contra1
Chestnut-tailed StarlingSturnia malabarica1
Long-billed ThrushZoothera monticola1
White-collared BlackbirdTurdus albocinctusH
Chats, Old World FlycatchersMuscicapidae
Lesser ShortwingBrachypteryx leucophrisH
White-browed ShortwingBrachypteryx montana1
Rufous-breasted Bush RobinTarsiger hyperythrus1
Golden Bush RobinTarsiger chrysaeus1
Blue Whistling ThrushMyophonus caeruleus1
Oriental Magpie-RobinCopsychus saularis1
Hodgson’s RedstartPhoenicurus hodgsoni1
White-throated RedstartPhoenicurus schisticeps1
Blue-fronted RedstartPhoenicurus frontalis1
Plumbeous Water RedstartPhoenicurus fuliginosus1
White-capped RedstartPhoenicurus leucocephalus1
White-tailed RobinMyiomela leucuraH
Little ForktailEnicurus scouleri1
Slaty-backed ForktailEnicurus schistaceus1
Spotted ForktailEnicurus maculatus1
Siberian StonechatSaxicola maurus1
Chestnut-bellied Rock ThrushMonticola rufiventris1
Rufous-gorgeted FlycatcherFicedula strophiata1
Ultramarine FlycatcherFicedula superciliaris1
Slaty-blue FlycatcherFicedula tricolor1
Pale Blue FlycatcherCyornis unicolor1
Verditer FlycatcherEumyias thalassinus1
Rufous-bellied NiltavaNiltava sundara1
Large NiltavaNiltava grandis1
Small NiltavaNiltava macgrigoriae1
Brown DipperCinclus pallasii1
Golden-fronted LeafbirdChloropsis aurifrons1
Orange-bellied LeafbirdChloropsis hardwickii1
Fire-breasted FlowerpeckerDicaeum ignipectus1
Mrs. Gould’s SunbirdAethopyga gouldiae1
Green-tailed SunbirdAethopyga nipalensis1
Black-throated SunbirdAethopyga saturata1
Crimson SunbirdAethopyga siparaja1
Fire-tailed SunbirdAethopyga ignicauda1
Streaked SpiderhunterArachnothera magna1
Old World Sparrows, SnowfinchesPasseridae
House SparrowPasser domesticus1
Russet SparrowPasser rutilans1
Eurasian Tree SparrowPasser montanus1
Waxbills, Munias and alliesEstrildidae
Scaly-breasted MuniaLonchura punctulata1
Alpine AccentorPrunella collaris1
Rufous-breasted AccentorPrunella strophiata1
Maroon-backed AccentorPrunella immaculata1
Wagtails, PipitsMotacillidae
Grey WagtailMotacilla cinerea1
White WagtailMotacilla alba1
Paddyfield PipitAnthus rufulus1
Olive-backed PipitAnthus hodgsoni1
Yellow-breasted GreenfinchChloris spinoides1
Plain Mountain FinchLeucosticte nemoricola1
Dark-breasted RosefinchProcarduelis nipalensis1
Common RosefinchCarpodacus erythrinus1
Dark-rumped RosefinchCarpodacus edwardsii1
Himalayan White-browed RosefinchCarpodacus thura1
Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra1
Brown BullfinchPyrrhula nipalensis1
Red-headed BullfinchPyrrhula erythrocephala1
White-winged GrosbeakMycerobas carnipes1
Buntings, New World SparrowsEmberizidae
Little BuntingEmberiza pusilla1


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