Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
The tiny Kingdom of Bhutan in the eastern Himalayas is often and rightly described as a birder’s paradise. Although only about a third the size of England, over 70 percent of this mountainous country is covered by largely pristine forest. With habitats ranging from alpine grasslands, scrub and temperate rhododendron forests to sub-tropical evergreen forests, Bhutan boasts a diversity of birds and wildlife in apparent disproportion to its size. The list of bird species currently stands at about 700, including some of the rarest, most spectacular and most sought-after species found in the eastern Himalayas. The Satyr Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Ibisbill and Black-necked Crane remain relatively abundant and accessible in Bhutan, while the rarest of the region’s species, including White-bellied Heron, Ward’s Trogon, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Beautiful Nuthatch and Wedge-billed Wren-babbler have perhaps a more secure future here than anywhere else.
In March 2006 we fulfilled a lifelong ambition to visit this spectacular and extraordinarily enlightened country for a birding trip. Our itinerary, transport, accommodation and visas were arranged by Bhutan Heritage Travels (www.heritagetours.com.bt), an excellent company which we simply cannot rate highly enough. The three-week itinerary started in the Paro valley and proceeded eastwards, taking in the literally breathtaking passes of Chelila, Dochula and Pelela, with a diversion northwards up the Mo Chu valley in search of White-bellied Herons. We then headed south from Trongsa into the sub-tropical foothill forests around Zhemgang and Tingtibi, home to the almost mythical Beautiful Nuthatch, before resuming our eastward journey from Trongsa to Yatongla and the Bumthang valley. We then dropped down the famous Limlithang Road, through Ura, Sengor and Yongkhola, before heading southwards again at Tashigang. With the reopening of the Bhutan-India border in eastern Bhutan, we had decided to depart from Samdrup Jongkhar into Assam, rather than backtrack to Paro, and this gave us an opportunity to explore the relatively unbirded forests of Korila, Yongphula, Narphungla and above Samdrup Jongkhar.
We undertook our epic tour of Bhutan in a large, comfortable Toyota bus, with camping gear, food and support team in a smaller bus which would proceed ahead of us to prepare meals and set up camp. As well as camping we also stayed at several hotels, ranging in quality from good to abysmal. The food, despite a reputation for being unpalatable, was always plentiful and usually excellent, including a range of interesting meat and vegetable dishes prepared by our support team’s chefs. The meals were usually spiced up by a dish of the extra hot chillies favoured by the Bhutanese, often in their traditional cheese sauce. Breakfasts, especially welcome after a few hours early morning birding, seemed to be different every day, and included porridge, omelettes, toast and pancakes, often with baked beans and sometimes with chocolate and/or toffee sauce! Quantities of cold beer were on supply every night, with perhaps the locally brewed Red Panda beer being the group’s favourite (the picture on the label being the closest we came to seeing this elusive species).
The roads in Bhutan, though slow and necessarily winding, were generally very good and sealed throughout. Dorji, our driver, was excellent and always ready to stop to view a roadside bird, whilst negotiating blind bends and perilous cliff edges. During our trip there were several stretches of road-works – nothing like the British equivalent with cones and endless delays – rather groups of itinerant Indian workers in sandals with wheelbarrows and rakes used to level the tarmac. Although not an inconvenience, these works did perhaps lead to extra disturbance along the road, which may have reduced bird activity in some places (notably around Sengor). The traffic was very light, with only an occasional lorry or bus passing by, although it seemed heavier on the road down to Samdrup Jongkhar. Apparently the level of traffic has increased in the last few years, along with the road-works, and, as it seems set to increase further, it may become a more significant issue in the future.
The weather during our stay was generally cool (perhaps no more than 20 degrees Celsius) during the day and cold (sometimes freezing) at night. Conditions were generally hazy and overcast, with clear sunny days being exceptional. We had very little rain, continuing an unusual trend established during the winter when there was no rainfall or snow at all in many places.
Thanks largely to the knowledge, enthusiasm and skill of our leader Hishey Tshering and his bird guide Chozang we had a tremendously successful trip. As a whole, the group recorded nearly 320 species over 20 days. The many highlights included Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Great and Rufous-necked Hornbills, Long-tailed Broadbill, Ward’s Trogon, Tawny Fish-owl, Snow Pigeon, Black-necked Crane, Beautiful Nuthatch, Red-faced Liocichla and Wedge-billed Wren-babbler. The sheer diversity and abundance of birds seen was astonishing, especially in comparison to experiences of birding elsewhere in neighbouring Himalayan and south-east Asian countries, and included three species of hornbill, four species of forktail, all three species of Tesia, 21 species of warbler, ten species of laughingthrush, 15 species of minla, fulvetta and yuhina and 18 species of finches and buntings. The following account provides more information on the places we visited and some of the wildlife seen.
The beautiful Paro valley was to be our first experience of birding in Bhutan. After our arrival at Paro International airport and a quick lunch at our hotel (the Gangtey Palace, once the palace of a regional lord) we birded northwards up the valley to the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, checking out the riverside habitats and the pine forests beyond the dzong. Along the river we saw River Lapwing, Brown Dipper, Common Hoopoe, Grey-backed Shrike, Hodgson’s and Plumbeous Water Redstarts, the first of many Olive-backed Pipits and a single Water Pipit (seemingly outside its normal range), while flocks of Red-billed Choughs wheeled overhead along with two Black Eagles. A small wetland adjacent to the road provided us with views of our first Black-tailed Crake along with a group of Rufous-fronted Tits. In the pine forest we had good views of a male Kalij Pheasant and our first Black-faced Laughingthrushes, Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler and Rufous-breasted Accentors. As evening fell we returned to our hotel for some much-needed sleep and, on route, saw our only Long-legged Buzzard of the trip.
We were up well before dawn for the 90-minute drive to the Chelila pass. The sky was clear and, as the sun rose above the horizon, we had stunning views of the Jomolhari and Jichu Drake mountains to the north, both well over 6,500 metres high. As we made our way up to the pass in the first morning light our early departure was rewarded with fine views of both Himalayan Monals and Blood Pheasants together on the roadside. Further on towards the pass we saw groups of lovely White-browed Rosefinches and a lone female Collared Grosbeak. We breakfasted at the pass (the highest breakfast stop of our trip at nearly 4,000 metres) beneath brilliant sunshine and countless prayer flags and in the company of rosefinches, White-browed Fulvettas and nutcrackers. Later, on the far side of the pass, we birded amongst alpine meadows and dwarf rhododendrons, finding Alpine Accentor, Plain Mountain Finch, numerous White-throated Redstarts, White-winged Grosbeak, Rosy Pipit, a distant party of Spotted Laughingthrushes and the only Lammergeier of the trip. An unknown species of Pika was also added to our mammal list here.
In the afternoon we retraced our route back down the mountain into the Paro valley and then up the Thimphu valley to the Hotel Riverview on the (relatively dog-free) edge of Thimphu town. On route we stopped in the Paro valley once more and saw Ibisbill, Dark-throated Thrush and Wallcreeper.
Thimphu and the Tango-Cheri valley
About an hour’s drive north of Thimphu, the religious valley of Tango and Cheri supports evergreen oak forest above the blue pines that dominate the Thimphu valley. We birded this quiet, undisturbed valley in the early morning and highlights included excellent views of male and female Kalij Pheasants, Spotted and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes, Dark-rumped and Dark-breasted Rosefinches, Red-headed Bullfinch and our first Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Orange-flanked Bush Robin, Blyth’s and Chestnut-crowned Warblers, Green Shrike-babbler and Mrs Gould’s Sunbird of the trip. We also looked for Satyr Tragopans, as this valley is a known location for them, though none were in evidence during our visit.
In the afternoon we visited the sewage ponds just south of Thimphu (surely no birding trip is complete without a visit to a sewage works or rubbish tip?). Although better in the winter, when a good variety of ducks are present, we still managed to find a single Red-crested Pochard along with a few Ruddy Shelducks and Green and Common Sandpipers. We also had close views of Wallcreepers, including one uncharacteristically feeding on debris in the river.
Following an early morning start we arrived at the high pass of Dochula (3116 metres) for breakfast, followed by an excellent full morning’s walk downhill through cool evergreen forests. We saw our first Bhutan speciality species at our breakfast spot, when a distant bird perched high in the bare branches of a tree turned out to be a male Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, well away from any of the traditional locations and welcome compensation for failing to see it at a stake-out near Thimphu the previous day. Fired-up by this early success we hit the trail through the forest. Our first birds were a party of Hoary-throated Barwings, quickly followed by mixed flocks of warblers and babblers. New species for the trip came thick and fast and included Chestnut-tailed Minla, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, Stripe-throated and Whiskered Yuhinas and Green-tailed Sunbird. A little further down the trail some members of the group, whilst peering into the undergrowth for views of Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes, were surprised to see a real rarity: a Chestnut-breasted Partridge. Interestingly, it has been noted that this species shares similar habitat requirements with Ward’s Trogon and, a few minutes later, as if on cue, we first heard and then saw a male trogon, our second target species for the trip. Initially elusive, the bird eventually gave excellent views and even allowed some photo opportunities.
Mo Chu and the Jigme Dorji National Park
After a lunchtime break at the foot of the trail, where we were entertained by a large flock of marauding White-throated Laughingthrushes, we hit the road again for an afternoon’s drive to our next destination in the Mo Chu valley north of Punakha, just within the Jigme Dorji National Park. On route we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking the river and the imposing Punakha Dzong and had brief views of a huge Crested Kingfisher as it flew up the river. A little later in the afternoon our guides spotted a Pallas’s Fish Eagle, which we watched as it flew down the river. Other noteworthy species seen as we approached our campsite were Barred Cuckoo-dove and Slaty-backed Forktail.
During next morning we birded along the valley between Rimchu and Tashithang in the excellent broadleaf forests of the National Park. Amongst the mixed flocks of birds we saw several species that were to be seen many times during our trip, including Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape, Great and Golden-throated Barbets, Grey Treepie, Yellow-bellied and White-throated Fantails, Small and Large Niltavas, Black-throated Tit, Mountain Bulbul, Ashy-throated and Grey-hooded Warblers, Striated and Streaked Laughingthrushes, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Black-throated Sunbird. Less common species included Rufous-bellied Niltava, a pair of Fire-capped Tits, and the only Sapphire Flycatcher and Spot-winged Grosbeaks of the trip. Of the skulkers, a Slaty-bellied Tesia showed well but both Scaly-breasted and Spotted Wren-babblers remained firmly out of sight to all. Yellow-vented Warblers were seen and heard singing around our campsite after breakfast and a single Yellow-bellied Warbler was also identified, well to the west of its recorded range in Bhutan.
In the afternoon, following a tour of Punakha Dzong guided by Hishey, and a fascinating insight into Bhutanese culture and religion, we made our way back down the valley to the Dragon’s Nest Hotel at Wangdue, all the while checking the river for any signs of White-belllied Heron. The Mo Chu is a reliable location for this threatened species during the winter but, unfortunately for us, it is less easy to see during the breeding season. In the evening we made a final foray back towards Punakha to a known roadside stake-out for Tawny Fish-owl. After initial disappointment on finding the owl’s preferred tree vacant we were excited to see this truly enormous owl with its most impressive ear tufts in the neighbouring tree. After excellent ‘scope views were had by all we headed back to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.
Wangdue and Puna Tsang Chu
The following morning we headed south from Wangdue down the Puna Tsang valley with the main objective of clawing back White-bellied heron; this area being another fairly reliable location for the species. However, despite diligent searching of the river and adjacent trees we again drew a blank, although we were rewarded for our efforts by some fine views of Great Hornbills, further sightings of Crested Kingfishers and our only Blue-throated Flycatchers of the trip. Back at the hotel we saw two new species from the hotel grounds: Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler and Striated Prinia.
After a late breakfast at the hotel we headed off once more, this time east and uphill to Pelela and the nearby Phobjika valley – the largest wetland area in Bhutan and one of the most important areas for wintering Black-necked Cranes. We were hopeful of seeing these rare and threatened birds as Hishey had heard that an adult and three juveniles were still present the day before. On route we made a few stops for some roadside birding, thus adding Himalayan Griffon, Himalayan Swiftlet, Nepal House Martin and a female Crimson-browed Finch to our trip list. As we drove higher up towards the pass and into the clouds it became noticeably colder and some snow began to fall. After a quick lunch break near the pass we dropped down into the wide expanse of the Phobjika valley and began scanning for the cranes in the cultivated farmland fringing the extensive marshland. We eventually reached the reserve headquarters and, after introducing us to the staff, Hishey quickly ascertained that the birds were still present and we made our way on foot to the given location. When we saw the cranes we understood why we had missed them – they were above the road in some small ploughed fields, hidden from view by some low walls. Fortunately, a nearby farmhouse provided a good vantage point and ideal cover for us to view the cranes, and the owners kindly gave us permission to gather on their front porch. The birds were completely unaware of us as we watched from the farmhouse and we enjoyed close views in a very evocative setting!
With the light failing and the fog descending we headed off to our final destination for the day at Pelela (3400 metres). In the hour-or-so of daylight remaining to us we birded a short distance from our campsite amongst the pine forest and dwarf rhododendrons, seeing a single Plain-backed Thrush along with Red Crossbill, Yellow-bellied Bush Warbler and the first of many Golden Babblers.
After a cold night, punctuated only by the call of a Mountain Scop’s-owl, we made an early morning start up the pass. Fortunately the fog had cleared overnight and visibility was good. One of the target species up here was Great Parrotbill which, although elusive initially, eventually gave excellent views. Other species seen during the morning included a group of Himalayan Monals, our first male Collared Grosbeak, a flock of Rufous-vented Yuhinas and many lovely Black-faced Warblers. A quick stroll around the campsite at breakfast also revealed a Black-tailed Crake, an unexpected find at such a high altitude. Finally, as we made our way downhill from Pelela on route to Trongsa, we saw a fine flock of Snow Pigeons flushed from a ploughed field and wheeling through the air as they were being harried by a sparrowhawk.
After a roadside lunch at Trongsa we made our way southwards down the long road to Zhemgang. As we continued southwards we were impressed by endless hills of broadleaf forests studded with beautiful Bauhinia trees in full flower. Although time was limited, we made some fruitful stops on the way. In particular, in the vicinity of Khosela in the Mangde Chu valley, we saw a mixed flock of Spot-winged and Chestnut-tailed Starlings. The former is rare in Bhutan and we later discovered that Khosela is a traditional location for the species. Other birds seen on route included Darjeeling Woodpecker, our first Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, Crimson Sunbird, Red-whiskered Bulbul and a male Crested Bunting. We eventually reached our campsite, about 5 km short of Zhemgang, at nightfall.
Zhemgang - Tingtibi
At first light the next day we retraced our steps for about 3 km down the road to an area of excellent forest with many tall trees coated with mosses and epiphytes. Beautiful Nuthatches had been seen in this area a few years earlier (according to our chef, who accompanied that particular tour!) and our guides decided it was worth another try. We were aware that this species had not been seen in recent times at the more well-known location on the far side of Zhemgang, so our expectations were low…
The first birds seen here, at the beginning of what was to be a truly epic day’s birding, were Blue-winged Laughingthrushes and a flock of Yellow-throated Fulvettas flying across the road at knee height. These were quickly followed by a group of Rusty-fronted Barwings and, high in the tree tops, a mixed flock of warblers, woodpeckers and fantails. Searching through these we saw Lesser Yellownape, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Scarlet and Grey-chinned Minivets, White-browed Shrike-babbler and Streaked Spiderhunter along with some distant nuthatches. Suspicions were aroused amongst the stragglers in the group who were (thankfully!) grilling these birds closely before the call was finally made – Beautiful Nuthatch! For a few nerve-wracking minutes the birds were lost to view before being found again – two nuthatches, this time closer to the road and seen by all. Astonishingly, these stunning birds gave incredibly close and prolonged views as they circled the road, in the company of both White-browed and Black-headed Shrike-babblers. Although the nuthatches demanded our attention, Hishey and Chozang managed to find another star bird at this time, in the roadside vegetation almost at our feet: a Red-faced Liocichla. We now had the enviable dilemma of choosing which bird to watch, but fortunately managed good views of both! Finally we lost view of the nuthatches and, still reeling from the shock, we were then treated to views of yet another spectacular bird, a fine male Rufous-necked Hornbill, quickly followed by a female.
Following a jubilant breakfast (baked beans with chocolate sauce – the chef must had a hunch we would be celebrating!) we headed downhill towards Tingtibi, first searching out a Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler calling from a nearby gully. We made several stops in the pine forests on our way down and one particularly large mixed flock was very rewarding, adding Lemon-rumped and White-spectacled Warbler, White-naped, Black-chinned and White-bellied Yuhinas and Crimson-breasted Woodpecker to our rapidly growing day-list. Other species seen on route included more Rufous-necked Hornbills along with Crested Goshawk, Bonelli’s Eagle, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Blue-capped Rockthrush, Fire-capped and Yellow-cheeked Tits, Striated Bulbul and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, the last being rarer than Beautiful Nuthatch in Bhutan, with only one other reported record from Manas in 1993!
We camped for two nights at Tingtibi, birding the area around the camp and selected areas above and below Tingtibi village. During our first morning we explored a trail above the camp and came across a fruiting tree which was alive with warblers and yuhinas, as well as Pin-tailed Green-pigeon, several Dark-sided Flycatchers, the only Slaty-backed Flycatcher of the trip and several Rufous-faced Warblers. Elsewhere around the camp we saw Great and Rufous-necked Hornbills along with a diminutive White-browed Piculet, Rufous Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Warbler, another Red-faced Liocichla, Grey-throated Babbler, White-browed Scimitar-babbler, a female Scarlet Finch, Sultan Tit, Common Green Magpie, a group of Large Woodshikes and a small flock of White-rumped Munias. An excursion further down the Mangde Chu (and perhaps another chance for White-bellied Heron) gave us views of some attractive Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes along with Striated and Rufescent Prinias and White-throated Bulbul. The Zhemgang-Tingtibi areas within the range of the Golden Langur in Bhutan and we saw several groups during our travels.
Tingtibi to Trongsa
Today we made a pre-dawn start on our long journey back to Trongsa, with the intention of birding at the Beautiful Nuthatch location again on the way. The first bird of the day was a Large-tailed Nightjar, flushed from the road as we drove past in the darkness. A stop near our former campsite at Zhemgang gave good views of Asian Barred Owlet and, eventually, Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler. Back at the nuthatch site we found conditions to be drizzly and foggy, with no sign of the target species and few other birds – this only served to remind us how incredibly lucky we had been two days before. To escape the cloud we continued a few kilometres down the road, stopping to check out a flock of Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes in some open, scrubby land and immediately spotting a group of parrotbills amongst them. We eventually decided that these were Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbills, despite the location and altitude favouring Lesser. A Tickell’s Warbler was also a first of the trip here. Other species seen as we neared Trongsa included a lone Snow Pigeon, a flock of Yellow-breasted Greenfinches and, on the river at Bubja (a known Honeyguide site), both Little and Spotted Forktails.
Trongsa to Ura
Following a relaxing night at the (relatively) plush Yangkhil Resort we resumed our journey eastwards. Our first main destination was the beautiful rhododendron and magnolia forests around the pass of Yatongla. Here we saw a good range of fulvettas and yuhinas, including a flock of blinding Golden-breasted Fulvettas, as well as both Collared and White-winged Grosbeaks calling from the tree-tops. As we made our way down into the cultivated valleys of Bumthang we saw a female White-browed Bush-robin and our first Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush and Golden-spectacled Warbler. A pre-lunch diversion down the Tang Chu in search of Fulvous Parrotbill in riverside bamboo thickets was unsuccessful, though we did see an Ibisbill and another flock of Collared Grosbeaks. After a three-course lunch in Jakar we continued towards Ura, checking out some ploughed fields on route to identify Oriental Skylark and Beautiful Rosefinch. We also saw many Black-billed Magpies here, a species with a strangely disjunct population in the Indian sub-continent, occurring only in the Bumthang area and distant Kashmir.
Ura to Sengor
After a clear, frosty night at high altitude, with ice on our tents when we emerged at dawn, we walked up the road towards the pass of Wangthangla. Although bird activity was slow in the cool, mixed forests of firs and broadleaves, perhaps because of the cold conditions, we saw a few species of interest including Spotted Laughingthrush and some very unexpected Great Parrotbills. Later in the morning we drove onwards through brightly coloured rhododendrons to Thrumsingla and Sengor, seeing Himalayan Monals and a group of male Blood Pheasants, along with White-throated Redstart, Buff-barred Warbler and Crimson-browed Finch. A short diversion to a small, streamside marsh near Gayzamchu also gave brief views of two Wood Snipe before they flew further upstream. Eventually we reached Sengor and made our way to our overnight camp a few kilometres below the village. Some final birding here in the late afternoon sunlight resulted in some good mixed flocks of sunbirds, including the dazzling Fire-tailed Sunbird, and close views of a relatively confiding Chestnut-headed Tesia. Finally we dropped down below our campsite to check out a roadside roosting area for Satyr Tragopan, managing to snatch brief views of a female before she flew out of sight.
Sengor to Yongkhola
We awoke before dawn the following morning to the evocative and exciting calls of Satyr Tragopans, one seemingly only a few metres from our campsite! However, despite dressing hurriedly and trotting up the road to a calling bird, we found it impossible to locate in the dense roadside vegetation and quite unresponsive to our tape. The bird ceased calling shortly after dawn and that, sadly, was to be our last encounter with a tragopan. Although other groups have seen them on the roadside here, it seems that this is more likely later in April and May when they are more active. Definitely one to come back for!
We birded downhill during the day, finally reaching our campsite for the next two nights above Yongkhola. Over the next two days we concentrated our birding below Sengor, around Namling and above and below our camp, regularly skirting the plunging chasm known disturbingly as the ‘Namling death-drop’. The views from this lofty road were awe-inspiring, with hill after hill of unbroken forest extending literally as far as our eyes could see.
A return trip to Sengor early the following morning was unsuccessful regarding our main objective of finding tragopans, but we were rewarded by a good variety of other species nonetheless, including Grey-winged Blackbird (in the same place where Bhutan’s first Naumann’s Thrush was seen the year before), Hill Partridge, Whistler’s Warbler, Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler, Black-headed, White-browed and Green Shrike-babblers, Red-headed Bullfinch, Collared Grosbeak and Fire-tailed Myzornis – the latter a welcome recovery after failing to see it at other more likely locations earlier in the trip. We also tried for Bar-winged Wren-babbler, a great rarity known to occur in a deep gully just below Sengor, sadly with no success. Further downhill, towards Namling, MR spotted a Yellow-rumped Honeyguide perched unobtrusively next to some rock bee hives and Chozang, alert as ever to unusual bird calls, taped a Broad-billed Warbler into view.
We found the excellent roadside forest immediately above and below our camp to be equally rewarding. Here we had good views of Rufous-necked Hornbill, Coral-billed Scimitar-babblers and a fine flock of Scarlet Finches, along with a good range of skulkers including Grey-bellied Tesia (completing the set!), Grey-bellied Bush-warbler, Pygmy and Rufous-throated Wren-babblers and more Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbills, this time in the company of Rusty-fronted Barwings. JP also had good views of the only Golden Bush-robin of the trip, which unfortunately did not linger long enough for the rest of the group to see. Finally, the rarest and least expected bird seen here was Wedge-billed Wren-babbler, only discovered in Bhutan as recently as 2000. The stretch of road a few kilometres above our camp is a known location for this species and, due entirely to the persistence, diligence and alertness of Chozang, several members of the group eventually saw one of a pair of these extremely elusive birds in a roadside gully about 8 km above Yongkhola.
After a final morning’s birding, we left Yongkhola and made our way to Mongar for an overnight stop at the hotel Druk Sangar. After checking-in we headed uphill to the pass of Korila (2298 metres) where we found some excellent forest and a great deal of bird activity. The first bird seen here was a Dark-breasted Rosefinch and, as we were watching it, a totally unexpected Gold-naped Finch jumped up onto the roadside beside it – another claw-back! Other birds seen here as evening approached included Kalij Pheasant, Barred Cuckoo-dove and a small flock of Brown Bullfinches.
We returned to Korila just after dawn the following morning, birding up to the pass and beyond where we stopped for breakfast in the sunshine and in the company of some local cattle. The more interesting species included Gold-naped Finches, Maroon-backed Accentor, Grey-winged Blackbird, a male Rufous-breasted Bush-robin and a single Hill Prinia, with a calling Collared Owlet tracked down at the pass itself. Chozang also heard at least one Ward’s Trogon calling around the pass, though it remained hidden from view. After breakfast we descended towards Tashigang, Bhutan’s easternmost town, and the final leg of our journey southwards to the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar. On route we had a few new birds including Ultramarine Flycatcher.
Heading south from Tashigang we made our camp in some paddy fields at Rongthong, a few kilometres before the college in Kanglung. Here Chozang attempted to lure a Ruddy-breasted Crake into view from the wetter paddies, though we had to content ourselves with another Black-tailed Crake instead. JP also clawed back Little Bunting from the day before when some were seen perched in a tree near Mongar along with Crested Buntings.
Yongphula to Narphungla
The following morning we made an early start for Yongphula. This was now entering unknown territory for our guides, as few groups had travelled down to Samdrup Jongkhar since the closure of the border with Assam. So it was a surprise to all when another Ward’s Trogon was heard calling from a hillside of scrubby, open forest about 3 km beyond the pass. Hishey eventually spotted the bird below the road where it was perched in the bare branches of a low tree, entirely in the open and quite different to the more usual trogon habitat. At one point it was seen to drop down to a low, rotten tree stump, where it clung vertically for a few moments and pecked at the bark. In retrospect it seems obvious that this was evidence of nesting behaviour as trogons are known to excavate nest holes in rotten stumps. As such, this may be the first ever record of breeding activity (other than singing and calling) for the species in Bhutan. Other birds seen as we continued our descent towards Narphungla were yet more Gold-naped Finches and a small group of Grey-headed Bullfinches near Khaling.
Narphungla to Morong
After a night’s camping just outside a police checkpoint at Narphung we started birding our way downhill towards Samdrup Jongkhar. Today represented the start of a transition from the higher elevations to the foothills, with the babblers, fulvettas, minlas and yuhinas gradually becoming less abundant, as more lowland species became apparent. As we descended below Narphungla we saw our first Silver-eared Mesias and Red-billed Leiothrix of the trip, along with a pair of Brown-throated Treecreepers displaying and entering a hole in a tree stump below the road – another sure sign of breeding activity and another probable first for Bhutan! Further downhill towards our camp at Morong we saw a single Cutia, another Slaty-bellied Tesia and some distant Mountain Imperial Pigeons.
Following a night at Morong of violent thunder and lightening storms with torrential rain and hailstones the size of marbles (which completely failed to wake some members of the group as they slept in their tents!) we made our final descent to Samdrup Jongkhar. Rain and low cloud persisted from the following night so we headed down towards Deothang and better weather, just catching views of a Large Hawk-cuckoo (aptly known as the ‘brain-fever bird’) before the mist closed in. At our breakfast stop we took advantage of a photo opportunity as a Collared Owlet perched in clear view by the road, and SR, MR and DM saw two White-tailed Robins, a species previously heard only. After breakfast we saw some Long-tailed Sibias and, the star species for the day, two Long-tailed Broadbills in roadside trees – a new bird for many in the group, including Hishey.
In the afternoon we checked into our hotel in Samdrup Jongkhar, the truly grim Hotel Menjong, and then spent the last few hours of daylight a short distance above town. New birds came thick and fast, including our first heron of the trip in the shape of a Little Heron, along with Black Stork, Coppersmith Barbet, Dollarbird and Spotted and Red Collared-doves. Despite our best attempts though, we could not manage to turn any of several Common Kingfishers into Blyth’s (though Chozang remained convinced that he did see one).
After waking early to find ourselves locked in the hotel, Hishey decided to move us into a different hotel. In the meantime we headed a few kilometres back up the hill to a small trail by the river and our last day’s birding in Bhutan. The weather was excellent and the bird activity good, so we quickly added some new species to our trip list, including Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Black Redstart (quite different from the European race), Red-throated Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Little Spiderhunter, Striped Tit-babbler, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Asian Fairy-bluebird and, best of all, a pair of awesome Wreathed Hornbills. We also found another pair of Long-tailed Broadbills, this time building a typically scruffy nest, slung beneath an overhead powerline. Back at the hotel we added Indian Pond-herons to the list as they flew over the adjacent river. In the afternoon we revisited some areas explored during the morning, in a final attempt to see Blyth’s Kingfisher. We did not see the kingfisher, though we did find a Collared Dove, a real rarity in Bhutan! We finished with a major claw-back, finding a pair of Red-headed Trogons almost at the last minute, and a great bird to end the trip on.
We said goodbye to our hosts, guides and friends the following morning, as we left for Assam and they prepared for the 18-hour return journey to Thimphu, via the fast road through India. It was a sad parting as we shook hands and boarded our bus. Hishey and his team had looked after us admirably and had clearly enjoyed the trip and the birding as much as us (Beautiful Nuthatch was a tick for them as well!). It was also sad to be leaving Bhutan, and I doubt we shall ever find anywhere to equal it for the beauty of it landscapes, the abundance of its wildlife and the friendliness and warmth of its people.
Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp 1998. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm Ltd, London.
Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp 1999. Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm Ltd, London.
Gurung & Singh 1996. Field Guide to the Mammals of the Indian Subcontinent. Acadmic Press (A & C Black, London).
Inskipp & Inskipp 2004. Field Guide to the Birds of Bhutan. Christopher Helm Ltd, London
Kazmierczak & van Perlo 2000. A Field Guide to Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Pica/Christopher Helm Ltd, London
Spierenburg 2005. Birds in Bhutan: Status and Distribution. Oriental Bird Club, Bedford.
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) – up to 50 seen on nine dates on rivers throughout and especially numerous in the Punakha area
Striated (Little) Heron (Butorides striatus) – an uncommon visitor to Bhutan from India with 1 seen on the river north of Samdrup Jongkhar
Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) – 13 Thimphu sewage ponds, 5 Mo Chu north of Punakha and 3 Mangde Chu on route to Zhemgang
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope) – 2 on the Mangde Chu below Tingtibi
Gadwall (Anas strepera) – 6 on the Mo Chu north of Punakha
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) – up to 8 on two dates on the Mo Chu between Tashithang and Punakha
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) – an uncommon passage migrant in Bhutan with a single bird
seen at Thimphu sewage ponds
Goosander/Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) – singles on the Paro Chu and at Thimphu sewage ponds
Pallas's Fish-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) – Threatened (Vulnerable). A single bird seen flying over the Mo Chu near Rimchu
Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) – 1 immature bird seen at Chelila
Himalayan Griffon-vulture (Gyps himalayensis) – a total of up to 30 seen in the vicinity of Pele La
Crested Serpent-eagle (Spilornis cheela) – 1-2 on five dates
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) – a single adult male in the Paro valley and a probable female/immature bird between Thrumsingla and Sengor
Crested Goshawk (Accipiter trivirgatus) – singles at Zhemgang, Trongsa and Samdrup Jongkhar
Besra (Accipiter virgatus) – only two identified, at Chelila and Rimchu
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) – a total of 7 seen of four dates
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) – a total of 14 seen on seven dates throughout
Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) – an uncommon species in Bhutan, with only one individual perched in a tree in the Paro valley positively identified
Indian Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis) – a total of 11 seen on seven dates
Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) – 1 in flight below Pele La
Bonelli's Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus) – an uncommon and extremely local species in Bhutan with one confirmed sighting between Zhemgang and Tingtibi (a known location for this species) and a possible sighting between Paro and Thimphu.
Mountain Hawk-eagle (Spizaetus nipalensis) – a total of 16 seen on eight dates throughout
Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) – up to 10 seen almost daily
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) – 1 near Samdrup Jongkhar
Hill Partridge (Arborophila torqueola) – heard on eleven dates, especially during the Pele La – Tingtibi – Yongkhola section of the trip. A single bird was seen by all near Namling as it flew across the road and settled in an open area in the adjacent forest.
Chestnut-breasted Partridge (Arborophila mandellii) – Threatened (Vulnerable). An uncommon and little-known resident in Bhutan with a single bird seen well but briefly at the lower end of the trail below Dochula Pass, foraging in the vicinity of Chestnut-crowned Laughing-thrushes. This record is located significantly further west than previous records which are concentrated in eastern Bhutan around the Kuri Chu valley.
Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus) – at least 10 at Chelila and a group of six males at Thrumsingla
Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra) – 1 female seen by the road in early evening above Namling and at least three heard below Sengor
Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) – 6 Chelila, 5 Pele La and 8 Thrumsingla
Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) – 1 heard near Tingtibi
Kalij Pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos) – 1 Paro valley, 3 Tango Cheri valley, 4 on route to Zhemgang and 3 Korila
Black-tailed Crake (Amaurornis bicolor) – 1 in the Paro valley and 2 near Thimphu seen in response to playback, 1 behind the campsite at Pele La (unusually high?) and 1 in rice paddies near Yongphula
Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) – 1 adult with 3 immatures feeding on farmland in the Phobjika valley
Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii) – 3 Paro valley, 2 Thimphu sewage ponds, 1 Mo Chu above Punakha and 1 near Jakar
River Lapwing (Vanellus (spinosus) duvaucelii) – a total of 12 on six dates from Paro valley to Wangdue
Wood Snipe (Gallinago nemoricola) – Threatened (Vulnerable). Two individuals of this elusive and declining species seen briefly at a small marshy area at Gayzamchu between Ura and Sengor.
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) – 3 Paro valley, 4 Thimphu sewage ponds and 1 near Samdrup Jongkhar
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) – 4 Thimphu sewage ponds and 1 Bumthang
Rock Dove (Columba livia) – abundant in towns, villages and around dzongs. Six birds seen in the Paro valley, well away from settlements, may have been nesting in cliffs above the river (there are no records of cliff-nesting in Bhutan).
Snow Pigeon (Columba leuconota) – a fine flock of 80 seen descending eastwards from Pele La and a single bird (rarely seen apparently) feeding on a hillside between Zhemgang and Trongsa.
Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis) – up to 50 seen daily throughout
Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) – although abundant throughout Bhutan, this species was only seen around Samdrup Jongkhar, with up to 20 on two dates
Red Collared-dove (Streptopelia tranquebarica) – an uncommon and very localised species in Bhutan, with a single bird seen a few kilometres above Samdrup Jongkhar
Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) – a rare and restricted species in Bhutan with a single bird seen a few kilometres above Samdrup Jongkhar (in the same area as the Red Collared Dove)
Barred Cuckoo-dove (Macropygia unchall) – 1 near Rimchu, 2 at Korila and 6 in the Narphung area
Pin-tailed Green-pigeon (Treron apicauda) – 25 near the camp at Tingtibi and a group of ten above Samdrup Jongkhar
Mountain Imperial-pigeon (Ducula badia) – 5 distantly near Narphung and 3 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Large Hawk-cuckoo (Cuculus sparverioides) – heard almost daily but rarely seen with singles observed at Yongkhola camp and above Samdrup Jongkhar
Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus saturatus) – heard almost daily east of Trongsa
Grey-bellied Cuckoo (Cacomantis (merulinus) passerinus) – an uncommon species in Bhutan with 2 seen and at least one other heard above Samdrup Jongkhar
Drongo Cuckoo (Surniculus lugubris) – a total of 7 on four dates east of Trongsa
Green-billed Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus tristis) – an uncommon resident in Bhutan with a single bird seen between Zhemgang and Trongsa
Mountain Scops-owl (Otus spilocephalus) – Bhutan’s most abundant scops-owl, with singles heard at Pele La and Zhemgang and up to three heard at the camp above Yongkhola
Tawny Fish-owl (Ketupa flavipes) – an uncommon resident, with one seen very well at night at a known stake-out near Punakha
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) – another uncommon owl, with 1 heard only at the camp site below Sengor
Collared Owlet (Glaucidium brodiei) – seen and/or heard on seven dates
Asian Barred Owlet (Glaucidium cuculoides) – seen or heard on six dates
Grey Nightjar (Caprimulgus indicus) – 1 seen flying from the road before dawn on route to Chelila and another heard? at Ura?
Large-tailed Nightjar (Caprimulgus macrurus) – 1 seen flying from the road before dawn between Tingtibi and Zhemgang
Himalayan Swiftlet (Collocalia brevirostris) – seen in abundance with flocks of up to 100 birds on seven dates
Fork-tailed Swift (Apus pacificus) – flocks of up to 30 seen on seven dates
Red-headed Trogon (Harpactes erythrocephalus) – a pair seen above Samdrup Jongkhar
Ward's Trogon (Harpactes wardi) – Near-threatened. An uncommon resident in Bhutan, a male was seen well at Dochula in response to playback, with another (presumably its mate) calling nearby. At least one other heard at Korila and another male seen well from the road 3 km south of Yongphula. This latter record was of interest as the bird was calling from a small, leafless bush in an open area of scattered trees and shrubs, quite unlike the closed canopy forest normally associated with trogons. At one point the bird was seen to cling low on a vertical tree stump where it pecked at the bark. Trogons nest in rotten stumps and this observation may be the first indication of breeding activity (other than calling males and pairs) recorded in Bhutan.
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) – 1 Thimphu sewage ponds and at least 6 near Samdrup Jongkhar
White-breasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) – up to 5 on eight dates throughout
Crested Kingfisher (Megaceryle lugubris) – a total of 10 seen on seven dates on the Mo Chu, Puna Tsang Chu and Mangde Chu and above Samdrup Jongkhar
Blue-bearded Bee-eater (Nyctyornis athertoni) – 1 distantly between Zhemgang and Tingtibi and possibly another near Samdrup Jongkhar
Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis) – a total of three seen at Samdrup Jongkhar
Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) – a total of 7 seen on five dates throughout
Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) – Near-threatened. 3 below Wangdi Phodrang and 5 in the Tingtibi area
Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis) – Threatened (Vulnerable). This rapidly declining hornbill remains relatively common and widespread in Bhutan. Up to 11 seen at Tingtibi, 3 above Yongkhola and 6 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Wreathed Hornbill (Aceros undulatus) – 3 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Great Barbet (Megalaima virens) – up to 20 seen and heard daily throughout temperate and sub-tropical areas
Golden-throated Barbet (Megalaima franklinii) – up to 10 seen and heard on seven dates
Blue-throated Barbet (Megalaima asiatica) – up to 6 seen and heard on six dates
Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala) – an uncommon resident in Bhutan with a single bird seen and others heard in and around Samdrup Jongkhar
Yellow-rumped Honeyguide (Indicator xanthonotus) – Near-threatened. A male found by JP below Dochula, apparently distant from any of the known traditional sites, and another male associated with rock bee hives near Namling
White-browed Piculet (Sasia ochracea) – singles seen near the camp at Tingtibi and north of Zhemgang, with both birds foraging in bamboo
Grey-capped Woodpecker (Dendrocopos canicapillus) – 1 Tingtibi
Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Dendrocopos hyperythrus) – a total of 6 seen on three dates
Crimson-breasted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos cathpharius) – single birds below Zhemgang, near Yongkhola and near Narphung
Darjeeling Woodpecker (Dendrocopos darjellensis) – a total of 8 on four dates
Rufous Woodpecker (Celeus brachyurus) – 1 Tingtibi and 3 near Samdrup Jongkhar
Lesser Yellownape (Picus chlorolophus) – 6 in the Zhemgang area
Greater Yellownape (Picus flavinucha) – a total of at least 6 on five dates
Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus canus) – a total of at least 6 seen or heard on five dates
Bay Woodpecker (Blythipicus pyrrhotis) – a total of at least 5 on four dates
Long-tailed Broadbill (Psarisomus dalhousiae) – a total of four seen a few kilometres above Samdrup Jongkhar, including a pair nest building. The nest was in typical broadbill fashion, resembling a scruffy tangle of dead, hanging vegetation. In this case the nest was hanging over the river from overhead wires – apparently an unusual choice of location with only one other record of a nest hanging from wires.
Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula) – at least 6 in the Bumthang area
Eurasian Crag-martin (Hirundo rupestris) – an uncommon winter visitor to Bhutan with a flock of 50 between Tingtibi and Trongsa
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) – 2 seen on two dates
Red-rumped Swallow (Hirundo daurica) – a group of six near Yongphula
Asian Martin (Delichon dasypus) – 6 in the Punakha area
Nepal Martin (Delichon nipalensis) – colonies of up to 100 birds seen on seven dates either foraging or nest-building on roadside cliffs
Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni) – 1-15 almost daily
Rosy Pipit (Anthus roseatus) – 1 Chelila
Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta) – 1 in the Paro valley apparently well outside its normal range
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) – 1-10 on eight dates
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) – 1-2 on two dates above Samdrup Jongkhar
Grey-chinned Minivet (Pericrocotus solaris) – 1-10 on nine dates
Long-tailed Minivet (Pericrocotus ethologus) – 1-25 on nine dates
Short-billed Minivet (Pericrocotus brevirostris) – at least 2 seen on four dates east of Sengor
Scarlet Minivet (Pericrocotus flammeus) – 2-20 on five dates
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike (Hemipus picatus) – 1-4 on three dates
Striated Bulbul (Pycnonotus striatus) – 2-20 on nine dates east of Tingtiba and Trongsa
Black-crested Bulbul (Pycnonotus melanicterus) – 1 south of Wangdi Phodrang and at least 10 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) – 2 near Khosela on route to Zhemgang and 2 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Himalayan Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogenys) – 20 between Zhemgang and Trongsa, 3 at Korila and 2 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) – up to several hundred seen on eleven dates at lower elevations
White-throated Bulbul (Alophoixus flaveolus) – 12 Tingtibi and 6 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Ashy Bulbul (Hemixos flavala) – 3-10 on three dates at Tingtibi and above Samdrup Jongkhar
Mountain Bulbul (Hypsipetes mcclellandii) – 1-30 on six dates
Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus) – up to 100 seen on ten dates
Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia)
Asian Fairy-bluebird (Irena puella) – at least 3 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Golden-fronted Leafbird (Chloropsis aurifrons) – 1 near Samdrup Jongkhar
Orange-bellied Leafbird (Chloropsis hardwickii) – 1-10 seen on six dates
Brown Dipper (Cinclus pallasii) – 1-5 on six dates on rivers west of Trongsa
Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) – 1-2 on three dates
Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) – 1-5 on four dates at Chelila, Pelela and Thrumsingla
Rufous-breasted Accentor (Prunella strophiata) – 1-7 on eleven dates
Maroon-backed Accentor (Prunella immaculata) – 6 Korila and 6 Narphung
Orange-flanked Bush-robin (Tarsiger cyanurus) – 1-4 on ten dates throughout
Golden Bush-robin (Tarsiger chrysaeus) – 1 male seen by JP at Yongkhola
White-browed Bush-robin (Tarsiger indicus) – 1 female near Yatongla
Rufous-breasted Bush-robin (Tarsiger hyperythrus) – 1 male at Korila
Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis) – 1-4 on six dates
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) – an uncommon passage migrant in Bhutan, with 1-2 at Tingtibi and 4 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Hodgson's Redstart (Phoenicurus hodgsoni) – 1-20 on 13 dates throughout
White-throated Redstart (Phoenicurus schisticeps) – at least 10 at Chelila and 6 at Thrumsingla
Blue-fronted Redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis) – 1-6 on eleven dates throughout
White-capped Water-redstart (Chaimarrornis leucocephalus) – 1-5 almost daily and a day total of 12 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Plumbeous Water-redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosus) – 1-8 on 15 dates
White-tailed Robin (Cinclidium leucurum) – heard at Tingtibi and 1 seen by MR and DM above Deothang
Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) – singles on four dates. The taxa occurring in Bhutan appear to be mainly prezwalskii and stejnegeri, which are increasingly treated as a separate species known as the Siberian Stonechat S. maurus.
Grey Bushchat (Saxicola ferrea) – 2-10 on nine dates, especially between Mongar and Samdrup Jongkhar
Blue-capped Rock-thrush (Monticola cinclorhynchus) – single birds seen on three dates in the Zhemgang-Tingtibi area
Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush (Monticola rufiventris) – 1-6 on eight dates east of Trongsa
Blue Rock-thrush (Monticola solitarius) – 1-3 on five dates
Blue Whistling-thrush (Myiophonus caeruleus) – common and widespread, with up to 50 seen daily throughout
Plain-backed Thrush (Zoothera mollissima) – an uncommon altitudinal migrant with singles seen at Pelela and Yongphula
White-collared Blackbird (Turdus albocinctus) – 1-20 on nine dates
Grey-winged Blackbird (Turdus boulboul) – 1 near Sengor, 2 Korila, 1 Narphungla and 4 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Dark-throated Thrush (Turdus ruficollis atrogularis) – 4 Paro valley and 1 Tango Cheri valley
Little Forktail (Enicurus scouleri) – 2 at the traditional Honeyguide site at Bubja, near Trongsa, 1 near Namling and 2 on two dates above Samdrup Jongkhar
Black-backed Forktail (Enicurus immaculatus) – 1-4 on two dates above Samdrup Jongkhar
Slaty-backed Forktail (Enicurus schistaceus) – 2 near Rimchu and at least 10 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Spotted Forktail (Enicurus maculatus) – singles at Bubja near Trongsa, between Korila and Khaling and above Deothang
Chestnut-headed Tesia (Tesia castaneocoronata) – singles seen at Zhemgang and Sengor and another heard at Yongphula
Slaty-bellied Tesia (Tesia olivea) – singles seen at Tashithang and Narphung
Grey-bellied Tesia (Tesia cyaniventer) – 1 Yongkhola
Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler (Cettia fortipes) 1-2 seen and many more heard on eight dates
Yellowish-bellied Bush-warbler (Cettia acanthizoides) – 1 seen and others heard on four dates
Grey-sided Bush-warbler (Cettia brunnifrons) – 4 in response to playback at camp above Yongkhola
Striated Prinia (Prinia criniger) – 1 in the grounds of the Dragon’s Nest Hotel at Wangdue, 2 near Tingtibi and 1 south of Mongar
Hill Prinia (Prinia atrogularis) – 1 Korila
Rufescent Prinia (Prinia rufescens) – 1 Tingtibi
Golden-spectacled Warbler (Seicercus burkii) – 1-6 on eight dates
Whistler’s Warbler (Seicercus whistleri) – 2 individuals of this recently split species identified by MR and JP below Sengor and it is likely that others were overlooked
Grey-hooded Warbler (Seicercus xanthoschistos) – another common and widespread warbler, with at least 2-10 on 13 dates
White-spectacled Warbler (Seicercus affinis) – 1 between Zhemgang and Tingtibi
Grey-cheeked Warbler (Seicercus poliogenys) – 1-6 on five dates
Chestnut-crowned Warbler (Seicercus castaniceps) – 1-6 on twelve dates
Broad-billed Warbler (Tickellia hodgsoni) – an uncommon species heard between Sengor and Yongkhola and a single bird seen near Namling following playback
Rufous-faced Warbler (Abroscopus albogularis) – restricted to the southern central valleys and foothills of Bhutan; at least 8 were seen near the camp at Tingtibi
Black-faced Warbler (Abroscopus schisticeps) – a stunning little bird with 5-20 seen on five dates near Pelela and between Korila and Narphung
Yellow-bellied Warbler (Abroscopus superciliaris) – an uncommon resident; singles at Rimchu (which is well outside its recorded range in Bhutan) and Tingtibi
Common Tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) – 1-2 on five dates
Tickell's Leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus affinis) – 1 possibly between Tingtibi and Zhemgang (though apparently in the wrong habitat as seen in dense forest), 1 between Zhemgang and 2 others in the Yongphula-Narphung area
Buff-barred Warbler (Phylloscopus pulcher) – singles on three dates at Thrumsingla, Korila and Narphung
Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis) – one of the more abundant and widespread leaf warblers with at least 1-10 on 13 dates
Lemon-rumped Warbler (Phylloscopus chloronotus) – 1-10 on six dates
Greenish Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides) – 1-2 on three dates
Blyth's Leaf-warbler (Phylloscopus reguloides) – 2-20 on ten dates
Yellow-vented Warbler (Phylloscopus cantator) – 5-16 individuals of this distinctive warbler seen on four dates at Tashithang and Tingtibi
Dark-sided Flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica) – 10 Tingtibi
Slaty-backed Flycatcher (Ficedula hodgsonii) – 1 Tingtibi
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher (Ficedula strophiata) – 1-3 on twelve dates throughout
Red-throated Flycatcher (Ficedula parva albicilla) – at least 10 seen above Samdrup Jongkhar. This race is considered a full species by some authorities
Little Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula westermanni) – 1-7 on seven dates
Ultramarine Flycatcher (Ficedula superciliaris) – singles at Tingtibi and south of Korila
Sapphire Flycatcher (Ficedula sapphira) – an uncommon altitudinal migrant with a single bird at Tashithang on 20th March
Verditer Flycatcher (Eumyias thalassina) – 1-17 on fourteen dates throughout
Large Niltava (Niltava grandis) – 1-3 heard or seen on six dates
Small Niltava (Niltava macgrigoriae) – 1-3 on seven dates
Rufous-bellied Niltava (Niltava sundara) – 2 Tashithang and 1 between Ura and Sengor
Pale Blue-flycatcher (Cyornis unicolor) – at least 1 at Yongkhola
Blue-throated Flycatcher (Cyornis rubeculoides) – 2 south of Wangdi Phodrang
Pygmy Blue-flycatcher (Muscicapella hodgsoni) – 1 Tingtibi and 2 Narphungla
Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher (Culicicapa ceylonensis) – 1-20 on 13 dates throughout
Yellow-bellied Fantail (Rhipidura hypoxantha) – 1-30 on 15 dates
White-throated Fantail (Rhipidura albicollis) – 1-6 on ten dates
Black-naped Monarch (Hypothymis azurea) – 2 above Samdrup Jongkhar
White-throated Laughingthrush (Garrulax albogularis) groups of 6-100 seen on ten dates throughout
White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus) – 3-20 on six dates
Striated Laughingthrush (Garrulax striatus) – 6-20 on ten dates throughout
Rufous-necked Laughingthrush (Garrulax ruficollis) – 15-25 individuals of this attractive species seen on two dates at Tingtibi
Spotted Laughingthrush (Garrulax ocellatus) – 4 Chelila, 5 Tango Cheri valley and 2 between Ura and Gayzamchu
Streaked Laughingthrush (Garrulax lineatus) – 2-8 on seven dates
Blue-winged Laughingthrush (Garrulax squamatus) – 6 near Zhemgang and 8 above Deothang
Black-faced Laughingthrush (Garrulax affinis) – 2-20 on ten dates throughout
Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush (Garrulax erythrocephalus) – 2-4 on eight dates throughout
Red-faced Liocichla (Liocichla phoenicea) – 3 at Zhemgang (trying to compete with the Beautiful Nuthatch for viewing time!) and singles at Tingtibi and near Narphung
Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler (Pomatorhinus erythrogenys) - 2 at the Dragon’s Nest Hotel, Wangdue, and 1 between Zhemgang and Trongsa
White-browed Scimitar-babbler (Pomatorhinus schisticeps) – 2 Tingtibi and 2 Narphung
Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler (Pomatorhinus ruficollis) – 1-3 on six dates
Coral-billed Scimitar-babbler (Pomatorhinus ferruginosus) – an uncommon and localised species in Bhutan with up to 3 seen at Yongkhola
Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler (Xiphirhynchus superciliaris) – 2 seen in flight below Sengor and another heard near Namling
Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler (Pnoepyga albiventer) – heard at Tashithang and 1 seen in response to playback at Zhemgang
Pygmy Wren-babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla) – heard at three locations between Ura and Narphung and 1 seen well near Yongkhola
Rufous-throated Wren-babbler (Spelaeornis caudatus) – Near-threatened. 2 seen and at least 1 other heard near Yongkhola and 3 seen at Narphung
Spotted Wren-babbler (Spelaeornis formosus) – heard only at Tashithang and above Deothang
Wedge-billed Wren-babbler (Sphenocichla humei) – Near-threatened. A rare and restricted species, only discovered in Bhutan as recently as 2000. One of a pair of birds seen (apparently of the humei race) in response to tape playback in a damp gully below the road about 8 km above Yongkhola.
Rufous-capped Babbler (Stachyris ruficeps) – 1-8 on nine dates
Golden Babbler (Stachyris chrysaea) – at least 1-9 on nine dates
Grey-throated Babbler (Stachyris nigriceps) – 3-9 at Tingtibi on two dates and at least 1 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Striped Tit-babbler (Macronous gularis) – 7 seen and others heard above Samdrup Jongkhar
Silver-eared Mesia (Leiothrix argentauris) – 10-20 on two dates between Narphung and Samdrup Jongkhar
Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea) – surprisingly only seen once with 4 birds near Narphung
Cutia (Cutia nipalensis) – again surprisingly scarce with only a single bird seen near Morong and another heard distantly at Yongkhola
Black-headed Shrike-babbler (Pteruthius rufiventer) – an uncommon species in Bhutan with 3 in a mixed flock at Zhemgang and 1-2 near Namling
White-browed Shrike-babbler (Pteruthius flaviscapis) – 1-30 on eight dates
Green Shrike-babbler (Pteruthius xanthochlorus) – 2-4 seen on seven dates, largely east of Trongsa
Black-eared Shrike-babbler (Pteruthius melanotis) – rather elusive with only 1-4 seen on three dates
Rusty-fronted Barwing (Actinodura egertoni) – parties of 6-30 seen on seven dates
Hoary-throated Barwing (Actinodura nipalensis) – 2-7 seen on four dates
Blue-winged Minla (Minla cyanouroptera) – 1-10 on four dates
Chestnut-tailed Minla (Minla strigula) – 1-10 on ten dates
Red-tailed Minla (Minla ignotincta) – 1-5 on five dates with an exceptional flock of about 50 seen between Zhemgang and Tingtibi
Golden-breasted Fulvetta (Alcippe chrysotis) – at least 15 of these gorgeous little babblers seen near Yatongla and another 20 seen at Korila
Yellow-throated Fulvetta (Alcippe cinerea) – 30 Zhemgang, 4 Yongkhola, 6 Korila and 4 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Rufous-winged Fulvetta (Alcippe castaneceps) – 4-20 on seven dates
White-browed Fulvetta (Alcippe vinipectus) – 2-50 on nine dates
Nepal Fulvetta (Alcippe nipalensis) – 1-10 on eight dates
Rufous Sibia (Heterophasia capistrata) – common and widespread with 10-50 almost daily
Long-tailed Sibia (Heterophasia picaoides) – a total of 10 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Striated Yuhina (Yuhina castaniceps) – 2-20 on four dates
White-naped Yuhina (Yuhina bakeri) – 1-17 on six dates
Whiskered Yuhina (Yuhina flavicollis) – the most commonly encountered yuhina, with 1-30 seen on 15 dates
Stripe-throated Yuhina (Yuhina gularis) – 1-10 on five dates
Rufous-vented Yuhina (Yuhina occipitalis) – 1-25 on six dates
Black-chinned Yuhina (Yuhina nigrimenta) – 3-30 on four dates, mainly in the Zhemgang-Tingtibi area
White-bellied Yuhina (Yuhina zantholeuca) – 2 between Zhemgang and Tingtibi and 2 Korila
Fire-tailed Myzornis (Myzornis pyrrhoura) – a typically brief appearance by this sought-after species, with 2 seen with a flock of sunbirds below Sengor
Great Parrotbill (Conostoma oemodium) – 3 Pelela and 2 between Ura and Gayzamchu
Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill (Paradoxornis ruficeps) – 6 individuals seen at Wangdigang, between Zhemgang and Trongsa, are considered likely to be this species as the plumage characteristics seemed more consistent with Greater rather than Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill. Other less debatable records include 6-10 on two dates in the Namling-Yongkhola area and 1 seen plus others heard between Narphung and Samdrup Jongkhar.
Black-throated Tit (Aegithalos concinnus) – 1-10 individuals of this delightful species seen on nine dates throughout
Rufous-fronted Tit (Aegithalos iouschistos) – 2-8 on five dates in the Paro valley, at Chelila, Tango Cheri, Dochula and Thrumsingla
Rufous-vented Tit (Parus rubidiventris) – 2-5 on four dates
Coal Tit (Parus ater) – 1-20 on nine dates
Grey-crested Tit (Parus dichrous) – 1-10 on six dates
Green-backed Tit (Parus monticolus) – common and widespread, with up to 10 seen almost daily
Yellow-cheeked Tit (Parus spilonotus) – 1-8 on six dates, all between Sengor and Samdrup Jongkhar except for a single bird seen between Zhemgang and Tingtibi
Yellow-browed Tit (Sylviparus modestus) – 1-6 on eight dates, often in mixed species flocks
Sultan Tit (Melanochlora sultanea) – 2-4 on three dates at Tingtibi and above Samdrup Jongkhar
Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch (Sitta castanea) – 2-17 on four dates in the Zhemgang-Tingtibi area
White-tailed Nuthatch (Sitta himalayensis) – 1-15 on ten dates at higher elevations
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch (Sitta frontalis) – a rare resident in Bhutan and a single bird seen with a mixed flock between Zhemgang and Tingtibi on 23rd March appears to be only the second record for the country
Beautiful Nuthatch (Sitta formosa) – Threatened (Vunerable). An uncommon resident and one of the most sought-after species of Bhutan. We were fortunate to have prolonged and often close views of two birds as they foraged in mossy tree branches with a large mixed flock, including White-browed and Black-headed Shrike-babblers, in an area of forest about 8 km north of Zhemgang.
Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) – 1-3 on five dates including the Paro valley and Thimphu sewage ponds
Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) – 2 Korila and 1 Narphung
Rusty-flanked Treecreeper (Certhia nipalensis) – 2 Tango Cheri valley, 1 Rimchu area and 1 Pele La
Brown-throated Treecreeper (Certhia discolor) – a pair between Narphung and Samdrup Jongkhar (about 36 km north of Samdrup Jongkhar and at 1650 metres) were displaying and entering a hole in a dead tree stump below the road. This is apparently the first record of breeding activity for this species in Bhutan
Fire-capped Tit (Cephalopyrus flammiceps) – an uncommon summer visitor in Bhutan with 2 seen in Tashithang and another 2 between Zhemgang and Tingtibi
Gould's Sunbird (Aethopyga gouldiae) – 1-20 on seven dates
Green-tailed Sunbird (Aethopyga nipalensis) – 1-15 on eleven dates
Black-throated Sunbird (Aethopyga saturata) – 1-5 on eight dates
Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) – 1-2 on three dates
Fire-tailed Sunbird (Aethopyga ignicauda) – 1-15 on five dates and especially numerous below Sengor
Little Spiderhunter (Arachnothera longirostra) – an uncommon resident in Bhutan with 2 seen at its traditional spring location between Samdrup Jongkhar and Deothang
Streaked Spiderhunter (Arachnothera magna) – 1-10 on seven dates, especially at Tingtibi and above Samdrup Jongkhar
Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum ignipectus) – 1-6 on eleven dates throughout
Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) – 1-50 on eight dates
Maroon Oriole (Oriolus traillii) – heard or seen on seven dates
Large Woodshrike (Tephrodornis gularis) – an uncommon resident in Bhutan, with a group of about 12 seen at Tingtibi
Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) – 1-20 on eight dates -
Grey-backed Shrike (Lanius tephronotus) – 1-6 on eight dates, generally at higher altitudes than previous species
Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) – 4-10 on six dates between Mongar and Samdrup Jongkhar
Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus) – 1-50 on eleven dates
Bronzed Drongo (Dicrurus aeneus) – 2-6 on five dates around Tingtibi and above Samdrup Jongkhar
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus remifer) – 1-6 on eight dates at Tingtibi, Yongkhola and above Samdrup Jongkhar
Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) – 2 Tango Cheri valley and at least 2 at Korila
Gold-billed Magpie (Urocissa flavirostris) – 2-7 on seven dates
Common Green Magpie (Cissa chinensis) – heard between Zhemgang and Tingtibi and at Samdrup Jongkhar, and 2 seen near the camp at Tingtibi
Grey Treepie (Dendrocitta (occipitalis) formosae) – 1-8 on eight dates
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica) – restricted to the Bumthang area in Bhutan with a total of 65 seen over two days
Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) – 1-6 seen on eight dates around the higher passes
Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) – flocks of up to 200 seen on nine dates west of Sengor
House Crow (Corvus splendens) – 1 at Samdrup Jongkhar
Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) – common throughout and seen almost daily
Ashy Woodswallow (Artamus fuscus) – 1 Samdrup Jongkhar
Spot-winged Starling (Saroglossa spiloptera) – a rare summer visitor to Bhutan with a group of at least 25 birds near Khosela, between Trongsa and Zhemgang (apparently a well-known location for the species), on 22nd March. They were in a mixed flock with Chestnut-tailed Starlings seen perched in isolated trees in open farmland.
Chestnut-tailed Starling (Sturnus malabaricus) – 1 Rimchu, 20 near Khosela on route to Zhemgang and 10 Samdrup Jongkhar
Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) – common in lowland areas with up to 100 on eight dates
Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa) – a flock of about 10 flying overhead between Narphung and Morong on route to Samdrup Jongkhar
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) – 3-6 in Samdrup Jongkhar
Russet Sparrow (Passer rutilans) – 2-15 on four dates in cultivated areas
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) – common and widespread in built-up and cultivated areas with up to 50 seen almost daily
White-rumped Munia (Lonchura striata) – a flock of 10 at Tingtibi
Yellow-breasted Greenfinch (Carduelis spinoides) – a flock of 30 between Zhemgang and Trongsa, 8 Yongkhola and 30 near Morong
Plain Mountain-finch (Leucosticte nemoricola) – flocks of up to 200 birds seen on six dates west of Trongsa
Dark-breasted Rosefinch (Carpodacus nipalensis) – 1Tango Cheri valley, 3 between Zhemgang and Trongsa, 2 Sengor and 1 Korila
Beautiful Rosefinch (Carpodacus pulcherrimus) – 5 Bumthang and 1 Thrumsingla
Dark-rumped Rosefinch (Carpodacus edwardsii) – 5 Tango Cheri valley and 1 Thrumsingla
White-browed Rosefinch (Carpodacus thura) – 30 Chelila and 6 Pele La
Crimson-browed Finch (Pinicola subhimachalus) 1 on route to Pelela, 2 Thrumsingla and 1 Sengor
Scarlet Finch (Haematospiza sipahi) – 1 Dochula, 1 female Tingtibi, 1-30 Yongkhola, 4 Yongphula and 10 above Samdrup Jongkhar
Brown Bullfinch (Pyrrhula nipalensis) – 10 Korila and 5 Narphung
Red-headed Bullfinch (Pyrrhula erythrocephala) – 2-10 on five dates including at Tango Cheri, Pelela and Sengor
Grey-headed Bullfinch (Pyrrhula erythaca) – 3 in the Khaling area
Collared Grosbeak (Mycerobas affinis) – 1 female Chelila, 1 male Pelela, a flock of 20 near Jakar and 2 at the Sengor camp
Spot-winged Grosbeak (Mycerobas melanozanthos) – 2 females at Tashithang
White-winged Grosbeak (Mycerobas carnipes) – up to 10 on three dates at Chelila, Pelela and Yatongla
Gold-naped Finch (Pyrrhoplectes epauletta) – 1-2 on five dates including at Korila and Narphung
Crested Bunting (Melophus lathami) – 1 heard south of Wangdi Phodrang, a single male near Khosela on route to Zhemgang and 3 below Yongkhola
Little Bunting (Emberiza pusilla) – at least two with Crested Buntings below Yongkhola and another at Yongphula
Assamese Macaque (Macaca assamensis) – quite common with groups of up to 100 seen on ten dates
Grey Langur (Presbytis entellus) – 30 south of Wangdue and 5 at Samdrup Jongkhar
Golden Langur (Presbytis geei) – up to 70 seen on four dates in the Zhemgang – Tingtibi area
Capped Langur (Presbytis pileata) – 10-15 seen on two dates between Tashigang and Narphungla
Pika (Ochotona spp) – 1 at Chelila could have been Large-eared, Royle’s or Forrest’s Pika
Black Giant Squirrel (Ratufa bicolor) – 2 between Tingtibi and Trongsa and 1 between Narphung and Morong
Hoary-bellied Squirrel (Callosciurus pygerythrus) – 1-4 small, plain squirrels seen on four dates were possibly of this species
Himalayan Striped Squirrel (Tamiops Macclellandi) – 1-3 small, striped squirrels seen on five dates were likely to be this species
Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel (Dremomys lokriah) – 1 between Narphung and Morongl
Yellow-Throated Marten (Martes flavigula) – 1-2 on four dates
Muntjac (Barking Deer) (Muntiacus muntjak) – heard often
Hog Deer (Cervus porcinus) – 1 in riverside brush near Tashigang