Over the years I have frequently dreamt of visiting the Kingdom of Bhutan and checking out it’s pristine forests and exquisite wildlife but felt that the cost was ‘prohibitive’, as there is a standard-fee of US$250/pp/day set by the government. Recently whilst scanning Facebook I saw a 14-day budget-birding trip offered for under $3,000 and decided to investigate-further. I contacted the company’s chief birder Norbu and it appears that June is an ‘Off-Peak’ period and the fee is reduced to US$200/pp/day, if 3 or more birders can be found for the tour……after a few emails I ‘signed-up’ and received a very exciting itinerary and started dreaming of Beautiful Nuthatches and Ward’s Trogons…..
Whilst perusing the weather-forecast for Thimphu (Bhutan’s capital city) and looking through some old trip-reports I realised why June was a ‘budget-period’…..of course, this is the beginning of the sub-continent’s annual monsoon! Oh well, you only live once….
Organization of the tour was slightly different to the usual as you are required to pay for the trip before you receive an emailed visa but this was eventually expedited after some money transfer issues. Flights are a little more complicated as you must arrive at an airport with a Druk Air or Bhutan Airline connection flight and transfer your own luggage as this cannot be done directly. I decided to stay for a couple of nights in Bangkok and spend a day birding with an old-friend Panuwat Sasirat from WildBird Ecotours then catch the Monday morning 4.30 am flight to Paro (though I had to catch the 1.15 am bus to get to BKK Airport….less than 10 minutes from the Silvergold Garden Hotel!)
At 06.30 am I was picked-up at the hotel in Bangkok and my guide decided that the optimum birding-experience for this time of year was probably the area around Chon Buri and Pattaya
to the south-east of the city.
At the Bang Phra non-hunting Reserve we ‘dodged’ a couple of showers but still managed some great birds, including two owls, Brown Boobook and Asian Barred, Spot-billed Pelican, Green-billed Malkoha, Osprey and 7 Lesser Adjutants.
We stopped for lunch at a roadside pub called the “Again Beer Garden” and the charming proprietor asked if she could have a photo-shoot for it’s opening that weekend.
The best was yet to come though, we went to a temple fairly close to Pattaya and was placed on a stool in front of a water-hole and a portable-blind was placed over me, after waiting for nearly an hour my guide decided the bird wasn’t going to turn-up and took the hide off…..suddenly a flash of colour flew over my shoulder and I was face-to-face with an adult Blue-winged Pitta, although being ‘skyped‘ from a relative in another-country on my mobile didn’t help my concentration! Fortunately the bird (…or another?) returned three times and I managed to get some reasonable shots and footage along with a gorgeous Asian Emerald Dove.
What an end to an excellent day!
I spent the Sunday around the hotel where I’d hoped to wander around the nearby ‘Paddyfields’ but the weather was rather wet and so didn’t see too much of interest, so I prepared myself for my early-start on Monday.