After the early-morning flight with Drukair and a 45 minute stopover in Kolkata, we arrived in Paro at 9 am. Much cooler than Thailand it was a pleasure to walk off the plane in the fresh mountain air….and what a fantastic airport!
At the airport I was greeted by my guide Sherab Dorji and driver Jamshang, both dressed in Bhutanese national-costume. They were keen to commence birding so we drove around to the Hotel Olathang changed into the appropriate-clothing and headed back into Paro. Sherab explained that Ibisbill were actually easy to see very close to the airport and we found a pair with a well-grown young, a far cry from my 1993 trip to Nepal when they were quite scarce and difficult to find. The commonest species seemed to be Black Bulbuls, White Wagtails and Russet Sparrow with plenty of Oriental Turtle-dove. Hoopoe and Grey-backed Shrike were numerous and a few Grey Bushchat and White-collared Blackbird were around the dwellings. All around the valley the paddyfields were being planted but we still managed to get views of Ruddy-breasted Crake.
Unfortunately wet-weather arrived and so we retreated to Paro for lunch at a small restaurant. During the meal I was offered the traditional himalayan drink of buttered-tea made with salt rather than sugar, I have to say that it was probably an ‘acquired-taste’….and I am still to ‘acquire’ it.
After lunch Sherab and Jamshang and I drove up to Chelela, the mountain pass 35 kms to the west of Paro, unfortunately we happened on a small traffic accident, where a taxi had gone into a ditch on the small windy road, fortunately no-one was hurt and a small community of able-bodied locals managed to lift the car back onto the road. After this we decided to return to my hotel and I spent the early evening walking the grounds searching for interesting species. I managed to find Long-tailed Minivets, Eurasian Hoopoe, Blue Whistling-thrush, White-collared Blackbird and amongst a flock of White-throated Needletails I picked out a small falcon that I initially ID’d as an Eurasian Hobby, but changed my mind to female Amur Falcon after a discussion with Sherab, sadly only finding out that my first guess was the correct one after returning to Australia!
The second day in Bhutan began with a return to Chelela, this time the road was virtually empty with no traffic-issues. During our ascent we had fleeting-views of male Himalayan Monal and Kalij Pheasant, nice looks at a family of White-throated Laughingthrush feeding young and flock of Speckled Wood-pigeon allowing close-views, something I haven’t encountered elsewhere in Asia. On arrival at the pass the scenery was fantastic, wonderful views of snow-capped himalayan peaks, and close to the car-park a male Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch allowed very close approach as it fed on small flowers. I was surprised at the difference in call of this to the similar species around Mengbishan in Sichuan that I had encountered (…apparently those are also Himalayan White-browed and not Chinese White-browed Rosefinch, though that is surely for the ‘taxonomists’ to decide…) Also obviously present in the area were Eurasian Nutcrackers, another taxa that is under review and now currently known as ‘Southern Nutcracker‘ (….by some authorities) Another type of bird that is well-represented in himalayan regions are Laughingthrush, I had nice views of a Black-faced. Also very evident were Blue-fronted Redstart, Himalayan Bluetail, White-browed Bush-robin, White-browed Fulvetta, Grey-sided Bush-warbler and Rufous-vented Tit.
Later in the afternoon we visited the airport again to meet the other two birders who were joining me, Easy from Perth and Bill from the USA. Both arrived on time and then we headed to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan to spend the evening, seeing little but House Crow there.
My third day began with our journey to the east, we arrived at Dochula for a beautiful but chilly dawn and striking-views, a Large Hawk-cuckoo was actually visible and Green-tailed Sunbird gave magnificent images in the early morning sunshine.
Ebird list from Dochula (07 June 2017)
From Dochula we drove east to the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens at Lampelri and proceeded to wander down to the small-lake and was astonished when Sherab announced a Black-tailed Crake in the sunlight on the far-side.
We took a walk around the lake and one of the circuit-tracks, seeing some great birds, such as Brown Parrotbill, Maroon Oriole, Rufous-bellied and Darjeeling Woodpecker, Verditer Flycatcher plus frustrating views of Grey-sided Laughingthrush.
Ebird list from Royal Botanic Gardens
Continuing outside the park we walked alongside the highway and saw some more ‘treats’ such as Crested Goshawk, Slaty-backed Forktail, White-tailed Nuthatch, Great Barbet and even a pair of Pygmy Blue Flycatcher but when we stopped by a roadside-cliff and saw a Yellow-rumped Honeyguide foraging for wax-droplets under a large bee-hive I realised I had the first of my ‘target-species’. Sadly it was too low and far for decent pics but I did get some slightly better images later on the trip.
Later in the afternoon we arrived in Punakha where we due to spend a couple of nights, this large town is situated on a river-confluence and the temperature noticeably warmer than the previous areas visited. Just outside the town we had great views of a nesting pair of Blue-capped Rock Thrush on the powerlines and after checking-in at the Hotel Vara we headed along the river towards the Dhzong (or castle) and whilst looking in some low trees one of our group noticed a family of Collared Scops-owls,
Ebird list for Punakha 07 June 2017
Day 4 began with a trip to Jigme Dorji National Park about an hours drive outside Punakha. The weather was overcast and a little ominous which resulted in rather drab photography but the most interesting was being shown a singing Spotted Elachura, a tiny wren-like species (formerly known as Spotted Wren-babbler) with an incredibly loud song.
Very hard to see amongst the bamboo I managed to get some poor shots but recorded the call as I thought it was rather amazing for such a small bird. Unfortunately there was far too much background noise, but I’ve uploaded the song (below)
Later when leaving the park and entering an area of cultivation we had great views of a Black Eagle, quartering in a ‘harrier-like’ fashion.
Ebird List for Jigme Dorji National Park
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