Monday, March 6, 2017

Winter Birding in Bhutan

A report by Chewang Bonpo (

The Kingdom of Bhutan in the eastern Himalayas is one of the last and a unique country that has been conserving her beautiful landscape, rich culture and high diverse flora and fauna. The country‘s 70 percent land mass is covered by green thus making the country a carbon-negative.  I have been visiting the country since 2012 and on my observation over the year the country has deep rooted her custom and beliefs on her way to development.

Our tour was planned to focus on winter migrants and birds easier to photograph in winter. The tour was 10 Nights & 11 days duration from 18th February 2017 to 1st March 2017.

The Main Highlight of the Tour was the following species:
  • White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis)
  • Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis)
  • Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata)
  • Solitary Snipe (G. s. solitaria)
  • Blood pheasant both   (I. c. affinis ) & (I. c. tibetanus) race 
  • Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus)
  • Beautiful Rosefinch (Carpodacus pulcherrimus)
  • Golden Langur  or Gee's golden langur (Trachypithecus geei)

The Tour program covered the following area:

Thimpu-Paro- Cheli-la
We spend two nights and one full day birding in Cheli-la and Thimpu, the highlights of the area was around 5 Blood Pheasant (I. c. affinis), couple of White-winged Grosbeaks (M. c. carnipes), Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus), White-throated Redstart (Phoenicurus schisticeps), Solitary Snipe (G. s. solitaria) and Black-tailed Crake (Zapornia bicolor).

Punakha- Phobjikha Valley
We headed to Punakha in search  of the critically endangered White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) which looked tough at first but with the help of Phub,Sonam , Jas and Leki found one bird perched on Chir pine on opposite river bank  along with a lifer for all of us  a female Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) on the bank of Pho-chu.  Next morning we had some great views of the Heron in better light . We spend a night in Phobjiklha Valley to photograph Black necked cranes (Grus nigricollis) which was in hundreds (555 Cranes – Phub’s data) spread out in the valley.

Earlier in the trip we had not planned Bhumthang but unsatisfied with Peli-la (disturbances due to stone quarry ) we decided to spend a night which turned out to  be two nights as we were treated with some amazing pictures of Himalayan Monal (2 males and 3 females ) ,Red crossbill (L. c. himalayensis)  about a dozen , Snow Pigeons (C. l. gradaria)  around 20 , Spot-winged Grosbeak (Mycerobas melanozanthos), Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris), White-browed Rosefinch (C. t. thura),Common  Magpie (P. p. bottanensis) , Beautiful Rosefinch (C. p. pulcherrimus) dozen birds. We had an early morning venture around 3 AM searching for hooting Himalayan Owl (Strix nivicolum) near our resort but were in vain.

Phrumsengla National Park

As per our plan we had maximum days kept for Phrumsengla NP covering Thrumshing La Pass, Sengor and Youngkhola. The bird activities  in the national park was slow but the species like Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis), Scaly Laugingthrush (T. s. subunicolor),Blue-winged Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron squamatum), Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush (I. r. rufogularis),Rufous-breasted Bush-robin (Tarsiger hyperythrus) , Grey chinned Minivet (P. s. solaris)  kept us occupied . The search for Sikkim Wedged billed Babbler or Blackish-breasted Babbler (Sphenocichla humei) which was our main target was in vain. We spend a night in the freezing cold in Sengor (2095 meters) and we had an early start towards Thrumshingla pass where we encountered around 4 flocks (10+individuals) of Blood Pheasants (I c. tibetanus)but thick fog made photography difficult . 

Trongsa-Zhemgang – Tingitibe-Gelephu 
The day was well spend in travelling from Trongsa to Zhemgang despite our early start was stuck due to road work. The vegetation and attitude change to low foothill and mid elevation sub-tropical forest made the temperature pleasant. The highlight of the area was mainly the endangered Golden Langur or Gee's golden langur (Trachypithecus geei), and few of the mid altitude species like Green-tailed Sunbird (A. n. koelzi), Yellow-vented Warbler (Phylloscopus cantator), Rufous-faced Warbler (Abroscopus albogularis), Himalayan Cutia (Cutia nipalensis), White-browed Shrike-babbler (P. f. validirostris) and Yellow-cheeked Tit (Parus spilonotus). 

We the tour participants Biswapriya Rahut, Satish Thayapurath , Mousumi Dutta & Chewang Bonpo  would like to thank Phub Drorji, Sonam Dorji, Jas Bdr Rai and Leki Wangdi for all the support and being a part of the team.

Amazing Landscape & Habitat for Wildlife 

Facts about Touring in Bhutan :

Tour Prices: Bhutan has an official policy of ‘limiting tourism through price’.  The prices for accommodation, food and guide are high on comparison to Indian subcontinent standards but in turn the standard of accommodation is high for the price one pays. 

Rates applicable till Feb 2017 

280$ per person per day for foreign nationality which include accommodation, transport, food and local guide; 100 $ for a professional Birdguide.

For Indian Nationality (May apply for SAARC countries)

INR 69,000 per pax for 10 nights for 2 person on twin sharing which include accommodation, transport and a professional Bird guide (Food is not included in the cost)

INR 40,000 per pax for 10 nights for 4 person on Twin sharing which include accommodation, transport and a professional Birdguide(Food is not included in the cost )

Food cost varies from INR 100 to INR 500 per meal.

Transport from Gelephu (on exist) to nearest airport or railway station is not included in the cost. 

Climate:  Hot and humid at lower altitudes, pleasant at middle altitudes and cool or even minus temperature at high altitudes. Days are sunny, overcast, rain and snow.

Road & Transport:  A good powerful SUV vehicle is  preferred for the present bad road condition due to road widening .Minimum travel time to get to a location is 3 -5 hours provided one is not stuck on road work. 

Birding & Bird-photography: Earlier Birding and Bird-photography was based on the main highway but now due to the massive road widening work some of undisturbed pockets along the highway remain good for birding and bird-photography. 

Equipment:  Focal length of above 300 mm is highly recommended for photographing birds and other wildlife in Bhutan. I used Nikon D750 & Nikon 600 mm lens.  I often use 1.4X Tele convertor with the lens to shoot birds like White-bellied Heron , Mandarin Duck  which was at great distance , I would prefer 2X Tele convertor in some situations. 

Note: My equipment is available on hire for 3000 INR per day if you tour with me.

Bhutan offers some finest Hotels 

List of Bird seen/heard & photographed  in the trip 

Sr.No  Common name Scientific name Conservation status Heard/ Seen/Photograph
1.          Hill Partridge Arborophila torqueola LC H
2.          Rufous-throated Partridge Arborophila rufogularis LC H
3.          Himalayan Monal Lophophorus impejanus LC S/P
4.          Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus LC S/P
5.          Goosander Mergus merganser LC S/P
6.          Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea LC S/P
7.          Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata LC S/P
8.          Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina LC S
9.          Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula LC S
10.       Gadwall Mareca strepera LC S
11.       Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope LC S
12.       Mallard Anas platyrhynchos LC S
13.       Northern Pintail Anas acuta LC S
14.       Rock Dove Columba livia LC S
15.       Snow Pigeon Columba leuconota LC S/P
16.       Speckled Woodpigeon Columba hodgsonii LC S
17.       Ashy Woodpigeon Columba pulchricollis LC S
18.       Oriental Turtle-dove Streptopelia orientalis LC S
19.       Western Spotted Dove Spilopelia suratensis LC S
20.       Barred Cuckoo-dove Macropygia unchall LC S
21.       Grey-capped Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica LC S
22.       Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris LC S
23.       Pacific Swift Apus pacificus LC S
24.       Black-tailed Crake Zapornia bicolor LC S/P
25.       Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis VU S/P
26.       Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis LC S
27.       White-bellied Heron Ardea insignis CR S/P
28.       Little Cormorant Microcarbo niger LC S
29.       Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo LC S/P
30.       Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii LC S/P
31.       River Lapwing Vanellus duvaucelii NT S/P
32.       Greater Painted-snipe  Rostratula benghalensis LC S
33.       Solitary Snipe Gallinago solitaria LC S/P
34.       Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos LC S
35.       Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus LC S
36.       Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia LC S
37.       Pallas's Gull Larus ichthyaetus LC S
38.       Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei LC S
39.       Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides LC S/P
40.       Mountain Scops-owl Otus spilocephalus LC H
41.       Himalayan Owl Strix nivicolum LC H
42.       Crested Serpent-eagle Spilornis cheela LC S
43.       Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis NT S/P
44.       Mountain Hawk-eagle Nisaetus nipalensis LC S
45.       Black Eagle Ictinaetus malaiensis LC S
46.       Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus LC S
47.       Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus LC S
48.       Pallas's Fish-eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus VU S
49.       Red-headed Trogon Harpactes erythrocephalus LC H
50.       Ward's Trogon Harpactes wardi NT H
51.       Rufous-necked Hornbill Aceros nipalensis VU S/P
52.       Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis LC S
53.       Crested Kingfisher Megaceryle lugubris LC S/P
54.       Great Barbet Psilopogon virens LC S
55.       Golden-throated Barbet Psilopogon franklinii LC S/P
56.       Blue-throated Barbet Psilopogon asiaticus LC S
57.       White-browed Piculet Sasia ochracea LC H
58.       Bay Woodpecker Blythipicus pyrrhotis LC S/P
59.       Greater Yellownape Chrysophlegma flavinucha LC H
60.       Lesser Yellownape Picus chlorolophus LC H
61.       Grey-capped Woodpecker Picoides canicapillus LC H
62.       Darjeeling Woodpecker Dendrocopos darjellensis LC S/P
63.       Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus LC S
64.       Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula LC S
65.       Nepal House Martin Delichon nipalense LC S
66.       Rosy Pipit Anthus roseatus LC S
67.       Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni LC S
68.       White Wagtail Motacilla alba LC S
69.       White-browed Wagtail Motacilla maderaspatensis LC S
70.       Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea LC S
71.       Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike Coracina melaschistos LC S
72.       Grey-chinned Minivet Pericrocotus solaris LC S/P
73.       Long-tailed Minivet Pericrocotus ethologus LC S
74.       Short-billed Minivet Pericrocotus brevirostris LC S
75.       Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus flammeus LC S
76.       Striated Bulbul Pycnonotus striatus LC S
77.       Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus flaviventris LC S
78.       Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus LC S
79.       Himalayan Bulbul Pycnonotus leucogenys LC S
80.       Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer LC S
81.       Mountain Bulbul Ixos mcclellandii LC S
82.       Ashy Bulbul Hemixos flavala LC S/P
83.       Himalayan Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus LC S
84.       Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropsis aurifrons LC S
85.       Orange-bellied Leafbird Chloropsis hardwickii LC S
86.       Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii LC S/P
87.       Northern Wren Troglodytes troglodytes LC S
88.       Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris LC S/p
89.       Rufous-breasted Accentor Prunella strophiata LC S/p
90.       Rufous-throated Thrush Turdus ruficollis LC S/p
91.       White-collared Thrush Turdus albocinctus LC S/P
92.       Plain-backed Thrush Zoothera mollissima LC S
93.       Blue Whistling-thrush Myophonus caeruleus LC S
94.       Blue-capped Rock-thrush Monticola cinclorhynchus LC S
95.       Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush Monticola rufiventris LC S/p
96.       Blue Rock-thrush Monticola solitarius LC S
97.       Orange-flanked Bush-robin Tarsiger cyanurus LC S
98.       Rufous-breasted Bush-robin Tarsiger hyperythrus LC S/P
99.       White-browed Bush-robin Tarsiger indicus LC S
100.    Oriental Magpie-robin Copsychus saularis LC S
101.    White-capped Water-redstart Chaimarrornis leucocephalus LC S
102.    Hodgson's Redstart Phoenicurus hodgsoni LC S/P
103.    Blue-fronted Redstart Phoenicurus frontalis LC S/P
104.    White-throated Redstart Phoenicurus schisticeps LC S/p
105.    Plumbeous Water-redstart Rhyacornis fuliginosa LC S/P
106.    Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus LC S
107.    Grey Bushchat Saxicola ferreus LC S
108.    Little Forktail Enicurus scouleri LC S/P
109.    Slaty-backed Forktail Enicurus schistaceus LC S
110.    Spotted Forktail Enicurus maculatus LC H
111.    Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher Ficedula strophiata LC S
112.    White-gorgeted Flycatcher Ficedula monileger LC H
113.    Rufous-bellied Niltava Niltava sundara LC S
114.    Large Niltava Niltava grandis LC S
115.    Small Niltava Niltava macgrigoriae LC S
116.    Pygmy Blue-flycatcher Muscicapella hodgsoni LC H
117.    Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis LC S
118.    Yellow-bellied Fantail Rhipidura hypoxantha LC S/P
119.    White-throated Fantail Rhipidura albicollis LC S
120.    Common Tailorbird Orthotomus sutorius LC S
121.    Hill Prinia Prinia atrogularis LC S
122.    Chestnut-headed Tesia Oligura castaneocoronata LC S
123.    Slaty-bellied Tesia Tesia olivea LC H
124.    Ashy-throated Warbler Phylloscopus maculipennis LC S
125.    Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus LC S
126.    Yellow-vented Warbler Phylloscopus cantator LC S/P
127.    White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis LC S
128.    Grey-hooded Warbler Seicercus xanthoschistos LC S
129.    Grey-cheeked Warbler Seicercus poliogenys LC S
130.    Chestnut-crowned Warbler Seicercus castaniceps LC H
131.    Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis LC H
132.    Black-faced Warbler Abroscopus schisticeps LC S
133.    Yellow-bellied Warbler Abroscopus superciliaris LC H
134.    Golden-breasted Fulvetta Lioparus chrysotis LC S
135.    White-browed Fulvetta Fulvetta vinipectus LC S
136.    Black-chinned Yuhina Yuhina nigrimenta LC S
137.    Stripe-throated Yuhina Yuhina gularis LC H
138.    Rufous-vented Yuhina Yuhina occipitalis LC S
139.    White-naped Yuhina Yuhina bakeri LC S
140.    Whiskered Yuhina Yuhina flavicollis LC S/P
141.    Nepal Fulvetta Alcippe nipalensis LC S
142.    Grey-throated Babbler Stachyris nigriceps LC S
143.    Sickle-billed Scimitar-babbler Xiphirhynchus superciliaris LC H
144.    Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler Pomatorhinus erythrogenys LC S
145.    Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler Pomatorhinus ruficollis LC H
146.    Coral-billed Scimitar-babbler Pomatorhinus ferruginosus LC S/P
147.    Bar-winged Wren-babbler Spelaeornis troglodytoides LC S
148.    Rufous-throated Wren-babbler Spelaeornis caudatus NT H
149.    Spotted Wren-babbler Elachura formosa LC S
150.    Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler Pnoepyga albiventer LC S
151.    Pygmy Wren-babbler Pnoepyga pusilla LC H
152.    Golden Babbler Stachyridopsis chrysaea LC H
153.    Rufous-capped Babbler Stachyridopsis ruficeps LC H
154.    Puff-throated Babbler Pellorneum ruficeps LC H
155.    Long-billed Wren-babbler Rimator malacoptilus LC S
156.    Yellow-throated Fulvetta Pseudominla cinerea LC S/P
157.    Rufous-winged Fulvetta Pseudominla castaneceps LC S/P
158.    Himalayan Cutia Cutia nipalensis LC S/P
159.    Grey-sided Laughingthrush Dryonastes caerulatus LC S
160.    Rufous-necked Laughingthrush Dryonastes ruficollis LC S
161.    White-crested Laughingthrush Garrulax leucolophus LC S/P
162.    White-throated Laughingthrush Garrulax albogularis LC S/P
163.    Striated Laughingthrush Grammatoptila striata LC S/p
164.    Bhutan Laughingthrush Strophocincla imbricata LC S
165.    Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush Ianthocincla rufogularis LC S/P
166.    Spotted Laughingthrush Ianthocincla ocellata LC S/P
167.    Scaly Laughingthrush Trochalopteron subunicolor LC S/P
168.    Blue-winged Laughingthrush Trochalopteron squamatum LC S/p
169.    Black-faced Laughingthrush Trochalopteron affine LC S
170.    Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush Trochalopteron erythrocephalum LC S
171.    Crimson-faced Liocichla Liocichla phoenicea LC S
172.    Bar-throated Minla Chrysominla strigula LC H
173.    Red-tailed Minla Minla ignotincta LC S
174.    Blue-winged Siva Siva cyanouroptera LC S
175.    Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea LC S
176.    Rufous Sibia Malacias capistratus LC S
177.    Hoary-throated Barwing Actinodura nipalensis LC S
178.    Rusty-fronted Barwing Actinodura egertoni LC S
179.    Black-headed Shrike-babbler Pteruthius rufiventer LC H
180.    White-browed Shrike-babbler Pteruthius flaviscapis LC S/P
181.    Black-eared Shrike-babbler Pteruthius melanotis LC H
182.    White-bellied Erpornis Erpornis zantholeuca LC S
183.    Brown Parrotbill Paradoxornis unicolor LC S/P
184.    Black-throated Parrotbill Paradoxornis nipalensis LC S
185.    Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill Paradoxornis ruficeps LC S/P
186.    Rufous-vented Tit Periparus rubidiventris LC S/P
187.    Coal Tit Periparus ater LC S/p
188.    Grey-crested Tit Lophophanes dichrous LC S
189.    Green-backed Tit Parus monticolus LC S
190.    Yellow-cheeked Tit Parus spilonotus LC S/P
191.    Yellow-browed Tit Sylviparus modestus LC S/P
192.    Sultan Tit Melanochlora sultanea LC S
193.    Black-throated Tit Aegithalos concinnus LC S/P
194.    Rufous-fronted Tit Aegithalos iouschistos LC S/P
195.    Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch Sitta cinnamoventris LC S
196.    White-tailed Nuthatch Sitta himalayensis LC S
197.    Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis LC S
198.    Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria LC S/P
199.    Hodgson's Treecreeper Certhia hodgsoni LC S/p
200.    Rusty-flanked Treecreeper Certhia nipalensis LC S
201.    Sikkim Treecreeper Certhia discolor LC S
202.    Green-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga nipalensis LC S
203.    Black-throated Sunbird Aethopyga saturata LC S
204.    Streaked Spiderhunter Arachnothera magna LC S
205.    Fire-breasted Flowerpecker Dicaeum ignipectus LC S
206.    Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach LC S
207.    Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus LC S
208.    Bronzed Drongo Dicrurus aeneus LC S
209.    Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus LC S
210.    Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus LC S
211.    Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus LC S
212.    Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus LC S
213.    Yellow-billed Blue Magpie Urocissa flavirostris LC S/P
214.    Common Green Magpie Cissa chinensis LC S
215.    Grey Treepie Dendrocitta formosae LC S/P
216.    Common Magpie Pica pica LC S/P
217.    Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes LC S/p
218.    Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax LC S
219.    House Crow Corvus splendens LC S
220.    Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos LC S
221.    Common Myna Acridotheres tristis LC S
222.    House Sparrow Passer domesticus LC S
223.    Russet Sparrow Passer rutilans LC S/P
224.    Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus LC S
225.    White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata LC S
226.    Yellow-breasted Greenfinch Carduelis spinoides LC S
227.    Plain Mountain-finch Leucosticte nemoricola LC S/P
228.    Dark-breasted Rosefinch Carpodacus nipalensis LC S
229.    Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus LC S
230.    Beautiful Rosefinch Carpodacus pulcherrimus LC S/P
231.    Dark-rumped Rosefinch Carpodacus edwardsii LC S/P
232.    White-browed Rosefinch Carpodacus thura LC S/p
233.    Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra LC S/p
234.    Red-headed Bullfinch Pyrrhula erythrocephala LC S/P
235.    Collared Grosbeak Mycerobas affinis LC S
236.    Spot-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas melanozanthos LC S/P
237.    White-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas carnipes LC S/P

Total of 237 Bird Species has been recorded in total 10 Days of field work
Out of which 28 species are heard & 72 species has been photographed

Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata was a lifer for me and rest of the group.

  1. Large-eared Pika (Ochotona macrotis
  2. Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel (Dremomys lokriah)
  3.  Irrawaddy Squirrel (Callosciurus pygerythrus).
  4. Himalayan Striped Squirrel (Tamiops mcclellandii).
  5. Yellow-throated Marten (Martes flavigula).
  6. Golden Langur  (Trachypithecus geei).
  7. Capped Langur (Trachypithecus pileatus)
  8. Assam Macaque (Macaca assamensis).