Monday, March 23, 2020

Bhutan - The West

Birding the riverside in Panakha
I'm sitting at Narita International Airport in Tokyo waiting a very long time for a plane back to the States. With free WiFi internet in the terminal, why not get out one more blog post for Bhutan?! This will wrap up the birding aspect of the trip, but we will post additional stories from the cultural visits we did to a very special country.

After returning from the south-central part of the country and Royal Manas National Park, we continued west into the much more populated (relatively) part of the country. The capital city of Thimphu and airport town of Paro lie in the considerably larger river valleys of the west. Along the way we visited the Panakha valley for some riverside birding and a special cultural site (more later). Then it was up and over another high pass and on to Thimphu for an evening. In the morning we did a hike to the Cheri Monastery before continuing on to Paro.

Panakha eBird list
On the road to Dochu La list
Cheri Monastery list

Puna Tsang Chu (River)

Birding the forest on the way to Dochu La (Pass)

108 Stupas at Dochu La

The capital city of Thimphu at sunset
Ashy-throated Warbler on Rhododendron flowers

Green-tailed Sunbird

Rufous Sibia
Brown-throated Treecreeper

Brown Dipper

Green-backed Tit

Grey-sided Laughingthrush

Himalayan Vulture

Yellow-throated Marten (we were particularly fortunate to see seven of these scarce mammals on the trip)



Red-tailed Minla

Rufous-winged Fulvetta

Speckled Piculet

Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler

White-throated Kingfisher
Altai Accentors

Altai Accentor

Red Crossbill male

Red Crossbill female
Paro town was our home for four nights with birding and cultural activities in the plans. It should have only been three nights, but world events kept us an extra day. Immediately west and 4,0000 feet higher sits Chele La, a 12,600 feet elevation pass. We did two early morning trips to the pass for special high elevation birds. The weather didn't cooperate very well, with heavy snow the night before our first visit, and constant low clouds on both visits, but we still enjoyed the outings immensely. Our other day at Paro town was an epic hike to the cliff temple of Tiger's Nest, and that was so special it deserves its own later post. The bird of our two visits to the pass was Blood Pheasant - so cool!

Chele La list (first trip)
Tiger's Nest list
Chele La list (second trip)

Expert driver Phuntsho navigates the slick snow covered road.

Snow birding!

Chele La

High elevation Hemlock trees at Chele La

The town of Ha sits far below on the west side of Chele La

Another epic field breakfast!
Blood Pheasant

Blood Pheasant

Female Blood Pheasant

Mandarin Duck - a very rare vagrant for Bhutan we found on the Paro River

River Lapwing

Rufous-vented Tit

Spotted Nutcracker

Spotted Nutcracker perched atop a prayer flag


White-collared Blackbird

I can't finish the birding posts for this adventure without mentioning again our wonderful hosts for the tour. Our exceptionally competent driver (and all around great guy!) Phuntsho kept us safe for over three weeks on what most of us would consider extremely dangerous roads. And the field breakfasts and lunches - awesome! And of course our guide, and the owner of Langur Eco Travels, Chubzang Tangbi, what can we say? Chubzang is certainly one of the best birding guides we've ever been with. He has a perfect eidetic memory of bird calls and songs, and can spot things that us mere humans would never have a chance to find on our own. There are few humans on this earth who are as pleasurable to spend three weeks with. And when all hell broke loose with a world-wide pandemic, border closures, cancelled planes, medical clearance exit and entry requirements, and on and on, Chubzang took it all in stride and made it all happen for us to be able to get home. There might have even been a magical last second production of a health certificate suitable to get us out of Bhutan that somehow appeared (I'm not telling - smile). Chubzang, you are a special person and just know that we appreciate everything you did for us more than you could know. Thank you.

The kingdom of Bhutan is a special destination - safe, friendly, with excellent birding and amazing culture. We sure hope we get a chance to go again someday.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Bhutan - Royal Manas National Park

Temple near Trongsa in the rain
From Tingtibi we continued south and into Royal Manas National Park. This is the oldest protected park in Bhutan, created in the early 1900's. Royal Manas is in south central Bhutan, and borders India on the south end. In fact, at one point during our birding we were within 3 miles as the Large-billed Crow flies of a spot where we birded Manas National Park in India a few weeks earlier. But because we were in the steep Himalaya foothills, the birds were much different.

eBird list 1
eBird list 2
eBird list 3
eBird list 4

Here are some of the sights from our visit to the south of Bhutan.

Fun times on the roads continues!

Who thought it would be a good idea to build a road on a cliff?

Ashy Bulbul

Black-chinned Yuhina

Blue-throated Flycatcher

Chestnut-headed Bee-eater

Golden Langur

Golden Langur

Great Barbet

Great Hornbill

Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Malayan Giant Squirrel

Malayan Giant Squirrel

Orchid (we'll share lots more flower photos later)

Oriental White-eye (on Bauhinia veriegata flower)

Pied Falconet

Spotted Forktail

White-tailed Nuthatch

White-throated Laughingthrush

Yellow-bellied Fantail
As for our current events note: it has been spooky traveling in a country closed to foreign visitors for two weeks. As of March 15 there were only 49 tourists left in the country. Every lodge we go to is empty, except for us. Even the cultural sights we visit, that are normally crammed with tourists, are empty. We return home starting on March 22, if all goes as planned.