Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Bhutan - Samdrup Jongkhar to Yongkola

Green-tailed Sunbird
We're in Bhutan now for a total of 23 days. Our India guide Rajesh drove us to the border for a guide hand-off. Now we are with Chubzang Tangbi of Langur Eco Travel. And after 4 full days with Chubzang I can tell you he is another fantastic guide. Traveling in Bhutan is government and price controlled, so the only decision is which operator to go with. We can already recommend Langur Eco Travel.

This is a map of our route, starting in Samdrup Jongkhar and finishing in Paro.

We spent a couple of days around the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar birding the lowland sub-tropical forests. This area is the start of the Himalayan foothills at an altitude of only about 600 feet. We'll get into some serious mountains later in the trip. Speaking of mountains, Bhutan is virtually all mountains with roads traveling up and over passes and down into valleys. There isn't a straight section of road in the entire country. So far, my guess is average speed is about 25 mph. Fun times!

And as perhaps a harbinger of things to come, Agnes spotted and Chubzang identified the second ever country record for Rosy Starling early on our first morning. How cool is that?!

eBird day 1
eBird day 2

Rosy Starling
Black-throated Sunbird

Blue-bearded Bee-eater

Blue-throated Barbet

Golden-fronted Leafbird

Lesser Yellownape

Greater Yellownape

Red-vented Bulbuls

Scarlet Minivet

Streaked Spiderhunter

White-capped Redstart
We did particularly well on Hornbills, getting all four possible species in our two days there, including the not photographed Oriental Pied-Hornbill.

Great Hornbill

Rufous-necked Hornbill

Susan's terrific iPhone photo through the spotting scope of a male Rufous-necked Hornbill

Wreathed Hornbill

We left Samdrup Jongkhar and headed north, up and over a pass in some dreary weather near the top. The forest changed from warm broadleaved to cool broadleaved. It rained intermittently but we still got some fantastic birding in. Traveling these roads with thousand foot drops on the edge in zero visibility requires some trust and faith in the driver - and we have a good one.

eBird list

Alpine Thrush

Black-chinned Yuhina

Black-faced Warlber

Great Barbet
Griffon Vulture

Mountain Bulbul

Rufous Sibia

Rufous-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler

Rufous-vented Yuhina
Sultan Tit

White-naped Yuhina

Yellow-rumped Honeyguide

A giant beehive one a cliff that the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide was feeding from

And a great mammal sighting - Yellow-throated Marten
We had some excitement to end our day. Within a few miles of our lodge near Trashigang we encountered a scary sight - a road blocking slide that occurred only a couple hours before.

Chubzang did some quick thinking and organized a pickup by the hotel staff on the other side of the slide. But first we had to get ourselves across. The footing was loose and the drop-off considerable, and we had to trust that the slide would stay put as we went across. But we made it and added another adventure story to our never-ending supply. Our poor driver had to backtrack to the top of the pass and take an alternate primitive road route adding several hours to his day.

Our next day had us doing more of the same to get over another pass and down to our eventual destination at Yongkola. The birding was excellent and the weather good on another long travel day. The bird of the day for me was Wallcreeper, at nuthatch like bird that spends its day flitting up and down small cliff faces.

eBird list 1
eBird list 2
eBird list 3

Fire-capped Tit

Rufescent Prinia

Small Niltava


Wedge-tailed Pigeons

Wedge-tailed Pigeon

Striated Yuhina

White-crested Laughingthrush
Now we're set up for four days based out of the Trogon Villa Lodge in Yongkola, perched high on the side of a mountain at about 5,500 feet elevation. The road goes up from here into Thrumshing La National Park, one of the premier birding destinations in all the world.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Bob. You have done it again! Captured your adventures in breath-taking style. I was as curious to know about the country of Bhutan as much as the birds. It is great to see the scenery - the trees and other plants, the mountain views, that road! The birds are really wonderful and some of the species surprised me. What an incredible array of birds. Didn't know there would be martens. You continue to amaze with the wonderful photos of birds. I think of them flitting through the trees, not staying still long enough for a portrait. Good for you - your perseverance, great cameras and skill.
    I thank you for this stunning look at another country. I'm so glad there is so much of it unspoiled.