The birding diaries continue on. Taking up from where I left off in my previous post, the highlight of this post is the birding heaven in Central Bhutan which will always remain memorable. I am talking about Trongsa and its surroundings.
We reached Trongsa just before sunset. We were going to be there for 2 nights and had booked a room at Yangkhil resort. As we walked around exploring the resort we saw a couple of Yellow-billed Blue Magpies flitting around. The Blue Whistling Thrush and the Russet Sparrows were all over the place. Our guide Tshering told us that he would take us out early next morning for birdwatching to Trongsa tower. We had an early dinner and retired for the night completely unaware of what the next morning would bring us!
It was a misty morning the next day. We saw a Grey Bushchat high atop a pole near the prayer wheels in the resort. Nagesh fished out an Oriental White-eye and got some nice pictures of it against the flowers of the Bottlebrush tree where it seemed to be residing.
Our driver Yenten dropped us at Trongsa tower which was opposite the Trongsa Dzong. It has been converted to a museum housing artifacts belonging to the royal family as well as the Bhutanese culture. As we got in through the door next to the road, there were a series of steps that led to the tower. The place seemed to be teeming with birds. We were completely lost as to which bird to watch!! It was as though we had stepped into a birding heaven if there is one!!!
The Green-backed Tit which was completely fearless and coming very close to us. Given how common this bird had got to us and all the other wonderful birds here, we ended up ignoring it at most times. First up were Verditer Flycatcher, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler (lifer), Eurasian Jay, White-throated Fantail, White-tailed Nuthatch and Striated Laughingthrush. All of these in a matter of few minutes.
As we reached the end of the stairs we noticed a flock of birds high atop a tree. We identified them as Spot-winged Grosbeaks (lifer) later. While flipping through the pages of the Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent book by Grimmett, Inskipp and Inskipp, I would inadvertently land up on the last set of pages containing illustrations of the colourful Grosbeaks and Finches wondering when I would get a chance to see them. Finally I saw a Grosbeak! Another moment for us to cherish therefore :)
As we were feeling hungry we started walking back as it was time for breakfast too. The Green-backed Tit decided to seek our attention. We saw the grisly side of this beautiful little bird. It grabbed a moth, tore apart its wings and then gobbled up the poor victim in a matter of seconds.
This was followed by a good sighting of the Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush which we had seen earlier in Lamperi. We also got a glimpse of a yellow coloured small bird which we figured out to be the Golden-spectacled Warbler (lifer) later.
We had been wondering about the absence of other species of Tits except the Green-backed Tits since they are generally found in mixed flocks. As we were about to get into the car we noticed a different looking tiny little bird on a tree nearby. It turned out to be a Black-throated Bushtit (lifer).
In the afternoon we went to see the Trongsa Dzong which is the largest dzong in Bhutan. As we were getting out of the car, I spotted a Rufous-bellied Woodpecker on a tree nearby. Nagesh started taking pictures of it and a small crowd of local people came to watch the woodpecker and us trying to photograph it. The locals were very happy to get a close up glimpse of the bird’s photos on the camera.
After the enriching experience in the morning I wanted to go back to the tower in the evening. We decided to go there. It proved to be disappointing with hardly any activity compared to the morning. We managed to see Ashy Drongo, Blue Whistling Thrush, Greenish Warbler, Rufous Sibia and a pair of Long-tailed Minivets.
We decided to go on a walk along the road behind the tower. We managed to see a Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Rufous Sibia and Black Bulbul at close quarters. As we were walking back towards the town a female Grey Bushchat posed for us on an electric wire next to the road.
Next morning we would be heading to our next destination Jakar in Bumthang valley. Before leaving Trongsa we could not resist heading back to the tower. This particular morning was very foggy with visibility being pretty low. As we were walking around I sighted the Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler and was busy observing it gorging on some insects in the undergrowth. In the meantime Tshering and Nagesh had climbed up the stairs and reached the top when they caught a glimpse of a female Kalij Pheasant! But it rushed off down the slopes of the nearby hillock.
The number of birds seen were few compared to the previous morning. We saw Grey Treepie, White-tailed Nuthatch, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, Grey-hooded Warbler, Eurasian Jay, Red-billed Leiothrix, Rufous-capped Babbler (lifer), Whiskered Yuhina, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush and Spot-winged Grosbeak.
In order to go from Trongsa district to Bumthang district we need to cross the Yotong La pass. As it was a foggy day interspersed with rain during the first half of the drive we could not see much of the acclaimed beauty of this route. We got to see only a Grey Bushchat on the outskirts of Trongsa before visibility reduced greatly.
As we neared Yotong La, Tshering asked Yenten to stop the car as the area around the road was frequented by Pheasants and the weather was ideal for them to venture out. I decided not to head out in the cold and stayed back in the car with Yenten. Nagesh and Tshering went around inside the forest. Unfortunately they did not see anything save a Spotted Nutcracker far away. The only consolation was that Nagesh managed to get a good picture of a beautiful Rhododendron tree in full bloom.
The weather had cleared by the time we reached Bumthang valley. The place looked stunning and we began to appreciate the fact that it called Switzerland of the East. I had read that the Black-billed Magpie and the Choughs are found here. We stopped to take pictures of mustard fields in full bloom against lush green slopes and blue skies. Suddenly I saw a Black-billed Magpie posing brilliantly atop the fence of the mustard field. Excitedly I pointed it out to Nagesh and he got some fantastic shots of it!! It seemed like this beautiful bird had come to welcome us to its land :)
As we drove past Chhumey village famous for its weavers, Tshering pointed out a couple of Red-billed Choughs. They look just like crows till you get closer and realize that their beaks are bright red in colour.
We would be staying at the Swiss Guest House in Jakar for 2 nights. We reached there in the afternoon and decided not to venture out anywhere that evening. A walk amidst the Apple trees in the property with the resident dogs accompanying us ensured that no bird came close to us :)
While having breakfast next day I saw a small bird resembling a sparrow on the grass patch next to the window. A picture of the same revealed it to be what we think is the Plain Mountain Finch. Other resident birds that we saw from our room were the Greenish Warbler and a pair of Oriental Turtle Doves. Red-billed Choughs visited the grounds quite often.
A walk near the older rooms of the guest house revealed the presence of a Speckled Wood Pigeon which seemed to be roosting in the nearby thicket. By far Jakar had been the coldest place in our trip. Next morning would be our last here before we would start our journey back to Paro. We were a little disappointed that we had not made any progress with respect to bird sightings.
After our last breakfast here I suggested why not go back to the place where we’d seen the Pigeon the evening before. The sun had finally decided to come out and it was a bright day. As we headed to this spot, a riot of colours passed overhead! It turned out to be the gorgeous Mrs.Gould’s Sunbird (lifer). We were mesmerized by its colours. Then came another big surprise. A bush nearby had more than 10 Red-billed Leiothrixes in it! Unbelievable luck when it was time for us to leave.
I guess this post is pretty long. What remains from our Bhutan trip, is the return journey to Paro spread over 2 days. That deserves a separate writeup I think! Till then…