The final post from the Bhutan birding diaries. The list of birds, as you will read below, just got better!! In my previous post I’d mentioned about the return journey to Paro from Jakar. We would be breaking the journey at Phobjikha valley which is famous as one of the sites where the endangered Black-necked Cranes migrate every year during winter from high altitude regions of Tibet. But the Cranes would have left already by this time of the year.
This time around when we reached the Yotong La Pass the weather was clear. We saw lots of Rhododendron trees in bloom. A Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush could be seen high atop a tree. Suddenly a pair of Spotted Nutcrackers descended on a bare tree stump a little above eye level. Finally we managed to get a good look at these birds which are usually way too high up the pine trees.
After lunch, Tshering asked the car to be stopped at Ngala Community Forest area somewhere between Trongsa town and Chendebji. We walked around for a while and had quite a few sightings. We saw Black-winged Cuckooshrike (lifer), White-throated Fantail, Whiskered Yuhina, Rufous Sibia, Grey-winged Blackbird and Green-tailed Sunbird.
We then proceeded to Gangtey where we would be staying overnight at the Dewachen Resort. We decided to leave very early next morning to go to Old Trongsa Road to try our luck with Pheasants. We could then drive back to Paro.
Old Trongsa Road
This road is no longer in use and some sections of it have got blocked by boulders making it not motorable and therefore ideal for birdwatching without any disturbances. We saw a few Yaks grazing around. We saw a Himalayan Monal climb up the slopes far away. Wondering if we were late for the pheasants, we continued down the road. A lifer soon appeared in the form of a Rufous-vented Tit.
As we walked further along the road, Tshering suddenly asked us to stop. In excited and hushed tones he said “Satyr Tragopan”!! I couldn’t believe what I was about to see. A gorgeous Satyr Tragopan walked out majestically from behind the bushes and crossed the road right in front of us. We felt blessed to have been able to see this bird which is one of the rare species seen in Bhutan. The red colour was mesmerizing to say the least!
The next lifer was a Stripe-throated Yuhina. Within 5 minutes we saw a Tragopan again. This time it was atop a bush and incessantly calling out. It then made its way down the slope. Our day was already made with sightings of two Tragopans within half an hour :)
There were plenty of small birds along the road. We did not spend much time as we were feeling tired and hungry. We had not carried breakfast with us due to the early start. Some lifers that we saw on our way back to the car were Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Spotted Laughingthrush, White-winged Grosbeak and Black-faced Laughingthrush.
We then went to Kuenphen Restaurant at Nobding in Wangdue Phodrang district and had a hearty breakfast. We decided to stop again at Lamperi as we were doing good on time. We were in luck as Ishay’s guru, Dorjee, had come that day. We went for a walk along with him and spotted the Green-tailed Sunbird. He showed us a Large Hawk-Cuckoo (lifer) and we realized that we had been mistaking it for the Common Hawk-Cuckoo aka the Brainfever bird throughout our trip whenever we heard its persistent calls.
I suddenly spotted a mass of bright red which I immediately recognized as the Scarlet Finch (lifer again!). The others were walking ahead of me. Nagesh realized that I’d seen something and stepped back just in time to see it before it flew off. We managed to get only a blurred pic. We called out to the others and waited for a while at the same spot to see if the bird would come back. But it seemed to have gone down the hill and did not return. We then spent time discussing about the birds that we’d seen and photographed. Dorjee went through our checklist and helped us identify some of the birds that we had not been able to till then. After lunch we bid our farewell to Ishay and Dorjee and were on our way to Metta Resort in Paro where we would be spending our last 3 nights in Bhutan.
We started off early from our resort around 5 AM. It was a foggy morning and the weather was perfect for the Pheasants which reside around the Chele La pass. Chele La is the highest motorable road in Bhutan at an altitude of 3988 mts above sea level. The road connects Paro valley with the Haa Valley.
We saw quite a few Kalij Pheasants as we began our ascent up the road to Chele La. We finally managed to get a good glimpse of these beautiful birds and some nice pictures as well. They had eluded us on previous occasions.
After a while we saw a lone Blood Pheasant (lifer) cross the road far ahead of us. It was shortly followed by a Himalayan Monal which was crossing the road majestically. It realized the presence of our car and rushed down the slopes of the hill within the split of a second resulting in one blurred picture.
We decided to stop the car and walk for a while as we did not want to disturb the pheasants. We saw Black-faced Laughingthrush and Coal Tit (lifer) before stumbling on a pair of Blood Pheasants which were scanning the road carefully before crossing. We let them feed happily while we got our share of pictures! As we went ahead we saw a scene which will remain etched in our memories forever. A flock of around 10-15 Blood Pheasants were descending down the slopes of the hill towards where we were headed with the males ahead followed by the females. The mist added a magical touch to this amazing moment.
We drove till the highest point on this road. It was pretty cold. We had some hot tea and breakfast that Tshering had got for us. On a clear day Mt.Jomolhari can be seen from Chele La. Since it was foggy we could barely see even the Haa Valley. But then the weather had been very favourable for Pheasants. So we had no qualms about not being able to see the Himalayas!
After waiting for a while for the fog to clear we realized that the weather wasn’t going to change much soon. So we started on our way back earlier than planned. Most of the stretches on the way back were devoid of any activity. We managed to see few more lifers like Whistler’s Warbler and Blyth’s Leaf Warbler. Nagesh spotted an excellently camouflaged Hodgson’s Treecreeper.
We were back in Paro for an early lunch. In the evening we went to the Rinpung Dzong and near the bridge over Paro river leading to the Dzong, we sighted a Plumbeous Water Redstart. This was the last bird that we photographed on this wonderful trip. We spent the rest of the time going around Paro and hiking to the Tiger Nest monastery. It had been a wonderful experience to see so many new species of birds. We would love to return back to this wonderful country some day and continue into the Eastern and Southern parts which are supposed to be even better in terms of birding.
The complete list of birds from our Bhutan trip is up on bubo.org. Thanks for reading!