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Bhutan – Thunder Dragon Birding
Tour Report

Bhutan river to mountain
As our Druk Air flight from Bangkok approached Paro large expanses of Spring snow on the Black Mountains raised eyebrows but the view of Chomolhari, Bhutan’s holiest mountain, lifted our spirits. Kencho (a Forester and bird guide extraordinaire), Ugyen (great wit & trip organiser) and Sherub (keen, courteous and careful driver) were there to meet us and we hit the road confidently.

Birding along the Pa Chu (river) produced the hoped for Ibisbill, a unexpected Northern Lapwing, Common Sandpipers, River Lapwings, Common Stonechat, Red-billed Choughs, Grey-backed Shrikes and Hodgson’s Redstarts. Later at our hotel we were serenaded by a White-collared Blackbird and savoured a very welcome cuppa.

The next day dawned to the ‘oop oop ooping of the local Hoopoe and we drove to Thimpu alongside the river seeing White-capped and Plumbeous Water Redstarts, Brown Dippers and White Wagtails. We also spotted a troop of Grey Langurs , a lone Goral, three Kalij Pheasants and enjoyed stunning views of a Northern Goshawk. At Thimpu Sewage Farm more Ibisbill, Ruddy Shelduck, a Common Teal and a pair of Olive-backed Pipits. The afternoon rounded off with a Yellow-rumped Honeyguide and a huge hail storm.

Punakha Dzong
The next day we crossed Dochu La (3116m) enjoying magnificent views of the high Himalayan peaks including Gangkar Puensum (7541m), Bhutan’s highest. Against this stunning view a lone cormorant flew across the pass, a somewhat bizarre sight. Various stops produced Fire-tailed Myzornis (a true beauty), Scarlet Minivets, Black-throated Tits, a pair of Crested Serpent-Eagles, Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers, Shikra, Yellow-billed Blue Magpies, White-throated and Striated Laughing Thrushs, Nepal Fulvetta, White-browed Shrike-Tits and Mrs Gould’s Sunbird. Yellow-breasted Greenfinches, Slender-billed Orioles and Long-tailed Minivets greeted us at the hotel.

The following morning four White-throated Kingfishers, backdropped by the Dzong, displayed for us. In the forests around Shatem highlights included Mountain Hawk Eagle, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Wallcreeper, Greater Yellownapes, Maroon Orioles, Black-tailed and Crimson Sunbirds, Black-winged Cuckoo Shrikes and an elusive Slaty-bellied Tesia. The days climax in the appearance of a flock of Large-billed Crows chasing a Barn Owl. This was a real surprise as it is not even shown in the latest ‘Birds of Bhutan’ field guide. Subsequent research suggests it is recorded in Bhutan but, surprisingly, very rarely.

The next day we drove to the Pele La (3390m), a dramatic drive heightened by swirling fog and some heart stopping drops! Highlights there included White-browed Rosefinch, White-throated, Striated, Spotted, Black-faced and Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrushes, Coal and Grey-crested Tits, Fork-tailed Swifts, a huge ‘kettle’ of approximately 60 Himalayan Griffons and a short but great view of a dazzling Himalayan Monal! By the end of the day other highlights were Orange-bellied Leafbird, Red Crossbill, Red-tailed Minla, Bar-throated Siva, White-browed Fulvetta, Rufous-capped Babbler and a pair of Yellow-throated Martens.

Kencho, Professor of Birdwatching
From Trongsa we crossed the Yutong La (3520m) to see our first of several groups of Blood Pheasants plus Golden-spectacled Warbler, Rufous-Gorgetted Flycatcher, Grey-crested Tit, and Hoary-throated Barwing. The Bhumtang Valley produced Eurasian Magpies and Brown Parrotbills but Sengor an evening foray provided the highlight of the day – two groups of Satyr Tragopans, the males like luminous red artworks draped with fairy lights that twinkled in the rain.

On the road to Yongkola the next day were three more Tragopans. At Namling we had frustratingly fleeting glimpses of a pair of Ward’s Trogon and nearing Yongkola a loud ‘tok, tok’ drew us to our first Rufous-necked Hornbill.

The next morning’s early walk produced two more Rufous-necked Hornbills then as we hit the road yet another three Tragopans showed themselves and a little later a few of us had fleeting glimpses of a Spotted Wren-Babbler. At Thritangbi we called up a skittish Black-tailed Crake and at Limethang Kencho found us a Tawny Fish Owl. Back at Yongkola Wedge-tailed Green Pigeons, Streak-breasted and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers, Rufous-necked and Bhutan Laughing Thrush were added to the list.

Unfortunately persistent rain and storms had caused a major landslide on our return route to Paro necessitating a long diversion via Gelephu on the Indian border. With no alternative we headed back to Trongs, more Kalij and Blood Pheasants and out of the swirling fog appeared a huge Golden Eagle. A flock of Snow Pigeons, tired of the bad weather, joined us for lunch in the hope of a few scraps. At Trongsa we turned south on some painful roads but we did pick up some good birds including Little Pied Flycatcher, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Ultramarine Flycatcher, Lesser Yellownape, Great Hornbill, Blue-throated Barbet, Red-tailed Minla, Green Shrike-Babbler and Spotted Forktails.

Limithang village
The next day we turned north and headed to Thimpu. Highlights included Common Kingfisher, Indian Roller, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Golden-throated Barbet, Barred Cuckoo Dove, Brown-throated Treecreeper, Golden Babbler, Spot-winged Grosbeak and on the last bum-numbing stretch to Wangdi, above major dam works, wonderful views of an Osprey working the river.

Our final day was spent shopping in Thimpu and later Paro. Our last afternoon walk flushed a party of Laughing Thrushes that included Bhutan, Chestnut-crowned and the striking beautiful Spotted, plus Rufous-Fronted Tits and Greenish Warbler. We reminded ourselves yet again of the wonderful serendipities of birding!

Thanks to Janene, Kay, Adrian and Tom for their wonderful company and fortitude. Thanks also to Kencho, dubbed Professor of Birdwatching, whose infectious laughter and exceptional call skills kept us laughing and delighted; Ugyen, organiser, scope-in-charge and foil for all my bad jokes and Sherub for his hours of competent and considerate driving on highly challenging roads.

The birds were outstanding and my travelling companions a real pleasure to bird with.


30 March Arrive in Paro. Birding the Pa Chu (river). Denchen Hill Resort area

31 March Paro to Thimpu alongside the Pa Chu. Thimpu Sewage Farm and upper Thimpu Chu

01 April Thimpu to Punakha via Dochu La (Pass). National Botanic Gardens, Lamperi. Punakha Valley

02 April Punakha Dzong and along upper Mo Chu to Shatem. Along Po Chu and around Meri Puensum Resort

03 April Punakha to Trongsa via Pele La and Thengiji

04 April Trongsa to Sengor via Yutong La, Jakar, Sheytang La and Thrumsing La

05 April Sengor to Yongkola via Latong La and Namling

06 April Yongkola, Namling, Limithang to Longkola

07 April Yongkola to Trongsa

08 April Trongsa to Gelephu, via Shemgang and Tingtibi

09 April Gelephu to Thimpu, via Sarpang, Kamechu, Wangdue Phrodang and Dochu La

10 April Thimpu to Paro. Taksang Lookout, Pa Chu and Denchen Hill Resort area.

11 April Depart for Bangkok

Birds: Dates:

Hill Partridge (H) 3-4-5
Rufous-throated Partridge 2
Blood Pheasant 4-7
Satyr Tragopan 4-5-6-7
Himalayan Monal 3
Kalij Pheasant 31-3-4-7

Ruddy Shelduck 31-2-4
Common Teal 31

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker 1
Darjeeling Woodpecker 3-4-5-7
Lesser Yellownape 8
Greater Yellownape 2-9
Grey-headed Woodpecker (H) 8

Yellow-rumped Honeyguide 31-7
Great Barbet 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9
Golden-throated Barbet 2-5-6-7-8-9
Blue-throated Barbet 6-8-9

Great Hornbill 8
Rufous-necked Hornbill 5-6-8
Common Hoopoe 31-1-2-10
Ward’s Trogon 5
Indian Roller 9
Blue-bearded Bee-eater 8-9
Common Kingfisher 9
White-throated Kingfisher 2-3-6-9

Large Hawk-Cuckoo 5-6-7-8
Himalayan (Oriental) Cuckoo (H) 2-5-6-7-8
Drongo Cuckoo (H) 8
Himalayan Swiftlet 2-3-5-6-7-8-10
Fork-tailed Swift 3

Barn Owl 2
Collared Owlet (H) 6-8
Asian Barred Owlet (H) 6-8
Tawny Fish-Owl 6

Common (Rock) Pigeon every day
Snow Pigeon 7
Oriental Turtle Dove every day
Spotted Dove 1-2-3-4-8-9-10
Barred Cuckoo Dove 9
Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon 6

Black-tailed Crake 6
Common Sandpiper 30-31
Ibisbill 30-31-2-4
River Lapwing 30-31-2-9-10
Northern Lapwing 30

Osprey 9

Pallas’s Fish-Eagle 2
Crested Serpent-Eagle 1-2-5-6-8
Black Eagle 5-8-9
Himalayan (Griffon) Vulture 3-4
Northern Goshawk 31
Shikra 1
Himalayan (Common) Buzzard 4-7
Golden Eagle 7
Mountain Hawk-Eagle 2-3-5
Common Kestrel 30-1-4-7

Great Cormorant 31-1-2-8-9

Orange-bellied Leafbird 3-5-6
Golden-fronted Leafbird 9
Grey-backed Shrike 30-31-2-4-6-9-10

Long-tailed Shrike 1-2-6-7-8

Yellow-billed Blue Magpie 1-3-4-5-6-7-8-10
Common Green Magpie (H) 8-9
Grey Treepie 1-2-5-6-8-9
Eurasian (Black-billed) Magpie 5-7
Spotted Nutcracker 31-3-4-7-8-10
Red-billed Chough 30-31-1-3-4-5-7-10
Large-billed Crow every day
House Crow 31-1-10

Slender-billed Oriole 1-2
Maroon Oriole 2
Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike 1-2-8

Grey-chinned Minivet 1-5-8-10
Long-tailed Minivet 30-31-3
Short-billed Minivet 6
Scarlet Minivet 1-2-3-5-6-7-8-9

White-throated Fantail 3
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike 2-9

Black Drongo 6-8-9
Ashy Drongo 31-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9
Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo 5
Brown Dipper 30-31-2-4-9

Blue-capped Rock Thrush 5-6-7-8-9
Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush 3-5
Blue Rock Thrush 6-8
Blue Whistling Thrush everyday
White-collared Blackbird 30-3-4-5-6-10
Ferruginous Flycatcher 2
Slaty-backed Flycatcher 4
Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher 4-5-8
Little Pied Flycatcher 8-9
Verditer Flycatcher 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9
Large Niltava (H) 1
Small Niltava 2-3-6-8
Blue-throated Blue Flycatcher(H) 8
Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher 1-3-5-6-8-9

Oriental Magpie-Robin 1-2-5-6-7-8-9
Hodgson’s Redstart 30-31-1-2-3-4-8
Blue-fronted Redstart 30-1-3-4-5-7
White-capped (Water) Redstart 30-31-2-3-4-5-6-8-9-10
Plumbeous Water Redstart 30-31-2-3-4-5-6-10

Spotted Forktail 8
Common Stonechat 30-31
Grey Bushchat 1-3-6-8

Common Myna 1-2-3-4-8-9-10
Chestnut-tailed Starling 2-8-9
White-tailed Nuthatch 1-3
Wallcreeper 2
Hodgson’s Treecreeper 4-8
Brown-throated Treecreeper 9

Rufous-vented Tit 3-4
Grey-crested Tit 4-5
Coal Tit 3-4-5
Green-backed Tit every day
Yellow-cheeked Tit 5-8
Yellow-browed Tit 7
Black-throated Tit 1-5
Rufous-fronted Tit 10

Barn Swallow 6
Nepal House Martin 3-5-7-8-10

Striated Bulbul 9
Black-crested Bulbul 8-9
Red-vented Bulbul 1-2-3-5-6-7-8-9
Mountain Bulbul 2-6-8
Black Bulbul 30-31-1-2-3-4-6-8-9-10
Ashy Bulbul 8-9
Black-throated Prinia 2-5-6
Striated Prinia 6-8-9

Oriental White-eye 30-31-1-2-3-6
Slaty-bellied Tesia (H) 2
Yellowish-bellied Warbler 7
Brown(ish)-flanked Bush Warbler 3
Mountain Tailorbird 6
Buff-barred Warbler 4
Ashy-throated Warbler 3
Lemon-rumped Warbler 3-5
Greenish Warbler 10
Blyth’s Leaf Warbler 3
Golden-spectacled Warbler 4-5-6
Grey-hooded Warbler 2-3-4-6-9
Chestnut-crowned Warbler 3-5
Black-faced Warbler 8

White-throated Laughing Thrush 1-3-4-5-6-7-8
White-crested Laughing Thrush 6-8-9
Striated Laughing Thrush 1-2-3-5-8
Rufous-necked Laughing Thrush 6-7
Spotted Laughing Thrush 3-4-10
Bhutan Laughing Thrush 6-10
Black-faced Laughing Thrush 1-4-5-8
Chestnut-crowned Laughing Thrush 3-5-8-10

Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler 6
Streak-Breasted Scimitar-Babbler 3-6
Spotted Wren Babbler 5
Fire-tailed Myzornis 1

White-browed Shrike-Babbler 1-2-5-8
Green Shrike-Babbler 8
Hoary-throated Barwing 4-5
Bar-throated Siva (Chestnut-tailed Minla) 3
Red-tailed Minla 3-8
Yellow-throated Fulvetta 5
Rufous-winged Fulvetta 4
White-browed Fulvetta 3-4-5-10
Nepal Fulvetta 1-2-5-6

White-naped Yuhina 3
Whiskered Yuhina 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9
Stripe-throated Yuhina 1-3-5-7
Rufous-vented Yuhina 3-4-5-7
Rufous-capped Babbler 1-3-5-8-9
Golden Babbler 9
Rufous Sibia 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9

Brown Parrotbill 4

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker 1-2-6-8-9
Mrs Gould’s Sunbird 1-5-7-8
Green-tailed Sunbird 4-5-7
Black-throated Sunbird 2-6-9
Crimson Sunbird 2-6
Streaked Spiderhunter 6-8-9

Russet Sparrow 30-31-4-5-6-7-8-10
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 30-71-1-2-3-4-5-7-8-9-10

White (Himalayan) Wagtail 30-31-2-4-5-7-9-10
Olive-backed Pipit 31-1-3-4-5-6-8-9-10

Yellow-breasted Greenfinch 1-2-8
White-browed Rosefinch 3
Dark-rumped Rosefinch 5
Red Crossbill 3-7
Red-headed Bullfinch 4-5
Collared Grosbeak 3-4
Spot-winged Grosbeak (H) 9
Crested Bunting 1-3-6-8


Assamese Macaque 6-8-9
Golden Langur 8
Capped Langur 5-6
Grey Langur 31-8
Goral 31-6
Yellow-throated Marten 3-8
Large-eared Pika 7
Black (Malayan) Giant Squirrel 5
Five-striped Palm Squirrel 2-5-8
Yak (cross breed) 1-3-4-9

By Bob Ashford ornithologist for FTB

Tour to be run again in April 2014. Please see FTB Home Page.

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Fax: 61 2 9973 1875
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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer