In May 2004, I explored hot spots of Bhutan, in association with our Bhutan Partner Rainbow Tours & Treks, with a view to improving our birding tours in Bhutan. All logistics for my trip were provided in a very efficient manner by Rainbow Tours and treks. Norbu, who is the birding guide with Rainbow tours, and whom I had trained in the Western Himalayas in India, accompanied me on the entire trip. Norbu’s local knowledge helped in uncovering some new hot spots.
The trip took 16 days. The weather throughout was overcast and sometimes there were lots of low clouds. It rained almost every day, with some very heavy showers. Despite the bad weather, spells of reasonable visibility, contributed to a rewarding trip. We saw 270 species of birds.
Geographically Bhutan forms a giant staircase. Starting in the south, from a narrow strip of land in the plains of India at an altitude of 100 m, the elevation rises to high Himalayan peaks over 7000 m in the North on the borders with Tibet.
Bhutan retains its forests almost intact. The forest cover is about 65 per cent of the country's area of 46,000 sq. km. Birding in the untouched, primeval forests of Bhutan is a unique experience. Bhutan’s forests are pristine and diverse. One finds subtropical broad leaf forests (1000-2000 m), coniferous forest (2000- 4200 m) that mainly consists of juniper, hemlock, Chir pine, and Blue pine, Spruce, Fir and Bamboo mixed with rhododendron and Juniper. The Alpine habitat (4000-4600m) consists of Alpine meadows with high altitude scrub. These diverse, rich and lovely habitat support most of the countries breeding birds, globally threatened birds, and Bhutan’s restricted range birds The Buddhist culture, which respects all forms of life, is an added factor which has resulted in an avifauna that is remarkably visible, approachable, and diverse.
Some of the rare species which I targetted were: Rufous–necked Hornbill, Beautiful Nuthatch, White- bellied heron, Satyr Tragopan, Yellow- rumped Honeyguide, Rufous- throated Wren Babbler, Red-headed Parotbills. Ibisbill, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Rosefinches, and Sunbirds.
Western Bhutan is made up of the valleys of Ha,(2700 m), Paro, (2200 m), and Thimpu, (2300 m) - the capital of Bhutan, is the center of government, religion and commerce. Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang at 1300 m form a single long valley, separated from Thimpu by a high ridge crossed by the 3050 m high Dochu la pass. Punakha (1400 m), the ancient capital is situated at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, and is blessed by a wonderful, temperate climate. The mountain slopes are covered with coniferous and deciduous forests. All the valleys have reminders of the past – monasteries, temples, and fortresses. These valleys are the abode of the Ngalong; “the first to rise” meaning the first to convert to Buddhism They speak Dzongka – the language of the Dzongs – now the national language of Bhutan.
Central Bhutan, is made up of several regions, which speak Kha with variations. The Black Mountains at an elevation of 5000 m, have traditionally marked the boundry between Western & Central Bhutan. The 3,300 m high Palela – covered with forests of magnolia and rhododendron, is the main crossing The Shemgang District in the South is blessed with semi-tropical climate and covered with dense jungle – a birders paradise. Tronga is in the geographic center of the country. It lies astride the Central highway – its impressive Dzong strategically located to dominate a gorge cut by the Mangde River, which has been the ancient route over the Black Mountains. It is connected with the Bumthang group of valleys over the 3400 m high Yutongla pass. Bumthang is composed of a group of four valleys at altitude of 2700 – 4000 meters. Chumey and Choekhor are mainly agricultural, whilst Tang and Ura practice Yak and sheep herding. The mountains are covered with dark coniferous forests, rice gives way to buck wheat, and the houses are build of solid stone and are more sparsely decorated than in Western Bhutan. Bumthang is proud of its rich art and history. Its religious traditions are alive. Its monasteries are its main attraction.
Eastern Bhutan lies across the Donga range running North-South and crossed by the 3780 m high Thrumshing la. From this high pass the terrain drops precipitously to the Low valleys of the Kuri Chhu, 650 m (Lingmethang ) The main habitations are Mongar and Trashigang at an elevation of 650 m – 1400 m. The landscape changes dramatically. Instead of rhododendron and pine forests, broadleaf subtropical forests overgrown with epiphytic orchids and waterfalls are encountered. One of the best birding areas in Bhutan the Lingmethang Area extends from Namalin to the Kuri la
The Southern Foothills
This mountain chain runs West to East and separates the Doar plains from the Inner Himalayas rising to an average elevation of over 2000 m The Daurs Plain drops sharply away from the Himalayas into the large tracts of semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungle. No birding was possible in this region due to security constraints.
Summary of the journey (itinerary)
May.15.04 – Kalimpong-Phunsholing-Thimphu.
This day was taken up by travelling from Kalimpong to Thimpu via Phuntsholing. Overnight at Hotel Pemaling.
Day 01-May 16.04 – Thimpu – Cheri Valley – Thimpu.
We drove up to Cheri Valley in 45 Minutes. Spent the morning birding in Cheri valley upto 2575 m, but had to abandon the afternoon due to heavy rain. Night at Hotel Pemaling.
Birds seen/heard:Hill Partridge-H,Great Barbet-H,Crested Kingfisher-1,Large Hawk Cuckoo-H,Eursian Cuckoo-H Oriental Cuckoo-H,Himalayan Swiflets-10,Speckled Wood Piegon-06,Mountain Imperial Piegon-03,Oriental Turtle Dove-20,Emerald Dove(Phuntsoling)02,Wedge-tail Green Piegon-10,Black Kite(Phuntsoling)08,Black Eagle-02,Eursain Sparrowhawk-01,Steppe Eagle-01,Grey-back Shrike-04,Yellow-billed Blue Magpie-03,Spotted Nutcracker-04,Large-billed Crow-10,Long-tail Minivet-02,Ashy Drongo-04, Blue Whistling Thrush -06,White-collared Blackbird-03,Grey-winged Blackbird-04,Dark-sided Flycatcher-02,Verditer Flycatcher-02,Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher-02,White-capped Water Redstart-01,Plumbeous Water Redstart-04,Grey Bushchat-06,Common Myna-20,Green-backed Tit-10,Rufous-fronted Tit-02,Black Bulbul-30,Grey-bellied Tesia-H,Buff-barred Warbler-02,Yellow-browed Warbler-02,Large-billed Leaf Warbler-06,White-throated Laughingthrush-40,Spotted Laughingthrush-H,Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler(phuntsoling)02,Rufous Sibia-04,Fire-tailed Sunbird-02,Green-tailed Sunbird-07,Eursian Tree Sparrow-40,Yellow wagtail-01,Yellow-breasted Greenfinch-08.
Tour options for non-birding spouse/friends:
Ronald Saldino, Niels
Poul Dryer, Ketil Knudsen
Hill Top, Kalimpong, 73430, India
Phone & Fax: +91-3552-255204
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