Birding Ecotours Bhutan and Assam November 2012 By Duan Biggs and Mike Nelson Day 1, November 3rd. Arrival in the world’s last Shangri-La




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Day 13, November 15th. Jakar Dzong: Wallcreeper and temples

Today was our day of culture. We did squeeze in some early morning birding along the Bumthang River. Here we had Solitary Snipe, Little Bunting, and Rufous-breasted Accentor, as well as further looks at Ibisbill and feeding Brown Dippers. Our day of culture included Jakar Dzong, Jampa Lhakhang, and Kurje Lhakhang temples - one of the oldest in Bhutan. Jakar Dzong was home to its very own Wallcreeper, or rather “Dzongcreeper”! While we were culturing, Mike hit the forests for some photography and recording, and got Eurasian Woodcock and Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch.


Pygmy Wren-babbler Wallcreeper


Day 14, November 16th. Snow Pigeons on the pass to Sengor

It was to be another day of climbing up to nearly 4 000m on another spectacular mountain pass – Thrumshing La Pass. We had great looks at numerous flocks of Snow Pigeons, and finally got onto White-browed Fulvetta for our late-comer group member. The group had cracking looks at Upland Buzzard. One of us located a White-throated Redstart, but unfortunately it did not hang around for the rest of the group to enjoy. A visit to the Rhododendron garden at the top of Thrumshing La delivered cracking views of Blood Pheasant, after some serious stalking through the forest floor! In the late afternoon we birded the forests just below our campsite at Sengor, where we had Darjeeling Woodpecker and unbelievable views of Bar-winged Wren-babbler!


Blood Pheasant Darjeeling Woodpecker


Day 15, November 17th. Sengor to Yonkala

We started early in the chilly morning air in the hope of Satyr Tragopan. Unfortunately the ‘road widening project’ with associated dynamite and extraction meant that the tragopan was not around. The rest of the birding was really good, though: the striking Hoary-throated Barwing, our first of many Stripe-throated Yuhinas, and White-browed Bush Robin. As we passed over yet another spectacular mountain pass, we added Dusky Warbler to our list. Just after lunch we were delighted by a Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle passing over. Exciting birding in the late afternoon yielded our first flock of the spectacular Golden-breasted Fulvetta. Not long after the fulvetta excitement, the group enjoyed cracking looks at the gorgeous and petite Black-throated Parrotbill.


Golden-breasted Fulvetta Hoary-throated Barwing


Day 16, November 18th. Yonkala to Mongar

Brown Wood Owl was heard in the early morning from our campsite. Unfortunately, though, it did not come out into view. Back up on the mountain pass, we had cracking looks at Nepal House Martins in the early morning at their nests. A little later one of us got onto a Green Shrike-babbler, and this was followed by a number of parties, which included Bay Woodpecker, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, more Golden-breasted Fulvettas, and Rufous-fronted Babbler. Shortly after morning tea, we got the group onto our second Yellow-rumped Honeyguide for the trip. During lunch we were treated to more views of Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler. A party located by one member of our group entertained us with more views of the fabulous Yellow-cheeked Tit, Black-eared Shrike-babbler, and a single Pygmy Flycatcher. Lower down still, we found Lesser Yellownape, a shy Pale-footed Bush Warbler, and a huge flock of White-crested Laughingthrushes. As we approached Mongar, we had Dusky Warbler, our first Himalayan Bulbul, and Striated Prinia.
Day 17, November 19th. The Ward’s Trogons of Kore La mountain pass

Early start up the exquisite-looking forest on Kore La. Our first stop was in the morning cold – frost was still on the ground. The birding was red-hot, though. A massive and active feeding flock included cracking views of a male Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Rufous-vented and Whiskered Yuhinas, Grey-chinned Minivets aplenty, and White-tailed Nuthatch. The star of the show was the rufous form of Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler, which did its wren-babbler display a mere two meters in front of us! We stopped for a coffee at the top of Kore La and scanned through an active bird party of yuhinas, Blue-fronted Redstarts, and Rufous-breasted Accentors. Just below the top of the pass the group saw Crimson-breasted Woodpecker and Lesser Yellownape.

Beyond the pass, half the group embarked into the forest to explore a trail network for birds, while the others birded along the road. The road party was treated to Fire-tailed Myzornis and Great Hornbill. The trail party had a dazzling array of species, including White-tailed and Blue-fronted Robin, Pygmy and Sapphire Flycatchers, amidst a continual stream of yuhinas and redstarts. The most valued find was a pair of the beautiful and rare Ward’s Trogons. We staked out the spot, and later successfully showed the road team these most handsome of birds.

Just before lunch we were treated to fine looks at a Maroon Oriole. After lunch we hit the mountain passes to Trashigang for our next overnight stop. En route we had better looks at Himalayan Bulbul, and the stand-out sighting was a pair of Pallas’s Fish Eagles. We arrived at our hotel, satisfied after a successful day’s birding, to enjoy the last hour of daylight at our remarkably-perched hotel.


Ward’s Trogon


Day 18, November 20th. Trashigang to Narphung

We started early from Trashigang, and not far down the road Mike called us to a stop for a group of attractive capped langurs. The rest of the day was rather quiet, and we had repeat sightings of earlier birds. We had lunch at a beautiful monastery, where a ceremony involving trumpets and horns was happening. Our arrival at camp in the evening interrupted the home of an Oriental Skylark, which took flight, landing in the neighboring grassy field. The late afternoon produced Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler. Night birding that evening produced both Collared Scops Owl and Mountain Scops Owl vocalizing – but neither could be brought into view.


Day 19, November 21st. Narphung to Samdrup Jongkhar

Our last full day in Bhutan turned out to be spectacular. A morning outing from our campsite down a side road, heading into the valley below our campsite, delivered cracking views of Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, Pale Blue Flycatcher, our first Silver-eared Mesia, and our first Common Rosefinch. More flycatchers started appearing at this altitude, and we had Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, and one of the group had brief glimpses of the tour’s first Slaty-blue Flycatcher. A frustrating Golden Bush Robin kept us occupied for 30 minutes and offered only brief glimpses. A participant who decided to walk back earlier to camp had great success. In his short 30-minute walk he found Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Red-faced Liociochla, and good looks at Yellow-breasted Greenfinch!

As we descended down towards Samdrup Jongkhar and the Plains of Assam, a great variety of new birds awaited us. One party delivered the attractive White-naped Yuhina, Black-throated Sunbird, and Ashy Wood Pigeon. A Mountain Hawk-Eagle flew close by. A little lower down another party yielded our first Long-tailed Sibia, as well as a Rusty-fronted Barwing for two participants, and Mike found the group’s first Blue-eared Barbet. Just after lunch, a Great Hornbill whisked by just meters from us! As we approached the low foothills around Samdrup Jongkhar, the birding got busier and busier. Our first Dark-sided Flycatcher, Green-billed Malkoha, and Red-whiskered Bulbul were seen in quick succession. Our last bird of the day was a brief look at a White-crowned Forktail at our stakeout for the Black-backed variety.

We entered Samdrup Jongkhar, the Bhutan border town, after a fabulous tour of Bhutan.


PLAINS OF ASSAM EXTENSION
Day 20, November 22nd. Entry to the Plains of Assam

We departed Bhutan in convoy for the first 30km into India. Thereafter, travel was on our own, allowing us some time for roadside stops, which yielded Richard’s Pipit, Lesser Adjutant, Pied Myna, Bronze-winged and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, and Red-wattled Lapwing. We then drove over the mighty Brahmaputra river and entered into the sprawling metropolis of Assam’s largest city, Guwahati. We said goodbye to two of our guests at the airport and hit the road to Kaziranga National Park. En route we stopped at the mammoth Guwahati rubbish dump, where we ticked the rare Greater Adjutant and enjoyed close-up views of the Black-eared subspecies of the Black Kite. En route to our spacious Indian colonial style lodge at the southern end of Kaziranga, we had Coppersmith Barbet and good looks at Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, and also added Black-winged Kites to our lists.


Black Kite Greater Adjutant


Days 21 – 24, November 23rd – 26th. Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National Park is 107 years old. It is the protected area responsible for saving the Indian (one-horned) rhinoceros from extinction. We enjoyed three-and-a-half days in this magnificent park and the surrounds. Indian rhinoceros, Asiatic water buffalo, hog deer, swamp deer, wild boar, rhesus macaque, Asian elephant, and sambar topped the list of mammals. After two close misses for the group, half of our group finally got visuals on that enigmatic Asian cat – the tiger. The other half missed it, because they were trying to pull out a Thick-billed Warbler and a Slender-billed Babbler. One of them got brief views of the warbler, but, unfortunately, the babbler did not play along.

The park did provide for some spectacular birding, some from an early morning elephant ride through the head-high grass, and we found a very different suite of species from Bhutan. We had Little and Indian Cormorants and Oriental Darter, and there were numerous Cinereous Tits – a recent split from Great Tit. The large Lineated Barbet was commonly seen. The extensive damp grasslands yielded Blyth’s Reed, Paddyfield, and Spotted Bush Warbler, Chestnut-capped Babbler, Greater Coucal, and Striated Grassbird. The exquisite male White-tailed Rubythroat was the star of the grassland show.

Birds of prey abound in and around Kaziranga, and we had Western Osprey, Pallas’s and Grey-headed Fish Eagles, Greater and Indian Spotted Eagle, as well as Crested Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Pied Harrier, and Changeable Hawk-Eagle. Stork-wise we enjoyed good looks at Lesser and Greater Adjutant, Asian Openbills aplenty, and Woolly-necked and Black-necked Storks. The group enjoyed good looks at Grey-headed and Northern Lapwings, and Spot-billed Pelicans were seen, as was Indian Roller. Waterfowl included Lesser Whistling Duck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, and Greylag and Bar-headed Geese. Waders included Green, Wood, and Common Sandpipers, Spotted Redshank, and Common Greenshank. We recorded both Black-headed Gull and River Tern along the many waterways that dot the park.

We got views of four species of Parakeets: the large Alexandrine, the colorful Blossom-headed and Red-breasted, as well as the Rose-ringed variety. Bird parties in the forest patches delivered Dusky, Greenish, Western Crowned, and Yellow-vented Warblers as well as Slaty-blue and Ultramarine Flycatchers. Other species recorded included Baya Weaver, Asian Palm Swift, and Black-headed Ibis. Everyone enjoyed good looks at both Black-rumped Flameback, Streak-throated Woodpecker, and Green Bee-eater. We did not chase after the blue-bearded variety, as we all had great looks in Bhutan, though it was heard and briefly seen.

The gardens and surrounds and the edge of the nearby Panbari forest, and numerous visits to a proximate tea estate, also delivered a range of goodies: Blue-naped Pitta (unfortunately Mike only), Black-backed Forktail, Abbott’s Babbler, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Little Spiderhunter, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Pale-chinned Blue Flycatcher, Puff-throated Babbler, Black-hooded Oriole, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Large and Black-winged Cuckooshrikes, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, and Whistler’s Warbler. Mike spotted a White-browed Piculet, but it unfortunately got away before the rest of the group could get onto it.


Days 24 – 25, November 26th – 27th. Nameri National Park

Nameri is a pleasant three-hour drive from Kaziranga and is home to one of the world’s rarest birds – the White-winged Duck. Our base at Nameri was a beautiful tented camp across the river, that provided access to the national park. The delightful Common Hill Mynas sang from the picturesque trees above the camp, and shortly after arrival we visited the nearby pygmy hog breeding program to have a quick look at these tiny animals, which are under serious threat due to habitat loss. The rest of our afternoon walk delivered some good birds: Greater Flameback, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, and good looks at Lineated Barbet. As dusk drew near, we enjoyed a flurry of Owlets, including numerous Asian Barred and Spotted. At dusk an unidentified nightjar crossed our path, and a Collared Scops Owl called once, but did not emerge into view. Great Stone-curlew was calling in the distance from the far bank of the river.

Our outing across the Jia Bharali River into Nameri National Park was a real treat. The gallery forest is spectacular, and the sandbanks produced Grey-throated Martin. The White-winged Duck, or “Spirit Duck” as it is known by native people within its range, lives in dark, stagnant forest ponds. It is very shy, and you have to creep up on its small forest beels (ponds). Species recorded on our foray into the National Park included Clamorous Reed Warbler, the attractive Ashy-headed Green Pigeon, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Crow-billed Drongo, White-rumped Shama, Pale Blue Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Yellow-vented Warbler, Western Crowned Warbler, Taiga Flycatcher, and Mountain Tailorbird. Attractive River Lapwings foraged on the riverbanks, along with Great Cormorant. However, despite a very intensive search campaign and the help of an expert local guide, the forest ponds only held Eurasian Teal. On the day of our search, the White-winged Duck was unfortunately hiding in the inaccessible ponds deeper in the forest. Our last night of the tour was marked by yet another great Indian dinner. Those of us awake in the depths of the night were treated to the sounds of vocalizing Brown Hawk-Owls.

An early departure saw us on the way to Guwahati airport for our departure.


Indian rhinoceros



BHUTAN AND ASSAM SYSTEMATIC LIST, NOVEMBER 2012
Species marked with H were heard only.

Species marked with L were seen by the leader only.



Bhutan Species List

GALLIFORMES







Phasianidae







Hill Partridge

Arborophila torqueola

1

Blood Pheasant

Ithaginis cruentus

1

Himalayan Monal

Lophophorus impejanus

1

Kalij Pheasant

Lophura leucomelanos

1

ANSERIFORMES







Anatidae







Ruddy Shelduck

Tadorna ferruginea

1

Gadwall

Anas strepera

1

Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos

1

PELECANIDAE







Ardeidae







White-bellied Heron

Ardea insignis

1

SULIFORMES







Phalacrocoridae







Great Cormorant

Phalacrocorax carbo

1

ACCIPITRIFORMES







Accipitridae







Crested Honey Buzzard

Pernis ptilorhynchus

1

Pallas's Fish Eagle

Haliaeetus leucoryphus

1

Himalayan Vulture

Gyps himalayensis

1

Crested Serpent Eagle

Spilornis cheela

1

Hen Harrier

Circus cyaneus

1

Crested Goshawk

Accipiter trivirgatus

1

Shikra

Accipiter badius

1

Besra

Accipiter virgatus

1

Eurasian Sparrowhawk

Accipiter nisus

1

Northern Goshawk

Accipiter gentilis

1

Common Buzzard

Buteo buteo

1

Long-legged Buzzard

Buteo rufinus

1

Upland Buzzard

Buteo hemilasius

1

Steppe Eagle

Aquila nipalensis

1

Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle

Lophotriorchis kienerii

1

Mountain Hawk-Eagle

Nisaetus nipalensis

1

FALCONIFORMES







Falconidae







Common Kestrel

Falco tinnunculus

1

GRUIFORMES







Rallidae







Black-tailed Crake

Porzana bicolor

1

Gruidae







Black-necked Crane

Grus nigricollis

1

CHARADRIIFORMES







Ibidorhynchidae







Ibisbill

Ibidorhyncha struthersii

1

Charadriidae







River Lapwing

Vanellus duvaucelii

1

Scolopacidae







Eurasian Woodcock

Scolopax rusticola

L

Solitary Snipe

Gallinago solitaria

1

Common Sandpiper

Actitis hypoleucos

1

COLUMBIFORMES







Columbidae







Rock Dove

Columba livia

1

Snow Pigeon

Columba leuconota

1

Speckled Wood Pigeon

Columba hodgsonii

1

Ashy Wood Pigeon

Columba pulchricollis

1

Oriental Turtle Dove

Streptopelia orientalis

1

Eurasian Collared Dove

Streptopelia decaocto

1

Red Turtle Dove

Streptopelia tranquebarica

1

Spotted Dove

Spilopelia chinensis

1

Common Emerald Dove

Chalcophaps indica

1

Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon

Treron sphenurus

1

CUCULIFORMES







Cuculidae







Green-billed Malkoha

Phaenicophaeus tristis

1

STRIGIFORMES







Strigidae







Mountain Scops Owl

Otus spilocephalus

H

Collared Scops Owl

Otus lettia

H

Collared Owlet

Glaucidium brodiei

1

Asian Barred Owlet

Glaucidium cuculoides

H

Brown Wood Owl

Strix leptogrammica

H

APODIFORMES







Apodidae







White-throated Needletail

Hirundapus caudacutus

1

Himalayan Swiftlet

Aerodramus brevirostris

1

TROGONIFORMES







Trogonidae







Red-headed Trogon

Harpactes erythrocephalus

1

Ward's Trogon

Harpactes wardi

1

CORACIIFORMES







Alcedinidae







Common Kingfisher

Alcedo atthis

1

Crested Kingfisher

Megaceryle lugubris

1

White-throated Kingfisher

Halcyon smyrnensis

1

Meropidae







Blue-bearded Bee-eater

Nyctyornis athertoni

1

BUCEROTIFORMES







Upupidae







Eurasian Hoopoe

Upupa epops

1

Bucerotidae







Great Hornbill

Buceros bicornis

1

Rufous-necked Hornbill

Aceros nipalensis

1

PICIFORMES







Megalaimidae







Great Barbet

Megalaima virens

1

Golden-throated Barbet

Megalaima franklinii

1

Blue-throated Barbet

Megalaima asiatica

1

Blue-eared Barbet

Megalaima australis

1

Indicatoridae







Yellow-rumped Honeyguide

Indicator xanthonotus

1

Picidae







Speckled Piculet

Picumnus innominatus

1

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker

Dendrocopos hyperythrus

1

Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker

Dendrocopos canicapillus

1

Crimson-breasted Woodpecker

Dendrocopos cathpharius

1

Darjeeling Woodpecker

Dendrocopos darjellensis

1

Greater Yellownape

Chrysophlegma flavinucha

1

Lesser Yellownape

Picus chlorolophus

1

Himalayan Flameback

Dinopium shorii

1

Bay Woodpecker

Blythipicus pyrrhotis

1

PASSERIFORMES







Tephrodornithidae







Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike

Hemipus picatus

1

Aegithinidae







Common Iora

Aegithina tiphia

1

Campephagidae







Grey-chinned Minivet

Pericrocotus solaris

1

Long-tailed Minivet

Pericrocotus ethologus

1

Short-billed Minivet

Pericrocotus brevirostris

1

Scarlet Minivet

Pericrocotus speciosus

1

Laniidae







Long-tailed Shrike

Lanius schach

1

Grey-backed Shrike

Lanius tephronotus

1

Vireonidae







White-bellied Erpornis

Erpornis zantholeuca

1

Blyth's Shrike-babbler

Pteruthius aeralatus

1

Green Shrike-babbler

Pteruthius xanthochlorus

1

Black-eared Shrike-babbler

Pteruthius melanotis

1

Oriolidae







Maroon Oriole

Oriolus traillii

1

Dicruridae







Black Drongo

Dicrurus macrocercus

1

Ashy Drongo

Dicrurus leucophaeus

1
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