Trip report: Bhutan, Birding the Land of the Thunder Dragon (Mar-Apr 2008) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Christian Boix and Josh Engel.

Bhutan, a country steeped in tradition but moving towards modernization, has the highest percentage of remaining forest cover of any country on earth.  Access to this prime birding area, the montane forest of the eastern Himalayas, has long been difficult, but birders have begun taking advantage of Bhutan opening its doors to tourists.  This provides access to a wide variety of rare and little-known birds, many of which we saw on this year’s tour, including Satyr Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, Ward’s Trogon, Beautiful Nuthatch, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Rufous-throated Wren-Babbler, Dark-rumped Swift, Rufous-necked Hornbill and Yellow-rumped Honeyguide.  The birding was truly exceptional.  There always seemed to be something to look at, and even when there wasn’t, there was the sense that anything was just about to pop up.  With so much intact forest, mammals abound.  We had numerous sightings of the beautiful Yellow-throated Marten, but the undoubted mammal highlight was having prolonged views of a mother and cub Himalayan black bear feeding on a hillside opposite where we stood.

Despite the incredible prevalence of birds and mammals, we managed to fit in some great cultural activities, visiting several of Bhutan’s impressive and imposing dzongs, as well as monasteries, textile factories and markets.  As if that weren’t enough, we got to eat delicious Bhutanese food every day; the camping crew often bringing it to us right while we were birding in the forest.  Bhutan is a remarkable country–the world’s newest democracy, no less–but with modernization gaining traction, it is best to visit soon!

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