Guided by Josh Engel. This tour included the extension to Kaziranga, India.
In the modern world, it’s difficult for a place to retain an air of mystery. Yet Bhutan, with its unclimbed peaks, rumors of yetis, revered monarchy, and vast forests is one such place. In birding terms, this means that virtually every tour makes an interesting discovery or two, while taking in the fascinating culture, beautiful scenery, tasty food, and of course the abundant and diverse birdlife. Birding highlights included many of the country’s top specialties—with pheasants like Himalayan Monal and Satyr Tragopan, wren-babblers galore, Ward’s Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Black-tailed Crake, five species of parrotbills and fourteen of laughingthrushes, and all of the possible rosefinches, including the rare Blanford’s. Additionally we found the first record for the country of Eared Grebe, and—thanks to a new and much improved itinerary—found many interesting birds that are very poorly known in Bhutan near Gelephu, where we crossed into the country from India.
The tour, however, didn’t start when we crossed into Bhutan. We spent four wonderful pre-trip days in the environs of the great Kaziranga National Park in the Indian state of Assam. Located not far from our Bhutan-tour starting point of Guwahati, it makes a natural pre-trip, where we saw over 100 species that we didn’t see in Bhutan. Although the park is most famous for its mammals (and we saw elephants, rhinos, buffalo, and others megafauna in abundance), the birding is extraordinary as well. This includes many of the birds that make Kaziranga famous—especially declining wetland species like Spot-billed Pelican, Greater and Lesser Adjutant, Black-necked Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Swamp Francolin, Gray-headed and Pallas Fish-Eagles, and River Tern. The raptors are also incredible here—among the 19 species here were Slender-billed Vulture, Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagle, Black Baza, and Pied Falconet. Additionally, we got in some quality forest birding, finding some tough birds like Pale-chinned Flycatcher, Blue-eared Barbet, and Jerdon’s Baza. We also run this trip before the Bhutan tour so that migrants are still around in abundance—our waterfowl, raptor, and shorebirds lists are a testament to this.