Bhutan Travel Diary - p 3

9 April 2007
Bhutan's landscape bears a striking resemblance to the Appalachian Mountains in the U.S. where I grew up:  pines (chir pine) on the low dry slopes, then a mix of blue pine (looks like our white pine) and familiar deciduous trees such as oak, birch, and magnolia above that.  Above 8000' we find spruce and then fir, just as in the Appalachians.  Azaleas and rhododendrons are common, many in flower now.  But most rhododendron flowers here are a spectacular deep red, with a few pink and white mixed in.  Some places, like the spot where we had a roadside lunch today, look like a formal garden.
   The rhododendrons are a favorite haunt of sunbirds, tits, warblers, and babbler-type birds, including the fearless little White-browed Fulvetta, who makes up with verve what it lacks in bright colors.
White-browed Fulvetta


Blood Pheasant in fog


An embarrassing incident.  Asia has many pheasants, none more beautiful than the iridescent Himalayan Monal.  As we drive up to Pele La, we spot one feeding near the roadside.  He's partially hidden by a low bush, but I take a few photos from the van.  I've used my flash unit a lot, and without thinking decide to turn it on and get a shot with fill flash.  The flash frightens the monal, who scurries away not to be seen again.  I've read about the monal and for years dreamed of such a chance to photograph it.  But now I've ruined it with a dumb rookie mistake.  Chozang says we may see others before the trip is over, but the incident casts a pall over the day.
  Later - near Pele La at 11,000' we are driving through dense fog.  Chozang says this is a good time to look for another pheasant, Blood Pheasant, that hangs out along the roadside on foggy days.  Sure enough, we find a small flock of males, and I manage one good shot.  Normally I'd not keep such a photo, but somehow the fog adds to the ambience.  However, it doesn't make up for the monal fiasco.
10 April 2007
After a rainy night in Bumthang (pronounced boom-tong), we drive through high mountains past Sengor into relatively uninhabited eastern Bhutan.  There are no Western-style accommodations here, so we must camp.  It's cold and damp, but Chozang builds a warm bonfire, and Karma somehow conjures up a delicious spaghetti dinner. 
   In 1827, the Zoological Society of London received a collection of birds from the Himalayas.  The society's Curator, John Gould, prepared them and published A Century of Birds from the Himalaya Mountains.  His wife Elizabeth, an accomplished lithographer, did the illustrations.  One of the new sunbird species was named in her honor:  Mrs. Gould's Sunbird.  It is common around the campsite, a fantasy of remarkable colors and perpetual energy.
   Mrs. Gould passed away at age 37 after bearing 8 children.  Although she lived for a while in Australia, she never saw her sunbird in the wild.
Mrs. Gould's Sunbird


Satyr Tragopan Chozang continues to show an uncanny ability to put me where the birds are.  This morning after tea he drives me from our campsite about one kilometer down  the road and deposits me along the roadside.  He drives on, and within moments a stunning Satyr Tragopan emerges from the near-vertical brushy slope in search of gravel along the roadside.  Once again I manage one good photo before a truck comes along and sends him scurrying into the bush.  Another colorful Asian pheasant, the tragopan is considered threatened and is on the decline in Bhutan and elsewhere in the Himalayas.
    As we drive back to camp along the one-lane road that hugs the side of the mountain, Chozang points out a spot where several years ago a bus plunged 900 feet into the river below, with the loss of all 58 on board. 


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