Mammal Watching in Bhutan

21st Oct 2022

Here’s two encounters from the Mammal Watching trip to Bhutan (just finished) that were truly memorable. Camping at around 3450m on the Pelela gave us access to a wonderful tract of subalpine country and the old road to the pass, now not used at all, gave us great access to it. Mid-morning we were walking along this road and had been watching a Red Deer half-hidden in the forest but revealed by the thermal imager when I scanned along the landscape and noticed several animals coming round a bend in the road. Dhole! 

I whispered stay still and silent, they might walk all the way round. It took twenty minutes. As we watched they continued along the track towards us often stopping to see if something edible might be there. At one point the two well-grown pups with them suddenly took off and we thought they had seen us, but no, they were just playing. The Dhole rounded the last bend. All eight of them trotted purposefully up the track towards us. We couldn’t believe it. We were standing fully visible in the middle of the track but they didn’t notice, not until they were a mere twenty metres from us. Even then they just stopped, aware something was not quite right, hesitated a bit, look back and forth, then trotted hardly faster back down the way they had come,

Later in the trip I was putting out trap cameras at a decidedly mammal-unfriendly 2.30pm when a Mountain Serpent Eagle started calling in the tree above me. He was looking at something I couldn’t see. He showed me how to find mammals! First he leapt off his perch and careened into the bushes right in front of me missing his target, a Yellow-throated Marten which promptly dropped to the forest floor. The eagle flew back to his perch long enough to relaunch and this time he came so close to catching a Hoary-bellied Squirrel on the big tree trunk next to me, the squirrel doing a last minute sidestep! Meanwhile I moved round the bend to capture pictures of the hardly-bothered-by-the-eagle Martens as they crossed the track. The eagle’s next target was calling agitatedly from thick cover in the tree as the eagle peered hard to get a sight. So did I – but to no avail – but the calls were those of a Binturong.

Much more from this trip later.