Himalayan Monal in Bhutan

The Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) is a member of the pheasant family that as the name suggest inhabit the Himalayan region. It is the national bird of Nepal.

The adult male is a strikingly coloured bird with iridescent rainbow-like plumage. It has a wiry, metallic green crest, coppery feathers on the back and neck, chestnut-brown tail, and a white rump that is visible in flight. The female and the juveniles are much less showy.

The bird is found throughout Bhutan, preferring cool upper temperate oak-conifer forests interspersed with open grassy slopes, cliffs and alpine meadows between 2400 and 4500 metres in altitude. I had the good fortune of seeing a random male at Chelela Pass on the second day of birding, although it was very shy and moved away quickly. My guide assured me that we will get another opportunity to see the male birds again in central Bhutan.

So a few days went past and we were in the Bumthang district when the guide suggested that we go climb up to a monastery high up in the hills. Apparently the monks in that monastery like to feed the wild monals with leftover food. Therefore the birds make semi-regular visits. On reaching the monastery, we did not see the monals. We were informed that as the monastery was undergoing renovations, foreign workers were called in and there were suspicions that some were poaching the monals for their crest feathers.

Heavy rain came and we retreated to inside the monastery and the monks gave us cups of their traditional butter tea. These were made from tea leaves, yak butter, water, and salt. The rain subsided gradually and as we peeped outside, a flock of monals were coming down from the higher slopes! One of the monks gathered some cooked rice and spread them on a walking path, and the monals coolly marched down to get their meal. It was a group consisting of one adult male in resplendent plumage and a few dull individuals that were assumed to be the female and juveniles.

Our main attention of course turned to the male and occasionally the duller females. Unfortunately, my lens was too long and they approached too near at times. Backing out was sometimes not an option as the wet slippery slope of the hill made for bad standing positions. We managed quite a number of shots. It was a bit unsatisfying frankly as the birds were so used to human presence.

For a long time, I assume that I photographed a family of a male and female with juveniles. But on checking details of the photos while preparing this article, I discovered I did not have any female pictures after all. The juveniles turned out to be all male with black neck feathers and signs of turning into adult males in their plumages. Perhaps the next time around then.


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