Birdwatching is one of Bhutan's star attractions, and if you like to indulge your birdwatching habit while exploring new and beautiful parts of the world, then Bhutan really should be high on your list of places to visit. With a unique and rich Buddhist culture, spectacular Himalayan scenery, and one of the most diverse and rich ranges of birdlife on the planet, a specialist birdwatching tour in Bhutan is a really special experience. The best birding is in the east of the country, which requires a fairly long itinerary with plenty of driving, but we make regular stops and explore various Dzongs and monasteries along the way. The tour also features an easy 3-day walking section saying in simple but comfortable camps. Read more
You arrive in Paro today on Bhutan’s national carrier, Druk Air. We will book these flights for you, and can arrange extensions at either end of the tour in Nepal, India or Thailand, as well as an overland crossing into Bhutan from Sikkim or Darjeeling in northern India.After transferring to your hotel and lunch, we visit Paro Dzong and the National Museum. Although not a birding day, you may come across the Wallcreeper, a pair or two of Ibisbill, Brown Dipper, Hodgson’s, Plumbeous and White-capped Water-Redstarts around the river valley and nearby rock cliffs.
We begin our birding adventure properly today with a pre-breakfast drive up to the Chele La Pass in search of some of Bhutan's signature birds, the elusive and colourful Himalayan Monal and Satyr Tragopan. After breakfast at Chele La, drive to the capital, Thimphu and along the way there will be opportunities to spot Blood Pheasant, Kalij Pheasants, White-winged Grosbeak, White-browed Rose Finch, Spotted Nutcracker, Rufous Sibia, White-browed Fulvetta, Brown Parrot Bill, Stripe-throated Yuhina and various Eurasian Warblers. Before arriving at your hotel we take a short trip to downtown Thimphu where we usually see Ibisbill, River Lapwing, Ruddy Shelduck, and assorted shorebirds along the riverbanks.
We leave Thimphu early to reach the Dochu La pass (3,150m) in time for sunrise. On a clear day, the scenery from here is breathtaking and we can get a full view of the mightiest peaks of the Himalayas towering along the northern horizon. Today is an excellent opportunity to see pheasant species like the Satyr Tragopan and a host of mixed species that dwell in the cool broadleaf forests. En-route to Punakha, look out for the Red-flanked Bluetail and Golden Bush-Robin, Grey Bushchat and Rufous-breasted Accentor. You may also see the Blue-winged, Red-tailed and Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Rufus-winged, White-browed and Nepal Fulvetta and Whiskered, Stripe-throated, Rufus-vented, Black-chinned and White-bellied Yuhinas. It is also possible to see Barwings plus a good selection of Laughing Thrushes before Punakha. After lunch, take a short walk across the valley floor to the temple of the ‘Divine Mad Man’. The temple is famous today for its miraculous powers to bestow fertility to barren women. From the temple, we walk to the banks of the Phochu River to look for the endangered Pallas’ Fish-Eagle and the world-renowned White-bellied Heron.
Today we take an excursion along the river and up through a forest of cool broadleaf and evergreen trees to Pele-la, the pass that divides eastern and western Bhutan . The diverse habitats along the way should present numerous prospects of seeing a great range of species such as Cutia, Great Barbet, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Long-tailed Minivet, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, White-throated Laughing Thrush, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Yellow-bellied Bush-Warbler, Ashy-throated Leaf Warbler, and Verditer. Ward’s Trogon is usually sighted along this road.
Today should be another day of great birding prospects but we start by looking not only for sightings of the White-collared Blackbird, the Himalayan Monal, Black-faced Laughing Thrush and White-tailed Nuthatch but also of the Himalayan Bear and Black Leopard. In the pine forests around the pass look for Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Dark Rosefinch, Himalayan Greenfinch and Rufus-vented, Grey-crested, Green-backed Tits, Common Buzzard, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Steppe Eagle and Himalayan Griffon. We then travel to the town of Trongsa through cool broadleaf forests where there is a good chance you will see Red-billed Leiothrix, Yellow-billed Blue-Magpie and Gray-sided Bush-Warbler.
We travel further east into Bhutan today into places visited by far fewer tourists, to an area known as the Black Mountain National Park, via the town of Zhemgang and finally to Tingtibhi, where we overnight. The path cuts through dense jungles that contain a plethora of wildlife species like the Black-Eagle, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Speckled Piculet, Lesser Yellownape,and the Golden Langur (a strikingly beautiful monkey species that is found only in Bhutan). Flowers and fruiting trees that attract sunbirds will be plentiful en-route along the descent to the lowest elevation. This entire region is very rich in wildlife and has thus been declared as a protected area by the Bhutanese government.
Today, we make an early start and breakfast and lunch will be served at birding points in the forests. The bamboo groves around Tingtibhi are usually the haunts of Lesser Rufus-headed Parrotbills and Streaked Laughing Thrushes while the fruiting trees attract Golden-throated Barbets, Wedge-tailed and Pin-tailed Green-Pigeon and Scarlet Minivets. This area is also the best chance of encountering the Rufus-necked Hornbill. Chances are you will see flocks of Yellow-bellied and White-throated Fantail and other species like Yuhinas, Minlas, Fulvettas and Sibias.
We return to Trongsa today and en-route look for birds that we may not have seen earlier. Expect to see the Mountain-Imperial Pigeon, Golden-throated Barbet, Great-pied Hornbill, White-browed Piculet, Nepal House-Martin, Fulvous-breasted, Grey-capped, Gray-headed Green Woodpeckers, Laughing Thrushes, White-throated, Greater Necklaced, Rufus-chinned, Blue-winged and Red-faced Liocichla. The rare Beautiful Nuthatch is another species found in this region.
After breakfast we make the short trip to Bumthang just about 67 kilometres away and along the way keep an eye out for the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide. We then climb the Yotongla Pass and enter the forests of spruce and fir abruptly changing the avifauna. The Bumthang valley, one of the most beautiful in the country, is home to Beautiful Rosefinch, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Spotted Laughing Thrush, Ibisbill and Snow Pigeon. The Himalayan Black Bear is commonly spotted in this valley. After lunch in Bumthang, explore the valley in the afternoon visiting, among others, the textile shops, the Jakar Dzong (fortress), ancient monasteries, the local brewery, and a stupa under which, legend has it, lies the severed head of a Tibetan General who tried to invade Bhutan.
Today we make an early start and begin our drive eastwards towards Sengor. En-route we make a visit to a village in the Ura valley. The Ura Valley is not only beautiful but has plenty of bird species. After the stopover, climb up to the Thrumsing La pass (3,780m), the highest point of the journey, and then begin a long descent to Sengor.
The next three days in the Limithang Valley promise to be the highlights of the tour. The area, situated at elevations ranging from 900m to 3,780m, boasts some of the country’s most pristine forests, unrivalled in the density of tree species, and thus is a natural haven for birds. The endless stretches of forests, the quaint villages and a sleepy road which winds through the valley are all frequented by many species of birds that make the entire area a delight for bird lovers. Here we have the best chance of seeing famous Bhutanese birds that may have been missed elsewhere during the trip like the Rufus-necked Hornbill, Ward’s Trogon, Satyr Tragopan and endless others. There will be opportunities to spot, amongst others, the Collared Scops-Owl, Collared Owlet, Himalayan Swiftlet, Striated, Black-crested, White-cheeked, Red-vented, Ashy, Black and Mountain Bulbuls, Golden-breasted and Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Slender-billed Rusty-cheeked, Streak-breasted, and Coral-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Hill and Rufecent Prinia, Gray-headed Canary Flycatcher, Common Tailorbird, Bronzed, Lesser Racquet-tailed and Hair-crested Dorangos, and Scarlet Finch. We spend our nights in comfortable camps with camp-beds and sleeping bags provided.
Having reached the east-most part of the tour, we start to retrace our journey back to back to western Bhutan, the airport and eventually the flight home. It doesn’t however mean that no new birds will be added to the sighting list!
We continue driving west today out of the Bumthang Valleys, through Trongsa and Gangtey where we may stop to visit Dzongs and monasteries, and on to Wangduephodrang at the southern end of the Punakha Valley.
We visit Wangduephodrang Dzong this morning, whose unrestored condition really gives a feeling for how long these unique buildings have governed Bhutan through their combined monastic and civic function. We then cross back over the Dochu La Pass, hoping for good views again, before descending to Paro.
A visit to Bhutan would not be complete without seeing the iconic Taktshang, or Tiger's' Nest monastery. Perched on a vertical cliff-face, this spectacular and beautiful monastery is reached by a walk of around 4-5 hours each way. There are good opportunities for birdwatching along the way. In the afternoon we visit the ruined Drukgyel Dzong, and have a final opportunity to walk through Paro's two main streets before retiring to our hotel to look back at the last couple of week's adventures.
Today we bid farewell to the Land of the Thunder Dragon and transfer you to the airport in time to catch your outbound flight with Druk Air. We will book this flight for you, and can arrange extensions to your tour in Nepal, India or Thailand, and also your onward international flight home.
We use a range of carefully selected hotels on our tours through Bhutan, though the options available are limited once we are outside of Paro and Thimphu. All hotels used by tourists in Bhutan must reach the local 3-star rating and are clean and comfortable, but will be more basic with fewer facilities the further east we reach. If you have specific requests for particular hotels or would like to upgrade the level used where available, please ask for a private or tailor-made tour.
"We really enjoyed our trek to Everest base camp and would like to thank you for a well organised tour. We certainly would not hesitate to recommend your tours to our friends."
Alastair & Ashley Smith (Everest Base Camp)
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