''I enjoyed the trip, the friendliness of the group, and your leadership very much. I appreciate everyone's patience with me.'' ... Mrs M, British Colombia, April 14
''Thanks again for making the trip such a great success.'' ... Mr M, Saint Albans, April 14
''Thank you for organising such an interesting trip. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found both the birding and the people and country fascinating....
I look forward to travelling with Bird Holidays again.'' ... Mrs D, York, April 14
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Closed to the world for decades, Bhutan retains a medieval charm untarnished by the modern world. It is blessed with incredible mountain scenery and is steeped in tradition and folklore, while being extraordinarily rich in wildlife. There is now a good tourist infrastructure but do not expect to bump into many other westerners.
Eastern Bhutan has been recognised as one of the top ten biodiversity hot spots in the world. Being a Buddhist country, hunting is illegal and so many species of bird and mammal are surprisingly tame. What is especially important, from a wildlife perspective, is that much of Bhutanís land is protected in national parks.
Our journey takes us across this small country, through rural valleys and high passes topped with temples. In the past, the only way to see the best of Bhutanís birds was to camp, but there are now new hotels and charming guesthouses. The route allows us to explore many different habitats, as well as visit spectacular dzongs (monasteries that doubled as forts and now serve as administration centres). The most impressive is the incredible Tigerís Nest.
Four of the worldís most stunning pheasants can be seen from the roadside. Close views of Blood Pheasant and Satyr Tragopan are very likely, along with Himalayan Monal and Kalij Pheasant. The high elevation broad-leaf and coniferous forests hold over a hundred species of rhododendron and many will be starting to flower. Here we can expect to see some very special birds such as the sought-after Wardís Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill and Fire-tailed Myzornis. We saw twenty species of mammal on a previous trip, including River Otter, Giant Red Flying Squirrel, Giant Malay Squirrel, several species of monkey, Yellow-throated Marten, Pika, Sambar and Goral. We have also seen Red Panda droppings, so our first sighting is perhaps not far away!
Tourism is strictly regulated and a high daily tariff deters the more casual visitor. Much of the money is ploughed back into infrastructure for the preservation of the traditional way of life and natural landscape. This has led to Bhutan proudly leading the world in ĎGross National Happinessí.
PARO AND CHELELA
We will arrive at Paro Airport, where Ibisbill, Brown Dipper and Wallcreeper are just minutes away. The next morning we will visit Chelela, where Nutcrackers are common and an ancient nunnery has Alpine and Altai Accentors that feed at very close range. Snow Pigeons fill the sky when Black Eagles pass by. In the evening we can take a look across to the Tigerís Nest Monastery, possibly the most impressive cultural site in the Himalayas.
BUMTHANG AND YONGKHOLA
The next day we take a short flight to Bumthang, famous for its many temples, stupas and dzongs. Playful Red-billed Choughs swirl around the old dzong and Wallcreepers should still be at a low elevation here. We will search for Rufous-breasted Accentors, and Blue-fronted, Plumbeous and White-capped Redstarts. The next morning we will go in search of displaying pheasants. The incomparable Satyr Tragopan is undoubtedly the star and the hairs on your neck stand up when a fiery red male walks towards you through twisted rhododendron roots. The Blood Pheasant is the smallest and possibly the prettiest of our targets.
We will continue south and east to the Upper Yongkhola Valley, where we will stay for three nights at a wonderful new lodge. Birding from the doorstep can produce Himalayan Greenfinch, Oriental Turtle Dove and Common Hawk-Cuckoo. The park is a great place to find such jewels as Wardís Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Long-tailed Broadbill, Red-faced Liocichla, Scarlet Finch, Barred Cuckoo-dove and Mrs Gouldís Sunbird. Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler and various parrotbills hide in the bamboo, while Tickellís Leaf-warbler and Greater Yellownape require less patience. At dusk, Collared Owlet and Giant Red Flying Squirrels become active.
CHUMEY AND TRONGSA
Heading for Chumey on day eight, we return over the Yotongla Pass. Grey-winged and White-collared Blackbirds are often seen in the garden of our next hotel. Chumey is a charming rural area where Gold-billed Blue Magpies come to drink at traditional water-powered prayer wheels. This is a superb area for the Himalayan Monal. They call from the rocky hillsides in the morning and we can expect good close views. Dark-breasted and Beautiful Rosefinches sip nectar from flowering rhododendrons, while Red-headed Bullfinches accompany White-winged Grosbeaks through bushes stunted by centuries of grazing by Yaks.
We then continue to Trongsa where our hotel overlooks an impressive dzong. We will watch for Golden Langur, a regionally endemic monkey, in roadside trees. Himalayan Cutias inspect mossy trunks, rock bees attract Yellow-rumped Honeyguides and we will check the streams for the three species of forktail we have seen here previously.
From Trongsa, we head to Phobjika, climbing out of the valley and passing crags where Nepalese House Martins shelter. Following the edge of the Black Mountains, we cross Pelela Pass. The hills are peppered with Yak herderís camps. Russet Sparrows, Red-billed Choughs and Hoopoes nest in the roofs of wooden houses. Our hotel has great views of pastures that ring with the sound of Oriental Skylarks.
An early start the next day takes us to Pelela Pass. The frost-stunted juniper forest is home to some of the best birding in the Himalayas. The call of the Satyr Tragopan echoes in the morning air as roving parties of Rufous-vented, Grey-crested, Black-throated, Yellow-cheeked and Yellow-browed Tits pass by. Rufous Sibias and Mrs Gouldís Sunbirds take an early drink from flowers. We have the opportunity to fill a few gaps in our laughingthrush list too, as Black-faced and White-throated are common here.
We will spend two nights in the stupendous Puna Tsang Chhu Valley where we will try to see the beautiful Red-headed Trogon. The Spotted Wren-babbler is frequently heard in roadside vegetation and we will make every effort to see one. Other birds should include Ultramarine, Sapphire and Verditer Flycatchers. The valley is home to the critically endangered White-bellied Heron, which may number as few as 50 birds! We have managed a sighting on every trip. This is a great area for raptors too with Pallasís Fish-eagle and Mountain Hawk-eagle both regular.
DOCHULA AND PARO
Our final leg takes us back towards Paro, and we can look for species missed earlier. Rosy and Olive-backed Pipit, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape and the tiny Fire-capped Tit are all possible. Our last night is at the spectacular Dochola Pass where the view of the Himalayas can be breathtaking. Birding around the temples should produce Fire-tailed Myzornis, a gloriously green bird with a tail touched by the sun. After breakfast, we follow meltwater from the Himalayas that feeds rivers holding Ruddy Shelduck and River Lapwing. Amazingly, we have added several rarities to the Bhutan list. This is a good place to find something new, such as Solitary Snipe or Black-tailed Crake.
CLIMATE AND PACE
At lower elevations it is normally hot, with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Higher up it is normally cold in the morning, but as the sun comes up it is very pleasant. Rain is a possibility, but is unpredictable. Early to rise and early to bed is the norm in Bhutan and this fits in well with the best birding times. There is some uphill walking, done at a sensible pace. The long walk up to the Tigerís Nest Monastery has many steps and is best done over a whole day. You can opt to do this at the beginning of the tour (separate from the group), or extend your trip by a day, having become more acclimatised to the altitude. We drive over some high mountain passes but most of the birding is done where the altitude is below 8000 feet.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided, with two nights at the Janka Resort, Paro, one night at Bumthang, three nights at Yongkhola, one night at Chumey Nature Resort, one night at the Yangkhil Resort, Trongsa, one night at Phobjika, two nights near Punakha and one night at the Dochola Hotel. Hotels are all of a good standard, with private facilities en suite. There is no camping.
PRICE INCLUDES Ö..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 26th, ending with lunch on 7th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini-coach, park entrance fees, Bhutan visa, domestic and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Cost of obtaining an Indian visa (approx. £90). Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry. Please note: the Indian authorities are planning to introduce a visa-on-entry system in 2014. We hope that it will be up and running in time for this trip, saving us all time and money.
Return flights from London Heathrow to Delhi using the scheduled services of British Airways, then to Paro using Druk Air. Outbound flight departs mid-evening, return flight arrives back early morning. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are available on this tour. See booking form for details.
Ibisbill can be found on most rivers, this one was by the airport!
this Black-tailed Crake was in the paddyfields by our hotel
Blood Pheasants are the most stunning of roadside birds
Rufous Sibia is a common bird of bushes and forest
Himalayan Monal is a much sought after bird. We saw several stunning males on our 2013 tour
Red-flanked Bluetail occurs on the high passes
parties of Fire-tailed Myzornis feed by roadside shrines
Ward's Trogon is high on the list of desirable birds and so far, we have never failed to find them
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