''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
click here for a pdf version of this destination write-up - easier to print - no photos
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, as well as 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 which means many species of bird and mammal are surprisingly tame. What is especially important, from a wildlife perspective, is that much of Bhutan’s land is protected in national parks. Our journey takes us through rural valleys and high passes topped with temples. In the past, the only way to see the best of Bhutan’s 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 Tiger’s Nest.
Four of the world’s 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 Ward’s Trogon and Rufous-necked Hornbill. 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 ‘Gross National Happiness’.
We arrive in Kathmandu after an overnight flight and drive just half an hour to our hotel. Our first two nights will be spent at the fantastic Gokarna Forest Lodge, set in 470 acres of forest in the Kathmandu Valley. Here we can walk the trails in the hotel grounds in search of Scaly Thrush, Ashy Woodpigeon and Blue-throated Barbet, amongst others. We will also visit some historic areas of Kathmandu. On day four we will then fly to Paro in Bhutan.
We arrive in Bhutan after a short but spectacular flight and we will soon be at our hotel just outside Paro. In the afternoon we will check the river for Wallcreeper, White-capped Water Redstart, Ruddy Shelduck, Ferruginous Duck and Black-tailed Crake. Here we may see our first Ibisbill along with Plumbeous Redstart and River Lapwing.
BUMTHANG AND YONGKHOLA
The next day we take a short flight to Bumthang, famous for its many temples, stupas and dzongs, before driving to our guesthouse at Ura. Playful Red-billed Choughs swirl around the old dzong and Wallcreepers should still be present at this low elevation. 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 four nights at a wonderful new lodge. Birding from the doorstep can produce Himalayan Greenfinch, Oriental Turtle Dove and Common Hawk-Cuckoo. This is a great place to find such jewels as Ward’s Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Long-tailed Broadbill, Red-faced Liocichla, Beautiful Nuthatch, Barred Cuckoo-dove and Mrs Gould’s Sunbird. Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler and various parrotbills hide in the bamboo, while Tickell’s Leaf-warbler and Greater Yellownape require less patience. At dusk, Collared Owlets and Giant Red Flying Squirrels become active.
CHUMMEY AND TRONGSA
Chummey 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. 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. Two nights here will also give us time to explore the beautiful Zhemgang Valley, with its rich birdlife and regionally endemic Golden Langur.
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 herder’s camps. Russet Sparrows, Red-billed Choughs and Hoopoes nest in the roofs of wooden houses. Our hotel has great views of pastures that ring to the sound of Oriental Skylarks.
An early start the next day takes us back 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 Gould’s 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 all but one trip. This is a great area for raptors too with Pallas’s Fish-eagle and Mountain Hawk-eagle both regular.
Our last two nights in Bhutan will be spent near Paro. We will arrive early enough to allow time for a walk to view the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. The next morning we will make an early start and climb by bus up to Chelai Pass. Here we have further chances to see Satyr Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, Kalij Pheasant and Blood Pheasant along with Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, White-browed Rosefinch and Fire-tailed Sunbird.
Finally, we will fly back to Nepal in the early morning. We will have the whole of the day in Kathmandu, with its exotic markets and richly carved shrines, and can visit the bird rich botanic gardens. In the evening we will fly back to the UK.
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 bed and early to rise 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. To view the Tiger’s Nest Monastery involves a fairly long uphill walk, but we will allow a whole afternoon, and since there is no rush this can be done at your own pace. 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. We have two nights at the Gokarna Forest Lodge (Meridien Hotel), Kathmandu, one night at the Janka Resort, Paro, one night at Ura, four nights at Yongkhola, one night at Chumey Nature Resort, two nights at the Yangkhil Resort, Trongsa, one night at Phobjika, two nights near Punakha and two nights back at the Janka Resort, Paro. Hotels are all of a good standard, with private facilities en suite. There is no camping.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 31st, ending with lunch on 16th), 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 a Nepalese visa (approx. US$40). Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flights from London Heathrow to Kathmandu using the scheduled services of Qatar 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
Birding Bhutan , Birdwatching Bhutan , Bhutan safari, Bhutan Bird Tour. Bhutan birdwatching holiday. Birds of Bhutan . Bhutan Bird Holiday. Bhutan Birding Holiday.