Birdwatching Tour Bhutan

Go birdwatching to Bhutan. Bhutan – “ Land of the Thunder Dragon” – has a reputation of mystery and an exotic culture fiercely guarded and protected by its rulers. Known as the happiest country in Asia in present times, Bhutan holds many surprises. With its incredible Himalayan vistas, majestic traditional architecture, vibrant people and incredible wilderness areas and wildlife, it comes as close to Shangri-La as one can get. Bhutan boasts over 659 bird species including some of the most elusive and enigmatic birds like the Himalayan Monal, Ibisbill occupy a place on any bird watchers list. Plan a birdwatching holiday in Bhutan.

Best time: September – May

Outline Summary

Day 01: Delhi – Paro
Day 02: Paro – Thimpu
Day 03: Thimpu – Gangtey
Day 04: Gangtey – Bumthang
Day 05: Bumthang – Sengor
Day 06: Sengor
Day 07: Sengor – Yongkhola
Day 08: Yongkhola – Trashigang
Day 09: Mornong – Guwahati – Delhi

Optional Extension:
Day 10: Mornong – Kaziranga Tiger Reserve
Day 11 – 12: Kaziranga Tiger Reserve
Day 13: Kaziranga Tiger Reserve – Delhi
Day 14: Sultanpur National Park, Delhi

The Adventure

The adventure begins when you land in Paro. One of the World’s newest democracies, a profoundly buddhist nation that is an amazing amalgamation of the modern and traditional. The flight into Bhutan is one of the most scenic routes with breathtaking views of some of the highest peaks of the Himalayas. Bhutan has taken great pride in its sustainable approach to tourism and believes in low volume, high value tourism.

Over the last 45 years, Bhutan has taken incredible steps to protect its natural habitat and biodiversity. Within the 150 miles of the southern and northern borders, Bhutan’s elevation rises from 150 – more than 7,500 meters leading to a great geographical diversity and varying climatic conditions. The country forms a part of the Global Biodoversity hotspots and is counted as one of the 234 globally outstanding regions of the world. Environmental conservation has been placed at the core of the country’s development strategy.

Paro is a small town built around the Rinpung Dzong a fortress monastery built at the beginning of the 10th century. It is also the only international airport in Bhutan. From Paro you travel to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan over the Chele La pass. This is one of the highest passes in Bhutan and the drive is through blue pine and rhododendron forests.

From Thimpu you head to the Phobjikha valley or Gangteng, a glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountainsl, bordering the Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park. The valley is the wintering home of the black-necked cranes and 13 other globally threatened species.

From Gangteng, you travel to Sengor. The mist wreathed valley and Yongkhola are amongst the richest birding areas in Asia, home to exotic species like the Satyr Tragopan, Rufous-necked Hornbill, ward’s Trogon and the absolutely spectacular Fire-tailed Sunbird.

Enroute you will visit Ura Village, lying in the highest of Bumthang’s valleys. The village is almost medieval in aspect with a narrow stone road and houses with wooden shingles on their roofs. You will visit the mystical Flaming Lake has a wooden bridge adorned with prayer flags where sacred artifacts were hidden by the Guru Rinpoche.

During the entire route you take breaks to explore the vibrant monasteries and learn about Buddist culture and the vibrant people and culture of this incredible country.

For those looking at the extension you travel back to India and the Tiger Reserve of Kaziranga. It is one of the oldest Protected areas in the state and covers an area of 430km2 along the Brahmaputra river and the Karbi Angolong Hills. This is a World Heritage Site and hosts two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinocerous population. Kaziranga also has one of the highest densities of Tigers in the world. The Reserve was declared an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. The Reserve has 35 mammalian species of which 15 are threatened and 478 species of birds (both migratory and resident) including 25 globally threatened species and 21 near threatened species.

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Delhi – Paro

Birding around Paro. Birds we may encounter include Ibisbill, River Lapwing, Grey-backed Shrike, Oriental Turtle Dove, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Hodgson’s Redstart and perhaps Black-tailed Crake.  Sightseeing in Paro. Overnight at Hotel.

Day 2: Paro- Thimpu

We spend the morning birding at Chele La Pass. This is a good location for Himalayan Monal. Blood and Kalij Pheasant may be sighted here. Other possibilities include Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Grey-crested & Rufous-fronted Tits, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Long-tailed Thrush, White-collared Blackbird, Collared Grosbeak, White-browed and Dark-rumped Rosefinch. Later we drive to Thimphu (2240m) with birding stops along the way. Sightseeing in Thimpu.  Overnight at Hotel.

Day 3: Thimpu- Gangtey

We will depart for Gangtey with stops en route as we climb towards Dochu La Pass. In the afternoon we leave the central highway, and we will walk from a point near the Gadgety La pass at 3358m down into the Phobjika valley. The valley is the winter home for Black-necked Cranes, but sightings depend on the time of our visit. We will visit Gangtey Gompa and spend the night at Gangtey in a Hotel

Day 4: Gangtey-Bumthang

In the morning we depart for Pele La (3412m) and take a birding walk down the old road (3375-3000m), stopping for a picnic lunch. Birds found in the area include Himalayan Griffon, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Grey-sided Bush-warbler and Fire-tailed Sunbird. Later we drive to Trongsa situated at 2290m and We ascend Yotong La (3275m) and bird down from summit depending on time. Birds found here include Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler, Great Parrotbill, Fulvous Parrotbill, Red-headed Bullfinch, White-winged Grosbeak, Gold-naped Finch. After birding we will visit a hand-made textile centre in Chumi valley.  Overnight in Bumthang.

Day 5: Bumthang-Sengor

This morning we head over Shertang La (3418m) and thence through the Ura valley (2800-2900m), and up Thrumsing La (3757m), and finally down to the Sengor campsite situated at an elevation of 3000m. Amongst other species we will hope to find Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Fire-tailed Sunbird and Great Parrotbill. Overnight at Sengor.

Day 6: Sensor

Another day birding in the Sengor area. Overnight at Sengor Camp.

Day 7: Sengor-Yongkhola

Birding down the famed Lingmethang road from Sengor camp past Namling to Yongkhola campsite at 1535m. In the next three days we will hope to find Ward’s Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Satyr Tragopan, Blue-fronted Robin, Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Rufous-throated Wren-babbler, Coral-billed Scimitar-babbler, Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler, Broad-billed Warbler, Black-throated Parrotbill. With luck we will find Sikkim Wedge-billed, Long-billed or Bar-winged Wren-babblers. Other bird species found in the area include Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Streak-breasted and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babblers, Bhutan Laughingthrush, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Sapphire Flycatcher, White-browed and Lesser Shortwings, Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Crimson-browed Finch and hopefully (!) much more. Overnight at Yongkhola.

Day 8: Yongkhola-Trashigang

A Long drive takes us to Trashigang with birding enroute. We will make birding stops en-route. Species might include Grey-winged Blackbird, Brown-throated Treecreeper, Grey-sided Laughingthrush and Little Bunting.  Overnight at Trashigang.

Day 9: Trashigang-Morong

Morning Sightseeing and long drive to Samrudjonkar. Overnight in Morong.

Day 10: Morong-Guwahati

The morning is spent birding around Deothang, and then between Samdrup Jongkhar (250m) and Deothang (850m). A wide variety of birds might include Black Eagle, Emerald Dove, Bronzed Drongo, Green-billed Malkoha, Great and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Black-crested Bulbul, Grey-throated Babbler, Black-naped Monarch, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Red-faced Liocichla, Red-billed Leiothrix and with luck Beautiful Nuthatch. Depart at noon for Guwahati, India.

At Guwahati, you could take the flight to Delhi or opt for a Kaziranga extension.

Optional Kaziranga Extension

Day 10: Morong- Kaziranga

Depart Deothang for Kaziranga (4-6hrs) by noon after a morning of bird watching. Arrive Kaziranga early evening and check into your lodge at the edge of the National Park.

Day 11-12

Spend the day doing a safari in open safari jeeps in one of the prime zones in Kaziranga. You would also get a chance to explore the Tea Gardens on foot. The birdlife here is incredible with a bird list of little under 500 Species. Birds such as Greater and Lesser

Adjutants, Black-necked Stork, Pied and Pallid Harriers, the rare Falcated Duck, Striated and Rufous-rumped Grassbirds, Kaleej Pheasant, Red Junglefowl, Swamp Francolin, Spot-winged Starling, Common Green Magpie, Green-billed and Blue-faced Malkohas, Great Barbet, Greater & Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Scarlet-backed & Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers, and Ruby-cheeked Sunbird.  One of our star target birds here is the Bengal Florican, which is found in the grassland and we will search for it from elephant back. Kaziranga also has the largest world population of Greater One-horned Rhinoceros and

Barasingha, or Swamp Deer, Asian Elephant, Asiatic Wild Buffalo and Tiger.

Nights in a comfortable wildlife lodge on the edge of the park.

Day 13

After breakfast leave for Guwahati to catch the flight to Delhi.
Overnight in a City Hotel.

Day 14

Spend the day birdwatching in the Sultanpur National Park. The park is home to the Indian Courser. Sind Sparrow has now made its way down the canal from Sind and Brooks’s Leaf Warbler is a regular winter visitor, as well as many waterbirds including the impressive

Black-necked Stork and Sarus Crane.

After an early dinner, transfer to the International Airport for flight back home

Check out some of my Bhutan images here