Birds in Paradise

Bhutan is a bird watcher’s paradise. Despite its small size, about 700 species of birds have been recorded in Bhutan and the kingdom is recognized as 221 global endemic bird areas. Within the country’s borders there are an extraordinary range of habitats, from some of the Himalaya’s most extensive and least disturbed tropical forests to cool broad-leaved to towering evergreen forests of fir, hemlock and spruce. The entire country is bisected by a well maintained paved road and birding especially in mid to late spring (late March to late May) is good virtually anywhere below 3,100 m. Unlike many parts of Asia, one is not obliged to seek out a park or reserve or remnant patch of ‘good looking’ habitat, since at any stop even in the midst of farmland, exciting birds are visible. The mixed broadleaf forests are much richer, and therefore more exciting for birding, than the rather slow growing monotypic stands of blue pine and particularly chir pine.

Day 1: Arrive in Paro, Bhutan on Druk Air, the national airline of Bhutan.

Druk Air flights into Bhutan are spectacular. Whether flying along the Himalayan range from Kathmandu, over the foothills from Kolkatta or following the coastline of the Indian Ocean en-route from Bangkok, every Druk Air flight is memorable and offers incredible scenery. (Get your camera ready!) After arrival at the Paro airport and sailing through immigration and custom formalities, you will be greeted by your All Access Bhutan guide and driver and warmly welcomed to the enchanting Land of the Thunder Dragon. We will take a short drive to our hotel. In the evening, you may take a walk through the colorful streets of “downtown” Paro. Overnight at hotel in Paro.

Day 02: Paro Valley Sightseeing.

The altitude of Paro valley ranges from 2,150 – 2,950 m and the ideal birding spots are through the farmlands, the lower and upper broadleaved evergreen forests, the riversides, sub-alpine forests and shrubberies. The valley also possesses wealth of cultural attractions such as Ta Dzong (National Museum), Rinpung Dzong, Kyichu Lhakhang and Taktsang Lhakhang. Some of the recorded bird species in Paro includes : Aberrant Bush Warbler (Cettia flavoivacea), Blyth’s Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus dumetorum), Himalayan Whistling Thrush (Myiophonus caeruleus), Common Teal (Ana crecca), Greyheaded Flycatcher Warbler (Seicercus xanthoschistos), Greenbacked Tit (Parus monticolus), Hodgson’s Redstart (Phoenicurus hodgsoni), Jungle Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos), Himalayan Brown Dipper (Cinclus pallasi), Crestee Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus), Himalayan Treecreeper (Certhia hamalayana), Hill Pigeon (Columba rupestris), Rufousbreasted Accentor (Prunella strophiata), Rufous Turtle Dove (Streptoppelia orientalis), Rufousbellied Hawk-Eagle (Hieraaetus kienerii), Stripethroated Yuhina (Yuhina gularis), Longtailed Minivet (Pericrocotus ethologus). Overnight at the Lodge.

Day 03: Paro to Thimphu.

Drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Later explore this beautiful upland valley. Relatively dry, Thimphu valley is surrounded by fine stands of Blue Pine and temperate evergreen forests. The increasing human settlement has pushed birding spots at least 10 km and now the ideal areas for birding are around the stream near Motithang and in and around Begana and Cheri villages.

Few of the bird species recorded here are: Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos), Redrumped Swallow (Hirunda daurica), Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus melaschistos), Grackle or Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa), Grey Wagtail (Motacilla caspica), Whitebellied Yuhina (Yuhina xanthoteuca), Upland Pipit (Anthus sylvanus), Plumbeous Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosus). Overnight at the Lodge.

Day 04: Thimphu – Punakha and Wangduephodrang.

From Thimphu, proceed further to Dochula pass (3,050m) which offers most spectacular view over high peaks of eastern Himalaya. From here the descent to Punakha and Wangduephodrang valley is long at the altitude difference between the pass and the valley is about 1,800 m. The route first passes through a temperate type of leafy forest where rhododendron and magnolia bloom in March and April then moves to semi tropical zone where, orange and banana tress and cactuses are found in abundance. More common species in these valleys are: Blackchinned Yuhina (Yuhina nigrimenta), Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis), Blackchinned Babbler ( Stachyris pyrrhops), Blackbreasted Sunbird (Aethopyga saturata), Redbreasted Rosefinch (Carpodacus puniceus), Fulvousbreasted Pied Woodpecker (Picoides macei), Large Grey Babbler (Turdoides melcolmi), Himalaya Tree Pie (Dendrocitra vagabunda), Little Bunting (Emberiza striolata). Slatybacked Forktail (Enicurus schistaceus), Whitebreasted Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis), Yellowbilled Blue Magpie (Cissa flavirostris), Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Steppe Eagle (Aquila rapax nipalensis), Small Niltava (Muscicapa macgrigoriae), Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis), Speckled Wood Pigeon (Columbia hodgsonii), Grey Tit (Parus major) and Redcrowned Jay (Garrulus glandarius). Overnight at the Lodge.

Day 05: Wangduephodrang to Phobjikha.

From Wangduephodrang, the journey continues eastwards through Black Mountain region. The drive is relatively shorter and there are regular stops for birding and photography all along the way. . The beautiful Gangtey Goenpa monastery sits on the top of the hillock that overlooks the wide Phobjikha valley and is one of the oldest and the largest Nyingma Schools in the western part of Bhutan.

Phobjikha is a designated conservation area; flocks of rare and endangered Black-Necked Cranes migrate here from Tibet and Siberia between late October and early spring. These cranes (called ‘Thrung Thrung Karmo’ locally) have inspired many Bhutanese folk songs and dances and many myths and legends exist about the bird. Watch their interesting mating dances and take a short walk of the valley.

In addition to the species in Punakha & Wangduephodrang, the species readily available in this region are : Amur Falcon (Falco vesertinus), Redmantled Rosefinch (Carpodacus rhodochlamys), Firebreasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum ignipectus), Redheaded Bullfinch (Pyrrhula erythrocephala), Scarlet Finch (Haemmatospiza sipahi), Whitetailed Nuthatch (Sitta himalayensis), Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornis), Common Hill Partridge (Arborophila torqueola), Snow Pigeon (Columba leuconota), Rufousbreasted Accenter (Prunella strophiata),, Whitebacked Munia (Lonchura striata). Overnight at the Lodge.

Day 06: Phobjikha to Trongsa.

This stretch covers a range of habitat from tall, dense, evergreen forest characterized by moss and lichen, covered oak and rhododendron together with broad-leaved trees such as horse-chestnuts, laurels, maples and alders. At higher elevation, the composition changes perceptibly with conifers such as fir, spruce, larch, hemlock and juniper. Bamboo is another important habitat in this region, holding number of special but elusive species. It is not very prominent birding area but still few important species are visible such as : Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis), Himalayan Swiftlet (Collocalia brevirostris), Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), Snow Partridge (Lerwa lerwa), Purple Cochoa (Cochoa purpurea), Scalybreasted Wren Babbler (Pnoepyga albiventer), Longtained Minivet (Pericrocotus ethologus), Himalayan Monal Pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus), Speckled Wood Pigeon (Columba hodgsonii) and Rufousbellied Bulbul (Hypsipetes mcclellandi). Overnight at the Lodge.

Day 07: Trongsa to Bumthang (Jakar).

On this trip of 68 km, there is altitude variation from 2,100 m in Trongsa to Yotongla pass at 3,400 m and then descend to Bumthang valley at 2,600 m and the vegetation changes from temperate forests of Trongsa to coniferous and mixed alpine of Bumthang. Apart from being one of the most beautiful valleys of the kingdom, Bumthang is also the religious heartland of the nation. The ideal birding spots in this region are before Yotongla pass, farmland in the valleys and the riverside of Chamkhar Chhu river. Few birds of this area are: Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), Blyth’s Pipit (Anthus godlewskii), Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos), Little Bunting (Emberiza fucata), Redbilled Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) and Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Overnight at the Lodge.

Day 08: Bumthang to Ura.

Ura is the last and the highest valley of Bumthang and to reach here, the road climbs through amazingly open countryside, occasionally running into forests. Large sheep pastures line the road and the route also crosses 3,600 m high Ura la pass and later descending into Ura by long loop across fields and pastures. Perched at an altitude of 3,100 m, Ura village has characteristically close-clustered houses which are quite unusual in Bhutan. The day is for exploring fascinating Ura valley and village. Overnight at camp.

Day 09: Ura to Limithang.

Leaving behind the relatively dry Ura valley, the route ascends through forests of gigantic firs and rhododendrons. The road for a few kilometers is precipitous in the extreme, with steep drops that reveal a landscape defying description, until the pass at Thrumshingla (3,800m) is finally reached. From this highest pass in the country, the road descends to the village of Sengor, a tiny settlement of shingle roofs and lush fields.

The important species visible in this area are : Black Bulbul (Hypsipetes madagascariensis), Blyth’s Pipit (Anthus godlewskii), Bronzed Drongo (Dicrurus aeneus), Gould’s Shortwings (Brachypteryx stellata), Redheaded Bullfinch (Pyrrhula erythrocephala), Speckled Piculet (Picumnus innominatus), Grey Wagtail (Motacilla caspica), Whitethroated Munia (Lonchura malabarica), Whitebrowed Blue Flycatcher (Muscicapa leucomelanura), Yellowbellied Flowerpecker (Dicaeum melanoxanthuon), Bluebeaed Bee-Eater (Nyctyornis athertoni), Parrotbill (Paradoxornis nipalensis), Honeyguide (Indicator xanthonotus), Redvented Bulbul (Pyconotus cafer), Lesser Racket-Tailed Drongo (Dicrurus remifer), Fantail Warbler (Cisticola exilis) and Rufousthroated Hill Partridge (Arborophila rufogularis). Overnight at camp.

Day 10: Limithang – Mongar – Trashigang.

From Limithang, the road reaches to its lowest point of 650 m at the bridge over Kuru Chhu river. The Chorten at this point was built in 1800 to hold the precious religious objects of Shongar Dzong when the Dzong was abandoned in favor of other place, Mongar. Here we’ll visit, Mongar Dzong built at the beginning of 19th century. However, the present structure dates from 1953, when it was formed on command of Bhutan’s Third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Besides being the administrative centre of the region, it also houses the monastic community.

The eastern towns of Mongar and Trashigang are not as interesting for birding so the time in last two days of the tour is spent for cultural experience. From Mongar, the journey is through leafy forest filled with ferns, crossing en route Kori La pass (2,450m). The road further descends rapidly through corn fields and banana groves arriving at Yadi which is known for its zigzag road. After 20 kilometre of interminable bends through a rather sparse forests of conifers, the road enters to Sheri Chu settlements. An unsurfaced road branches of 13 kilometers beyond the bridge over the Sheri Chu river to the big monastery of Dametsi which is Nyingmapa monastery and one of the most important in eastern Bhutan. The town of Trashigang lies 20 kilometre beyond the point where the Dametsi road branches off. Visit here, the Trashigang Dzong, standing at the extreme end of the spur, overhanging the Drangme Chu river, by more than 400 m. Unlike most other Dzongs in the Kingdom, it has only one courtyard. The Dzong now serves as the administrative seat for district and part of it is occupied by the monastic community. Overnight at the lodge in Trashigang.

Day 11: Trashigang – Radhi – Mongar.

After breakfast we drive east to Radhi, a village famous for raw silk (Bura) weavers. Afternoon drive back to Trashigang for lunch and proceed to Mongar.
Overnight at the lodge.

Day 12: Mongar to Bumthang.

In the morning drive to Bumthang with taking many stops on the way.

Overnight at the lodge.

Day 13: Bumthang to Punakha.

Drive to Punakha, Lunch will be served en-route at one of the famous restaurants in Trongsa town. En-route at Wangduephodrang take a short break for tea/coffee and then proceed to Punakha.

Arrive Punakha and check into the hotel. Overnight at hotel in Punakha.

Day 14: Punakha – Thimphu – Paro.

After breakfast drive to Paro. En-route Thimphu for lunch and proceed two hours to Paro. Overnight at hotel in Paro.

Day 15: Depart Paro.

After breakfast at the hotel we’ll drive to the nearby Paro airport. On your flight, it’s likely that you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of Mt. Chomolhari, Bhutan’s second highest peak, and Mt. Everest, the world’s highest mountain.

Trashi Delek!

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