Situated at the Eastern end of the Himalayas, and located between India and Tibet, The Kingdom of Bhutan is a land locked country of just half million people with an area of 47000 square kilometers. Geographically Bhutan forms a giant staircase. Starting in the south, from a narrow strip of land in the plains of India at an altitude of 100 m, the elevation rises to high Himalayan peaks over 7000 m in the North on the borders with Tibet.
Bhutan retains its forests almost intact. The forest cover is about 65 per cent of the country’s area of 46,000 sq. km. Birding in the untouched, primeval forests of Bhutan is a unique experience. Bhutan’s forests are pristine and diverse. One finds subtropical broad leaf forests (1000-2000 m), coniferous forest (2000- 4200 m) that mainly consists of juniper, hemlock, Chir pine, and Blue pine, Spruce, Fir and Bamboo mixed with rhododendron and Juniper. The Alpine habitat (4000-4600m) consists of Alpine meadows with high altitude scrub. These diverse, rich and lovely habitat support most of the countries breeding birds, globally threatened birds, and Bhutan’s restricted range birds The Buddhist culture, which respects all forms of life, is an added factor which has resulted in an avifauna that is remarkably visible, approachable, and diverse.
Some of the rare species that can be seen are Rufous–necked Hornbill, beautiful Nuthatch, White belied heron, Palla’s Fishing Eagle, Satyr Tragopan, Black –necked Crane, Wood Snipe, Wards Trogon, Blyth’s Kingfisher, Yellow- rumped Honey Guide, Purple Cochoa, Rufus throated Wren Babbler, Red-headed Parotbil, Grey Crowned Prinia, and Dark- rumped swift.
You will also encounter the fabulous Ibisbill, Fire-tailed Myzornis and a plethora of other gorgeous and little known Himalayan species.
Our research is based on source material from Birds of Bhutan by Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp and Richard Grimmett, Threatened birds of Bhutan by Rebecca Pradhan and Tandin Wangdi and Salim Ali’s Birds of The Eastern Himalayas . We have located suitable birding sites working together with our Bhutanese associates to create tours for bird watchers. Keeping in mind constraints of movement, infrastructure, time, and local conditions, we have evolved exciting but cost effective itineraries. These cover some of the best birding sites in Bhutan in combination with productive hot spots in adjoining areas of Eastern India.
Planning your birding trip
Bhutan admits a limited number of foreign tourists. For the fortunate few who visit Bhutan the rewards are great – warm friendly people, outstanding art and architecture, impressive scenery and an active Buddhist culture little tainted by the outside world. Altitudinal variations, a range of climatic zones from subtropical to Alpine, combined with vast tracts of uninhabited areas with bio-diverse forests, scrubland, wetlands, alpine habitat and agricultural land near habitations, makes Bhutan a bird watchers delight with 675 recorded species of birds. Each year the bird list grows longer as more areas are explored.
To get a long list of birds, it is important to visit as many zoogeographic zones and habitats as possible, but it is also equally important to choose the right season. For example, birds such as the Ibisbill and the Black-necked Crane are seen between November and March, and the winter period is also optimal for birding below 1000 meters. Spring is however the best time for most species. While winter is ideal for mountain viewing because of clear skies, spring is nicer as it is warmer and the forests are alive with insects and wildflowers. Most rhododendrons flower in April and May. For trekkers who are planning to visit the high country it would be preferable to visit Bhutan between March and May.
For detailed information on occurrence of species go to Bird list and Trip reports.
Bhutan has its own unique rules for visitors. Some of the salient points are summarized below:-
The Royal Government of Bhutan has adopted a very cautious approach towards the development of tourism in the kingdom. This must be viewed as an effort to avoid the negative impacts of tourism on the culture and the environment. The policy is that all tourists must travel on a pre-planned, prepaid, guided package tour. Independent travel is not permitted.
Planning your birding trip
The birdings sites listed below are described for a West to East birding traverse, under the heading Highway birding. Birding treks to high altitude zones are listed under the heading Birding Treks. Altitudinal ranges stated indicate ranges where you will be birding and not the full range of elevation of the particular area or locality.
Paro Valley: (2200 m)
Paro valley is one of the most beautiful places in Bhutan. The only airport of Bhutan is located here. In the north, Mount Jhomolhari (7329 m) reigns in sacred glory. The streams from its glaciers form the Paro river that nourishes the valley. There are good hotels and tourist facilities. The Rinpung Dzong (Fortress) built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan , today houses the monastic body as well as the offices of the Dzongdag (District Administrator) and the Drangpon(Judge). Behind Ringpung Dzong, on the hillside, is the castle-shaped Ta Dzong, a watch tower initially built to defend the Rinpung Dzong and since 1967 houses the National Museum. Paro also has a number of Buddhist temples, the most famous being the Taktsang ( the Tiger’s Nest). It is believed that Guru Rimpoche landed at the place, riding on the back of a tigress over one thousand years ago, and meditated there. Eighteen kilometers to the north, you can visit the ruins of Drugyel Dzong (victorious fortress) from where the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies in the 17th century.
Birding at Paro
The following birds can be seen: Kalij Pheasant, White-capped River Chat, , Pied Wagtail, Blue Whistling-thrush, Blue-fronted redstarts, Ibisbill, Brown Dipper, White-collared Blackbird, Plumbeous Redstarts, , Crested Goshawk, Eurasian Kestrel, Oriental Turtle-dove, Long-tailed and Grey-backed shrikes, Spotted Laughingthrush, Indian Blue Chats, and more
The Chelila Pass (4200 meters) connects the Paro & Ha Valley’s. It offers a chance to ascend above tree line into alpine meadows and dwarf rhododendrons and enables the sighting of several birds such as Blood Pheasants, Himalayan Monal, Kalij Pheasant, Collared Grosbeaks, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, , Spotted Laughingthrush, Rosy Pipit, Blue-fronted Redstart, Rofous-breasted Accentor, White-browed Rosefinches, and more.. On the lower slopes you may encounter mixed flocks of tits, Phylloscopous leaf warblers, Great Parrotbill, and more.
You need two full days for birding and a quick cultural tour of the Paro Valley.
Thimpu Valley ( 2300m)
The capital of Bhutan lies about two hours drive from Paro. The Wangchu (Thimphu river) flows right through the valley. The Tashichho Dzong (the fort of the auspicious religion) which houses the throne room of the king and the monastic body lies in the center of the valley. Five miles south of Tashichho Dzong lies Simtokha Dzong (built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel)), the oldest Dzong in Bhutan. Today it houses the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies. Thimphu town which runs north south along a main street has traditionally decorated shops. Thimphu also has a number of temples, galleries, museums and places of historic interests. Among the places of interest is the Memorial Chorten dedicated to the 3rd king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. A landmark in the landscape with its golden spires, its paintings and statues provide a rare insight into Buddhist Nyingpa philosophy. On the weekend, a market is held and it is an opportunity not to be missed. At the market you will find a motley crowd of rural people selling their vegetables, fruits, crops and rural crafts.
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ITINERARY FOR BIRDWATCHING BHUTAN (10 days)
Day-1-Arrive Paro. Birds you may encounter include Himalayan Monal, Blood and Kalij Pheasant, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Grey-crested & Rufous-fronted Tits, Black-faced Laughing Thrush, Collard Grosbeak, White-browed & Dark-rumped Rosefinch, Long-tailed Thrush. Overnight in hotel Thimphu.
10 DAYS ITINERARY FOR BHUTAN
Enter Bhutan and after paper works and do birding in between S/jongkhar and Dewathang. Overnight in hotel at Samdrupjongkhar.
Bhutan 21 days iternary
Day 01: Arrive Delhi or Calcutta depending on flight overnight in Hotel.
25 DAYS BHUTAN PARO TO SAMRUDJONKAR
Day 01: Arrive Delhi or Calcutta, India, depending on flight overnight in Hotel.