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17 Days

Bhutan Bird Expedition

The Bhutan Bird Expedition is a 17-day journey that offers an unparalleled opportunity for bird enthusiasts to explore the rich avifauna of Bhutan, a small kingdom with a remarkable variety of bird species. Bhutan boasts about 700 species of birds, thanks to its diverse range of habitats, including tropical forests and evergreen forests of fir, hemlock, and spruce. The country’s well-maintained roads make birding accessible, especially in spring.

Brief Itinerary on Bhutan Bird Expedition

  • Day 1: Arrival in Paro: The journey begins with a flight offering views of the Himalayan range. The day includes visits to the National Museum and Paro Dzong, with opportunities to see unique birds like the Ibisbill and Brown Dipper.
  • Day 2: Paro to Thimphu via Chele La Pass: A day dedicated to sighting pheasants like the Himalayan Monal and Satyr Tragopan. The journey continues to Thimphu, with birding along the way.
  • Day 3: Cheri Valleys: Birding in the Cheri Valley, known for species like the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, and a visit to Thimphu STP for more birdwatching.
  • Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha via Dochu La: Birding at Dochula pass and a visit to Chimi Lhakhang temple.
  • Day 5: Punakha-Tashitang: Exploring Tashitang Valley for diverse bird species and a visit to Punakha Dzong.
  • Day 6: Punakha to Pele La: Birding while ascending to Pele La Pass, with an overnight camping experience.
  • Day 7: Pele La to Trongsa: Birdwatching along the old Pele La Pass road and journeying to Trongsa.
  • Day 8: Trongsa to Zhemgang: Descending to lower elevations, with a variety of new bird species and camping at Tingtibi.
  • Day 9: Zhemgang: A full day of birding in the lower elevations, with special lookout for the Rufous-necked Hornbill.
  • Day 10: Zhemgang to Trongsa: Retracing steps to Trongsa, with more birdwatching opportunities.
  • Day 11: Trongsa to Bumthang: Journey to Bumthang, with a change in scenery and avifauna.
  • Day 12: Bumthang to Sengor: Drive to the Thrumsing La pass and overnight camping.
  • Days 13 and 14: Limithang: Two days of birding on the Limithang Road, known for numerous bird species.
  • Day 15: Limithang to Trongsa: Beginning the return journey to Paro, with a final night in Trongsa.
  • Day 16: Trongsa to Paro: The last full day in Bhutan, returning to Paro for a farewell dinner.
  • Day 17: Departure: Departure from Paro.

Throughout the expedition, participants will stay in various hotels and resorts, offering a blend of comfort and cultural experience. The trip not only focuses on birdwatching but also provides glimpses into Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage, visiting several dzongs, temples, and monasteries. This expedition promises a comprehensive and memorable birding experience in one of the world’s most biodiverse and culturally rich countries.

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Detailed Program

During the flight to Paro, we will sweep by the massive Himalayan chain as it rises out of the Indian plain. If we are lucky and the weather is clear, we may have magnificent views of Mount Everest and other peaks in the Himalayas. After arriving at Paro’s picturesque airport and completing visa formalities, we will transfer to our hotel for lunch.

After lunch, we will visit the National Museum, now housed in a 16th-century watchtower, and the imposing Paro Dzong. With luck, we may find a late lingering Wall creeper probing the sides of the fortress. Although not a full birding day, we should have an opportunity for seeing world-class birds, including Ibisbill, Brown Dipper, Plumbeous, and White-capped Water-Redstarts.

Night in Paro.

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Today will be our first full day in Bhutan and this will act as a great introduction to the rich avifauna of the Himalayas. By leaving our hotel early we hope to dramatically increase the probability of seeing the highly sought-after pheasants for which Bhutan is renowned. At Chele La pass we hope to see the beautiful Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, and the “holy grail” of all pheasants, the mythical Satyr Tragopan. Kalij Pheasants are often seen along the roadside.

We will have breakfast at the pass and then bird our way back downslope towards Thimphu. Just below the pass, we will look for species such as White-winged Grosbeak, White-browed Rosefinch, and Spotted Nutcracker. Lower on the slopes we should run into classic Himalayan mixed species flocks containing Rufous Sibia, White-browed Fulvetta, Brown Parrotbill, Stripe-throated Yuhina, and many more.

Night in Thimphu.

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After an early breakfast, we will drive a short distance north of Thimphu along the beautiful Cheri Valley, where we will spend most of the morning birding. This is an excellent spot for the rare Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, as well as Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, Yellow-browed Tit, and Blue-fronted Redstart.

After our picnic lunch, we will take a side trip to the Thimphu STP, another good place for Ibisbill, River Lapwing, Ruddy Shelduck, and various shorebirds. This evening we should also have the chance to visit Thimphu, Bhutan’s Capital city.

Night in Thimphu.

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This morning we leave Thimphu early to reach the Dochula pass (3,150m) for sunrise. The view of the Himalayas stretched out along the northern horizon (if the weather is clear), is the best of the trip. We will have another chance for Satyr Tragopan and other pheasants, as well as enjoy the mixed species flocks in the cool broadleaf forests. Along the roadside, we may find Red-flanked Blue tail and Golden Bush-Robin, Grey Bushchat, and Rufous-breasted Accentor.

Within the flocks, we will sort out Blue-winged, Red-tailed, and Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Rufous-winged, White-browed and Nepal Fulvetta, and Whiskered, Stripe-throated, Rufous-vented, Black-chinned, and White-bellied Yuhina. Both bar wings are possible, and we should have a good selection of laughing thrushes by the time we hit Punakha.

This afternoon we will visit the temple of the Mad Lama, Chimi Lhakhang, and a monastery known for its ability to bestow fertility on barren women. It sits along the Dochula River, where we hope to find the endangered Pallas’ Fish-Eagle and White-bellied Heron.

Night in Punakha.

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This morning we will travel up the Mochu, past the imposing Punakha Dzong, formerly the capital of Bhutan, and spend the morning birding below 2,000 meters in the Tashitang Valley. We hope to see Crested Kingfisher, Lesser Shorting, Greater Yellow nape, Bay Woodpecker, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Little and Slaty-backed Forktail, Pygmy Wren-babbler, Golden Tree-Babbler, Striated and Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Black-eared Shrike-Babbler, Tesias, Golden-spectacled and Broad-billed Warbler, Small Niltava and Black-throated Tit.

On our last visit, we had good looks at a pair of Yellow-throated Martens and a troop of Assamese Macaques. There are also good hawk-watching spots along the way and weather permitting, we may see a good selection of Himalayan species. If we are lucky, we might encounter the highly sought-after Tawny Fishing Owl. After lunch, we will slowly head back to Punakha, stopping at the magnificent Punakha Dzong for a quick visit.

Night in Punakha.

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After a breakfast excursion along the river and another chance for the endangered White-bellied Heron, we will begin our climb up to Pele La Pass. We will spend the day birding as we ascend through cool broadleaf and evergreen forests. These varied habitats will bring us numerous opportunities for new birds and a chance to get better acquainted with some now-familiar species. Ward’s Trogon is a specialty along this road and we could have 100 plus species today.

Birds may include such species as Cutia, Great Barbet, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Long-tailed Minivet, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, White-throated Laughingthrush, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Yellow-bellied Bush-Warbler, Ashy-throated Leaf Warbler, Verditer Flycatcher and many, many more. Tonight we will be camping at a small sheltered spot on the east side of the pass.

Night camping at Pele La.

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Just a few minutes from the camp is the old Pele La Pass road. Last year, as we birded along this road, we had fantastic views of Himalayan Monal and believe it or not, a black Leopard! (But that’s another story!!) We will scan the slopes for Himalayan Bear and should see White-collared Blackbird, Black-faced Laughingthrush, and White-tailed Nuthatch.

In the pine forest, we will look for Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Dark Rose finch, Himalayan Greenfinch, and Rufous-vented, Grey-crested, and Green-backed Tits. At the pass itself, we will pause for a bit of late morning hawk watching and may see Common Buzzard, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Steppe Eagle, and Himalayan Griffon. From here, we will bird through the cool broadleaf forest down to the town of Trongsa and may find Red-billed Leiothrix, Gold-billed Magpie, and Gray-sided Bush-Warbler along the way.

Night in Trongsa.

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After breakfast this morning, we will drive towards Zhemgang, which will be the lowest elevation that we visit and as a result will produce a plethora of new species. On the way down we will pass through some excellent forest where we hope to find Black Eagle, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Speckled Piculet, and Lesser Yellow nape.

The flower and fruiting trees around Trongsa are attractive to sunbirds and we may encounter some different species. One of the special mammals of this region is the endemic Golden Langur, a strikingly beautiful monkey that is relatively common in the Zhemgang area.

Tonight camping at Tingtibi.

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Today will be a full day of birding in the lower elevations, with breakfast and lunch brought to us as we bird the spectacular forests. Bamboo stands at Tingtibi might have Lesser Rufous-headed Parrot bills and Streaked Laughingthrush, and fruiting trees may hold Golden-throated Barbet, Wedge-tailed and Pin-tailed Green-Pigeons, and Scarlet Minivet. We will be on a special lookout for the Rufous-necked Hornbill, best found here and along the Limithang road.

Birds such as Yellow-bellied and White-throated Fantail should be in mixed species flocks and we will likely encounter our old friends the yuhinas, minlas, fulvettas, and sibias once again. While we are out birding, the camp will be moved upslope, so the next morning we can start birding at a higher elevation, although still in the warm broadleaf forest.

Night camping at Tingtibi.

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Today we retrace our steps to Trongsa, hitting many of the same spots as two days ago. There will still be plenty of new birds to be found and if we have not seen them already, we will be looking for Mountain-Imperial Pigeon, Golden-throated Barbet, Great-pied Hornbill, White-browed Piculet, Nepal House-Martin, Fulvous-breasted, Grey-capped, and Gray-headed Woodpeckers.

This area is also good for laughing thrushes and on our last visit, we had fantastic looks at White-throated, Greater Necklaced, Rufous-chinned, and Blue-winged Laughing thrushes. One specialty of the region that we hope to see is the aptly named Beautiful Nuthatch – surely one of the most attractive members of this family.

Night in Trongsa.

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As we travel east the scenery changes to hillsides covered in spruce and fir and the avifauna changes equally abruptly. Should we have not already seen it, we will target the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide before continuing east over the pass into the Bumthang Valley. Spotted Nutcrackers and Red-billed Chough can be common, though we’ll have to spend more time searching for Beautiful Rose finch, Eurasian Sparrow hawk, Spotted Laughingthrush, and others.

The Bumthang valley has a large concentration of Himalayan Black Bear, and sightings are regular at this time of the year. Closer to the valley floor, we should see more Ibisbill, and flocks of Snow Pigeon can be found wheeling about the fields. We should arrive in Bumthang (Jakar) for lunch and will take the afternoon off to explore, or do a bit of shopping in the famous textile markets.

For those so inclined, you can visit the local microbrewery and sample the local beer – Red Panda, or visit the Chorten under which lies a Tibetan General’s severed head, who was one of the unfortunate early invaders to Bhutan.

Night in Bumthang.

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After an early breakfast, we drive an hour to the pass, which marks the entrance to Bumthang’s easternmost valley, Ura. We’ll disembark at the pass and begin an easy hour’s walk down through a forest into the village of Ura. This trail is an excellent birding area and is as scenic as it is bird-rich.

After breakfast here we begin the drive up to the Thrumsing La pass (4,000 m), the highest point on our trip and the start of the Limithang road. We’ll have time for some late afternoon birding before reaching our very comfortable tented camp.

Night camping in Thrumsing La.

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The next two days should be one of the highlights of the tour, birding the famous Limithang Road. This runs from a pass of 12,400 feet down below 3,000 and boasts luxurious forests teeming with birds. Flock after flock work the roadside and there is untouched forest as far as you can see.

Limiting is the best place to find many of the Bhutanese Specialties such as Rufous-necked Hornbill, Ward’s Trogon, Satyr Tragopan, and many, many more. We will also be looking for Collared Owlet, Himalayan Swift let, Striated, Black-crested, White-cheeked, Red-vented, Ashy, Black and Mountain Bulbuls, Golden-breasted and Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Slender-billed, Rusty-cheeked, Streak-breasted, and Coral-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Hill and Rufescent Prinia, Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Common Tailorbird, Ashy, Bronzed, Lesser Racquet-tailed, and Hair-crested Drongos, Scarlet Finch and more.

Nights camping along Limithang Road.

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Today we will begin our trek back to Paro and home. Although we will be retracing our steps, we will undoubtedly add new birds.

Tonight we will spend our third and final night at the Trongsa Tourist Lodge, and any gear or laundry that was left before heading east can be collected tonight.

Night in Trongsa.

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Today is our final full day in Bhutan and like the day before, much of it will be spent working our way back to Paro. We will stop along the way and will be on the lookout for a few ‘gap fillers.

If we missed Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, we may be able to find it at another spot close to Thimphu. Tonight we will be back in Paro for our farewell dinner.

Night in Paro.

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Today we bid the land of the thunder dragon farewell and catch our morning flight for your next destination.

  • Inclusion
  • Exclusion
  • Insurance
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off by private vehicle.
  • 3-star accommodation (4 & 5 stars may require an additional premium update).
  • Bhutan visa fee – including all necessary processing
  • Route Permit
  • Three meals per day during your stay in Bhutan
  • A licensed Bhutanese tour guide
  • All land transportation by private vehicle
  • Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
  • Sightseeing as per itinerary
  • Monuments entrance fees where applicable
  • Drinking water
  • All internal taxes and charges
  • A sustainable development fee of $200. (This sustainable development fee goes towards free education, free healthcare, and poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.)
  • Airfare & Travel Insurance
  • Expenses of personal nature, Tips to guides and drivers
  • Expenses occurred due to unavoidable events i.e. road wrecks, flight delays etc.

Package does not include insurance of any kinds, and that you are required to obtain separate coverage from your home country before your trip begins.

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