Day 1. Arrival
Our Bhutan birding tour starts on arrival in Delhi, India. Overnight in Delhi.
Day 2. Flight to Guwahati, drive to Samdrup Jongkhar
We take a morning flight from Delhi to Guwahati, the largest city in the state of Assam, located on the south shore of the Brahmaputra River. We leave Guwahati along busy roads packed with cars, street hawkers and rickshaws, cross the Brahmaputra River, and continue across the Indian plain of Assam. We look out for Little Cormorant, egrets, Indian Pond Heron, Ashy Drongo and Red-wattled Lapwing in roadside wetlands, with possible sightings of Small Pratincole, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Citrine Wagtail, Rusty-rumped Warbler and Striated Grassbird. We will also make a special effort to find Lesser and Greater Adjutants, both highly endangered species. We enter Bhutan, complete the immigration process at the border, and enter the town of Samdrup Jongkhar where we spend the night. Overnight in Samdrup Jongkhar.
Day 3. Samdrup Jongkhar to Morong
We spend the morning exploring lowland forest between Samdrup Jongkhar and Deothang. This forest is remarkably rich and diverse; target species here include the rare Dark-rumped Swift, Pied Falconet, Jungle Babbler, Large Hawk Cuckoo, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Wreathed and Great Hornbill and Puff-throated Babbler. In the afternoon, we start climbing from the foothills, perhaps encountering Long-tailed Sibia, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Common Green Magpie, Silver-eared Mesia, and several species of cuckoos. In the evening we will look for one of the main target birds in Bhutan, the Beautiful Nuthatch. Overnight at the Morong Campsite, at 1710m.
Day 4. Morong to Trashigang
We will have a before-breakfast outing back to the location of the Beautiful Nuthatch if we didn’t find it yesterday. After breakfast at the campsite, we make our way to Trashigang stopping along the way for birding. Today’s target species will include Rufous-necked Hornbill, Grey-sided Laughingthrush, Long-tailed Broadbill with other possibilities such as Black Eagle, Mountain Hawk Eagle and species of yuhinas. Overnight in Trashigang.
Day 5. Trashigang to Kori La to Mongar to Yongkala
En route to Yongkala, we stop at Kori La. The forest here is rich in mosses and lichens, and we search these mountain forests for Steak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Grey-winged Blackbird, Hoary-throated Barwing, Long-tailed and Short-billed Minivets, Bhutan Laughingthrush, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Brownish-flanked Bush-Warbler and Spotted Wren-Babbler. In the afternoon we will reach Bhutan’s wet subtropical forest and one of the finest birding areas in the Himalayas, at Campsite Yongkala, for a three-night stay. We bird these lush forested valleys searching for shortwings, Black-headed Shrike-Babbler, Ward’s Trogon, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, barbets, Golden Bush Robin, Chestnut-breasted Partridge and many other rare species alongside Little Forktail, Large Niltava, Russet Bush-Warbler, Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Violet Cuckoo and Rufous-faced Warbler. Overnight at the Campsite Yongkala (1875m).
Days 6-7. Yongkala; the Limithang Road
We spend two full days birding along this incredible 80 km long road, ranked amongst the ten top birding sites in the world, with waterfalls and ravines appearing around every bend. We search for the area’s specialties such as Wedge-billed Wren-Babbler, Rufous-throated Wren-Babbler, Spotted Wren-Babbler, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, flocks of parrotbills, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Scarlet Finch, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Lesser and White-browed Shortwings and many more. Overnight at the Campsite Yongkala.
Day 8. Yongkala to Sengor
We start early, moving uphill in search of high altitude species that include Blood Pheasant and Satyr Tragopan, the bird that draws many birders to Bhutan. The dense conifers forest hold many good species such as Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Bar-winged Wren-Babbler, Red-headed Bullfinch, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Gold-naped Finch and Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler. Our campsite near the pastureland is good for thrushes.
Overnight at the Campsite Sengor (3000m).
Day 9. Sengor to Jakar to Trongsa
Today we cross one of the high passes, the Thrumshing La, at 3800m. Thrumshing La is the prime habitat for Blood Pheasant and also holds other high altitude species such as Snow Pigeon, Orange-flanked Bush-Robin, Spotted Nutcracker, Red-billed Chough, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Great Parrotbill, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Grey-crested and Coal Tits and White-browed Fulvetta. We may be lucky and have our first encounter with one of the most colorful pheasants of them all, the magical Himalayan Monal. We continue through the valley of Bumthang, one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. Crossing another high pass at Yotongla (3500m), we may find Hill Partridge, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Brown Parrotbill, Chestnut-crowned and Black-faced Laughingthrushes, Darjeeling Woodpecker and Gold-naped Finch. We then head for Trongsa. Overnight in Trongsa.
Day 10. Trongsa to Zhemgang
Today on our drive to Zhemgang, we will have lots of stops at several forested valleys. We have chances for Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, Grey-bellied Tesia, Crested Bunting, Long-tailed Shrike, prinias, Rufous Woodpecker, Blue–bearded Bee-eater, Spot-winged Starling, Common Green Magpie, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Common Kestrel and various minivets. This is also our best chance for the Golden Langur, a rare monkey endemic to Bhutan and only discovered in the 1950s. Overnight at the Campsite Zhemgang (1680m).
Day 11. Zhemgang to Tingtibe Road
Today we explore a wide variety of habitats along the Zhemgang to Tingtibe road. Habitats vary from mossy forests to streamside lowland forest. This is another chance to see Golden Langur, which is fairly frequent here. We also search for Rufous-necked and Great Hornbills, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Cutia, White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Scarlet Minivet, various laughingthrushes, woodpeckers, Chestnut-headed and Grey-bellied Tesias, Spotted Wren-Babbler, and another chance to find Beautiful Nuthatch. Overnight at the Campsite Zhemgang.
Day 12. Zhemgang to Phobjekha
We head back to Trongsa today, birding many sites on the way, looking for species we might have missed upto now. In Trongsa we make our first cultural visit, the impressive Trongsa Dzong. This dzong is the ancestral home for the Royal family of Bhutan. The first king of Bhutan was the governor of this dzong, and even now there is the tradition that any future king of Bhutan must receive the title of governor of Trongsa. After a fairly long drive we reach the Phobjekha valley, sacred wintering ground for the Black-necked Crane. Overnight either at the Campsite Phobjekha or at an hotel.
Day 13. Phobjekha to Punakha
After an early breakfast, we drive to the Pele la pass (4000 m) and spend the morning hours birding along the old road at Pele la for high altitude species such as Himalayan Monal, Spotted Laughingthrush, Himalayan Griffon, Brown Parrotbill, and various finches and bush-warblers. Later we drive to Punakha, traveling through the valley of Wangdi Phodrang; along the way we look for Ward’s Trogon, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide and mixed species flocks.
In the evening we bird along the Pho Chu valley looking for one of our main target birds, White-bellied Heron, one of the rarest birds in the world with a population of fewer then 200 worldwide. Other birds we might see include Common and Crested Kingfisher and the enigmatic Ibisbill. Overnight at Punakha.
Day 14. Punakha to Thimphu
We spend the morning birding inside the Jigme Dorji National Park and along the Phochu River. Possibilities include Red-headed Trogon, Slaty-bellied and Chestnut-headed Tesias, Small and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, Black-chinned Yuhina, a trio of forktails, several wren-babblers, woodpeckers, laughingthrushes, and with luck Pallas’s Fish Eagle.
In the afternoon, we visit the impressive Punakha’s Punthang Dechen Phodrang (the name means Palace of Great Bliss) standing where two rivers, the Phochu and Mochu, meet. Punakha Dzong has special significance in Bhutan history. Punakha Dzong was the place where Bhutan’s first king, Ugyen Wangchuk, was crowned in 1907. It is the winter residence for Je Khenpo (spiritual leader) and the entire central monk body. There is often a Tawny Fishing-Owl roosting in the big trees on the riverside. We then drive to Thimphu over the Dochla pass (3150m); on a clear day the whole eastern Himalayan range is visible. Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 15. Thimphu to Paro
In the early morning we visit the local sewage pond for Ibisbill and Black-tailed and Ruddy-breasted Crakes. After breakfast we drive north of Thimphu and then hike to the Cheri monastery. During the hike we may see Spotted, Chestnut–crowned and White-throated Laughingthrushes, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Wallcreeper, Brown Dipper and White-collared Blackbird. Goral (Mountain goat) occur around the monastery. We then return to Thimphu for lunch, and continue on to Paro. Overnight in Paro.
Day 16. Paro; Cheli La Birding
Early in the morning, we drive through old-growth evergreens on the way to the cool and stunning alpine meadow of Cheli La pass (3890m). This is the highest pass accessible by car in Bhutan. Here we could be rewarded with three different species of pheasants: Himalayan Monal, flocks of Blood Pheasants, and Kalij Pheasant. Also here are several rosefinches, grosbeaks and laughingthrushes. We then drive back to Paro for lunch.
In the afternoon we have scheduled a visit to Kichu Monastery, one of the oldest monastery dating back to the 7th century. It is believed that in the 7th century a Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, built 108 monasteries representing different parts of the demon body to pin her to earth forever. Kichu monastery is believed to have been built on the left leg of the demon. Overnight in Paro.
Day 17. Paro River or optional Tiger’s Nest Excursion
We have a full day in the Paro Valley today. There is an option for a strenuous hike up to the Tiger’s Nest, the iconic monastery perched on sheer rock cliffs above the Paro Valley, for those that are feeling up to the challenge. If that sounds too ambitious, we will be birding along the Paro River and take a stroll through town.
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) is located 2950 meters above sea level. Sanctified by Guru Rimpoche, this is one of the most venerated pilgrim sites of the Himalayan world. Over time many great Buddhist masters have visited and meditated here. In 1692 the 4th temporal ruler of Bhutan built a monastery over the cave where Guru Rimpoche and his consort Khandro Yeshi Tshogyal meditated. The monastic complex clings to rock towering 800 m above the valley. Overnight in Paro.
Day 18. Departure
Our Bhutan birding tour ends this morning we leave this incredible country and catch our flights home, typically via Delhi.