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BHUTAN

Druk Yul: Land of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan Birding Tours: our Bhutan bird watching holiday is a great favourite, combining some of the finest bird watching in the Himalayas with spectacular scenery and the sheer pleasure of travelling through Bhutan, one of the friendliest and least spoiled countries in the world. Our Bhutan birding tour is a highly enjoyable adventure that produces an extraordinary number of Himalayan specialities. These can include White-bellied Heron, Satyr Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Wood Snipe, Ward’s Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Long-billed, Rufous-throated, Bar-winged and Spotted Wren-Babblers, the strange Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, the near-endemic Bhutan Laughingthrush, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, White-naped Yuhina, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Blue-fronted Robin, Broad-billed Warbler and Beautiful Nuthatch. There is also an exciting extension to Kaziranga in Assam in search of a fine suite of lowland birds and the magnificent Asian One-horned Rhinoceros and Asian Elephant.

Sunday 12th April — Wednesday 29th April 2020
(18 days)


Kaziranga Extension: Wednesday 8th April — Sunday 12th April (5 days)

Leader: Dave Farrow

Group Size Limit: 7

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part, comfortable hotels/guesthouses and comfortable, safari-style camping

Bhutan is home to a large number of northeast Himalayan specialities, none of which are more highly-sought than the wonderful Ward's Trogon (Dave Farrow)

Bhutan is home to a large number of northeast Himalayan specialities, none of which are more highly-sought than the wonderful Ward's Trogon (Dave Farrow)

Bhutan is a land of superlatives, the last surviving example of a Tibetan Buddhist Kingdom that proudly guards and treasures its cultural and natural heritage. Blessed with a tiny population and steep inaccessible valleys, it holds fabulous forests that are still largely untouched and full of birds.

By far greatest diversity of Himalayan bird species is to be found in the Eastern Himalayas and a journey through the small kingdom Bhutan, where over 600 bird species have been recorded, provides the opportunity to see such avian delights as White-bellied Heron, Satyr Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, Wood Snipe, Dark-rumped Swift, Ward’s Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Coral-billed and Slender-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Long-billed, Rufous-throated, Bar-winged and Spotted Wren-Babblers, the strange Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, the near-endemic Bhutan Laughingthrush, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, White-naped Yuhina, Fulvous, Great, Brown and Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbills, Blue-fronted Robin, Broad-billed Warbler and Beautiful Nuthatch, just to mention some of the endless highlights this fantastic journey has to offer.

Bhutan is an unspoilt, thinly-populated country that offers not only the finest birding in the Himalayas but also a wonderful cultural and travel experience. Hotel accommodation ranges from good to reasonable and roads are fairly good, but on this comprehensive itinerary, that produces numerous Eastern Himalayan specialities, we will still have to stay in outfitted mobile-safari-style camps, but in quite comfortable style, in areas with no hotels or guesthouses. Being able to stay right in the midst of such superb Himalayan environments, with the best birding in the country all around us, is an experience that greatly adds to the wonders of our Bhutanese journey. All in all, Bhutan offers the discerning birder a truly unforgettable adventure!

Nearly two-thirds of Bhutan is forest, the remaining fraction is either above the treeline or under agriculture in the narrow valley bottoms, most of the land being too steep for any settlement or farming. There is only one road traversing the country from west to east, and prior to the 1960s there were none. The Buddhist values of the Bhutanese people mean that they have for centuries led their lives in harmony with their environment; their beliefs show a deep reverence and respect for all sentient beings, and they are thus perfect guardians of what is now emerging as the ultimate place for birding in the mountains of South Asia. The country only opened its doors to foreigners comparatively late, and although it does welcome visitors so with outstanding hospitality, it is not without some reserve, wishing to avoid the negative side-effects of uncontrolled tourism apparent in other developing nations. Numbers of visitors are restricted to a strict quota each year, which makes Bhutan remain pleasantly ‘off-the-beaten-track’.

We are most fortunate to be able to visit such an exciting country and our tour will explore the very best of Bhutan’s bird habitats, concentrating on the central and eastern parts of the country, which are the richest of all.

We start our journey at Guwahati in the plains of Assam in northeast India, where the endangered Greater Adjutant Stork will be the prime attraction.

After crossing into Bhutan at the border town of Gelephu, foothill birds, including the restricted-range Dark-rumped Swift, are on the menu.

Our first major birding explorations will be in the upper Himalayan foothills in the fabulous Tingtibi region, an area of magnificent forests now known to rival the famous Lingmethang road for the sheer number of exciting bird specialities present. Beautiful Nuthatch is the mega attraction here, joined by Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Rufous-necked and Blue-winged Laughingthrushes, Crimson Liocichla and many others. For those who love seeing unusual mammals, the Golden Langurs will be a treat.

From here we head northwards and then eastwards to the extraordinary Lingmethang Road, home to so many great birds that it is hard to single out just a few. They include the wonderful Satyr Tragopan, the beautiful, restricted-range Ward’s Trogon, Coral-billed and Slender-billed Scimitar-Babblers, Long-billed, Rufous-throated, Bar-winged and Spotted Wren-Babblers, the strange Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, the near-endemic Bhutan Laughingthrush, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, White-naped Yuhina, Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Blue-fronted Robin and Broad-billed Warbler.

After reluctantly leaving this remarkable place behind, make our way westwards via Jakar, Trongsa and Gangtey Gompa to Punakha, the old capital, crossing a series of high passes en route. Highlights along the way are likely to include the little-known Wood Snipe and also Fulvous, Great and Brown Parrotbills.

Around Punakha and at the nearby Dochu La, the rare White-bellied Heron and the wonderful Fire-tailed Myzornis are the greatest attractions.

Finally we explore the Paro area in the west of the country, where the Chele La pass is probably the best place for seeing the glorious Himalayan Monal, not to mention Blood Pheasant and (around Paro) the handsome Ibisbill, the sole member of its family.

The Bhutanese government’s stated commitment to conservation and sustainable development ought to ensure that the sublime forests of Bhutan are protected, and that they still hold a bounty of birdlife just waiting to be enjoyed in the years to come, but in many areas of the country deforestation is already gathering pace. For now, however, there is still plenty of forest remaining, even along the roads, and so our tour will spend day after day immersed in lush mountain forests while our travels will be enlivened by a series of splendid and impressive dzongs (fortress monasteries) that usually occupy ‘eagle-nest’ locations of strategic importance. The Bhutanese people still dress in traditional garb and their customs and lifestyles are preserved with enthusiasm and pride. All these factors combine to make this country one of the most rewarding and thrilling bird tour destinations available today.

During the optional extension we will visit the magnificent Kaziranga National Park. This famous reserve needs little introduction, what with its world-famous populations of Asian One-horned Rhinoceros, Swamp Deer and wild Water Buffalo, as well as Asian Elephants.

The extensive wetlands, grasslands and woodlands of Kaziranga also provide vital habitat for numerous bird species (many of which will not be seen in Bhutan), including such specialities as Swamp Francolin, Slender-billed Vulture, Bengal Florican, Blue-naped Pitta, Slender-billed Babbler, and Bristled and Indian Grassbirds.

Birdquest has operated tours to Bhutan since 1997.

What makes the Birdquest Bhutan tour special?: An itinerary and leader skills that are unsurpassed. We used to visit the section of Bhutan between Samdrup Jongkhar and Tashigang (or Trashigang), but we have up doing so when it became obvious that the best border area for seeing the special birds was between Tingtibi and Gelephu. Some tours still visit Tashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar, but our opinion is that this is time less well spent, particularly for birders who are interested in having better chances for the more tricky Bhutanese specialities. It is better to spend less time driving and more time birding in the superb Tingtibi region.

Secondly, the Birdquest group size limit is significantly lower than for most other Bhutan birding tours. There is a lot of forest birding during this tour and having a much smaller group size makes for a decidedly superior experience.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/guesthouses are of good to medium standard. In the Tingtibi region and on the Lingmethang Road we will stay in mobile-safari-style camps, all arrangements being made by our competent and friendly Bhutanese outfitters. Sleeping tents are large, walk-in, 2-person size (and are available for single occupancy) with proper camp beds, sheets and pillows. We will also have toilet tents, a shower tent and a large dining tent, so the whole experience is quite comfortable and the settings often delightful. Road transport is by small coach and roads are reasonably good (with very little traffic).

Walking: The walking effort is easy for the most part, sometimes moderate.

Climate: Conditions at this season range from fairly hot at lower altitudes to warm at middle altitudes and cool or even cold at high altitudes. Sunny periods alternate with wet and overcast conditions.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are quite good.

BHUTAN BIRDING TOUR: PRICE INFORMATION

Bhutan Tour Prices: Bhutan is a fascinating country with some unusual customs, in more ways than one. For many years the country has had an official policy of ‘limiting tourism through price’. The way this works is that each year the Bhutan government dictates minimum (but very high, by Indian subcontinent standards) per night prices to all the country’s tourism agencies. Even more quirky to an outsider’s eyes is the fact that even if you are trekking or, as with bird tours, camping for part of the time, or staying in guesthouses, you end up paying the same per night charges as if you were staying in a city hotel!

Birdquest Inclusions: our tour prices include all tipping, including tips for local guides and drivers. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately: £240, €270, $330.

2020 provisional prices

£5190, €5910, $7210 Guwahati/Paro. Deposit: 10%.

Kaziranga Extension: £1150, €1310, $1600. Deposit: 10%.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

Single Room/Tent Supplement: £270, €307, $375. Extension: £160, €182, $222.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in Pounds Sterling and Euros are based on £1 = $1.390 and €1 = $1.220.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

The wonderful Rufous-necked Hornbill is another great bird that will be high on our wish list (Dave Farrow)

The wonderful Rufous-necked Hornbill is another great bird that will be high on our wish list (Dave Farrow)

As we traverse the country we can expect some wonderful scenes as we pass mile after mile of pristine habitat with superb birding just from the road! (Dave Farrow)

As we traverse the country we can expect some wonderful scenes as we pass mile after mile of pristine habitat with superb birding just from the road! (Dave Farrow)

16 photos View Gallery Photos From BHUTAN
The rivers hold many good birds including the splendid Ibisbill (Dave Farrow)

The rivers hold many good birds including the splendid Ibisbill (Dave Farrow)

... Crested Kingfisher (Dave Farrow)

... Crested Kingfisher (Dave Farrow)

... and the furtive Solitary Snipe (Dave Farrow)

... and the furtive Solitary Snipe (Dave Farrow)

Many forest species will keep us busy, including an excellent array of babblers, such as Spotted Laughingthrush (Dave Farrow)

Many forest species will keep us busy, including an excellent array of babblers, such as Spotted Laughingthrush (Dave Farrow)

... Spotted Wren-Babbler (Dave Farrow)

... Spotted Wren-Babbler (Dave Farrow)

and the localized and warbler-like Yellow-throated Fulvetta (Dave Farrow)

and the localized and warbler-like Yellow-throated Fulvetta (Dave Farrow)

And we may come across a rarity such as this Gould's Shortwing (Dave Farrow)

And we may come across a rarity such as this Gould's Shortwing (Dave Farrow)

The delightful Golden Langur still has a healthy population here (Dave Farrow)

The delightful Golden Langur still has a healthy population here (Dave Farrow)

Bhutan still retains many of her cultural charms (Dave Farrow)

Bhutan still retains many of her cultural charms (Dave Farrow)

Many of the flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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