The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia

BHUTAN

Druk Yul: Land of the Thunder Dragon

Sunday 12th April – Wednesday 29th April 2020

Leader: Craig Robson.

18 Days Group Size Limit 7
Kaziranga Extension

Wednesday 8th April – Sunday 12th April 2020

5 Days Group Size Limit 7
Monday 12th April – Thursday 29th April 2021

Leader: Dave Farrow.

18 Days Group Size Limit 7
Kaziranga Extension

Thursday 8th April – Monday 12th April 2021

5 Days Group Size Limit 7

Birdquest’s Bhutan birding tours are great favourites, combining some of the finest birdwatching 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, Dark-rumped Swift, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Coral-billed and 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, Fulvous, Great, Brown and Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbills, Blue-fronted Robin, Broad-billed Warbler and Beautiful Nuthatch. There is also an exciting extension to Kaziranga in Assam, Northeast India, in search of a fine suite of lowland birds and the magnificent Asian One-horned Rhinoceros and Asian Elephant.

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 this fantastic birding journey through the small kingdom Bhutan, where over 600 bird species have been recorded, provides the opportunity to see an almost endless series of avian delights.

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 Bhutan birding 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 Bhutan birding tour 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 our Bhutan birding tour heads 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 Bhutan birding tours since 1997.

What makes the Birdquest Bhutan birding 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 during our Bhutan birding tours 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 during our Bhutan birding tours are quite good.


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 surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers, camp staff and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: Main Tour: £620, $800, €700. Kaziranga Extension:£130, $170, €150.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2020: £5610, $7290, €6480. Guwahati/Paro.
Kaziranga Extension: £1220, $1590, €1410. Guwahati/Guwahati.
2021: provisional £5610, $7290, €6480. Guwahati/Paro.
Kaziranga Extension: £1220, $1590, €1410. Guwahati/Guwahati.

Single Supplement: 2020: £300, $400, €350.
Kaziranga Extension: £160, $220, €190.
Single Supplement: 2021: £300, $400, €350.
Kaziranga Extension: £160, $220, €190.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

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.

BHUTAN BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Bhutan: Day 1  Our Bhutan birding tour starts this morning at Guwahati airport in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. From there we will cross the mighty Brahmaputra River and drive across the plains of Assam to the capital of this Indian state, Guwahati, which lies on the mighty Brahmaputra River.

Many plains species will be present and some short stops should produce the huge and ugly Greater Adjutant (now a critically endangered species) as well as Little Cormorant, Indian Pond Heron, Eastern Cattle, Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, Asian Openbill, Lesser Adjutant, Lesser Whistling Duck, Black Kite, White-rumped Vulture and with luck the endangered Slender-billed Vulture, Grey-headed Swamphen, Bronze-winged Jacana, Red-wattled Lapwing, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Asian Palm Swift, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Richard’s Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Striated Grassbird, Black-hooded Oriole, Black Drongo, Ashy Wood Swallow, Asian Pied Starling, Jungle Myna, House Crow and Eastern Jungle Crow.

Eventually we will cross the frontier into Bhutan and spend the night at the border town of Gelephu (or Gelephug).

Bhutan: Day 2  Quite remarkably, the Bhutanese side of the border is still partly forested from lower altitudes upwards, so we shall be able to enjoy some lower foothill forest birding this morning.

As we explore the hills that hang in the pre-monsoon haze above the Assamese plains, we will look in particular for the localized Dark-rumped Swift and also for other species that we are not likely to encounter elsewhere on our Bhutanese journey, including Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Plaintive and Banded Bay Cuckoos, Green-billed Malkoha, Dollarbird, Wreathed, Great and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Blue-eared Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Large Woodshrike, Common Iora, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Black-crested and Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Striped Tit-Babbler, Black-naped Monarch, Rufescent Prinia, Common Tailorbird, White-rumped Shama, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Common Hill Myna, Black-backed Forktail and Crimson Sunbird.

We also have a slim chance of such secretive species as Grey Peacock-Pheasant and Hooded and Blue-naped Pittas.

This afternoon we will ‘head for the hills’ as we climb into the interior of Bhutan on our way to our first fabulous birding area, the famous Tingtibi region, where we will stay for four nights in our comfortable mobile-safari-style camp complete with walk in tents, proper camp beds, flush toilets and even hot showers!

Bhutan: Days 3-5  Some magnificent subtropical forests can still be found by the roadsides in the Tingtibi region, which still remains an ornithologically little-known region of Bhutan, and these offer some of the best birding in the entire country.

The star attraction of this fine area is Beautiful Nuthatch, which survives here at one of its few known localities. We have a very good chance of encountering this mega-star amongst the taller trees, probably being first alerted by its remarkably loud call, although how long this habitat-sensitive species will continue to hang on here in the face of the steady clearance of Bhutan’s foothill forest is seriously open to question.

Many other great birds occur in this area, including the superb Rufous-necked and Blue-winged Laughingthrushes, and the lovely Crimson Liocichla. We will also have our first opportunity to look for many of the special birds which are mentioned under the Lingmethang Road.

We should also encounter the magnificent Rufous-necked Hornbill and the beautiful Golden Langur monkey is relatively common here.

At a forested mountain pass, where the forest is rich with moss and orchids, and the bamboo forms a dense undergrowth below the evergreen broadleaf forest, the restricted-range Scarlet Finch and Brown Bullfinch can both be found.

There is a slim chance of the localized Collared Treepie in this superb area and we also have a first opportunity to look for the rare White-bellied Heron and for Chestnut-breasted Partridge.

Amongst the many other birds we may well encounter in the area are Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, the magnificent Black Eagle, Common Emerald Dove, Bar-tailed Cuckoo-Dove, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, the secretive but noisy Whistling Hawk-Cuckoo, Indian and Violet Cuckoos, White-throated Needletail, Blue-throated Barbet, White-browed Piculet, Rufous Woodpecker, the gorgeous Long-tailed Broadbill, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Common Green Magpie, Scarlet Minivet, Red-vented, White-throated and Ashy Bulbuls, Bronzed Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Oriental Magpie Robin, Blue Rock Thrush, Striated Prinia, Rufous-faced and Yellow-bellied Warblers, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Grey-throated Babbler, Long-tailed Sibia, Silver-eared Mesia, Striated Yuhina, the impressive Sultan Tit, Streaked Spiderhunter and Crested Bunting.

Bhutan: Day 6  We have a long drive today, first northwards along the Zhemgang (or Shemgang) Road to Trongsa (or Tongsa) and then we head eastwards. From the Yutong La at 3400m (in the Dzongkha language that is spoken in Bhutan, ‘la’ is the word for a high pass), we drop down into the series of dry, pine-forested valleys known as Bumthang until we reach Jakar where we stay overnight at a beautiful wooden guesthouse. We will have our first opportunity to look for Yellow-rumped Honeyguide along our route today.

Bhutan: Day 7  Today we will arrive at the second highest pass of our journey, the Thrumsing La, which, although situated at 3700m, is still shrouded in thick hemlock and rhododendron forest. A very high treeline (around 4000m) is a feature of the Eastern Himalayas, a consequence of the monsoons that come up from the Bay of Bengal and bestow a large amount of rainfall on these mountains.

The pass is frequented by some high-altitude birds such as the beautiful Blood Pheasant, the strikingly-patterned Snow Pigeon, Spotted Laughingthrush, Goldcrest, Golden Bush Robin, Rufous-vented Tit and Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch.

As we descend we can see forested ridges stretching away as far as the eye can see. Immediately below us will be a forested mountainside, so steep that if it was not for the fact that a narrow road winds its way down it, by means of numerous hairpin bends, it would be inaccessible to all but the hardiest and most agile of adventurers. This is the area that has been dubbed the ‘Lingmethang Road’ by the few lucky ornithologists to have reached this Shangri-la of Himalayan birding. We will stay in comfortable mobile-safari-style camps erected by our local outfitters along the road for the next five nights, spending two nights in the upper levels and three nights much lower down.

Bhutan: Days 8-11  The ‘Lingmethang Road’ bisects every forest altitudinal zone between 3700m and the valley bottom at 650m, an incredible drop of 3050m in just 79 kilometres! Very few birdwatchers can say they have visited this remote area and yet it holds some of the most sought-after Himalayan species. The Eastern Himalayas are the most diverse part of that mighty mountain range, and their steep profile means that from the plains to the highest peaks the distance can be as little as 80 kilometres in places! The list of birds here is large and diverse, and our tally will include many species characteristic of the Eastern Himalayas. We shall, however, be concentrating on a number of prime specialities.

The calls of Ward’s Trogon, a montane species entirely restricted to the Eastern Himalayas, are soft but quite far-carrying and we are likely to hear this wonderful bird before a vision of pink heralds the arrival of a male in a nearby forest giant. Rufous-necked Hornbills still survive here and can be seen slowly flapping their way along the ridges, or perched in the top of a tall tree.

Another star attraction is the stunning but secretive Satyr Tragopan, which is not uncommon here. We will listen for their rather braying calls, and persistence will likely be rewarded by views of a glowing red male, covered in white spots, stalking across a bamboo-choked hillside, with the drab female quietly feeding nearby. Sometimes they seem quite unconcerned by human beings, even emerging onto the roadside verges.

The skulking Blue-fronted Robin is easily heard but hard to get good views of as it flits from one perch to another amongst the undergrowth. Rather easier are the noisy bands of Yellow-throated Fulvettas and Grey-cheeked Warblers that are a conspicuous part of the avifauna in the lower levels. The large Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill tends to go around in noisy groups, often keeping company with Rusty-fronted Barwings, while other bird waves often contain smart White-naped Yuhinas.

As always, wren-babblers are a delight to watch and we will enjoy seeing Rufous-throated Wren-Babblers bobbing up and down and, if we are fortunate, Long-billed or Bar-winged Wren-Babblers, or the strange Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, singing away in a roadside ravine. Coral-billed Scimitar-Babblers like to hack away at wild bananas in search of insects, but the amazing Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler clambers up and down creeper-infested tree trunks and tall bamboos, probing into the deepest crevices with its extraordinarily long and finely curved bill. Deep in the bamboos, Broad-billed Warblers call thinly, only occasionally venturing out onto the edge of the clump.

Other species include Crested Goshawk, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Common, Lesser and Drongo Cuckoos, the dazzling Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Asian Barred Owlet, Red-headed Trogon, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Crimson-breasted and Bay Woodpeckers, Oriental Skylark, Nepal House Martin, Grey-chinned Minivet, Striated Bulbul, Streak-breasted and Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers, Scaly-breasted and Pygmy Wren-Babblers, Golden Babbler, Black-throated Parrotbill, White-crested, Grey-sided and Scaly Laughingthrushes, the near-endemic Bhutan Laughingthrush, Red-billed Leiothrix, Cutia, White-browed and Black-eared Shrike-Babblers, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Black-chinned Yuhina, the stunning little Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Dark-sided, Little Pied, Blue-throated, Pygmy Blue and Pale Blue Flycatchers, the shy Sapphire Flycatcher, the secretive White-gorgeted Flycatcher, Large and Rufous-bellied Niltavas, Yellow-bellied Fantail, the miniscule Chestnut-headed and Grey-bellied Tesias, Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, Hill Prinia, Mountain Tailorbird, Large-billed Leaf, Chestnut-crowned and Black-faced Warblers, White-browed and Lesser Shortwings, White-tailed Robin, Grey-winged Blackbird, Yellow-cheeked Tit, White-tailed Nuthatch, Brown-throated Treecreeper, Oriental White-eye, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch and Crimson-browed Finch.

If we are lucky we will find Black-headed Shrike-Babbler or the dapper Gold-naped Finch. Hill, Rufous-throated and Chestnut-breasted Partridges can regularly be heard calling from the hillsides, and with persistence we should see at least one of these wary species. We have even been fortunate enough to once come across Gould’s Shortwing pausing on its way to its breeding grounds above the treeline.

Bhutan: Day 12  After some last birding along the wonderful Lingmethang Road we will return to Jakar for an overnight stay at the same guesthouse.

Bhutan: Day 13  Continuing westwards, we shall explore the bamboo-clad slopes of the  Yutong La and Pele La (3300m) passes, where we will look for such high altitude species as Alpine Accentor, White-browed Bush Robin, Great and Brown Parrotbills, and even the furtive Fulvous Parrotbill. Other new birds along this section of our route may well include Speckled Woodpigeon, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker and Spotted Forktail.

Eventually we travel through some lichen-festooned forest to Gangtey Gompa (monastery) for an overnight stay in the Phobjika valley.

Bhutan: Day 14  We will be up early today to look for Himalayan Wood Owl and in particular the rare, localized and much-wanted Wood Snipe, which displays here early in the morning.

This morning we leave Gangtey Gompa behind and continue westwards along what is known as the ‘Lateral Road’, the only highway that crosses Bhutan from west to east, to Punakha for a two nights stay at a traditionally decorated hotel perched high above the Puna Sang Chu valley..

Seemingly without a straight stretch anywhere in the country, it was only surfaced in the 1980s. Its hairpins traverse the steep south-facing valleys of the region, giving us spectacular views over the forested landscape. Along the way we will pass Wangdiphodrang Dzong, which sits above the Mo Chu river, guarding the crossing point.

During the journey we shall keep a lookout for any roadside cliffs festooned with the nests of Giant Rock Bees. Here we shall hope to find the little-known Yellow-rumped Honeyguide as it sits quietly alongside the bees nests.

Other birds we could well see today include Himalayan Griffon, Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier), Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Fork-tailed Swift, Chestnut-bellied and Blue-capped Rock Thrushes, Indian Blue Robin, Hume’s and Grey-sided Bush Warblers, Yellow-bellied Fantail and Fire-tailed Sunbird.

Bhutan: Day 15  The small town of Punakha (1350m) was once the capital of this tiny nation that preserves its cultural and natural heritage so keenly and both the town and the twin rivers that flow past it are dominated by the Punakha Dzong, sited at the confluence of the channels.

From Punakha we shall travel up the Mo Chu Valley to an excellent area of forest where our birding will be concentrated. Along the river and its tributary streams we should find Great Cormorant, Crested Kingfisher and Slaty-backed Forktail. We will see a wide selection of species today, but in particular we will be looking out for the localized Yellow-vented Warbler, which is common in these mid-altitude forests and the delightful Spotted Wren-Babbler, which positively vibrates as it pours out its amazingly loud song from a low perch. If we are reasonably fortunate we will find a true mega-speciality of Bhutan, the very rare and little-known White-bellied Heron, and possibly also Pallas’s Fish Eagle.

Other birds we could well encounter include Crested Serpent Eagle, Spotted Dove, Himalayan Cuckoo (split from Oriental), Himalayan Swiftlet, House Swift, White-throated Kingfisher, Great and Golden-throated Barbets, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Greater and Lesser Yellownapes, Maroon Oriole, Ashy and Hair-crested Drongos, Common Myna, Grey Treepie, Black-winged Cuckoo-Shrike, Mountain Bulbul, Ultramarine, Verditer and Grey-headed Flycatchers, Small Niltava, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Blyth’s Leaf, Green-crowned and Grey-hooded Warblers, Black-throated Tit, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Black-throated Sunbird.

There will also be an excellent selection of babblers, which may well include Rufous-capped Babbler, Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Red-tailed and Blue-winged Minlas, Whiskered Yuhina and Nepal Fulvetta.

Along the river on the outskirts of town we will have a first chance to find the splendid Ibisbill, while Slender-billed Oriole favours the nearby pine forest.

Bhutan: Day 16  This morning we will climb up to the high forests of the Dochu La. Where the road climbs to 3100m, rising above the dry, pine-dominated forests of western Bhutan, we enter stands of hemlock, fir, rhododendron and evergreen oak which we will want to explore. We will stop at the pass where, on a clear day, there is a spectacular, panoramic vista of the snowy massifs of the high Himalayas to the north.

Birding here will includes some of the best ornithological delights of the Eastern Himalayas. In particular we will be wanting to see the lovely but restless Fire-tailed Myzornis here (although we also have chances for this star bird further east).

White-throated, Striated and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes are likely to be prowling noisily through the undergrowth, while other species we may well encounter include Darjeeling Woodpecker, Rufous Sibia, Hoary-throated Barwing, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Lemon-rumped and Ashy-throated Warblers, Whistler’s Warbler, the diminutive, Phylloscopus-like Yellow-browed Tit, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Green-tailed Sunbird, Common Crossbill, Dark-breasted Rosefinch and Red-headed Bullfinch.

After birding at the Dochu La, we will continue past Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu (which sits in a broad valley at an altitude of 2350m), to Paro for a two nights stay.

This afternoon we will explore the Paro valley, dominated by the impressive Paro Dzong. In particular we shall be looking out for the strange and beautiful Ibisbill, which can be found here amongst the gravel islands in the fast-flowing rivers, and the furtive Black-tailed Crake.

Typical breeding birds of the area include River Lapwing, Oriental Turtle Dove, Eurasian Hoopoe, Himalayan Black Bulbul, Grey-backed Shrike, Red-billed Chough, Large-billed Crow, Green-backed Tit, Brown Dipper, Plumbeous Water-Redstart, White-capped Redstart, Siberian Stonechat, Grey Bushchat, Blue Whistling Thrush, Himalayan Wagtail and Russet Sparrow, while lingering winter visitors may include Green Sandpiper, Rosy Pipit, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Hodgson’s Redstart and Black-throated Thrush.

Bhutan: Day 17  We will set off early today to drive up to the impressive Chele La pass on the road to Haa, which at a breath-taking 3780m (the highest point we reach during our journey) is an excellent spot for seeing the spectacular Himalayan Monal. This has to be one of the most colourful and strikingly-patterned of all the world’s many pheasants, so that is saying a lot! Seeing an adult male at relatively close range as it shows off its iridescent blue, indigo, orange, green and black plumage is an extraordinary experience, and when one flies off displaying its white back patch and uttering its wild, ringing cry the moment seems to epitomize High Himalayan birding in all its glory!

During our visit to Chele La we will have a good opportunity to find the attractive Blood Pheasant and also the smart Kalij Pheasant, as well as a good selection of other high mountain birds.

Other interesting species found here include Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Grey-crested Tits, Rufous-fronted Bushtit, Black-faced Laughingthrush, White-browed Fulvetta, Rufous-vented Yuhina, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Buff-barred Warbler, Himalayan Bluetail, Blue-fronted Redstart, Long-tailed Thrush, White-collared Blackbird, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, the huge Collared Grosbeak, White-winged Grosbeak, and Himalayan White-browed and Dark-rumped Rosefinches.

More widespread birds include Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Grey Nightjar, Spotted (or Eurasian) Nutcracker, Long-tailed Minivet, Coal Tit and Olive-backed Pipit.

Bhutan: Day 18  Our tour ends this morning at Paro airport.

KAZIRANGA EXTENSION

Kaziranga: Day 1  The extension begins this morning at Guwahati airport. From here we will travel eastwards through the plains of Assam to Kaziranga for a three nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Kaziranga: Days 2-3  The fantastic Kaziranga National Park needs little introduction. It is one of the most important reserves in the world, let alone the Indian subcontinent, being one of the last refuges for large numbers of Asian (or Indian) One-horned Rhinoceros, Swamp Deer and wild Water Buffalo. Roughly three-quarters of the surviving populations of each of these species live in the park. We will have opportunities to admire these impressive animals along with Asian (or Indian) Elephant, which is still common here. Tigers still occur at Kaziranga, and with just a bit of luck we will come across one.

All of our excursions into the park will be by open-topped jeep, with regular stops at watch-towers and other vantage points, where we will be treated to some superb panoramic views of the grassland, marshes and lakes dotted with herds of large mammals and an impressive array of waterbirds.

Although annually burnt to provide grazing for mammals, the extensive grassland in the park hold many rare and restricted-range birds. We will have a very good chance of seeing four threatened species, Swamp Partridge, the critically endangered and decidedly ugly Greater Adjutant (now largely restricted to Assam and Cambodia), Slender-billed Vulture and Bengal Florican. We may also come across some of the more skulking and rarely seen threatened birds such as Slender-billed Babbler and Bristled and Indian Grassbirds. The rare and localised Finn’s Weaver is an outside possibility.

Scattered throughout the grassland tracts are a series of shallow wetlands which support good numbers of waterfowl, shorebirds and other waterbirds, including Lesser Whistling Duck, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Indian Spot-billed Duck, the near-threatened Spot-billed Pelican, Little Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Little, Eastern Great (split from Great) and Intermediate Egrets, Grey and Purple Herons, Eastern Cattle Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Asian Openbill, Woolly-necked and Black-necked Storks, Lesser Adjutant, Black-headed Ibis, White-breasted Waterhen, Brown Crake, Grey-headed Swamphen, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Red-wattled Lapwing, River and Whiskered Terns, and Common, Stork-billed, White-throated and Pied Kingfishers.

As temperatures rise, we should see numbers of raptors, and we will be on the lookout for Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzard, Black Baza, Black and Brahminy Kites, Pallas’s and Grey-headed Fish Eagles (both still fairly common here), Himalayan and Red-headed Vultures, Crested Serpent Eagle, Shikra, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Common Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon. If we are lucky we will come across a Red-necked Falcon.

Small areas of open woodland and belts of trees shelter plenty of interesting landbirds and we have a good chance of seeing Red Junglefowl, Kalij Pheasant, Oriental Turtle Dove, Common Emerald Dove, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Green-billed Malkoha, Banded Bay, Square-tailed Drongo and Indian Cuckoos, Oriental Pied and Great Hornbills, Lineated, Blue-throated and Coppersmith Barbets, Grey-capped Pygmy, Fulvous-breasted, Streak-throated and Black-naped Woodpeckers (the latter split from Grey-headed), Greater and Black-rumped Flamebacks, Alexandrine, Rose-ringed, Red-breasted and Blossom-headed Parakeets, Large and Black-winged Cuckooshrikes, Scarlet Minivet, Black-hooded Oriole, Ashy, Bronzed and Hair-crested and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos, Black-naped Monarch, Rufous Treepie, Abbott’s and Puff-throated Babblers, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, White-rumped Shama, Golden-fronted Leafbird, and Ruby-cheeked and Crimson Sunbirds. At this season, the large number of red-flowered Bombax trees attract flocks of Jungle Mynas and Chestnut-tailed Starlings and the rarer, restricted-range Spot-winged Starling.

Other species likely at Kaziranga include Spotted and Red Turtle Doves, Greater and Lesser Coucals, Asian Koel, Plaintive Cuckoo, Asian Palm Swift, Blue-bearded, Green, Blue-tailed and Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Black-billed (or Indian) Roller, Eurasian Hoopoe, Ashy Woodswallow, Common Iora, Small Minivet, Long-tailed Shrike, Black Drongo, House and Eastern Jungle Crows (the latter split from Large-billed), Cinereous Tit, Bengal Bushlark, Oriental Skylark, Red-whiskered, Red-vented and Black Bulbuls, Grey-throated Martin, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Striated Grassbird, Ashy and Plain Prinias, Common Tailorbird, Pin-striped, Chestnut-capped and Striated Babblers, Oriental White-eye, Asian Pied Starling, Common, Bank and Great (or White-vented) Mynas, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Siberian Stonechat, Yellow-vented and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, and Black-breasted and Baya Weavers. Nightbirds include Dusky Eagle-Owl, Brown Fish-Owl and Asian Barred and Spotted Owlets, and we will endeavour to find some of these at their daytime roosts.

Venturing further afield to some tea gardens, scrub and secondary forest adjacent to the park, we will pay particular attention to tracking down the tricky Blue-naped Pitta, as well as Black-crested and White-throated Bulbuls, Pale-chinned Flycatcher, Black-backed Forktail, Dark-necked Tailorbird, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Lesser Necklaced and Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes, and Rufous-fronted Babbler.

We are quite late in the season for overwintering visitors from northern Asia or the high Himalayas, but quite a few lingerers will still be present. Potential candidates include Greylag and Bar-headed Geese, Ruddy Shelduck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Eurasian Teal, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Duck and possibly Falcated Duck, Western Osprey, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Eastern Marsh, Hen and Pied Harriers, Greater Spotted, Steppe and Booted Eagles, Pacific Golden and Little Ringed Plovers, Northern and Grey-headed Lapwings, Common Snipe, Spotted and Common Redshanks, Common Greenshank, Marsh, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Temminck’s Stint, Brown and Grey-backed Shrikes, Barn Swallow, Dusky, Tickell’s Leaf, Yellow-browed, Greenish and Blyth’s Reed Warblers, Taiga Flycatcher, Blue Rock Thrush, White’s Thrush, White-tailed and Siberian Rubythroats, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, White, Citrine and Western Yellow Wagtails, and Paddyfield, Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits.

Kaziranga: Day 4  After a final morning birding in the Kaziranga area we will return to Guwahati for an overnight stay.

Kaziranga: Day 5  This morning we join up with those arriving for the main tour and head for Bhutan.

BHUTAN TOUR REPORT 2017

by Dave Farrow

View Report

BHUTAN TOUR REPORT 2016

by Dave Farrow

View Report

Other Himalayan birding tours by Birdquest include: