19 March–6 April 2014
Bhutan was protected by both its isolation within the Himalayas and its deep valleys and almost impenetrable forests until 1970 when it finally opened its doors. The Buddhist philosophy that life is sacred and should be protected has resulted in over 70% of the land remaining forested. As a result Bhutan is now considered one of the world's top ten biodiversity hotspots. On this exciting new tour we will explore most of the country and all of its habitats, from snow-capped mountains to alpine meadows, pristine forests to spectacular river valleys, in search of White-bellied Heron, Himalayan Monal, Satyr Tragopan, Blood Pheasant, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Ward's Trogon, Beautiful Nuthatch, Wedge-billed Wren-babbler, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Mrs Gould's and Green-tailed Sunbirds and Collared Grosbeak.
Day 1 Overnight flight from the UK to Calcutta.
Day 2 This morning we take the Druk Air flight to Paro, Bhutan, where we should have good views of the Himalayas, including many of the highest mountains in the world. After checking into our hotel and having lunch we will begin with a walk along the river to look for Ibisbill, River Lapwing, Indian Roller, Rock Pigeon, Oriental Turtle-dove, Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits, Black Bulbul, Long-tailed Minivet, White-capped and Plumbeous Redstarts, White-browed Fulvetta, Long-tailed and Grey-backed Shrikes, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch and Russet Sparrow. Overnight at Gangtey Palace, Paro (2300m).
Day 3 We depart early for our journey up through ancient pine and fir forests to Chele La Pass (3780 m), where there are fantastic views of the high Himalayan peaks of Jhomolhari (7219m), Jichu Drake (6989m) and down into the Paro and Ha valleys. Above the tree line we will look for Lammergeier, Hill Partridge, Blood and Kalij Pheasants, Large Hawk-cuckoo, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Alpine Accentor, White-collared Blackbird, Black-throated Thrush, White-throated Redstart, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler, Chestnut-tailed Minla, Green-backed Tit, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Gold-billed Magpie, Yellow-browed Warbler and White-browed Rosefinch. After a hot breakfast we will continue birding in this beautiful area before gradually making our way back to Paro and on to Thimphu. We will stop near Shaba to look for Wallcreeper. In Thimphu we will visit the sewage treatment plant where there will be a wide variety of birds including Ruddy Shelduck, Ferruginous Duck, Blue Whistling-thrush, Little Bunting, Black-tailed Crake and Brown Dipper. Overnight at the Riverview Hotel, Thimphu (2400m).
Day 4 We will leave our hotel very early in order to see the Himalayas as dawn breaks over Dochu La Pass (3200 m). This is an awe-inspiring sight enhanced by the prayer flags festooned along the road and the chortens. While drinking in the scenery we will also be on the lookout for Great Barbet, Rufous-breasted and Maroon-backed Accentors, White-browed Shortwing, Ashy-throated and Whistler's Warblers, Verditer and Ferruginous Flycatchers, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Blue-fronted Redstart, Striated Laughingthrush, Rufous Sibia, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Fire-capped Tit, Green-tailed Sunbird, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Dark-rumped Rosefinch and Large-billed Crow. After breakfast we will follow a trail through the broad-leafed forest where we should have our first encounter with the rare Ward's Trogon. Other possibilities include Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Large Niltava, Grey Bushchat, Yellow-bellied Fairy-fantail, Hoary-throated Barwing, Maroon Oriole and Grey Treepie. At the bottom of the trail we will have lunch then drive through sub-tropical forests to the green terraced fields of Punakha. Punakha Dzong is majestically situated on a promontory that juts out between the crystal-clear waters of the Mo chhu (female) and Pho chhu (male), which merge into the Puna Tsang chhu, and it is here, in this relatively open habitat, that we will find Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler, Slender-billed Oriole and Richard's Pipit. This is also home to the globally threatened White-bellied Heron. Two nights at Meri Puensum, Punakha (1400m).
Day 5 Today we will rise before dawn and drive to the beautiful, pristine forested areas of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park, at an elevation of 1400m. This area is much warmer than any we have previously encountered and necessitates a very early rise in order to catch birding activity at its best. In this magnificent forest we should encounter Golden Eagle, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Tawny Fish-owl, Red-headed Trogon, Grey-faced Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape, Asian House-martin, Red-vented, Striated and Mountain Bulbuls, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Plain-backed Thrush, Sapphire Flycatcher, Large and Small Niltavas, Little and Slaty-backed Forktails, Spotted Wren-babbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Blue-winged Minla, Rufous-winged and Nepal Fulvettas, Whiskered Yuhina, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Ashy and Hair-crested Drongos, Tibetan Serin, Spot-winged Grosbeak and Scarlet Finch. In the afternoon we will drive along the Pho Chhu to look for Pallas's Fish-eagle, Pallas's Gull, White-throated Kingfisher, Oriental Magpie-robin, Chestnut-tailed Starling and Nutmeg Mannikin.
Day 6 In the early morning we will bird the dense and pristine forests at the foot of Pele La, looking for Wedge-tailed Pigeon, Plaintive Cuckoo, Himalayan Swiftlet, Pacific and House Swifts, Golden-throated Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Scarlet Minivet, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Black-throated Tit and Blyth's Leaf-warbler. After breakfast in the field we will drive up through mixed broad-leafed forests to Khelekha to look for the rare Yellow-rumped Honeyguide. The last stage of the journey takes us through mixed conifer forests to our campsite amidst flowering rhododendrons and magnolias, where we will look for Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Great and Fulvous Parrotbills, White-tailed Nuthatch and Eurasian Nutcracker. Overnight camp at Pele La Pass (3300m).
Day 7 In the early morning we will look for Himalayan Griffon, Himalayan Monal, Pale-rumped Warbler, Blue-capped Redstart, White-throated Laughingthrush, Red-billed Leiothrix, Rufous-vented Yuhina, Brown Parrotbill, Yellow-browed and Rufous-vented Tits, Plain Mountain-finch, White-winged Grosbeak and Crimson-browed and Dark-breasted Rosefinches, before descending into the heart of central Bhutan's Black Mountain region. As we descend to lower altitudes we will look for flocks of Snow Pigeons in the fields. At Chendibji we will break our journey for lunch and to look for Bhutan Laughingthrush before continuing to Trongsa. Overnight at Yangkhil Lodge, Trongsa (2200m).
Day 8 Our birding today takes us through mixed broad-leaved forests from 2400m down to 900m. This is home to the Golden Leaf Monkey (Langur) together with Red Junglefowl, Black Eagle, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Mountain Hawk-eagle, White-crested Laughingthrush, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Blue Rock-thrush, Striated Yuhina, Common Green Magpie, Blanford's Rosefinch, Spot-winged Starling and Blue-throated Barbet. It is a long drive to Shemgang but we will regularly stop to look for Grey-chinned Minivet, Striated Bulbul, Lesser Yellownape, Long-tailed Broadbill and Rufous-breasted Bush-robin. Just before Shemgang we should have our first encounter with the rare Rufous-necked Hornbill whilst other species we may see include Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Himalayan Cutia, Silver-eared Mesia, Crested Serpent-eagle and Pygmy Blue-flycatcher and Blue-throated Flycatcher. We will have lunch around Shemgang before descending into the warmer sub-tropical area around Tingtibi, where we will look for Mountain Imperial-pigeon, Emerald Dove, Common Tailorbird, Rufescent Prinia, White-throated Fantail, White-browed Scimitar-babbler, Black-throated Sunbird, Streaked Spiderhunter and Black and Bronzed Drongos. Two nights' camping near Tingtibi (900m).
Day 9 Shemgang Road is one of the most beautiful roads in the world. Here we can be sure of finding an amazing variety of rare and special birds as well as Black (Malayan) Giant Squirrel, Yellow-throated Martin and Five Stripe Palm Squirrel. Species we may encounter include Collared Falconet, Crested Goshawk, Shikra, Barred Cuckoo-dove, Pin-tailed Pigeon, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, Great Hornbill, Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike, Black-crested and Ashy Bulbuls, Grey-hooded Warbler, Pale Blue-flycatcher, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Grey-throated and White-hooded Babblers, Long-billed Wren-babbler, Black-chinned Yuhina, White-bellied Erpornis, Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch and Large Woodshrike.
Day 10 Today we will start early to get to the habitat of the Beautiful Nuthatch, allowing ourselves plenty of time to locate and see this amazing and rare bird. Other species we will hope to encounter here include Bay Woodpecker, White-cheeked Bulbul, Blue-capped Rock-thrush, Tickell's Leaf-warbler, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Spotted Forktail, Siberian Stonechat, White-tailed Robin, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Pygmy Cupwing, White-naped Yuhina, Eastern Crimson Sunbird and Sultan Tit. After breakfast we will continue birding along the Shemgang road, stopping at prime locations to cover habitats we missed on our way down to Tingtibi and to absorb the sheer beauty of this part of Bhutan. Overnight at Yangkhil Lodge, Trongsa (2200m).
Day 11 We will start by gradually make our way up to Yutong La Pass (3353m), through magnificent rhododendron and magnolia forests. Some of the species that are regularly seen here include Chestnut-headed Tesia, Yellowish-bellied Bush-warbler, Buff-barred Warbler, Large-billed Leaf-warbler, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, White-browed Bush-robin, Red-tailed Minla, Grey-crested Tit, Gould's Sunbird and Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker. We will have lunch in Bumthang then continue our drive to Ura via Shertang La Pass (3573 m) where there are spectacular views of the magnificent Gangkar Puensum, which, at 7315m, is the world's highest unclimbed peak. Samba Deer can sometimes be seen here. Overnight camp at Ura (3000m).
Day 12 This morning we will drive up along one of the most spectacular roads in the Himalayas, where Blood Pheasants and accentors are often seen foraging by the roadside. Other birds we should encounter include Upland Buzzard, Black-browed Tit, Grey-sided Bush-warbler, Yellow-vented and White-spectacled Warblers, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Himalayan Accentor, Green Shrike-babbler, White-collared Blackbird, Himalayan Bluetail, Golden Bush-robin and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush. From Thrumshing La we will descend through pristine forests with Spanish moss literally dripping from the trees to our camp. En route we will look for Fire-tailed Myzornis and when we reach our camp we will scan for the rare Satyr Tragopan. Overnight camp at Sengor (3000m).
Day 13 Today will be spent birding in the upper Yongkola region where we will look for Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler, one of Bhutan's most prized bird species. After birding the upper elevations we will slowly descend, with occasional stops to cover the prime birding areas where we will look for Black-headed Shrike-babbler, Rusty-fronted Barwing, the exquisite Yellow-throated and Golden-breasted Fulvettas, Rufous-faced and Black-faced Warblers, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Scaly Laughingthrush, Coral-billed Scimitar-babbler, Gold-naped Finch, Red-headed Bullfinch and Rufous-throated Wren-babbler to mention just a few. Two nights' camping at Yongkola (1890m).
Day 14 Camping in this beautiful forest, where the ancient trees are festooned with orchids, enables us to take advantage of early morning birding activity and look for Besra, Rufous-throated Partridge, Steppe and Rufous-bellied Eagles, Speckled and Ashy Wood-pigeons, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, the rare Blackish-breasted Wren-babbler, Oriental Cuckoo, Collared Owlet, Short-billed Minivet, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Ultramarine and Dark-sided Flycatchers, Hodgson's Redstart, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Mountain Bulbul, Hill and Striated Prinias, Grey-bellied Tesia, Chestnut-crowned and Greenish Warblers, Rufous-necked and Grey-sided Laughingthrushes, Red-faced Liocichla, Golden Babbler, Black-eared shrike-babbler, Brown-throated Treecreeper, Nepal House-martin and Rufous-headed and Black-throated Parrotbills. Mammals such as Capped Langur, Assamese Macaque and Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel can also be found in this forest.
Day 15 A seven-hour drive over Thrumshing La Pass, will give us excellent views of the eastern Himalayan ranges. We will make occasional stops for birds. Overnight at Gongkhar Guesthouse, Bumthang (2800m).
Day 16 We will continue across the Yotong La, drop down to Chendibji for a picnic lunch, climb up to Pele La then finally descend to Wangdue to our hotel, located on the bank of the Dang Chhu. In the hotel grounds we should have great views of Crested Kingfisher, Oriental White-eye and Crested Bunting. Overnight at Kychu Resort, Wangdue (1350m).
Day 17 The morning will be spent birding around the hotel grounds, home to the rare Spot-bellied Eagle-owl. On the three-hour drive back to Paro we will stop at the Botanical Gardens – prime habitat for birds such as Darjeeling Woodpecker and Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush as well as the elusive Red Panda. Overnight at Gangtey Palace, Paro (2300m).
Day 18 This morning we will drive to the airport to catch a flight to Calcutta, where we will connect with a flight back to the UK.
Day 19 Arrival back in the UK at the end of the tour.
General Information There will be some long drives and short walks at altitudes of up to nearly 4000 metres. The climate will vary from cold in the mornings at altitude to quite warm during the day. Some rain is possible although it is the dry season. There are special health requirements. Visas are required.
Group Size Maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader, 12 with 2 leaders.