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5–22 March 2024

Bhutan is unspoilt, with over 70% of its land remaining forested; it is therefore considered one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots. On this exciting revised tour we will explore all of its habitats, from snow-capped mountains to alpine meadows, pristine forests to stunning river valleys, in search of such spectacular and sought-after Himalayan species as Rufous-necked Hornbill, White-bellied Heron, Satyr Tragopan, Black-necked Crane, Beautiful Nuthatch and Ward’s Trogon.

Day 1 Overnight flight from the UK to Delhi or Calcutta.

Day 2 This morning we will take an internal flight from Delhi or Calcutta to Paro, during which we will enjoy stunning views of the Himalayas. Upon arrival, we will set off on a scenic drive alongside the river Pa Chu. The beautiful glacial waters of the river are ideal habitat for the much sought-after but well-camouflaged Ibisbill, and we will be keeping our eyes very much open for what would be a super bird to start the tour. Also in this area, we may see such species as Black-tailed Crake, Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits, Hodgson’s and Plumbeous Redstarts, White Wagtail, Blue Whistling-thrush, Rufous-breasted Accentor, House Crow and Russet and Eurasian Tree Sparrows. If our luck is in, we may even encounter Wallcreeper here. Our drive will take us to our overnight destination of Thimphu, where we will visit the Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park. Whilst offering a chance for some further local birding and some wonderful panoramic photographs of the valley below, the park is also home to the Buddha Dordenma statue; at a height of 51 metres, this is one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. Overnight at Thimphu (2300m).

Day 3 Today, we will set out early to witness the awe-inspiring sight of the Himalayas as dawn breaks over the Dochu La Pass (3150m). The road leading to the pass is adorned with prayer flags and 108 chortens, and there are panoramic views of the Bhutanese Himalayas from the pass. Our birding in this area around Dochu La and Lampelri Park gives us our best opportunity to spot the rare and very elusive Red Panda. In these high elevations, amongst the mixed evergreen and broad-leaved forests, we will encounter a diverse range of species, which we hope will include Grey Nightjar, Hill Partridge, Kalij Pheasant, Large Hawk-cuckoo, Wedge-tailed Green-pigeon, Rufous-bellied and Darjeeling Woodpeckers, White-collared Blackbird, Brown-flanked and Russet Bush-warblers, Speckled Wood-pigeon, White-throated Fantail, Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike, Chestnut-headed Tesia, Tickell’s and Blyth’s Leaf Warblers, Pygmy Cupwing, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Red-tailed Minla, Brown Parrotbill, Grey-sided Laughingthrush, Rusty-flanked and Hodgson’s Treecreepers, Sapphire Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Niltava and maybe the rare Maroon-backed Accentor. Continuing our journey, we will head towards our overnight destination of Punakha, where we will first visit the majestic Punakha Dzong. Built in 1637 and perched on a promontory at the confluence of the rivers Mo (mother) and Pho (father) Chu, the dzong is known as the “Palace of Great Happiness” and is regarded as one of the most beautiful dzongs in Bhutan. After our visit to the dzong, we will bird along the Puna Tshang Chu river valley, where our target species will include a host of Eurasian duck species together with Osprey, Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Bar-headed Goose, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Brown Dipper, Pallas’s Gull, Little Ringed Plover, River Lapwing, Richard’s Pipit, Red-vented Bulbul, Spotted Dove, Scaly-breasted Munia, Slender-billed Oriole and White-browed Wagtail. Overnight in Punakha (1242m).

Day 4 Our first destination today is the Lawa La Pass at an elevation of 3350 metres. To reach it, we will take a scenic drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forests. These habitats afford excellent birding opportunities and give us chances to find some of the most sought-after birds in Bhutan. High on our wishlists for this area will be Ward’s Trogon, Spotted Elachura and Himalayan Cutia, together with species such as Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Asian Emerald and Himalayan Cuckoos, Brown-throated Treecreeper, Black-faced Warbler, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Dark-breasted Rosefinch, Speckled Piculet, Rufous-winged Fulvetta, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Large Niltava, Rufous-gorgeted and Slaty-blue Flycatchers and the rare Long-billed Thrush. Moving on from Lawa La, our next destination today, and a possible highlight for many, will be the picturesque Phobjikha Valley, renowned for its population of the near-threatened Black-necked Crane. These majestic birds migrate from the Tibetan plateau to over-winter in the valley, and their arrival is considered an auspicious sign by the local people. We will spend the rest of the day observing the cranes from advantageous viewpoints and walking in the valley, which is also home to such species as Oriental Skylark, Hen Harrier and Himalayan Vulture. Overnight in Phobjikha (3000m)

Day 5 We will make an early start today in order to target some of the other species high on everyone’s wishlists. First, we will make our way back through the Lawa La Pass, pausing to admire the panoramic views before heading on to our first birding site of the day at Pele La Pass. Here, we will be in search of such delightful species as Satyr Tragopan, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Bearded Vulture, Dark-rumped Rosefinch, Brown Bullfinch, Verditer Flycatcher, White-winged Grosbeak, Gold-naped Finch, Hume’s Bush-warbler and the rare Solitary Snipe. As we continue our journey to our ultimate destination for the day, Bumthang, we will make several stops. The first will be at Chendibji to photograph the Nepalese-style chorten. Situated alongside the river, according to legend, this picturesque structure was built in the 19th century to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was vanquished there. The remainder of today’s journey will take us through breathtaking landscapes as we pass through Trongsa and the highest pass of the day at Yotong La (3450m) before descending into the beautiful Bumthang Valley for our overnight stay. En route we may encounter species such as Himalayan Buzzard, Short-billed Minivet, Yellow-browed Tit, Grey-sided Bush-warbler, Lemon-rumped Warbler, White-throated Laughingthrush, Green Shrike-babbler, Bar-throated Siva, Rufous Sibia, Fulvous Parrotbill, Red-throated Thrush, White-browed Bush-robin, Green-tailed Sunbird, Alpine Accentor, Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch and Red Crossbill. Overnight in Bumthang (2800m).

Day 6 If the weather is kind to us, today’s drive is arguably one of the most stunning in the Himalayas. As we ascend to Selthang La Pass at 3600 metres, we should be treated to awe-inspiring views of the magnificent Gangkar Puensum. Standing at 7315 metres, this is the highest unclimbed peak in the world. We will be surrounded by the incredible landscapes of the High Himalayas, adorned with their typical Bhutanese villages and a myriad of prayer flags. We will pause in the tranquil valley of Ura, the highest of the four valleys in Bumthang, where we may encounter Himalayan Monal, Greenish Warbler, Collared Grosbeak, Gould’s Sunbird, White-browed Fulvetta, Upland Buzzard, Himalayan Owl (a recent split from Tawny Owl), Rufous-vented Tit, Buff-barred Warbler and Black-faced Laughingthrush. Leaving Ura, we will continue our ascent through forests of larch, silver fir, spruce and towering hemlocks until we reach Thrumshing La at 3780 metres. Along this stretch of road, we will be keeping our eyes open for Blood Pheasants feeding at the roadside. From here, we will continue to Sengor, where the coniferous forests give us good opportunities to search for Bar-winged Wren-babbler, White-browed Shortwing, Blanford’s Rosefinch, Asian House Martin, Hoary-throated Barwing, Black-headed Shrike-babbler, the rare Fire-tailed Sunbird, Crimson-browed Finch, Himalayan Bluetail, Red-headed Bullfinch, Striated Laughingthrush and the rare Rufous-breasted Bush-robin. En route to our ultimate destination of Yongkola, we will pause in the Namling Valley to look for Gould’s Shortwing. Two nights in Yongkola (1800m).

Day 7 Thrumshing La National Park is renowned as one of the finest birding destinations in Asia. It provides us with a fantastic opportunity to find some of Bhutan’s most prized bird species, many of which are rare or difficult to find elsewhere. Amongst our key targets in this area will be Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Long-billed and Rufous-throated Wren-babblers, Himalayan Wedge-billed Babbler and Beautiful Nuthatch. Other species in the area include Blue-fronted Robin, Green Cochoa, Ashy Wood-pigeon, Besra, Booted Eagle, Collared Owlet, Lesser Cuckoo, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Grey-cheeked Warbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Lesser Shortwing, Scaly Thrush, Fork-tailed Swift, Golden-throated Barbet, Ferruginous Flycatcher, Lesser Yellownape, Nepal House Martin, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Grey-bellied and Slaty-bellied Tesias, Mountain Tailorbird, Black Bulbul, Whistler’s and Broad-billed Warblers, Scaly and Blue-winged Laughingthrushes, Red-faced Liocichla, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Black-chinned Yuhina, Black-throated and Grey-headed Parrotbills, Alpine Thrush, Golden Bush-robin, Grey Bushchat, Pygmy Flycatcher, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Common Rosefinch, Scarlet Finch, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Spot-breasted Grosbeak, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Grey-chinned Minivet, Hair-crested Drongo, Grey-backed Shrike and, if luck is on our side, the elusive and rare Purple Cochoa. As night falls, we will undertake an evening safari to look for Brown Wood-owl, Hodgson’s Frogmouth and Mountain Scops-owl. We may also be lucky enough to spot the rare Bhutan Giant Flying Squirrel.

Day 8 Heading back towards Bumthang today, we will re-visit sites such as Namling, Sengor and Thrumshing La to give us another opportunity to catch up on any species we may have missed previously. We will also be on the lookout for Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler, Shikra, Great Parrotbill, Golden-breasted Fulvetta, Eurasian Woodcock, Ashy Drongo, Rufous-fronted and Grey-crested Tits, Stripe-throated Yuhina, White-throated Redstart, Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler and Little Bunting. In addition to the birds, we also have the opportunity to spot a few mammal species, including Hoary-bellied and Himalayan Five-striped Squirrels. There’s also another chance to try for the secretive Red Panda. Overnight in Bumthang (2800m).

Day 9 We will leave early in order to make the drive to Tharpaling Monastery, where our main objective is to catch a glimpse of the exquisite Himalayan Monal along with Snow Pigeon (usually found in small flocks) and the rare Godlewski’s Bunting. The surrounding area is home to several commoner species including Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Rufous-vented Yuhina, Black-throated Thrush, Blue-fronted Redstart, Plain Mountain Finch, Grey-winged Blackbird, Red-billed Chough and the local subspecies of Eurasian Magpie. Following a picnic breakfast at Tharpaling, we will continue our journey to Trongsa, stopping en route at Yotong La and Goenba Valley to maximise our birding opportunities and stretch our legs. On arrival in Trongsa, we will explore the magnificent Trongsa Dzong. Constructed in 1648, the dzong is amongst the largest in Bhutan. In terms of wildlife, we may have the chance to spot Assemese Macaque and Muntjac. Overnight in Trongsa (2170m).

Day 10 Our birding today will take place at a variety of altitudes, starting at 2170 metres and descending to 600 metres as we reach our next base at Tingtibi. Target species this morning include Black Eagle, White-tailed Robin, Crested Kingfisher, Oriental Turtle-dove, Barred Cuckoo-dove, Asian Palm-swift, Crimson-breasted and Bay Woodpeckers, Black-throated Prinia, Yellow-breasted Greenfinch, Long-tailed Shrike, Bhutan Laughingthrush, Orange-headed Thrush, Spotted Forktail, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, White-gorgeted and Little Pied Flycatchers, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-throated Tit, Striated and Mountain Bulbuls, White-bellied Erpornis, Scaly-breasted Cupwing, Tibetan Serin, Crested Bunting and Grey-headed Bullfinch. Following breakfast around Kuenga Rubten, we will continue our journey towards Tingtibi, making additional birding stops where time allows. Other species we hope to add today include Oriental Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Green-billed Malkoha, Great Hornbill, Himalayan & White-throated Bulbuls, Blue Rock-thrush, Common Tailorbird and Yellow-vented Warbler. Two nights in Tingtibi (600m).

Day 11 Today’s exploration of the rarely visited Royal Manas National Park in Tingtibi will showcase one of the most biodiverse areas in Bhutan. Throughout the day, we will be targeting a variety of species including some rare and special birds. At the very top of our lists for this area will be the critically endangered White-bellied Heron, accompanied by Pale-billed Parrotbill, White-browed Scimitar-babbler, White-hooded Babbler, Pin-tailed Green-pigeon, Plaintive, Banded Bay, Drongo and Grey-bellied Cuckoos, White-browed Piculet, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Blyth’s Paradise-flycatcher, Sultan Tit, Yellow-bellied, Yellow-browed and Rufous-faced Warblers, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler, Rufous-necked and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrushes, Plain Flowerpecker, Silver-eared Mesia, Blue-winged Siva, Slaty-backed, Snowy-browed, Dark-sided and Pale Blue Flycatchers, Common Hill and Common Mynas, Oriental Magpie-robin, Crimson Sunbird, White-rumped Munia, Forest Wagtail, House Swift, Bronzed Drongo, Grey-throated and Golden Babblers, Striated Yuhina, Small Niltava, the rare Blue-naped Pitta, White-throated Kingfisher, Barred Buttonquail, Rufescent Prinia, Great Cormorant, Tawny Fish-owl, Spot-bellied Eagle-owl, White-throated Needletail and Streaked Spiderhunter. The Tingtibi Valley also gives us our best chance to observe Golden Langurs as they forage along the roadside.

Day 12 We will begin the day by exploring the birdlife around our hotel in Tingtibi, immersing ourselves in the dawn chorus. As we head towards our next destination of Gelephu, we will make several key birding stops. The first will be at Tama La, where we will look for the near-threatened Yellow-rumped Honeyguide. From here, we will continue to the captivating Loderay Valley, where the changing altitudes and vegetation create a haven for a further range of species. Amongst others, we will be on the lookout here for Changeable Hawk-eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Hodgson’s Hawk-cuckoo, Mountain Imperial-pigeon, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Wreathed Hornbill, Greater Yellownape, Black Drongo, Himalayan Swiftlet, Rufous-throated Partridge, Ultramarine Flycatcher, Eurasian Wryneck, White-naped Yuhina, Black-throated Sunbird, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Rufous-backed Sibia, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Maroon Oriole and Coral-billed Scimitar-babbler. Two nights in Gelephu (221m).

Day 13 This morning will see us exploring the lush tropical forests of Gelephu. Key species for us here will include Alexandrine Parakeet, Jerdon’s Baza, Asian Koel, Rufous Treepie, Greater Coucal, Indian Peafowl, Black Stork, Crested Treeswift, Eastern Jungle Crow, Blue-eared Barbet, Large Woodshrike, Ashy Prinia, Aberrant Bush-warbler, Puff-throated Babbler, Pin-striped Tit-babbler, Great Myna, Asian Pied Starling, Siberian Rubythroat, White-rumped Shama, Black-hooded Oriole, Great (Cinereous) Tit, Common Iora, Indian Thick-knee, Red Collared-dove, Yellow-footed Pigeon, Green Imperial-pigeon, Jacobin and Indian Cuckoos, Indian Roller and Sand Lark. After breakfast, our next stop will be the sewage treatment plant (well, it wouldn’t be a birding trip without one, would it?). Here, we can expect to encounter such species as Lesser Coucal, Little Cormorant, Pied Kingfisher, Painted Snipe, Lesser Adjutant, Asian Openbill, Red-naped Ibis, Black-naped Monarch, Lineated Barbet, Red-wattled Lapwing, Paddyfield Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Lesser Whistling-duck, Indian Pond-heron, Pied Falconet, Black Kite, White-breasted Waterhen and Thick-billed Warbler. As night falls, we will embark on our second night-drive of the tour, this time around the town of Gelephu in search of owls; commonly seen species include Brown Hawk-owl, Collared Scops-owl, Asian Barred Owlet and Spotted Owlet.

Day 14 We will spend a significant part of this morning birding along the Sarpang road, where we may encounter Steppe Eagle, Red Junglefowl, Orange-breasted and Thick-billed Green-pigeons, the introduced Rose-ringed Parakeet, Large-tailed Nightjar, Striated Heron, Emerald Dove, Oriental Scops-owl, Chestnut-headed and Green Bee-eaters, Oriental Pied-hornbill, Coppersmith Barbet, Scarlet Minivet, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Jungle Babbler, Jungle Myna, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Pale-chinned and Taiga Flycatchers, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Ashy Woodswallow, Green-crowned and Smoky Warblers, Long-tailed Sibia, Pale-footed Bush-warbler, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Dollarbird, Brown Shrike, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Collared Falconet and Abbot’s Babbler. We will enjoy lunch today in the scenic surroundings of Dara Chu. In this area we should find White-crested Laughingthrush, Nepal Fulvetta, Whiskered Yuhina, Red-rumped Swallow, Long-tailed Broadbill, Red-headed Trogon, Red-billed Leiothrix and Collared Treepie. Overnight in Tsirang (1437m).

Day 15 Our primary focus this morning, should we have missed it earlier in the trip, will be to try and catch up with one of the rarest birds in the world: White-bellied Heron. Other targets for the morning include Greater Goldenback, Blue-throated Barbet, Rufous Woodpecker, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Dusky Warbler, Slaty-backed Forktail, Blue-throated Flycatcher, Spot-winged Starling and Long-tailed Minivet. Subsequently, we will begin our journey back towards Paro, making further birding stops as time allows. Species on our radar during the journey include Crested Serpent-eagle, Crested Goshawk, Alpine Swift, Great Barbet, Grey Treepie, Large-billed Crow, Fire-capped Tit, Eurasian Crag Martin, Ashy-throated Warbler, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Striated Prinia, Black-crested Bulbul, Grey-hooded Warbler and Indian White-eye. Two nights in Paro (2200m).

Day 16 An early morning start will take us up through ancient pine and fir forests to Chele La at 3780 metres, where there are fantastic views of the high Himalayan peaks of Jomolhari at 7326 metres and Jichu Drake at 6989 metres, and down into the Paro and Ha valleys. Chele La gives us the opportunity to ascend above the tree line into alpine meadows and dwarf rhododendron scrub, where we have another chance at finding the stunning Himalayan Monal and Blood Pheasant together with Himalayan Vulture, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Brown Parrotbill, Eurasian Kestrel, Yellow-browed Warbler, White-collared Blackbird, Blue-fronted Redstart, Rufous-breasted and Alpine Accentors and the stunning Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch. After a hot breakfast we will continue birding in this beautiful area before gradually making our way back to Paro. In the afternoon we will stop by the Pa Chhu, where, camouflaged amongst the glacial stones, Himalayan riverine species such as Ibisbill can be seen as they dip into the snowmelt, searching for food. We may also find Rosy Pipit, Plumbeous Water and White-capped Redstarts, Blue Whistling Thrush, Oriental Turtle Dove, Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-tailed Crake and Crested Goshawk.

Day 17 We will take a flight from Paro to Delhi or Calcutta, where we will catch a connecting return flight to London, arriving on Day 18.

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, which should be referred to your GP. Visas are required and will be arranged for you at cost price. No camping is involved with this tour.

Group Size Maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader, 12 with 2 leaders.

Satyr Tragopan

Satyr Tragopan

PRICE – Following the Bhutanese government's decision to reduce the very high tourist tax, we are pleased to reduce the cost of this tour by a similar amount to an affordable £5,495 including flights. The itinerary is currently being rewritten as entry into the Kingdom is now only possible by air.

Recommended books available from NHBS