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BHUTAN

19 March–6 April 2018

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 new 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, Satyr Tragopan and Ward’s Trogon.

Day 1 Overnight flight from the UK to Calcutta.

Day 2 This morning we will take an internal flight from Calcutta to Guwahati followed by a three-hour drive across the border into Bhutan. We may have time to visit a local rubbish dump where Greater and Lesser Adjutants can be viewed at close range and during the course of the drive we will keep our eyes open for Little Cormorant and White-throated Kingfisher. Time permitting, after checking into our hotel in Samdrup Jongkhar, we will bird the local area. Species we may see here include Indian and Chinese Pond-herons, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night-heron, Little and Cattle Egrets, Asian Pied Starling, Common Myna, Rose-ringed and Alexandrine Parakeets, Common Tailorbird, Oriental Magpie-robin, Yellow-footed Pigeon, Common Iora and Green Bee-eater. If our luck is really in, we may even find a Blyth’s Kingfisher, Dark-rumped Swift or Black-backed Forktail. Three nights at the Hotel Tashi Gasel, Samdrup Jongkhar.

Day 3 Today will be spent exploring the tropical forest between Samdrup Jongkhar and Deothang. Target birds in this area include Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Little Spiderhunter, Pied Harrier, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Indian Paradise-flycatcher, Blue-eared, Coppersmith and Lineated Barbets, Long-tailed Sibia, White-rumped Shama, Thick-billed Warbler, Plaintive Cuckoo, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Dollarbird, Wreathed and Great Hornbills, Oriental Pied-hornbill, Puff-throated Babbler and the much-rarer Pale-headed Woodpecker and Hooded Pitta.

Day 4 We will make an early start this morning so that we can spend as much time as possible birding the subtropical forest above Samdrup Jongkhar, looking for species such as: Thick-billed and Pin-tailed Pigeons, Asian Emerald Dove, Green-billed Malkoha, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Black-naped Monarch, Fulvous-breasted and Grey-capped Woodpeckers, Common Green-magpie, Red-faced Liocichla, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Greater Coucal, Crimson Sunbird, Silver-eared Mesia, Greater Flameback, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, Hodgson’s Hawk-cuckoo, Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo, White-throated Needletail, Grey Nightjar, Long-tailed Broadbill, Brown Shrike, Slender-billed Oriole, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Ferruginous and Blue-throated Flycatchers, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Sultan Tit, Himalayan Bulbul, Hume’s, Greenish and Grey-cheeked Warblers, Grey-throated Babbler, Striated Yuhina, White-bellied Erpornis, both greater and lesser subspecies of Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Streaked Spiderhunter, Grey and White Wagtails and Grey-headed Bullfinch. If fortune favours us, we may encounter one of the rarer species in this area, such as Silver-breasted Broadbill, Beautiful Nuthatch or Green Cochoa.

Day 5 We will start early today in order to make the 40-kilometre drive to Morong by daybreak. The day will be spent birding the stretch of road between Morong and Narphung. The superb forests in this area provide opportunities to add a number of species to our growing lists: Rusty-fronted Barwing, Red-tailed Minla, Hill Partridge, Kalij Pheasant, Bay Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Golden-throated and Great Barbets, Lesser and Asian Emerald Cuckoos, Himalayan Swiftlet, Pacific and House Swifts, Collared and Asian Barred Owlets, Wedge-tailed Pigeon, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Besra, Northern Goshawk, Bonelli’s Eagle and Long-tailed and Grey-backed Shrikes. If we are lucky, we may also find a Spot-bellied Eagle-owl. Overnight in a basic guesthouse at Womrong at 1800 metres.

Day 6 After breakfast, we will continue our scenic drive, with spectacular views of hills, isolated farms and tiny hamlets as we head towards Trashigang. Species we will be looking out for on our 90-kilometre drive include: Grey Treepie, Eurasian Jay, Large-billed Crow, Long-tailed Minivet, White-throated Fantail, Black Drongo, Ultramarine and Little Pied Flycatchers, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Siberian Stonechat, White-tailed Nuthatch, Green-backed and Black-throated Tits, Striated and Black Bulbuls, Aberrant Bush-warbler, Mountain Tailorbird, Striated and White-throated Laughingthrushes, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-babbler, Red-billed Leiothrix, Green-tailed and Gould’s Sunbirds, Russet and Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Olive-backed Pipit and Yellow-breasted Greenfinch. We may also see the much rarer Long-billed Thrush, White-gorgeted Flycatcher and Maroon-backed Accentor. Overnight at the Druk Deojung Resort, Trashigang (1100 metres).

Day 7 We will leave Trashigang after an early breakfast and continue our journey via Chazam and Sherichu, from where the road climbs by means of ten hairpin bends (known as the Yadi Loops) in just ten kilometres. From here we will continue to the little village of Yadi. The road passes fields of corn and broad-leaved forests, where we will stop and bird before our final ascent to Kori La at 2450 metres. Here, amongst other species, we may find Scarlet Finch, Grey-winged Blackbird, Sikkim Treecreeper and Grey-sided Laughingthrush. Crossing the pass, we will descend through cool, broad-leaved trees dripping with orchids and fern-lined forests of rhododendrons. Again, we will stop to bird, and we hope to add such species as Maroon Oriole, Common Rosefinch, Hill Prinia, Fire-capped Tit, Bhutan Laughingthrush and Barn Swallow. We will continue to descend to the attractive town of Mongar and on to the subtropical forests around Lingmithang at 650m before we begin to climb again, through breathtaking scenery, to our villa in Yongkola, where we will be based for the next four nights at 1700 metres.

Days 8–10 The warm, broad-leaved forests in this area provide the perfect environment for many avian species, including many of Bhutan’s most sought-after birds, and we will spend these three days exploring both the upper and lower regions of Yongkola. In the breathtaking landscape of the upper region we will bird in a protected area of pristine forests using a paved, yet rarely used road. Our quarry in this area will include some of Bhutan’s most prized species: Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler and the little known and endangered Rufous-throated Wren-babbler. After birding the upper elevations, we will slowly descend to the wonderfully rich forests along the lower section, where ancient trees are festooned with orchids, providing a riot of colour. Trails criss-cross the forests, but few birders venture very far along them, so exactly what awaits us may be a complete surprise! We should encounter: Rufous-throated and Chestnut-breasted Partridges, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Blue-throated Barbet, Large Hawk-cuckoo, Oriental Cuckoo, Grey-chinned and Short-billed Minivets, Yellow-bellied Fairy-fantail, Blue-capped Rock-thrush, White-browed Shortwing, Verditer Flycatcher, Hodgson’s Redstart, Black-browed and Yellow-cheeked Tits, Ashy Bulbul, Striated Prinia, Grey-bellied Tesia, Grey-hooded, White-spectacled and Black-faced Warblers, White-crested and Rufous-necked Laughingthrushes, Coral-billed Scimitar-babbler, Golden Babbler, Black-eared and the rarer Black-headed Shrike-babblers, Chestnut-tailed Minla, White-naped and Black-chinned Yuhinas, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker and Crimson-browed Finch. As if this wasn’t enough, we also have chances here to see the rare Rufous-necked Hornbill (a bird which is difficult elsewhere but has a healthy population in Bhutan), Speckled Wood-pigeon, the exquisite Golden-breasted and Yellow-throated Fulvettas and two of the Himalayas’ rarest birds: the cobalt Blue-fronted Robin and the elusive and strange Chevron-breasted Babbler.

Day 11 Dawn is one of the best times of day to spot a Satyr Tragopan and we will have to rise early to make the drive to Sengor for our best opportunity to see this colourful and sought-after species. These early hours also afford us our best chance of seeing the rare Bar-winged Wren-babbler before we return to the vehicles and continue our journey. After breakfast, our drive will take us up through pristine forests with Spanish moss hanging in long trails from the branches to the high pass at Thrumshing La at 3799 metres, where we will have breathtaking views of the eastern Himalayas. Both on our ascent to the pass and on our descent through forests of towering Hemlock, Spruce, Silver Fir and Larch, we will stop to bird, looking out for flocks of Grey-crested and Coal Tits, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Ashy-throated and Pale-rumped Warblers, Large-billed and Blyth’s Leaf Warblers, White-browed Fulvetta and Green Shrike-babbler. Other species we may encounter include: Upland Buzzard, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Himalayan Bluetail, White-browed Bush-robin, Eurasian and Rusty-flanked Treecreepers, Red Crossbill, Collared Grosbeak and Eyebrowed, Dusky and Black-throated Thrushes. Continuing our journey, we will descend to the valleys of Bumthang, passing through the picturesque village of Ura on our way to Jakar and our hotel for the night. We will stop to bird occasionally and hope to add Great Parrotbill, White-throated Redstart and Indian Blue Robin. Overnight at Kailas Guesthouse, Bumthang at 2600 metres.

Day 12 After a hot drink we will leave early in order to cross the Chumme Valley to Gyeltsha. From here we will take a short detour to Thappaling monastery, where we will have our first chance to look for Himalayan Monal and Blood Pheasant together with another chance for Satyr Tragopan. After breakfast we will make our way to Yotong La at 3353 metres. As we drive through this area, regarded as the religious heartland, we will undoubtedly see Eurasian Magpie (the only place it is found in Bhutan) and Red-billed Chough feeding in the fields of buckwheat. Reaching the pass, we will bird this amazing environment where species seen regularly include Chestnut-headed Tesia, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Yellow-bellied Flowerpecker, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, White-winged Grosbeak and Fulvous Parrotbill. After lunching at the pass, this afternoon we will drive along the Shemgang Road for more birding en route to our hotel for the night in Trongsa. Along this stretch of road we should encounter Barred Cuckoo-dove, Greater Yellownape, Steppe Eagle and Tibetan Serin. Overnight at Yangkhil Resort, Trongsa (2200 metres).

Day 13 The first part of this morning will be spent birding between Trongsa and Chendibji. After a hot picnic breakfast, we will continue through the village of Chendibji to the Nepalese-style chorten (Buddhist shrine), picturesquely located alongside the river, where we may encounter Brown Dipper, Crested Kingfisher, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Plain Mountain-finch and Yellow-browed Tit. After a short break for anyone who wishes to take a look at the chorten, we will continue our journey up to Pele La at 3350 metres, where, with clear skies, there are stunning views of valleys, hills and mountain ridges leading you up to Kangbum and Jichu Drake, before heading for the sheltered valley of Phobjikha. This is a high-altitude wetland and forms a biological corridor between the national parks of Jigme Dorji and Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys and is rich in faunal biodiversity and home to many endangered and rare species including Black-necked Crane. In this area we may find Gold-naped Finch, Golden Eagle, Grey-sided Bush-warbler, Streaked Laughingthrush and Yellow-billed Blue-magpie. Overnight at Gakling Guesthouse, Phobjikha at 2700 metres.

Day 14 We will rise early again this morning and climb through pristine mixed broad-leaved and evergreen forests with dense bamboo undergrowth. Our targets in this habitat will include Spotted Laughingthrush, Rufous-vented and Whiskered Yuhinas, Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Brown and Red-headed Bullfinches and Lammergeier. As we reach Lawa La at 3300 metres, with prayer flags fluttering in the breeze, we will have views across to the snow-capped Jomolhari standing at 7326m, which marks the border between central and western Bhutan. After soaking up the view, we will descend through rhododendron forests to the valley below, where we should see Spotted Forktail, Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Himalayan Cutia, Pied Shrike-babbler, Grey-headed Woodpecker and Speckled Piculet. Two nights at Meri Puensam Resort, Punakha at 1300 metres.

Day 15 We will need to make an early start today to reach Jigme Dorji National Park in time for some early-morning birding. The magnificent pristine forest here should produce Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, Red-headed Trogon, Asian House-martin, Red-vented and Mountain Bulbuls, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Plain-backed Thrush, Sapphire Flycatcher, Large and Small Niltavas, Little and Slaty-backed Forktails, Spotted Elachura, Rufous-capped Babbler, Blue-winged Minla, Rufous-winged and Nepal Fulvettas, Slaty-bellied Tesia, Ashy and Hair-crested Drongos and Spot-winged Grosbeak. We may also be lucky enough to stumble across a rare Tawny Fish-owl. In the afternoon we will drive along the Pho Chhu to look for Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Pallas’s Gull, Scaly-breasted Munia and perhaps the critically endangered White-bellied Heron.

Day 16 This morning we will leave the terraced fields and subtropical forests around Punakha before dawn and head for a site where we hope to spot our main target bird for the day: Ward’s Trogon. Other species on our radar will be Mountain Hawk-eagle, Black Eagle and Slaty-blue Flycatcher. After a hot picnic breakfast we will continue to the Royal Botanical Park at Lampelri, which is home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna. We will look particularly for Chestnut-crowned Warbler and Dark-rumped and Dark-breasted Rosefinches. With a bit of luck, we may also encounter one or more of the rare mammals supported by the park: Musk Deer, Tiger, Leopard, Red Panda and Leopard Cat. Our next stop will be Dochu La, an awe-inspiring place with 108 chortens and a road festooned with prayer flags. From here, on a clear day, there are magnificent panoramic views of the high Himalayas, including Gangkar Puensum – the highest peak in Bhutan at 7497 metres. After what we hope will have been a rewarding day’s birding, we will descend to Paro and our hotel for the final two nights in Bhutan. Two nights at the Hotel Olathang, Paro at 2300 metres.

Day 17 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 7326 metres and Jichu Drake 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 Griffon, 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 should also find Rosy Pipit, White-capped and Plumbeous Redstarts, Blue Whistling-thrush, Oriental Turtle-dove, Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-tailed Crake and Crested Goshawk.

Day 18 We will take a flight from Paro to Calcutta, where we will catch a connecting return flight to London, arriving on Day 19.

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

Satyr Tragopan

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