Comprehensive Eastern Himalayas
A 15-day, small group birding tour that explores the Bhutanese Himalayas, from dense forests in the subtropical foothills to alpine meadows above the treeline at the country's highest mountain passes.
Our comprehensive tour of the fascinating Kingdom of Bhutan takes us through the most intact natural habitat in the Himalayan range to experience what has long been considered the epitome of Himalayan birding. We will explore a cross-section of elevations in this bird-rich environment, from remarkably intact foothill forests, through magnificent moss-draped mid-altitude forests that blanket the hillslopes, up into alpine meadows and over a series of high mountain passes hung with prayer flags. We will visit in late spring, when temperatures are comfortable at all altitudes and many species associate in exhilarating mixed feeding flocks. We will be looking for some of the most enticing birds to inhabit the Eastern Himalayas, stunners such as Satyr Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, Ward’s Trogon, Himalayan Cutia, Fire-tailed Myzornis, White-bellied Heron, Ibisbill, an incredible selection of scimitar-babblers, wren-babblers, thrushes, flycatchers, warblers and tits, and mammals including the endemic Golden Langur, all against a backdrop of the high Himalayas punctuated by colourful Buddhist stupas and imposing royal palaces.
Day 1: Guwahati to Gelephu
Arrivals into India’s Guwahati airport this morning, driving across the border into central Bhutan to Gelephu for the night. Along the drive we will encounter a host of the subcontinent’s more widespread birds, looking in particular for range-restricted Greater Adjutant.
Day 2-4: Tingtibe
The morning at Gelephu will provide a good introduction to Bhutan’s lowland birds, such as Wreathed Hornbill, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Violet Cuckoo, Spotted and Black-backed Forktails and Pied Falconet in relatively intact lowland forests. Moving on, we spend two nights camping at Tingtibe and Zhemgang, birding along a quiet and little-visited road that runs through mid-altitude broadleaved forests of the foothills, protected as Black Mountain and Royal Manas National Parks and hosting species such as Red-headed Trogon, Barred Cuckoo-dove, Long-tailed Broadbill, White-browed Piculet, Red-billed Leiothrix, Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler and Blyth’s Kingfisher, together with the endemic Golden Langur. Drive on to Trongsa in the afternoon of day 4 for an overnight stay.
Day 5: Bumthang
Today takes us north onto the Lateral Road, the extraordinary feat of engineering that bisects Bhutan, travelling east via Trongsa to Bumthang for the night. This will take us through some wonderful rhododendron forests at 3425m Yutong La, where we will encounter skulking high-altitude species such as Spotted and Black-faced Laughingthrushes, Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler, Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler, White-browed Shortwing and Fire-tailed Myzornis.
Day 6-9: Thrumsing La to Sengor, Namling and Yongkala along the Lingmethang Road
On day 6 we descend into the Ura Valley, looking for Plain Mountain-finch and Russet Sparrow, before ascending to 3780m and into the towering firs of Thrumsing La, prime habitat for Himalayan Monal, together with Spotted Nutcracker, Wallcreeper and Altai Accentor. The pass marks the start of the ornithologically celebrated Lingmethang Road, the section of the Lateral Road between here and the Shonkhar Chu Valley, widely regarded as one of the finest birding sites in Asia. Passing through pristine forest spanning over 3150m of altitude, this road offers incredible access to pristine forests across the altitudinal range, and with four nights divided between Sengor and Yongkala, we can expect an incredible diversity of species in high elevation coniferous forests and subtropical broadleaved woodland at lower levels. These include Ward’s Trogon, Gould’s and Lesser Shortwings, Bar-winged Wren-babbler, Beautiful Nuthatch, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Himalayan Cutia, Rufous-necked Hornbill, the star-studded Satyr Tragopan, Snow Pigeon, more secretive residents such as Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler and Coral-billed Scimitar-babbler, and an incredible selection of flycatchers, warblers and tits.
Day 10: Trongsa
Today we retrace our journey, heading back west to Trongsa, looking and listening for any species we may so far have missed.
Day 11: Pele La and the Phobjikha Valley
This morning takes us up to 3420m at Pele La, looking for Spotted and Bhutan Laughingthrushes, Long-tailed Thrush, Collared and White-winged Grosbeaks, Black-throated Parrotbill, Bearded Vulture and with luck Red Panda, as we make our way to the Phobjikha Valley for the night. The vast glacial valley’s mosaic of grass, scrub and farms supports Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Green-tailed and Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds, Black-faced and Grey-hooded Warblers and Striated Prinia.
Day 12: Punakha and the Tashitang Valley via Lawa La
Today we cross Lawa La, where stands of dwarf bamboo hold Great and Brown Parrotbills, heading towards Punakha for the night. We will spend the afternoon birding within the scenic Tashitang Valley, where dense forests spanning a range of elevations host Spotted Elachura, all three species of tesia, Golden Bush-robin, Red-faced Liocichla, Small Niltava, Scarlet Finch and Fire-capped Tit.
Day 13: Pho Chu Valley and Jigme Dorji National Park
Spend the day birding within the Pho Chu Valley in Jigme Dorji National Park and along the Pho Chu River. The valley hosts many of our targets, notably the critically endangered White-bellied Heron, Black-tailed Crake and Ibisbill, plus White-capped Redstart, Brown Dipper and Pallas’s Fish-eagle. By mid-afternoon we will drive west via Dochu La and the capital city, Thimphu, to Paro for a two-night stay.
Day 14: Chele La
The final day of the tour will take us to Chele La, at 3890m the highest pass accessible by road in Bhutan. Ascending above the treeline we can expect to encounter a final selection of high-altitude specialities, in particular Blood Pheasant and Himalayan Griffon.
Day 15: Depart Paro
Departures from Paro international airport today.
9 April - 23 April 2021
with Sherab Dorji
8 April - 22 April 2022
with Sherab Dorji
Duration: 15 days
Maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader
2021: £ 3725 (Guwahati/Paro)
2022: £ tba* (Guwahati/Paro)
Single room supplement 2021: £ 245
Single room supplement 2022: £ tba*
Deposit: £ 500
Estimated flight costs: £ 950
Estimated visa costs: £ 20
Best time: November, April to May
2021: from £ 4770 per person
2022: from £ tba per person*
[prices are per person based on 2 people travelling together; costs for other group sizes on request]
*2022 costs provisional
Tour grading: Moderate. Most birding will be on foot along quiet, paved roads; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field. Note we bird to 3890m where altitude makes walking more strenuous.
Accommodation: Fully serviced mobile tented camp with shared bathroom facilities in Tingtibe, comfortable good to medium standard hotels and guesthouses with private facilities elsewhere.
Photography: Good to excellent
Key species: Himalayan Monal, Satyr Tragopan, Blood Pheasant, Snow Pigeon, Himalayan Cutia, Beautiful Nuthatch, Ward's and Red-headed Trogons, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Gould's and White-browed Shortwings, Spotted, Bhutan, Rufous-necked, Grey-sided and Black-faced Laughingthrushes, Bar-winged and Scaly-breasted Wren-babblers, Streak-breasted, Slender-billed and Coral-billed Scimitar-babblers, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, Grey-throated and White-hooded Babblers, White-browed Bush-robin, Alpine Thrush, Slaty-belled and Chestnut-headed Tesias, Spotted Elachura, Great, Black-throated and Brown Parrotbills, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Pale-headed and Bay Woodpeckers, White-browed Piculet, Blyth's, Black-headed and Black-eared Shrike-babblers, Spotted Nutcracker, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Rufous-fronted Bushtit, Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch, Altai Accentor, Wallcreeper, Ibisbill, Blyth's Kingfisher, White-bellied Heron, Black-tailed Crake, Solitary Snipe, Red-billed and Alpine Choughs, Himalayan Owl, Mountain Scops-owl, Collared Owlet, Hodgson's Frogmouth, Himalayan Griffon, Bearded Vulture, Golden and Capped Langurs, Malayan Giant Squirrel, Back-striped Weasel.
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