Himalayan Highlights with Black-necked Crane
An 8-day, small group birding tour that explores the Himalayas of Western Bhutan, in search of Eastern Himalayan specialities and overwintering Black-necked Cranes.
Our short tour of the Kingdom of Bhutan takes us through the western half of this fascinating country 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, travelling 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 November, our tour coinciding with the time overwintering Black-necked Cranes return to the Phobjikha Valley. This tour offers an affordable introduction to birding in a country that is expensive to visit, and good opportunities to see 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, warblers and tits, all against a backdrop of the high Himalayas punctuated by colourful Buddhist stupas and imposing royal palaces.
Day 1: Paro to Thimphu
Arrivals into Bhutan’s Paro airport this morning. From here we will set out onto the Lateral Road, the extraordinary feat of engineering that bisects Bhutan, travelling east to the capital city, Thimphu, for an overnight stay. In the afternoon we will visit local sewage ponds looking for Ibisbill and Brown Dipper, White-capped Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, and a selection of more widespread Himalayan species such as Russet Sparrow and Rufous-breasted Accentor.
Day 2: Thimphu to Punakha and the Pho Chu Valley via Dochu La
Today we ascend to 3150m as we cross Dochu La, where mixed forests of hemlock, fir, oak and rhododendron hold Striated, Spotted and Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrushes and a selection of fulvettas and yuhinas, heading towards Punakha for a two-night stay. Later this morning we will visit the Royal Botanical Park below the pass at Lamperi, where we will encounter a good selection of Bhutan’s higher elevation birds. These include Darjeeling and Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers, Blue-fronted Redstart, Brown Parrotbill, Black-eared Shrike-babbler and Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler. Spend the afternoon birding within the Pho Chu Valley and along the Pho Chu River in search of one of our primary targets and one of the rarest birds in the world, the critically endangered White-bellied Heron, alongside Pallas’s Fish-Eagle and Crested Kingfisher.
Day 3: Punakha and Jigme Dorji National Park
Spend the day birding within Jigme Dorji National Park and along the Mo Chu River. This area hosts many of our targets, notably Black-tailed Crake, Little, Spotted and Slaty-backed Forktails, Red-headed Trogon, Beautiful Nuthatch, Mountain Bulbul, Small and Large Niltavas, Bhutan Laughingthrush, Spotted Elachura, Pygmy Wren-babbler, and all three species of tesia.
Day 4: Punakha to the Phobjikha Valley
This morning we will make our way to the Phobjikha Valley for a two-night stay. The journey will take us through pristine Himalayan forests at across the altitudinal range, and we can expect to come across an incredible diversity of species in high elevation coniferous forests and subtropical broadleaved woodland at lower levels as we travel. These include Ward’s Trogon, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Himalayan Cutia, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Golden Bush-robin, Great and Golden-throated Barbets, and a good selection of barwings, minlas and warblers.
Day 5: The Phobjikha Valley and Black-necked Crane
Early this morning we will be woken to the sound of large numbers of Black-necked Crane, celebrated as sacred in Bhutan as a symbol of longevity believed to bring about bountiful harvests and prosperity. We will spend the first part of the day watching as the cranes disperse from their roost amid the farms of Phobjikha to feed on the dwarf bamboo that grows amongst the marshy grasslands of the valley’s alpine wetlands. Later in the day we will explore the vast glacial valley’s mosaic of blue pines, grass and scrub which support Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Spotted Nutcracker, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Green-tailed and Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds, Black-faced and Grey-hooded Warblers, Grey-crested and Rufous-fronted Tits, and Striated Prinia.
Day 6: Phobjikha to Pele La and return to Paro
This morning takes us up to 3420m at Pele La, looking for high altitude species such as Grey-sided Bush-warbler, Black-faced Laughingthrush, Long-tailed Thrush, Collared and White-winged Grosbeaks, Black-throated Parrotbill, White-throated Redstart, Plain Mountain Finch, Dark-rumped and Himalayan White-browed Rosefinches, Bearded Vulture, Himalayan Griffon, and with luck Red Panda, along the old road. Later, we will retrace our journey back west to Paro, looking and listening for any species we may so far have missed. Spend the late afternoon birding around Paro and along the Paro River, looking for Blue Whistling Thrush, White-collared Blackbird, Oriental Turtle Dove, Grey-backed Shrike, Olive-backed Pipit, Wallcreeper and Red-billed Chough.
Day 7: 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 through spruce, larch and pine forest above the treeline into alpine meadows we can expect to encounter a final selection of high-altitude specialties. In particular, we will look for four Himalayan pheasants, Blood Pheasant, Kalij Pheasant, the star-studded Satyr Tragopan and the superb Himalayan Monal, alongside Snow Pigeon, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Black-throated, Red-throated and Alpine Thrushes, Hodgson’s Treecreeper, White-browed Bush-robin, Himalayan Bluetail and Alpine Accentor.
Day 8: Depart Paro
Departures from Paro international airport today.
16 November - 23 November 2020
with Sherab Dorji
15 November - 22 November 2021
with Sherab Dorji
Duration: 8 days
Maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader
2021: £ 2205 (Paro/Paro)
2022: £ tba* (Paro/Paro)
Single room supplement 2021: £ 245
Single room supplement 2022: £ tba*
Deposit: £ 500
Estimated flight costs: £ 950
Estimated visa costs: £ 20
Best time: November
2021: from £ 3175 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: Comfortable good to medium standard hotels and guesthouses with private facilities throughout.
Photography: Good to excellent
Key species: Black-necked Crane, Himalayan Monal, Satyr Tragopan, Blood Pheasant, Snow Pigeon, Himalayan Cutia, Beautiful Nuthatch, Ward's Trogon, 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, White-browed Bush-robin, Alpine Thrush, Spotted Elachura, Great, Black-throated and Brown Parrotbills, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Pale-headed and Bay Woodpeckers, 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, 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.
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