Eastern Himalayan Highlights [BN_BN002_EHH]
A 10-day, small group birding tour that offers an introduction to the Eastern Himalayan specialities that inhabit the spectacular hills of west Bhutan, plus overwintering Black-necked Cranes.
Our shorter tour of the Kingdom of Bhutan, beginning and ending in Paro, focuses on the Inner Himalaya at the heart of this fascinating country. We will travel 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 somewhat expensive to visit. We do not visit the subtropical forests of the foothills on this tour, where species overlap with neighbouring India, instead focusing on some of the most enticing birds to inhabit the higher elevations of 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 a two-night stay. We will no doubt encounter a selection of Himalayan species as we travel through mixed conifer and temperate forests, such as Golden Babbler, Grey-sided Laughingthrush Maroon-backed Accentor, Golden-throated Barbet, Grey Treepie, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Speckled Wood-Pigeon and Black Eagle. We will spend some time this afternoon birding along the Thimphu River where we will look for Ibisbill in particular.
Day 2: Thimphu
We will spend the day around Thimphu. This morning we will drive to the northern end of the Thimphu Valley to spend some time birding around the Cheri Monastery where we may encounter Wallcreeper, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, White-throated Laughingthrush, and White-collared Blackbird, as well as Himalayan Goral, a sure-footed mountain goat. In the afternoon we will visit local sewage ponds looking for Black-tailed Crake, Brown Dipper, White-capped Redstart, Plumbeous Water Redstart, and a selection of more widespread Himalayan species such as Russet Sparrow and Rufous-breasted Accentor. We may also find time to visit Thimphu’s impressive Dzong, the first of many fortresses we’ll encounter, and one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world.
Day 3: 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 Woodpecker, Blue-fronted Redstart, Brown Parrotbill, Black-eared Shrike-babbler and Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler. In the afternoon we will visit the magnificent Punakha Dzong, perhaps the most beautiful of Bhutan dzongs, before 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 4: 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 Wallcreeper, Little and Slaty-backed Forktails, Red-headed Trogon, Beautiful Nuthatch, Mountain Bulbul, Small and Large Niltavas, Bhutan Laughingthrush, Pygmy Cupwing, and all three species of tesia.
Day 5: Punakha to Trongsa via Nubding
We will set out early to continue our journey east along the Lateral Road to Trongsa in the heart of the Black Mountains. We will spend much of the day birding from the road around the tiny settlement of Nubding, in moss-draped, mid-altitude broadleaved forests in search of Ward’s Trogon, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Himalayan Cutia, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, and a host of species in fast-moving foraging flocks. Once we arrive in Trongsa, we will have the opportunity to visit the 16th century Trongsa Dzong, the ancestral home of the Royal family of Bhutan, before spending the last hour or so of the day exploring the surrounding broadleaved and evergreen forest in search of specialities such as Spotted Forktail and Spotted Elachura. Night in Trongsa.
Day 6: Trongsa to Bumthang via Yutong La
We continue our journey east towards the rich agricultural region of Bumthang. The drive will take us through some wonderful rhododendron forests to Yutong La at 3425m where we will pause to look for Black-faced Laughingthrush, Scaly-breasted Wren-babbler, Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler, White-browed Shortwing, Crimson-browed Finch, and flocks of Coal, Rufous-vented, Grey-crested and Yellow-browed Tits. In the late afternoon, we will drive up to Tharpaling Monastery for close views of the stunning Himalayan Monal, with Black-rumped Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Blue-fronted Redstart, Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch and Himalayan Owl also possible.
Day 7: Bumthang to Phobjikha
Today, we will backtrack through Trongsa before turning south to descend into the Phobjikha Valley for a two-night stay. The journey will take us through pristine coniferous forests and subtropical broadleaved woodland, where we can expect to come across an incredible diversity of species, such as Fire-tailed Myzornis, Golden Bush-robin, Great and Golden-throated Barbets, and a good selection of barwings, minlas and warblers. We will ascend to 3420m as we cross Pele La; although we will no doubt encounter some enticing high elevation species as we travel, we'll return to spend more time here tomorrow. Later this afternoon, we’ll explore the vast glacial valley’s mosaic of blue pines, grass and scrub looking for Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Spotted Nutcracker, Green-tailed and Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds, and overwintering Black-necked Crane.
Day 8: Phobjikha to Pele La and return to Paro
This morning takes us back up to Pele La at 3420m, to bird along the old road looking for high altitude species such as Grey-sided Bush-warbler, Long-tailed Thrush, Collared and White-winged Grosbeaks, Great and Black-throated Parrotbills, White-throated Redstart, Plain Mountain Finch, Dark-rumped and Himalayan White-browed Rosefinches, Bearded Vulture, Himalayan Griffon, and with luck Red Panda. Later, we’ll 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 Chhu River, looking for Blue Whistling Thrush, Grey-backed Shrike, Olive-backed and Rosy Pipits, and Oriental Turtle Dove.
Day 9: 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 10: Depart Paro
Departures from Paro international airport today.
13 - 22 November 2021
with Sherab Dorji
Duration: 10 days
Group size: min. 6 / max. 8 with 1 leader
2021: $ 3585 / £ 2675 / € 3155
Single room supplement: $ 420 / £ 315 / € 370
Deposit: $ 715 / £ 535 / € 630
The tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.
The tour price includes:
All meals and drinking water
Services of a guide throughout
All birding and wildlife activities
Reserve entry fees
Bhutan visa fee
Tour info, pre-travel notes and checklists
Estimated flight costs:$ 1535 / £ 1100 / € 1270
Estimated visa costs: $ 25 / £ 18 / € 21
Best time: November, April to May
2021: from $ 3955 / £ 2950 / € 3480
(Price per person based on 2 people travelling together; costs for other group sizes on request)
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: 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, Black-necked Crane (November departures) 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, Malayan Giant Squirrel, Back-striped Weasel.