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Bhutan has incredible mountain scenery, is steeped in Buddhist tradition and folklore and is rich in wildlife. There is now a good tourist infrastructure but do not expect to bump into many other westerners. Importantly, from a wildlife perspective, much of Bhutanís land is protected. It is the most forested area of the Himalayas. Eastern Bhutan has been recognised as one of the top ten biodiversity hot spots in the world. Being a Buddhist country, hunting is illegal and consequently many species of bird and mammal are surprisingly tame.
Four species of pheasant can be seen from theroadside. Close views of Blood Pheasants and Satyr Tragopans are very likely, along with Himalayan Monal and Kalij Pheasant. We visit in April which is the best month for birding. The weather is generally good at this time and it is also the main period for traditional festivals. We will see many of the spectacular dzongs (monasteries that doubled as forts and now serve as administration centres). There are over a hundred species of rhododendron in Bhutan and many will be in flower along with large numbers of epiphytic orchids.
We will visit high elevation broad-leaf and coniferous forests where we can expect to see some very special birds, such as the sought-after Wardís Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill and Wedge-billed Wren-babbler. Bhutanís mammal list is outstanding. We saw twenty species of mammal on one trip, including River Otter, Giant Red Flying Squirrel, Giant Malay Squirrel, several species of monkey, Sambar and Muntjac Deer and Goral, a kind of antelope-goat.
Tourism is strictly regulated. The high daily tariff deters the more casual visitor but much of the money is ploughed back into infrastructure and preservation of the traditional way of life and natural landscape.
We arrive in Kathmandu after an overnight flight and drive just half an hour to our hotel. Our first two nights will be spent at the fantastic Gokarna Forest Lodge, set in 470 acres of forest in the Kathmandu Valley. Here we can walk the trails in the hotel grounds in search of Scaly Thrush, Ashy Woodpigeon and Blue-throated Barbet, amongst others. We will also visit Bouddhanath, the largest stupa in Nepal. On day four we will then fly to Paro in Bhutan.
We arrive at Bhutanís only international airport after a short but spectacular flight and we will soon be on our way to the capital, Thimphu. In the afternoon we will check the river for Wallcreeper, White-capped Water Redstart, Ruddy Shelduck, Ferruginous Duck and Black-tailed Crake. Here we may see our first Ibisbill along with Plumbeous Redstart and River Lapwing. We will spend the night at the Migmar Hotel on the outskirts of the capital.
The next morning we can visit one or two cultural sites around Thimphu before we move on to Punakha, birding en route. Birds include Collared Owlet, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush, Grey-winged Blackbird, Chestnut-headed Tesia and Whistlerís Warbler. It will also be our first chance of the near-endemic Wardís Trogon.
We will spend two nights at the Zangto Pelri, Punakha in the beautiful Puna Tsang Chhu Valley where we may see our second trogon species, the more widespread and equally beautiful Red-headed Trogon. Other birds should include Ultramarine, Sapphire and Verditer Flycatchers.
After a morning birding in the upper Punakha Valley and a picnic lunch we will visit the Punakha Dzong and a tributary of the Mo for White-bellied Heron. We have seen both Golden Eagle and Pallasís Fish Eagle here too.
TRONGSA AND ZHEMGANG
We will then drive over Pele Pass at 3420m and follow the edge of the Black Mountains, where we may see our first Yaks. A detour into the Phobjika Valley should yield Black-necked Crane. We will spend one night at Trongsa, overlooking the Trongsa Dzong.
We will spend three nights in the remote and beautiful Zhemgang Valley, one of the best birding areas in Bhutan. Here we hope to find Beautiful Nuthatch, Long-tailed Broadbill, Rufous-necked Hornbill and Red-faced Liocichla. This is also the only place in Bhutan to see Golden Langur, a near endemic monkey. It is a beautiful and confiding animal, giving great photographic opportunities. Until recently it was necessary to camp, but now a small guesthouse has opened. On day 11 we will drive back to Trongsa for another night.
THE BUMTHANG AND URA VALLEYS
From Trongsa we will climb out of the valley in the early morning through the Yotongla Pass looking for one of the regionís most prized birds, Himalayan Monal. Once over the pass, we enter the Bumthang Valley, famous for its many temples, stupas and dzongs. The surrounding hills, woods and streams provide a home for Yellow-bellied Fantail, and Rufous-gorgeted and Snowy-browed Flycatchers. We will continue on to the Ura Valley for a one night stay. This gives us another great chance to see Himalayan Monal and Blood Pheasant the next morning. We are in a great area for Satyr Tragopan too.
We continue south and east to the area known as the Upper Yongkhola Valley in the Thrumshing National Park, where we will stay at a simple guesthouse for three nights. The woodlands here create beautiful scenery, rich in wildlife. Capped Langur, Grey Langur, several species of Flying Squirrel, Red Panda, Himalayan Black Bear and Lynx can be found in this area. Birds seen on our previous trips include Crested Goshawk, Black Eagle, Rufous-necked Hornbill and Barred Cuckoo Dove.
RETURN TO PARO
On day 16 we will begin to wend our way back west, stopping single nights at Bumthang, Phobjika and at the Dochu La Hotel where we will be well situated to look for one of the prize birds, the Fire-tailed Myzornis. The last two nights we will spend near Paro. We will arrive early enough in the Paro Valley to allow for a walk to view the Tigerís Nest Monastery.
The next morning we will make an early start and climb by bus up to Chelai Pass. Here we have further chances to see Satyr Tragopan, Himalayan Monal, Kalij Pheasant and Blood Pheasant along with Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, White-browed Rosefinch and Fire-tailed Sunbird. After lunch we can visit Paro or take a walk along the river.
Finally, after many wonderful experiences in Bhutan, we will fly back to Kathmandu in the early morning. We will have the whole of the day in Kathmandu, where we can visit the famous Durbar Square, with its exotic market and richly carved shrines and temples. In the evening we will fly back to the UK.
Early to rise and early to bed are the norm in Bhutan and this fits in well with the best birding times. We will generally make early starts but rest in the middle of the day. There is some uphill walking which is done at a sensible pace. We do drive over some high mountain passes and reach 12400 feet but most of the birding is done below 8000 feet. The higher areas are visited towards the end of the trip, allowing plenty of time for acclimatization.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided. We have two nights at the Gokarna Forest Lodge (Meridien Hotel), Kathmandu, one night at the Migmar Hotel in Thimphu, two nights at the Zangto Pelri, Punakha, one night at the Yangkhil Resort, Trongsa, three nights at the Zhemgang Guesthouse, one night back at Trongsa, one night at the Ura Guesthouse, three nights at the Yongkhola Guesthouse, one night at Bumthang, one night at the Dewachen Hotel, Phobjika, one night at Dochu La Hotel and two nights at Janka Resort, Paro. Most accommodation has private facilities en suite. There are limited en suite facilities at Ura and Zhemgang and shared bathrooms at Yongkhola.
PRICE INCLUDES Ö..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 31st, ending with lunch on 19th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-coach, park entrance fees, international flights and airport taxes.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Cost of obtaining a Nepalese double entry visa (approx. £40 and obtainable on arrival in Kathmandu). Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flights from London Heathrow to Kathmandu using the scheduled services of Qatar Airways, then to Paro using Druk Air. Outbound flight departs mid-evening, return flight arrives back early morning. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are available on this tour. See booking form for details.
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