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Bhutan : Hot Spots 

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Birding Areas

Birding areas in Bhutan are shown on the annotated map. Print out this map and keep it handy to understand what follows.

Paro Valley: (2200 m)

Paro valley is one of the most beautiful places in Bhutan. The only airport of Bhutan is located here. In the north, Mount Jhomolhari (7329 m) reigns in sacred glory. The streams from its glaciers form the Paro river that nourishes the valley. There are good hotels and tourist facilities. The Rinpung Dzong (Fortress) built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan , today houses the monastic body as well as the offices of the Dzongdag (District Administrator) and the Drangpon(Judge). Behind Ringpung Dzong, on the

hillside, is the castle-shaped Ta Dzong, a watch tower initially built to defend the Rinpung Dzong  and since 1967 houses the National Museum. Paro also has a number of  Buddhist temples, the most famous being the Taktsang ( the Tiger’s Nest). It is believed that Guru Rimpoche landed at the place, riding on the back of a tigress over one thousand years ago, and meditated there. Eighteen kilometers to the north, you can visit the ruins of Drugyel Dzong (victorious fortress) from where the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies in the 17th century.

Ibisbill Rofous-Necked Hornbill White-Belied Heron Black Necked Stork Satyr Trogopan Spotted Laughing Thrush Blood Pheasant Himalayan Monal Birds of Bhutan

Birding at Paro

The following birds can be seen: Kalij Pheasant, White-capped River Chat, , Pied Wagtail, Blue Whistling-thrush, Blue-fronted redstarts, Ibisbill, Brown Dipper, White-collared Blackbird, Plumbeous Redstarts, , Crested Goshawk, Eurasian Kestrel, Oriental Turtle-dove, Long-tailed and Grey-backed shrikes, Spotted Laughingthrush, Indian Blue Chats,  and more

The  Chelila Pass (4200 meters) connects the Paro & Ha Valley’s. It offers a chance to ascend above tree line into alpine meadows and dwarf rhododendrons and enables the sighting of  several birds such as Blood Pheasants, Himalayan Monal, Kalij Pheasant, Collared Grosbeaks, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, , Spotted Laughingthrush, Rosy Pipit, Blue-fronted Redstart, Rofous-breasted Accentor, White-browed Rosefinches, and more.. On the lower slopes you may encounter mixed flocks of tits, Phylloscopous leaf warblers, Great Parrotbill, and more.

You need two full days for birding and a quick cultural tour of the Paro Valley

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Thimphu Valley (2300 m )

The capital of Bhutan lies about two hours drive from Paro. The Wangchu (Thimphu river) flows right through the valley. The Tashichho Dzong (the fort of the auspicious religion)  which houses the throne room of the king  and the monastic body lies in the center of the valley. Five miles south of Tashichho Dzong lies Simtokha Dzong (built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel)), the oldest Dzong in Bhutan. Today it houses the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies. Thimphu town which runs north south along a main street has traditionally decorated shops. Thimphu also has a number of temples, galleries, museums and places of historic interests. Among the places of interest is the Memorial Chorten dedicated to the 3rd king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. A landmark in the landscape with its golden spires, its paintings and statues provide a rare insight into Buddhist Nyingpa philosophy.  On the weekend, a market is held and it is an opportunity not to be missed. At the market you will find a motley crowd of rural people selling their vegetables, fruits, crops and rural crafts. 

Birding in Thimphu

The Thimphu valley is surrounded by temperate evergreen forests with lots of blue pines. There is also an aviary for Pheasants and a small zoo where you find the Taikin (the national animal of Bhutan). The following birds can be spotted in the Thimphu valley (between Cheri in the north and Chunzom in the south): Hoopoe, Nepal House Martin, Long-tailed Minivet, Crested Pied Kingfisher, Rufous-bellied woodpeckers, Ibisbill, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird, White-tailed Nuthatch, Black-capped Sibia, Spotted Nutcracker, Black-browed and Grey-crested tits, Striated and Black-faced laughingthrushes, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Crested Serpent-eagle, Black eagle, Common Merganzer  and more..

You need one day to explore Thimpu, and another day for birding. You could skip birding at Thimpu if you are visitinf Punakha Valley and Central Bhutan.

Punakha Valley (1300m - 1700 m)

Reached by a 3-4 hrs drive over the Dochula Pass (3090 m), the lower  Punakha Valley was was the ancient capital of Bhutan. From Dochula on a clear day, the northern part of the country can be seen against the imposing background of the Great Himalayan snow ranges. The valley drained by the Pho Chu (Male River) and the Mochu (Female River) is the agricultural bowl of Bhutan. The Pho Chu and Mo Chu meets to form the Puna  Tsang Chu and at the confluence, stands the majestic Punakha Dzong (built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel). To the north lies Gasa Dzong and to the south is Wangdue Dzong.  Rafting can be done on the Mochu and the Puna Tsang Chu.

Birding in Punakha

Enroute to Punakha – The Dochula Pass (3090 m): The pristine forests of hemlock, fir, oak, magnolia, and rhododendrons offer a wealth of birds. Birding is along the highway and on a forest trails. A full day enroute to Punakha is required for birding this area. Highlights could include Hill Partridge, Satyr Tragopan, Rufous bellied Bush-Robin, Golden-Naped Finch, Hoary Barwing, Edwards Rosefinch. Golden Bush-Robin, Cutia, Fire-tail Myzornis, and Nutcrackers. Lemon-rumped Leaf-warblers, Blue-bellied Flowerpeckers, Green Shrike-babblers, Olive-backed Pipits, Gold-billed Magpies, Plain –backed Thrush, Red Crossbills, and more.

Mo Chu Valley ( 1400m- 1700m): Birding along the Mo Chu Valley, past Punakha to Tashithang in the subtropical forests of  the Jigme Doirjje National Park, requires 02 days. There are chances of spotting Ibisbill, Bar-headed Geese, Great-headed Gulls, White-bellied Heron - one of Bhutan's most elusive specialties (rare and difficult), Tawny Fish Owl, River Lapwing, Red-headed Trogon, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Striated Bulbul, Little Niltava, all three tesias, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher,  Rufous-chinned Laughingthrush, Red-faced Liocichla, Scarlet Finch, Spotted Wren-Babbler, Wedge-tailed Pigeon, Bay Woodpecker, Yellow-vented Warbler, Fire-capped Tit, White-gorgeted Flycatcher, and perhaps three species of forktails, Mrs Gould’s, Fire-tailed  and Green-tailed sunbirds, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Northern Treecreeper, Slender-billed Scimitar-babbler, Golden Bush-robin, Fire-capped Tit, Little and Slatty-backed forktails, and Gold-napped Finch. You can also see a variety of skulkers including Lesser Shortwing, Spotted and Pygmy Wren-Babblers and all three species of tesias.

Probjikha Valley (3050m): This is a glacial valley on the Western slopes og the Black Mountain Range. Driving along the Central Highway 47 Kms from Wangdue, a 13 kms dirt track links the Probjikha Valley over the Gangtey la, 3140 m. The village of Gangtey is a fabulous spot is situated at the head of the Phobjika Valley, It is the winter home of a sizable population of Black-necked Cranes. The magnificent Gompa (monastery) dominates the valley. The drive to Gangtey is a very scenic section of the road as it leads through bamboo and rhododendron conifer forests, meadows and river valleys. On this stretch you are likely to spot the Himalayan Monal, Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, White-winged Grosbeak, Spotted Laughingthrush, Yellowish-bellied Bush Warbler, Rusty -flanked Treecreeper, and the prized Ward's Trogon. It is best to break journey at Gangtey, to get chance for early morning birding and a look at the Gompa.

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Bird photographs by Yashodhan Bhatia,

Ronald Saldino,  Niels Poul Dryer, Ketil Knudsen
Kalypso Adventures & Gurudongma Team

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