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Bhutan : Hot Spots 

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Trongsa Valley (2200 m)

Trongsa is known for its spectacular Dzong, which is located on a precipice dominating the entrance to three valleys. The Dzong is a labyrinth of temples, corridors and offices holding court over local community. Above the Dzong, a watchtower, a Ta Dzong, used to administer its defence. The Royal Family’s ancestral home is at Trongsa. To get to Tsronga you can drive directly from Wangdue or from Gangtey, after driving back over the Gangtey La to the Central Highway. On the way to Trongsa valley, you travel through exquisite, mixed broad-leafed forests, evergreen forests of mixed conifers, rhododendrons and magnolias till you reach the Pelela Pass (3400m. Descending Pelela Pass, you enter the temeperate alpine forests and medows. The avifauna you encounter include the following: Kalij Pheasants, Blood Pheasants, Satyr Tragopan, Spotted Forktail, Black-throated and Brown Parrotbills, Gold-napped finch, Fire-tailed Myzornis, White-capped Water Redstarts, Yellow –billed Blue Magpie, Crested Kingfisher, Brown Dippers and more. You need a full days birding on the Pelela section of the highway. A visit to the Dzong is a must.

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

Zhemgang-Tingtibi (2200 m to 800 m)

From Tsonga it is fruitfull to take a side trip to Zhembang and the Tingtibi Valley if the area is open to tourists. A three hours drive from Trongsa to Zhemgang takes you along the valley of Mangdi Chu. En-route you can see the Kuenga Rabten Palace, which used to be the ancestral royal palace. Leaving the Mangdi Chu, you ascend to Zhemgang on a hillock. The quaint small town has a Dzong and spectacular views of mountains and valleys. The Tingtibi valley is reached by a descent to the Mangdi Chu. South of Zhembang.  The avifauna in this region includes Barred Cuckoo-Dove, nine species of cuckoos, Chestnut-breasted  Partridges, Pin-tailed Green Pigeons, , Red-headed Trogon, Rufous-neked Hornbill, White-browed Piculet, Bay Woodpeker, Lesser Shortwing, Blyth’s Kingfisher, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, White-tailed Robin, fulvettas and yuhinas, Grey-headed Parrotbill, Rufous-faced Warbler, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Sultan Tit, several scimitar-babblers, Black-faced laughingthrush and other thrushes. You may be also lucky to spot the Beautiful Nuthatch, White-bellied Heron, Collared Treepie and Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill. You need two days to make this trip with overnight camping

Mangdi Chu from Trongsa (1800 m)

If it is not permitted to go to the Tingtibi Valley, a morning drive Lower down the valley of the Mangdi Chu towards Zhemgang can be productive. Species you are likely to spot are:: Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Himalayan Swiftlet,Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Fork-tailed Swifts, Crimson-breasted and Darjeeling Woodpeckers, Red-billed Leiothrix, Long-tailed Minivets, Little Pied Flycatchers, Striated Bulbul, Spotted Bush-Warbler,, Scaly Thrushes, Little and Spotted Forktails, Pin-tailed Green Pigeons,Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, Purple Cochoa, Spot-winged Starling, Great Hornbills, and more.

Bumthang (2700 m)

Bumthang consists of four valleys – Chume, Choekhor, Tang and Ura- separated from each other by mountains. It is a land graced by many temples and monasteries built along the centuries by famous religious saints such as Longchen Rabjampa, Dorji Lingpa, Pema Lingpa and Guru Rinpoche. It has fields and meadows surrounded by thick dark forests and mysterious streams. The Jakar Dzong (the white Bird fortress) looks over the Choekhor valley. The Kurje Lhakhang is an important religious temple in Choekhor. There are a number of temples in Chume and Choekhor valley. You can also buy Yatha (locally woven woolen clothes) here. The picture post card village of  Ura is a must see.

The scenic drive crosses over the 3425 m high Yotung la, and is studded with Gompas and villages. The habitat at Yotungla Pass consists of Hemlock and Blue Pines with dense impenetrable dwarf bamboo thickets. Large flocks of Black-throated and Red-throated Thrushes, White-winged Grosbeaks are usually seen on the west side. On the east side Blood Pheasants, White-throated Redstarts have been recorded along with Chestnut-vented, Coral and Gray-bellied Tits and nut crackers. You can also see White-browed and Rufous-breasted Bush Robins, Beautiful Rosefinch and Fulvous Parrotbill. On the higher slopes descending from Yotula pass, you can see Khalij Pheasant, Wallcreeper, Great Parrotbill and Broad-billed Parrotbill, Fire-tailed  sunbird,  Mrs Gould’s sunbird and Green-tailed sunbirds, Lemon-rumped Warbler, Grey-hooded Warbler, Ashy-throated Warbler,  Whited-throated Laughingthrush,  and Black-faced Laughingthrush.  In the Bumthang Valley you can also see the Ibisbill.

You will need 02 days for the Bumthang area.

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Thrumsingla ( 3750m) and Sengor ( 3000m)

On the way from Bumthang to Thrumsingla Pass at 3750m, you pass the villages of Tangsbi and Ura. The drive is gradual ascent and takes you through spectacular scenes of rolling mountains and virgin forests and meadows. You can view the end of the treeline and the start of grasslands on the barren Wangkala. Moss draped trees stand still as you pass by. From Thrumsingla Pass you descend to Sengor and may camp there for a night halt. However it is feasible to bird at various altitudes and finish the day at Lemithang.

Some of the birds you may encounter are: Mrs. Gould’s and Green-tailed sunbirds,  Blood Pheasant, White-browed and Rufous-winged Fulvettas, Stripe-throated Yuhina, Green Shrike-babbler, Orange-barred, Grey-throated, Lemon-rumped, Grey-hooded and Blyth’s leaf-warblers, Satyr Tragopan, Orange-flanked , White-browed  Bush-Robins, Blue-fronted Redstart, Orange-gorgeted and Slaty-Blue Flycatchers, Eurasian, Rusty-flanked and Brown-throated treecreepers, Rufous-bellied Niltava, Bar-winged Wren-babblers, Grey-sided Bush Warbler, Black-faced and chestnut-crowned laughingthrush, Red Crossbill, Red-headed Bullfinch, White-winged and Collared Grosbeaks,  Gold-naped Finch, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Chestnut-bellied Rock-thrush, Plain-backed and Long-billed (rare and elusive) thrushes and more.

Yongkola ( 1700m) and Limithang (650 m)

The spectacular drive continues to Limithang. Sheer drops of thousands of meters, huge cascading waterfalls, endless turns and frequent fog from a rise of temperature make for unnerving but exhilarating travel. The road drops 3200 m in a distance of 84 Kms. The habitat changes from conifers to subtropical forest. The broadleaf evergreen forest commences at 2600 meters, as you watch the change of flora and fauna. From dwarf rhododendrons and firs in the higher altitudes to citrus groves and warm broad leaved forests at Limithang – the change is indeed dramatic.

The Limethang forests are indeed nature gift to birders. Many of Bhutan's most sought-after birds can be found here You are likely to see: Chestnut-breasted Partridge, Blue-naped Pitta, Ward's Trogon, Red-headed Trogon Blue-fronted Robin and Rufous-throated, Wedge-billed, Long-billed and Bar-winged Wren-Babblers.  Also recorded are Satyr Tragopan, Crimson-breasted Woodpecker, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Lesser Yellow-naped Woodpeckers Long-billed Thrush, Blue-winged Laughing thush, Golden-breasted and Yellow throated Fulvetta, Red-headed Parrotbill and Crimson Fin

Rufous-bellied and Chestnut Serpent-Eagles, Rufous-necked  Hornbill, Speckled Wood-Pigeon, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Golden-throated and Blue-throated barbets, Collared Owlet, Himalayan Treepie, Oriental hawk-cuckoos,  Short-billed and Long-tailed minivets, Yellow and White-bellied fantails, Brown Dipper, White-browed Shortwing, Verditer Flycatcher, Large Niltava, Hodgson’s Redstart, Plumbeous Redstart, White-caped Redstart, Slaty-backed  Forktail, Brown-flanked Treecreeper,  Red-headed, Rufous-fronted, Yellow-browed and Yellow-cheeked tits, Mountain and Ashy Bulbuls, Chestnut-headed, Slaty-bellied and Grey-bellied tesias, Grey-sided and Brown Bush-warblers, a variety of leaf-warblers, Black-browed, Grey-headed, White-speckled, Chestnut-crowned, Broad-billed, Rufous-faced and Black-faced Flycatcher Warblers, Blue-winged laughingthrush, Slender-billed scimitar-babblers, Rufous-throated wren-babblers, Rufous-capped and Golden babblers, Red-billed Leiothrix, Cutia, Rufous-bellied, White-browed and Black-eared Shrike-Babblers, Chestnut-tailed and Red-tailed Minlas, White-naped Whiskered, and Black-chinned Yuhinas, Golden-breasted and Yellow-throated fulvettas, Greater and Rufous-headed Parrotbill, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Crimson-browed Finch, Spot-winged Grosbeak, Scarlet Finch, Yellow-rumped Honeyguide, and more.You need 02 days for birdwatching here.

Narphang la(1698 m) and Deothang (850 m)

Driving from Limethang to the the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar , The first section is from Limethang to Trashigang ( 117 Kms in 04 hrs) is the road goes past Mongar ( 1500 m) and crosses over a ridge through the Kori La pass (2450 m).  Astride the pass there are temperate broadleaf forests where birders may spend some time. Otherwise this region has is highly cultivated and densly populated with resultant deforestation. Trashigang is a pleasant place with cultural interest but there are no productive birding areas around. It is advisable to continue the journey and camp close to good habitat.

Thec 180 Kms drive from Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar takes over 06 hours. It crosses several ridges ( 2002 m -2510 m) to get to the foothills. 101 Kms from Trashigang (03 hrs), the Narphung la ridge (1698m -1920m) followed by the 55 Kms stretch to Deothang (850 m) has warm broad leaved and tropical forests. Camping around the village of  Narphung or at Deothang is advisable to enable birding next morning.

From Deothang (850m) to the border at Samdrup Jongkhar ( 250 m) is an interesting area with much remaining habitats. Semitropical forests full of Long-tailed Macaques are found not far from the road, and the rivers have otters. Flocks of Wreathed Hornbills are likely to be seen flying across the road in the mornings and late afternoon. At 300 meters elevation just 400 meters from the Samdrup Jhonkar bridge dirt road leads to a power house and continues east along the river for 2 km. After having crossed a small stream and a fruit plantation it is possible to penetrate into an old growth forest on a trail. Be carefull as herds of Elephants forage in this area. The species likely to be observed are the rare Pied Falconet , Red-faced Liocichla ,Gray-breasted Tesia, White-spectacled Warbler, Silver-breasted Broadbill, Scaly Thrush and Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Pale Blue Flycatcher, Pygmy Blue Flycatcher, Pale-chinned (Brooks) Flycatcher, Blue-eared Barbet, Wards Trogan, Violet Cuckoo, various species of forktail (in the river), Dark- rumped swift, Rufous –belied Eagle, Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill, and many others.

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Bird photographs by Yashodhan Bhatia,

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

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