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Bhutan 

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The Region

Situated at the Eastern end of the Himalayas, and located between India and Tibet, The Kingdom of Bhutan is a land locked country of just half million people with an area of 47000 square kilometers.  Geographically Bhutan forms a giant staircase. Starting in the south, from a narrow strip of land in the plains of India at an altitude of 100 m, the elevation rises to high Himalayan peaks over 7000 m in the North on the borders with Tibet.

Bhutan retains its forests almost intact. The forest cover is about 65 per cent of the country's area of 46,000 sq. km. Birding in the untouched, primeval forests of Bhutan is a unique experience. Bhutan’s forests are pristine and diverse. One finds subtropical broad leaf forests (1000-2000 m), coniferous forest (2000- 4200 m) that mainly consists of juniper, hemlock, Chir pine, and Blue pine, Spruce, Fir and Bamboo mixed with rhododendron and Juniper. The Alpine habitat (4000-4600m) consists of Alpine meadows with high altitude scrub.


Jhomal Hari ViewThese diverse, rich and lovely habitat support most of the countries breeding birds, globally threatened birds, and Bhutan’s restricted range birds The Buddhist culture, which respects all forms of life, is an added factor which has resulted in an avifauna that is remarkably visible, approachable, and diverse.

Some of the rare species that can be seen are Rufous–necked  Hornbill, beautiful Nuthatch, White belied heron, Palla’s Fishing Eagle, Satyr Tragopan, Grey- belied Tragopan,  Black –necked crane, Wood Snipe, Wards Trogon, Blyth’s Kingfisher, Rufous King Fisher, Yellow- rumped Honey Guide, Purple Cochoa, Rufus throated Wren Babbler, Red-headed Parotbil, Grey Crowned Prinia,  and Dark- rumped swift.

You will also encounter the fabulous Ibisbill, Fire-tailed Myzornis, , dapper grosbeaks, rosefinches, glowing sunbirds and a plethora of other gorgeous and little known Himalayan species.

Our research is based on source material from Birds of Bhutan by Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp and Richard Grimmett, Threatened birds of Bhutan by Rebecca Pradhan and Tandin Wangdi and Salim Ali’s Birds of The Eastern Himalayas . We have located suitable birding sites working together with our Bhutanese associates to create tours for bird watchers. Keeping in mind constraints of movement, infrastructure, time, and local conditions, we have evolved exciting but cost effective itineraries. These cover some of the best birding sites in Bhutan in combination with productive hot spots in adjoining areas of Eastern India.

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Planning your birding trip

River ViewBhutan admits a limited number of foreign tourists. For the fortunate few who visit Bhutan the rewards are great - warm friendly people, outstanding art and architecture, impressive scenery and an active Buddhist culture little tainted by the outside world. Altitudinal variations, a range of climatic zones from subtropical to Alpine, combined with vast tracts of uninhabited areas with bio-diverse forests, scrubland, wetlands, alpine habitat and agricultural land near habitations, makes Bhutan a bird watchers delight with 675 recorded species of birds. Each year the bird list grows longer as more areas are explored.

To get a long list of birds, it is important to visit as many zoogeographic zones and habitats as possible, but it is also equally important to choose the right season. For example, birds such as the Ibisbill and the Black-necked Crane are seen between November and March, and the winter period is also optimal for birding below 1000 meters. Spring is however the best time for most species. While winter is ideal for mountain viewing because of clear skies, spring is nicer as it is warmer and the forests are alive with insects and wildflowers. Most rhododendrons flower in April and May. For trekkers who are planning to visit the high country it would be preferable to visit Bhutan between March and May.

For detailed information on occurrence of species go to Bird list and Trip reports.

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

 

Bhutan has its own unique rules for visitors. Some of the salient points are summarized below:-

The Royal Government of Bhutan has adopted a very cautious approach towards the development of tourism in the kingdom. This must be viewed as an effort to avoid the negative impacts of tourism on the culture and the environment. The policy is that all tourists must travel on a pre-planned, prepaid, guided package tour. Independent travel is not permitted. For more details click on Guidelines for Tourists.

Bhutan has three entry and exit points -

  • Paro : Druk air flies from Delhi, Kathmandu, Kolkota, Dacca, and Bangkok and Yangoon to Paro Airfield in West Bhutan.

  • Phuntsholing : Bagdogra airport located in West Bengal, India, has land routes to Phuntsholing, with further road connections to all destination in Bhutan via Thimpu. Phuntsholing is also connected to Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Sikkim by road.

  • Samdrup Jongkhar : Guwahati airport located in Assam, India has land routes to Sanmdrup Jongkhar, with further links to all destinations in Bhutan via the Central Highway.

Brogpa GirlWith the opening of the land route through Samdrup Jongkhar in East Bhutan, it is now possible to arrive at Paro by air and traverse the entire West to South birding route to exit at Samdrup Jongkhar, or vice versa. This also makes it convinient for birders to combine birding in Bhutan with Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

Planning your birding trip

The birdings sites listed below are described for a West to East birding traverse, under the heading Highway birding. Birding treks to high altitude zones are listed under the heading Birding Treks. Altitudinal ranges stated indicate ranges where you will be birding and not the full range of elevation of the particular area or locality.

Highway birding

In finalizing your itinerary, check out the Hot Spots and our standard Tours to decide upon the sites you want to include or delete from your itinerary. Thereafter together, via e-mail, we can formulate your trip plan.

The best time for birding in Bhutan is mid March to end April. The second best season is October – Nov. The duration of your tour can be as long as you like. You will find our suggestions of days required for each birding hot spot. We have some itineraries, for ready reference. These can be tailored to your requirements.
 
   

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Tour options for non-birding spouse/friends: www.gurudongma.com.
 
 

Bird photographs by Yashodhan Bhatia,

Ronald Saldino,  Niels Poul Dryer, Ketil Knudsen
Kalypso Adventures & Gurudongma Team
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Hill Top, Kalimpong, 73430, India

 

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