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Bird watching tour

13 nights / 14 days

Bhutan, a spectacular country tucked away in the Eastern Himalayas, is a natural treasure trove of abundant forests cover a staggering 70% of its land. This lush green landscape creates a literal paradise for bird enthusiasts, offering an infinite array of avian delights waiting to be discovered. With over 700 recorded species of birds (with many yet to be discovered), including fourteen that are globally endangered, Bhutan emerges as a haven for those captivated by the beauty of these winged creatures.

 

The thriving pursuit of bird watching, ethno-botany, photography, and various academic endeavours adds to the allure of Bhutan. The country's record-breaking diversity of flora and fauna further elevates its appeal, attracting specialists in these fields from around the globe. Recognizing the unique interests of passionate individuals, TOUCH BHUTAN TRAVEL meticulously crafts personalized trips, offering professional packages tailored to enthusiasts in any area of interest.

As an example, we have included a 14-day bird watching tour in our selection of recommended tours, however, Touch Bhutan Travel can arrange any type of tour based on your particular interests and for any duration. After all, we are a bespoke travel agent specialising in personalised tours and treks.

 

Now, back to birds……

 

Remarkably, many of the bird species found in Bhutan are considered rare treasures of the world. Thanks to the nation's unwavering commitment to nature conservation, the bird population in Bhutan is flourishing. Bhutan's stringent environmental policies have transformed it into an envious destination for birders and ornithologists worldwide. The establishment of protected wildlife parks, sanctuaries, and designated biological corridors has played a pivotal role in safeguarding the rich tapestry of floral and faunal wonders, ensuring their continued prosperity.

 

Amidst this awe-inspiring backdrop, Bhutan's Phobjikha Valley becomes a temporary home to thousands of endangered, black-necked cranes each winter, as they migrate from the Tibetan plateau. This annual arrival is celebrated with unparalleled enthusiasm during a vibrant festival of song and dance held at Gangtey Goemba in November. Such festivities, deeply woven into the fabric of Bhutanese life, rhythmically mark the passage of time, with each monastery and temple hosting at least one grand festival known as tshechu every year.

DAY 1: Paro (2250m)

Arrival & Welcome 
 

Your friendly tour guide will be eagerly awaiting your arrival with your surname written on a plaque outside the exit doors at Paro International Airport. We will immediately head off to Thimphu and as we follow the Paa Chu (river), we will pass the picturesque Tamchog temple (lhakhang), built in the late 13th century by the great Tibetan saint Drupthob Thangthong Gyalpo. If requested, we can stop long enough to take in the vista and snap a photo or two. Although not a birding day, you may come across the Wallcreeper, a pair or two of Ibisbill, Brown Dipper, Hodgson's, Plumbeous and White-capped Water-Redstarts around the river valley and nearby rock cliffs. Arrive at your hotel in the centre of Thimphu and take your time to unpack and relax. There will be a welcome dinner where your tour guide will give you a brief introduction about the tour. Time permitting, we encourage you to take a stroll in the town. Most shops close at 9pm with bars and nightclubs closing around 12pm. Your guide will be available to accompany you and offer advice. Overnight: The Willows hotel (located in the centre of town) (L, D)

DAY 2: Thimphu

Exploring Thimphu town
 

Today will not be a birdwatching day as such as we explore a few sites in and around the Thimphu valley. After breakfast we will make our way to the Buddha Dordenma statue at Kuenselphodrang, which towers over the city of Thimphu. It is the largest sitting statue of the Buddha in the world at a height of well over 50 metres. From here you will be able to view the whole of the Thimphu valley as well as go inside the statue that contains hundreds of smaller replica statues of the outer statue and offer prayers if you wish. We will also visit the National Memorial Chorten, completed by the Royal Queen Mother as a memorial stupa for the 3rd King who passed away in 1972. This is a wonderful place to observe the older devout Buddhist population circumambulating the chorten in their colourful national dress. We will then have a few options. We could make our way to the Textile Museum where you will be able to learn about the history of Bhutanese textiles. The museum was established in 2001 under the royal patronage of Her Majesty, the Queen Mother, Sangay Choden Wangchuck. Another option is a visit to the Zorig Chusum, the school of arts and crafts where you will be able to observe the students engaging in the 13 artistic skills or if arts is not your thing, we can visit the 12th century Changangkha temple and Zilukha nunnery and even the Takin preservation centre, the national animal of Bhutan. After lunch there will be time to wander around the streets of Thimphu. There is a craft market near the magnificent Pemako hotel where you will be able to purchase local handicrafts at a reasonable price. Numerous handicraft shops are also scattered throughout the town. For a nice cup of coffee, we recommend Ambient café which is located near the only traffic light in the whole of Bhutan which is manually operated by a traffic policeman with white gloves. There are also a handful of shops selling the traditional attire which your guide will be more than happy to take you to. You may also wish to visit the main post office which offers for sale a wide array of stamps for the avid philatelist or visit the vegetable market to observe the hustle and bustle. If you are active, there is always the option to go on a short hike to Wangditse monastery, a short distance above Thimphu town. At 4:30 pm we will regroup to visit the summer residence of the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan known as Tashichho Dzong, which is also the seat of the government of Bhutan and houses His Majesty’s office. Overnight: The Willows hotel (B, L, D)

DAY 3: Lungchutse Temple to Trashigang Goempa (5 hours)

Day hike (medium)
 

The area in and around Lungchutse temple provides the best birding spot in Thimphu. The vicinity is filled with the sound of peaceful tweets of many birds like the Ibisbills, Sandpipers, Crested-Pie Kingfishers, Red-Rumped Swallows, Long-Tailed Minivets, Grey Wagtails, Yellow-Billed, Blue Magpies, Spotted Nutcrackers, White-Bellied Yuhina, Red-Billed Choughs, Black-Browed Tits, Upland Pipits, and more. So keep your binoculars ready! After breakfast we will make our way to the pass called Dochu La on the outer rim of the Thimphu region from where we will begin our hike. The prayer flag lined path climbs gradually through old growth rhododendron forests which boasts spectacular blooms in the months of April to May. After a 1.5 – 2 hour walk we will reach Lungchutse temple where on a clear day the view across the Himalayan ranges is spectacular – one of the best views in Thimphu – if not the whole of Bhutan! On our descent we will take the left fork which slowly descends through spruce, rhododendron, hemlock, and juniper interspersed with blue pine and oak trees all the way down to Trashigang goempa. Before reaching the goempa there are a series of small huts, these are meditation huts for 3-year retreatants, so silence needs to be observed. Our driver will be waiting to pick us up in the goempa carpark from where we will head back to the hotel. Free time to roam around Thimphu. Overnight: The Willows hotel (B, L, D)

DAY 4: Thimphu to Punakha (2.5 Hours which includes stopping at Dochu La to take in the view of the Himalayas)

Onwards to Punakha over the mountain pass
 

Today we will move to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan and the winter seat of the central monastic body. Punakha is a bird-rich subtropical valley that is renowned for the critically endangered White Bellied Heron. Some other common birds which inhabit the area are the Red-Headed Trogon, Wedge-Tailed Pigeon, Fire-capped Tit, White-Gorgeted Flycatcher, and other rare species such as the Yellow-Vented Warbler, Magpie Robin, Green Magpie, and Osprey. Enroute to Punakha we will pass Semtokha dzong built by the founding father of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, in 1629. We will continue ascending to Dochu La (pass) to view the 108 stupas commissioned by the Queen mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, as a memorial to those who lost their lives during a conflict in late 2002 when Bhutan evicted Indian rebels camped in the jungle on the Bhutanese – Indian border. On a clear day you will witness a breathtaking view of the eastern Himalayas. Before arriving in Punakha, we will stop at Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery built by Ngawang Choegyel in honour of Lama Drukpa Kuenley (also known as the divine madman due to his enlightened though unusual behaviours). It’s an easy 20-minute picturesque stroll through a traditional village and across rice paddy fields. Lunch at Nobgang B & B restaurant (12:30 – 2:30pm) After lunch we will visit the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body known as Punakha dzong. This dzong was also built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (in 1637) and was where he established his formal way of governing the land, known as the dual system of governance. Punakha dzong is one of the most breathtaking dzongs in Bhutan, situated at the confluence of two rivers. It is the second largest dzong in Bhutan after Trongsa dzong. We will enter inside the dzong as well as have time to stroll around the picturesque grounds. We will also visit the suspension bridge behind the dzong – a favourite amongst visitors. Overnight: Zhingkham resort (B, L, D)

DAY 5: Punakha

Punakha - birding & rafting
 

After a hearty breakfast, our day begins with a journey to the upper Punakha valley, where we will embark on a leisurely stroll through verdant paddy fields. Our destination is the magnificent Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Lhakhang, a captivating temple that beckons with its beauty. The tranquil walk to reach the temple will take approximately an hour, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the surrounding natural splendour. As we ascend, breathtaking vistas of the lush green valley and the meandering river unfold before our eyes, a sight to behold. As we continue our birding adventure, this area reveals a wealth of avian treasures. Look out for the vibrant Bay Woodpeckers, the striking Red-headed Trogons, the elegant Wedge-Tailed Pigeons, and the enchanting Fire-Capped Tits. The melodious calls of White-Gorgeted Flycatchers resonate through the air, while River Lapwings gracefully skim the water's edge. Keep a keen eye out for the striking Rubby Shelducks and the elegant Eurasian Wigeons. Delve deeper into the birding experience, and you may be rewarded with sightings of elusive skulkers like the Spotted Elachura, and the Pygmy Wren-Babbler, as well as two of Bhutan's three species of Tesia. After the rewarding hike to Khamsum Chorten, a well-deserved lunch awaits us by the riverside. Refreshed and energized, we will embark on an exhilarating river rafting experience. Our expert rafting team will guide us, providing safety instructions and equipping us with essential gear like lifejackets and helmets. Floating along the majestic Mo chu (river), the unparalleled views of the surrounding fortress-like landscapes create an extraordinary ambiance. For the duration of our hour and a half on the river, keep an eye out for the array of river birds that call Bhutan their home, including Herons, River Lapwings, Spotted Doves, Asian Koels, and other captivating species. Following the thrill of rafting, we will visit Punakha dzong, the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body. Built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, this imposing fortress represents the dual system of governance that he established. Situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Punakha dzong stands as one of the most breathtaking architectural wonders in Bhutan. We will have the opportunity to explore the interior of the dzong and take a leisurely stroll through its picturesque grounds. Don't miss the chance to traverse the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, conveniently located just behind the dzong, adding an extra touch of adventure to our day. Overnight: Zhingkham resort (B, L, D)

DAY 6: Punakha to Phobjikha (2.5 hours)

Beautiful Gangtey Monastery & valley
 

Today, our journey takes us to the captivating Gangtey valley, a sanctuary for the revered, black-necked cranes. As we arrive at our destination, we pause at the edge of a serene river channel, scanning the surrounding forests in search of fascinating avian species. Flycatchers flit through the air, while Wedge-Tailed Green Pigeons make their presence known. This enchanting place is also home to a plethora of other bird species, each adding its unique charm to the tapestry of nature. Prepare to be captivated by the vibrant hues of the Carlet Finch, the elegant flight of the Black Drongo, the melodious calls of the Chestnut-Bellied Nuthatch, and the ethereal beauty of the Slaty-Backed Forktail. Marvel at the graceful Gorgeted Flycatcher, the joyful notes of the White-Throated Laughingthrush, the regal presence of the Eurasian Jay, and the mesmerizing Wedge-Tailed Green Pigeon. Delight in the sight of the Mountain Imperial Pigeon, the vibrant plumage of the Verditer Flycatcher, and countless other avian wonders that grace this enchanting valley such as the Rusty-Flanked Tree Creepers, the elusive White-Browed Bush Robins, and the White-Winged Grosbeaks. Nestled within the heart of Bhutan, the Gangtey valley (more commonly known as the Phobjikha valley), is a glacial valley which always captivates our guests with its natural beauty. This remarkable destination is hailed as one of the kingdom's most alluring landscapes. The valley holds special significance as the cherished winter habitat for black-necked cranes, a migratory species from Tibet that graces the valley from late October to mid-February. Locals perceive the arrival of these majestic birds as a harbinger of prosperity and blessings for the entire valley, symbolizing an abundant harvest and spiritual grace. During our stay in this sacred valley, we pay homage to the magnificent Gangtey monastery, a testament to the kingdom's spiritual heritage. Constructed in the 17th century, this awe-inspiring structure serves as the residence of the revered Nyingma Buddhist master, Gangtey tulku. As we wander through the monastery, we encounter the presence of devoted monks, whose serene demeanour and devoted practice infuse the surroundings with a sense of tranquillity. From the vantage point of the monastery, we are treated to panoramic views over the Phobjikha valley. Afterwards, we will go on a relaxed 2.5-hour hike along the Gangtey nature trail where there are high chances of spotting more birds. We will also visit the crane information centre to learn more about the black-necked cranes. To fully immerse ourselves in the traditional Bhutanese way of life, we will spend the night at a farmhouse, allowing us to experience firsthand the authentic hospitality and customs of this ancient kingdom. Overnight: Local farmhouse (B, L, D)

DAY 7: Phobjikha to Trongsa (2 hours)

Trongsa birdwatching
 

Our journey takes us on a scenic drive, ascending the Lawa La pass at an elevation of 3360m. After a short but adventurous stretch along a rugged road, we join the highway, embarking on a breathtaking ascent to the Pele La pass at 3420m. Here, we are rewarded with awe-inspiring vistas of distant mountains, including the majestic peaks of Mt. Jumolhari and Jichu Drake. Continuing our drive, we traverse through evergreen forests that gradually transform into broad-leaved forests as we descend through the charming villages of Rukubji and Sephu. Along the way, we pass by the picturesque Chendebji village, home to the renowned Chendebji Chorten. This magnificent structure pays homage to the architecture of the revered Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. We pause for a while, soaking in the spiritual ambiance before resuming our journey to Trongsa. The Trongsa district, nestled amidst towering mountains and verdant jungles, provides a haven for a diverse array of avian species. The beginning of June heralds the perfect time for birdwatching enthusiasts, as rare and elusive birds make their appearance. Keep your eyes open for sightings of birds such as the Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler, White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, Grey-bellied Tesia, Crested Bunting, Steak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Rufous Woodpecker, Long-tailed Shrike, Prinias, Common Green Magpie, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Minivets, and Common Kestrel. The Trongsa district is definitely a treasure trove of avian wonders, offering an unforgettable experience for bird enthusiasts. Before reaching Trongsa, we make a delightful stop at the Drukwilling café, nestled in a captivating location next to a cascading waterfall. This charming café provides the perfect setting to unwind and savour some leisure time. Energized and rejuvenated, we continue our journey towards Trongsa Dzong, perched majestically above the Mangde Chu (river). This historic fortress holds deep significance in Bhutan's rich cultural heritage. If time permits, we will have the opportunity to visit the Trongsa Royal Heritage Museum, also known as Ta dzong. This remarkable museum serves as an archive of Bhutan's glorious history, offering a captivating glimpse into the kingdom's past. Overnight: Yangkhi Resort (B, L, D)

DAY 8: Trongsa to Zhemgang district - settlement of Tingtibi (5 hours)

Onwards to Tingtibi – a famous birdwatching area
 

Get ready for an exciting adventure today as we embark on a drive to the south of Bhutan to the Zhemgang region and the settlement of Tingtibi, tracing the meandering path of the magnificent Mangde Chu (river). Along the way, we will have the opportunity to make several stops in the enchanting valleys adorned with lush forests, where a world of avian wonders awaits us. Prepare to be captivated by the vibrant birdlife that calls this area home. As we explore the bountiful forests, keep your eyes peeled for a plethora of bird species. From the elusive Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler to the striking White-browed Scimitar-Babbler, and the exquisite Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, you'll be in awe of the diverse avian treasures that surround you. Listen for the melodious calls of the Grey-bellied Tesia and marvel at the elegant Crested Bunting. Spot the agile Long-tailed Shrike perched on a branch and witness the playful antics of the Prinias. Keep an eye out for the Rufous Woodpecker, the colourful, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, and the striking Spot-winged Starling. The mischievous Common Green Magpie might also make an appearance, adding to the excitement. Look up to the skies, and you might be rewarded with the sight of the majestic Rufous-bellied Eagle, the regal Mountain Hawk Eagle, or the agile Common Kestrel. And if luck is on our side, we may even catch a glimpse of the rare and highly endangered, White-bellied Heron and the charismatic Collared Treepie. But the avian delights don't end there. The nature-rich surroundings offer even more treasures to discover. Keep a keen eye out for the charismatic Nuthatch and the elusive Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill, as well as their larger counterparts, the Greater Rufous-headed Parrotbill. Listen for the cheerful calls of the Lesser-necklaced Laughingthrush and the Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, adding a symphony of sounds to our journey. And if we're truly fortunate, we may even spot the elusive Golden Langur, a primate species that was only unveiled to the world in the 1950s. Hopefully we will see one as the Bhutanese people believe that seeing one brings good luck which may help our birdwatching expedition! Overnight: Deluxe tented camp (Pangpang Eco Lodge) (B, L, D)

DAY 9: Tingtibi

Tingtibi birdwatching
 

Today, we embark on full day of birding in Tingtibi, where we will explore various forest landscapes, including subtropical forests, mossy forests, and streamside lowland forests. Keep an eye out for a wide range of bird species throughout our journey, such as the beautiful Nuthatch, Crested Honey Buzzard, Black Eagle, Emerald Dove, Bar-Tailed Cuckooo Dove, Pin-Tailed Green Pigeon, Whistling-Browed Piculet, Rufous Woodpecker, Long-Tailed Broadbill, Orange-Bellied Leafbird, Common Green Magpie, Scarlet Minivet, Red-Vented Bulbul, White-Throated Bulbul, Ashy Bulbul, Bronzed Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Oriental Magpie, Robin Blue Rock Thrush, Striated Prinia, Rufous-faced Warbler, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Rufous-necked Laughingthrush, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Crimson Liocichla, White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Grey-throated Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Striated Yuhina, Long-tailed Sibia, Sultan Tit, Streaked Spiderhunter, and the Crested Bunting. Additionally, within the lush jungles surrounding our campsite, we may be fortunate enough to spot the magnificent Rufous-necked Hornbill. Prepare for an exceptional day of birdwatching in Tingtibi. Overnight: Deluxe tented camp (Pangpang Eco Lodge) (B, L, D)

DAY 10: Tingtibi to Bumthang (8 hours)

Bird spotting along the way to Bumthang
 

In the morning as we set off to Bumthang, we will endeavour to catch a glimpse of the exquisite Nuthatch and the dazzling Sapphire Flycatcher. Time permitting, on our arrival in Bumthang, known as the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, we will visit Jambay lhakhang and Jakar dzong, known for their stunning architecture and ancient legends. There are a myriad of bird species in and around this area such as the Rose Finch, the Rufous-Breasted Accentor, the Little Bunting, the Red-Billed Chough, the Black-billed Magpie and countless others so keep a look out. Overnight: Swiss Guest House (B, L, D)

DAY 11: Bumthang

Bumthang birdwatching & sightseeing in & around the Tang valley
 

Today we head out to the Tang valley located in the eastern part of the Bumthang region. Here we may be lucky enough to spot the Monal Pheasant and the Satyr Tragopan. Other common sightings are the Spot-winged Grosbeak, Daurian Redstart, Oriental Skylark, Black-billed Magpie, and Olive-Baked Pipit and the Himalayan Griffon. We will also do some cultural sightseeing. We will visit one of the holiest lakes in Bhutan known as Mebartsho (the Lake of Fire) where Pema Lingpa, the founder of the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism, is said to have found treasure hidden by Guru Rinpoche by diving to its depths holding a burning butter lamp which was still burning once he surfaced. We will then travel to one of the oldest nunneries in the country called Tang nunnery then onto the privately owned Ugyen Choling palace, which features a museum containing an excellent overview of traditional rural life in Bhutan. We will arrive back to Jakar just in time to visit Red Panda brewery where we will be able to see how they make the famous red panda beer and enjoy a drink or two. Overnight: Swiss Guest House (B, L, D)

DAY 12: Bumthang to Paro

Flight back to Paro
 

Today we will catch a domestic flight from Bumthang to Paro. This is a spectacular 25 minute flight offering views of Mount Jomolhari, Masangang, Tsendagang, and other snow-laden Himalayan peaks. After arriving in Paro and resting for a while at our quaint homestay, we will drive to nearby Kyichu Lhakhang on the outskirts of Paro town which is one of Bhutan’s oldest and most beautiful temples boasting an orange tree that perpetually bears fruit. We will also take a short drive to see the Drukgyel dzong with its stunning forest and mountain vistas. This dzong (the name literally translates to ‘the fortress of the victorious Drukpas’) was built after the victory over the Tibetan – Mongols in 1649. Later that afternoon you will have some free time to roam around Paro town which offers good shopping for traditional jewellery and handicrafts and houses a few quaint cafes serving locally roasted coffee. After exploring the town, you will be able to enjoy the famous hot stone bath and the local hospitality of our hosts who will serve up a sumptuous Bhutanese dinner. Overnight: Kichu homestay (B, L, D)

DAY 13: Paro (Taktsang hike – 5-6 hour round trip)

Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's nest)
 

The big day has arrived! After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we will make our way to the base of the Taktsang hike. (Note: for those who don’t feel up to the hike there is an option to ride up to the viewpoint on a horse). For those going on horseback, you must alight at the viewpoint and walk the rest of the way if you wish to enter the temple, which involves a further short walk and a steep descent and ascent along steps. Most find this walk not too taxing as they are mesmerised by the stunning view of Taktsang monastery – one of Bhutan’s national treasures. Taktsang monastery (Tiger's Nest) clings impossibly to a cliff of rock at over 800 metres above the valley floor and where Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress to subdue the local demons followed by 3 months meditation in a cave still visible in the monastery. In 1998 the monastery was seriously damaged by fire and has since been painstakingly reconstructed to its original condition and consecrated by the 4th King in 2005. On the way down we will enjoy lunch at the Taktsang cafeteria overlooking the Taktsang monastery. Free time to roam around the town and for last minute shopping. Overnight: Khangkhu resort (B, L, D)

DAY 14: Paro (Departure)

Till next time
 

Free time to relax this morning before we leave for the airport and onward flights. In Bhutan we never say goodbye as we always believe we will have the good fortune of meeting again. So, from the team at Touch Bhutan Travel, we sincerely hope you enjoyed travelling with us. Take care until next time. (B)

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