report covers the best part of a week spent in Bhutan with Nature
Tourism Bhutan. As usual for my
this was not strictly speaking a full-on birding trip (we
would have visited other areas of Bhutan for that and probably spent
longer there too). However, there was a higher focus on birds than
usual with certain
species prioritised in between various cultural experiences and hiking
the spectacular mountains. The birding priority for me was Ibisbill - a
species I have dreamed of seeing since I was a teenager and was one of
the first species we encountered. We spent only five very full nights /
six days in Bhutan as this is what our budget allowed for - on the face
of it the flat rate $250 daily price tag all visitors to the country
must pay seems expensive but one must remember that this includes
everything except the bar bill - all food, accomodation, transport,
guides and other costs were included. Part of the reasoning behind this
pricing is to
avoid destructive mass tourism and I for one fully support this.
Gross National Happiness is the big thing in Bhutan. I call it Gross
We used the Lonely Planet guide extensively for planning and during the
Also as usual I played a very small role indeed in planning this trip;
girlfriend, together with the ever helpful and very patient Karma, put
the trip together as a combination of birding, a Lonely Planet bucket
list and hiking. My contribution was not much more than the
words "I have to see Ibisbill" and some investigation in the rules
governing the import of cigarettes into the (officially) non-smoking
As someone who doesn't like too much heat Bhutan was perfect for me
with cool mornings and evenings yet pleasantly warm during the
day. Our itinery was based on a typical
"Lonely Planet" back-packers holiday - although we stayed in some vary
nice hotels indeed.
This is the field guide I took with me:
This trip was part of a wider combined trip covering Darjeeling, Sikkim
and Goa. See the following links for further details:
Bhutan is a beautiful country and our experiences here only made us
to come back and experience more. I would definitely
like to get back to do some more serious
We saw a total of at least 67 species during our stay. A few raptors, a
martin and some passerines escaped identification. For a European
birder Bhutan was an easier transition species wise compared to
destinations such as South America with quite a number
of species in common with back home.
Itinery in Bhutan:
14 November 2017: Flew in from Bagdogra (India) to Paro
15 November 2017: Paro – Bumdrak trek
16 November 2017: Bumdrak - Taktsang (Tiger’s nest) - Paro -
17 November 2017: Thimphu – Lungchuzekha hike –
18 November 2017: Dochu la – Lamperi – Paro
19 November 2017: Chelela pass and back to India
on the Paro river, Bhutan, November 2017
For more pictures of Ibisbill click on the image above
Before we arrived I read the itinery and I (almost) jokingly said that
the itinery for our first day was hopelessly back to front with
wrong prioritising. Why bother with checking in at the hotel, eating
and doing tourist stuff when the birds are on the river ? Thankfully our
Yeshey was also a birder and must have implicitly understood that this
could not work and we headed straight to the river and the
Ibisbills......thank you Yeshey!!
I feel that a quote from the itinery is required here: You
will be received by the representative of Nature Tourism-Bhutan and
the hotel Drukchen, looking over the airport, national museum, Paro
After lunch drive through the charming small town on the way to the
Museum and Paro dzong. Back in the valley explore the banks of Paro
look for Ibis bill, brown dipper and river chats. Thankfully we did
the exploration along the banks of the Paro river as the very first
thing. It was at this point I knew our guide was the right man for the
job. He KNEW that the river was the most important activity of the day.
AND he took over my notebook and kept the bird list up to date - a sign
real birder. Here we nailed the Ibisbills, Brown Dipper, some wonderful
redstarts (Hodgsin's, Plumbeous and White-capped), other river chats
and a variety of other species including shrikes and Russet Sparrow.
Ibisbill smiles, Paro, Bhutan, November 2017
Dipper, Paro river, Bhutan, November 2017
Local race of White Wagtail - a very common bird along the rivers
After this it was all touristy stuff - the museum, the fortess and the
town in general including watching some of the national sport -
archery. Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Red-billed Chough and other species
were added to the day list as we did these things. We wrapped up for
the day with close views of a very skulky Black-tailed Crake.
A fantastic start to the trip and apart from the birds the skills of
the local archers was very impressive.
Paro - Bumbdrak trek 15
The day was largely spent walking up the steep wooded hillsides from
outside to Paro up to a campsite at Bumdrak. A significant number of
Parts of this walk were fairly quiet birdwise but in other places it
was very busy. Highlights on the way up were a flock of Steppe Eagles
which soared past whilst we ate our picnic lunch, Himalayan
Vultures, cracking views of Black-faced Laughing Thrush, good numbers
of tits and treecreepers and plenty more besides. Other species
included Grey-crested Tit (also known as Fulvous Tit), Kalij Pheasant,
and Spotted Nutcracker.
Once up at the campsite things got even better with ridiculously close
views of Himalayan Monal along with White-throated Redstart and
campsite, Bhutan, November 2017
A truly spectacular bird - click on the image above to see more pictures
Black-faced Laughing Thrush, Bhutan, November 2017
We saw several different species of laughing thrush during our stay in
Eagle, Bhutan, November 2017
Steppe Eagle was the commonest eagle seen both in Bhutan and in
Spotted Nutcracker, Bumdrak, Bhutan, November 2017
A very common woodland bird in Bhutan
Blue Magpie, Bhutan, November 2017
Another common and very good looking bird in Bhutan
Bumdrak campsite with temple to the left and prayer flags on the summit
- Paro trek and
drive to Thimphu 16 November
Another day of steep slopes - this time downhill from almost 4000m back
into the Paro valley. We visited what may be Bhutan's most popular
tourist destination - the
Tiger's Nest (Taktsang) - on the way down.
Plenty of good birds seen including crippling views of Alpine
Accentors, a small flock of Blood Pheasant, White-winged Grosbeaks and
A stealthy post lunch smoke - hidden away close to where the restaurant
disposed of its compost gave us very close views of a flock of Spotting
Laughingthrushes. As Laughingthrushes often tend to be hidden in dense
foliage it was a nice change to see them so well.
We arrived at Thimphu as the light went but checked out the river there
picking up Ibisbills, River Lapwings, Green Sandpiper and Common
Accentor gave very close views on the slopes
Pheasant, Bhutan, November 2017
sneaky smoke got us up close and personal with Spotted Laughingthrush
Early morning view from the summit above the campsite. Simply amazing
Tiger's Nest (Taktsang)
– Lungchuzekha hike –
Dochu la, 17
November We started the day
watching a Yellow-rumped Honeyguide feeding on a rock face where some
large bee's nests hung.
After this we
drove to the spectacular Dochu la pass and hiked up to the Lungchuzekha
temple which gave even bettwer views of the Himalayan mountains. This
walk gave little in the way of new bird species but amazing views of
race of Eurasian Wren. Rusty-flanked Treecreeper was an addition to the
trip list here and the woods were full of the usual Red Crossbills,
Nutcrackers and tits including a few Rusty-vented among the Coal tits.
We had a close encounter with some Yaks on our way down to our hotel
for the night - the Dochu Eco Retreat. It seemed like we were the only
guests at this fantastically located hotel.
race of Eurasian
Bhutan, November 2017
Click on the image above for more pictures.
Dochula pass, photo taken with mobile phone
Yak in the forest
Himalyas as seen from Lungchuzekha (mobile phone picture)
Himalayas as seen from Dochula Eco Resort (point and pray superzoom)
Himalyas as seen from Dochula Eco Resort (DSLR with 400mm telephoto)
– Lamperi –
18 November A quiet early
morning stroll in the
Royal Botanical Gardens provided us with more new species.
here was more challenging with many birds hidden in dense
vegetation - but a decent variety gave themselves up quite well. Not
knowing the all the calls was frustrating!
were good views of
a feeding Black-tailed Crake, three species of Laughingthrush,
Ashy-throated Warbler, a couple of Hill Partridge and some mixed flocks
of feeding birds.
We also popped in at a tourist site I suspect not many have visited
(with the exception of birders of course). A must do site for birders
in Bhutan is the Thimphu sewage works. I had seen a few ducks there as
we drove past in the car on 16th and casually mentioned this to our
guide. Unfortunately the ducks were gone when we returned on our
journey back to Paro but there
were 13 River Lapwings there when we stopped to check it out. It is
unlikely that this site will make it into the Lonely Planet guide any
time soon though...
Black-tailed Crake, Bhutan, November 2017
Kalij Pheasant,Bhutan, November 2017
White-browed Fulvetta, Bhtuan, November 2017
Chestnut-tailed Minla (also known as Bar-throated Sivia), Bhutan,
Chillis are one of the main exports from Bhutan - here drying on the
ground but it is more common to see them being dried on rooftops.
Early morning departure from Dochula Eco Resort.
Pass, 19 November On
our last morning it was another early start - which worked very well
indeed. We ate a picnic breakfast up at the Chelala Pass - and had the
place completely to ourselves. We got some birding in and then returned
to the pass to find it very busy. This was a fantastic experience as
the place had transformed, there were loads of people there and most of
the birds had disappeared. Here we drank rice porridge - a perfect way
to warm up in the chilly early morning air up in the mountains.
Birding highlights here were a Himalayan Buzzard and a few flocks of
Snow Pigeons. Rufous-breasted Accentor, White-throated Redstart and
White-browed Rosefinch were among the other species seen up here.
The drive up produced a few flocks of Kalij Pheasants along with the
usual Whistling Thrushes.
Buzzard, Chelela, Bhutan, November 2017
Snow Pigeon, Chelela, Bhutan,
A few flocks were seen in this area - one flock gave good fly-by views.
Prayer flags at Chelela,
Bhutan, November 2017
We finished off with a last
walk along the river at Paro - finishing as we started off with
the airport at Paro.
An all too common sight for
my girlfriend - discussing the identification of a bird - in this case
the Himalayan Buzzard.....