Birds of Bhutan

 
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Hilly area symbol © Sumit Sen
Birds of the Himalayan Region: Bhutan

 


© Yeshey Dorji
White-bellied Heron ~ an enigmatic resident of Bhutan

Birding areas   Trip Report  Checklist  Images  Map


The mountain 'Kingdom of Bhutan' lies in the eastern Himalaya and is bounded on three sides by states of the Indian Union and on north by China. "Druk Yul" or the "Land of the Thunder Dragon's" historical isolation, its ancient Buddhist culture, and breathtaking pristine landscape makes it an unique, mysterious and unforgettable destination.

Bhutan Birding Map © Sumit Sen
Click to see larger map

Landlocked Bhutan is a land of dense 'cloud forest-clad' hills, deep gorges through which flow fast mountain rivers and high snow-capped mountains. The northern alpine borders with Tibet are lined with some of most impressive and bleak peaks of the Himalaya with the Kula Gangri rising to 7554m. The southern portions along India are covered in dense and impenetrable evergreen tropical forests and from north to south flow the Torsa (Amo Chu), Raidak (Wang Chu), Sankosh (Mo Chu) and Manas (Dangme Chu) rivers dissecting the country into several slices.

Bhutan is, perhaps, the last showpiece of the true 'Eastern Himalaya' and a tribute to the country's enlightened policy of co-existence with Nature. It's primeval forests cover almost 65 per cent of the land area of 47,000 sq. km and vary in altitude from 60 meters to 7550 meters. This diverse geography results in a mix of subtropical broadleaf forests, coniferous forest and alpine meadows.


Punakha Dzong on the Mo Chu

Such amazing range of environments makes Bhutan a place of immense ecological diversity where disparate bird communities can co-exist in harmony in discrete biotic units.

Although lacking any endemics, Bhutan's bird list tops 650 species, almost half of what has been recorded in the whole Indian subcontinent. But we think that Bhutan is seriously under-birded thanks to difficult terrain and the country's isolation. Many birds that are common a stone's throw away across the southern border with India are, as yet, unrecorded in Bhutan. Similar must be the case with Bhutan's northern borders. It is only a matter of time before these birds are observed and added to Bhutan's growing list [see Bhutan Checklist].

© Ramki
Blood Phresant
Pic: Ramki Srinivasan

Given Bhutan's amazing natural diversity it is not surprising that the country is a key stronghold of such enigmatic birds like the White-bellied Heron, Blyth's Kingfisher, Ward's Trogon, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Blood Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan and Wood Snipe. For endangered mammal species such as Snow Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Takin, Tiger and Red Panda Bhutan provides habitat and safety in the face of threats from all around.

© Davis Bishop
Satyr Tragopan
Pic: K. David Bishop

Birding in Bhutan
The most popular way to bird in Bhutan for non-Indian and Bangladeshi tourists is to take a 'Group Highway Tour'. This type of trip is dictated by the following:
1. Tourism is restricted. Visitors must travel as part of a pre-arranged package or guided tour.
2. Tourists can enter into Bhutan at Paro Airport or from
Phuentsholing & Samdrup Jongkhar (road).
3. Bhutan charges a $ 200 daily
minimum tariff for tourists visiting in a group of 3 persons.
4. Most of Bhutan is forested and there are few all weather motorable roads.
5. Much of the birding has to be done in 'Restricted Areas' requiring a 'Route Permit'. Deviations from the planned route are not allowed.
6. All visitors must have an official guide with them at all times.
7. Terrain, costs, culture,  infrastructure, time constraints (usual visas are for 15 days) all recommend a planned and guided
'Group Highway Tour'.
8. Off road treks are specialized affairs needing much planning and many permissions.
[Note: Indian tourists have some flexibility and need not travel in groups or pay a daily minimum tariff]

Birding Circuit
Bhutan can be effectively divided into three sectors to facilitate description and developing bird-watching circuits. These are the:
Western Sector : Western border to Pele La at  900135N
Central Sector: Pele La to Bumthang at 900535N
Eastern Sector: Bumthang to eastern border at 920753N
The full circuit usually starts at Paro and exits Bhutan from the southern border at Samdrup Jongkhar. This usually takes 18 - 21 days to complete and is often packaged with a day at New Delhi and a couple in Assam and New Delhi at the end. Smaller tours are restricted to the 'Western Sector' due to the need to enter and exit from Paro. The complete circuit is described here: Birding Circuit

Bhutan travel:
A. Indian Travelers

1) Entry into Bhutan can be made either by land or by air. Druk Air, the National Air Carrier of the Kingdom, operates regular fights to / from Paro to Delhi, Kolkata, Kathmandu and Bangkok. By surface, entry into Bhutan is possible through southern border town of Phuentsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar.
2) Entry Permit: Indian Nationals travelling between Bhutan & India do not need Visa. An identity document, be it either passport or an election commission I. D card is, however required for presentation at the immigration during entry, to obtain an entry permit.
3) Route Permit: Required for those travelling to restricted areas beyond Dochula pass. The Route Permit is processed & issued in Thimphu only after arrival in Bhutan and on production of the Entry Permit. This permit can be processed only during working days (Mon-Fri).
4) Indian Rupee is acceptable all over Bhutan. It is advisable not to carry Rs. 1,000/ and Rs. 500/ denomination currency notes as they are not usually accepted. Very few establishments accept credit cards and there are no ATM's for tourists.
B. Other travelers
1) Independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan. Visitors are required to book travel through a registered tour operator in Bhutan.
2) A minimum daily tariff is set by the Bhutanese Department of Tourism. The rate includes all accommodations, all meals, transportation, services of licensed guides and porters, and cultural programs where and when available.
3) A valid passport and visa are required for entry into and exit from Bhutan. Visas must be applied for at least 15 days in advance and are stamped at point of entry on payment of US$20. Visas are usually for 15 days. Druk Air will board only travelers with visa clearance from the Tourism Authority of Bhutan.
4) Route permits as in A3 above apply.
[Disclaimer: Information provided here is on a best effort basis and may not be accurate. Please check with relevant authorities or your travel agent for correct updated information]

Important Facts and figures:
Area:
47,000 sq km
Population: 600,000 appx.
Language: Dzongkha. English is also used/understood.
Literacy: 60%
Religion: Drukpa Kagyu, a school of Mahayana Buddhism
Food: Rice, buckwheat, cheese and meat are staples.
Currency: Ngultrum (Nu) and is pegged with Indian Rupee which is also accepted.
Credit Cards/ATM's:
Amex & Visa are accepted in some establishments. No ATM
Electricity: A/C 220/50 (volts/hz). Most major towns have electricity.
Telephone: Country code +975; Cell phones work. Limited internet facilities.
Time: GMT/UTC + 6
Climate: Tropical in plains, cool winters in central valleys and severe winters with cool summers at higher elevations. Max/Min: Thimpu 25C/(-)2.5C; Punakha 32C/4.2C

References/Sources/Further reading:
1. Bhutannica
2. Kingdom of Bhutan
3. Wiki Travel

4. Bhutan Government Site
5. Bhutan Bird Quest
6. Govt. of Bhutan Tourism
7. Birds of Bhutan by Salim Ali, B. Biswas & S. Dillon Ripley; ZSI 1996
8. Birds of Bhutan by Carol Inskipp, T. Inskipp and R. Grimmett 2007; Timeless Books
9. Various Trip Reports on the net by N P Dreyer, K David Bishop, E Barnes, R Webster, D Farrow, T & M Southerland, P Lobo and others.
10. Personal communication from Sujan Chatterjee.
11. NatureBits - bird calls from Bhutan

Travel to Bhutan
There are many international specialists who offer complete group birding tours to Bhutan and include VENT. Here we highlight available options for Indians desirous of birding in Bhutan.
1. All India Birding Tours
2. Sakten Tours and Treks
3. Help Tourism
4. East India Birding
 

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