Bhutan Birding

 
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Hilly area symbol © Sumit Sen
Bhutan Birding Circuit

 


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Bhutan can be effectively divided into three sectors to facilitate description and developing bird-watching circuits.

Western Sector : Lying between longitudes 880455E to 900135N
Central Sector: Lying between longitudes 900135E to 900535N
Eastern Sector: Lying between longitudes 900535E to 920753N

© Sujan
Phobjikha Valley, Western Bhutan / Pic: Sujan Chatterjee

Western Sector: Western border with India to Pele La
Paro region 2300 - 4100m
[Paro - Thimpu: 55kms, 2 hrs. Paro - Ha: 70kms, 3hrs]
i) Paro – Drugyel Dzong – Jangothang 2300 – 4100m
ii) Paro – Chele La – Ha Valley 2300 – 3503 - 2774m
The Paro Valley is relatively dry. Blue pines grow on the slopes but most of the valley is cultivated. The main birding is along the Pa Chu riverbed north of town.
Birding routes:
Drugyel Dzong to Jangothang 2580 - 4090m: This alpine zone which can be trekked over 8 to 9 days. Paro to Drugyel Dzong (13kms) is also bird rich and can be easily done from Paro.
Paro – Chele La: Blue Pine Forests and higher up Silver Fir, Spruce and Hemlock. Be the 1st car up to get the birds on the road. Takes about 1.5 hours from Paro.
Chele La - Ha Valley – Paro: A drive through good forests and farmland.

© sumit sen

Thimphu-Punakha region 1100 - 3110m
[Thimpu - Phuentsholing: 180kms, 6hrs]
[Thimpu - Wangdue: 76kms, 3 hrs. Thimpu - Punakha: 70kms, 3hrs]

A i) Thimpu – Dochu La – Punakha 2300 – 3115 – 1100m
ii) Thimpu – Begana – Tango – Dodena 2300 – 2760m
Birding routes:
Thimpu Valley 2300 - 2700m: Good birding sites around Begana and Cheri villages at 2500m Trek to Tango Dzong 2760 meters is recommended. Sub-alpine, temperate broadleaf, evergreen, coniferous forests and shrubberies.
Dodena 2575m: A 45 minute drive north from Thimpu. Area above Dodena below Cheri Monastery consists of Oak forests.
Dochula Pass 3115m: Good birding sites are found between 2800 and 2000 meters east of Dochula Pass. The mixed evergreen forest along the pack horse trail consists of Fir, Cyprus, Rhododendron, Oak, and bamboo.

© Sujan
Dochu La area / Pic: Sujan Chatterjee

Punakha region 1100 – 3850m
[Punakha - Gangtey: 70kms, 3 hrs]
Birding routes:
i) Punakha – Mo Chu Valley – Rimchu 1100 - 1700m
Mo Chu Valley: The best area for birding is between in the warm broadleaved subtropical forests between 1300 and 1650 meters along the Mo Chu River.
ii) Treks beyond Rimchu:
Rimchu to Trashithang to Damji
Covers broadleaved and coniferous riverine forest from altitudes ranging from 1700 to 2430m. This is a 1 day trek.
Damji to Gasa
Cool broadleaved forests between 2430-2770m. A day's trek.
Gasa - Koina - Laya 2770 –3200 - 3850m: Cool broadleaved forest mixed forest. 3 day trek.

© Sumit Sen

Pele La – Phobjikha Valley Region 1300 – 3410m
Wangdue Phodrang - Pele La area has mixed conifer forests, rhododendron, bamboo meadows and river valleys
[Gangtey - Trongsa: 125kms, 5hrs]
Birding routes
:
Wangdue Phodrang – Gangtey – Phobjikha Valley 1300 - 3050m
i) Gangtey - PeleLa 3000 - 3410m
  Pele La 3410m: Fir, Rhododendron and bamboo forest. Recommended walk is downhill along the old abandoned road cut through mixed broad-leaved forests on the west slope of Pele La.
ii) Gangtey - Phobjikha Valley 3000m
Phobjikha Valley: On the western slopes of the Black Mountains, Phobjikha is a glacial valley. The road from Gangtey to Phobjikha is characterized by the dominance of ground-hugging dwarf bamboo.

Central Bhutan: From Pele La to Bumthang Valley
i) Trongsa – Yutong La – Bumthang 2350 – 3520 - 2600m
ii) Trongsa – Shemgang 2350 – 500m
iii) Royal Manas National Park 60 – 500m
Birding routes:
[Trongsa - Bumthang: 68kms, 3 hrs. Gangtey - Trongsa: 125kms, 5hrs]
Trongsa – Yutong La – Bumthang 2350 - 3520m
Trongsa Valley: This warm and sunny valley between 2350-1100m consists mainly of terraced cultivation.
Yutong La 3520m: This is the top birding area in this sector. This pass area is dominated by thick forests of Silver Fir, Rhododendron, Hemlock, pine and dwarf bamboo.
Gatsa Valley 2800 m: Boggy meadows
Bumthang - Jakar 3520 – 2600m: The riverbeds on the road hold birds in the shrubbery.
Bumthang Valley 2600m: High-elevation agricultural fields and riverine valleys.
Trongsa – Shemgang 2350 - 500m
Area has subtrobical forests around Tingtibi and impressive giant bamboo forests.
Royal Manas National Park 50 - 500m
Shares the border with India's Manas Tiger Reserve (more here) and shares a similar habitat though the forests on the Bhutan side reach higher elevations. Best accessed from India.

© Sumit Sen
Slaty-backed Forktail, Manas

Eastern Bhutan: Bumthang Valley to eastern border with India
i) Bumthang - Sengor – Namling – Yongkhala - Lingmithang 2600 – 3800 – 2600 – 1500m
ii) Mongar – Trashigang – Narphung – Dewathang – Samdrup-Jongkhar 1500 – 2450 – 1350 – 1700 – 250m
Birding routes:
Bumthang - Lingmithang 2600 – 3800 - 1500m
Spectacular road after crossing Trumshingla Pass down to Lingmithang. The habitat quickly changes from conifers to subtropical forest as you drive down. The broadleaf evergreen forest commences at 2600 meters. A few exit trails into the forest can be found at 2500 meters near a mountain ridge.The road between 2600 and 1500m is the most productive.

© K David Bishop
Pic: K. David Bishop

Sengor to Namling 3050 m to 2360m: Passes over Trumshingla Pass (3800m) and consists of cool broadleaved forests with Hemlock stands.
Namling to Yongkala 2360 to 1700m: Mixed cool and warm broadleaf forests dominate this stretch.
Yongkala to Lingmethang 1700 to 650m: An area supporting warm broadleaf forests towards the south.
Lingmithang 750 – 1500m: This is considered on of Asia's best birding stretches. Area has dry subtropical ravine forests with Chir Pine and scrubby valleys.
Mongar – Samdrup-Jongkhar 1500 – 2450 – 250m
The Trashingang province is very densely populated and the hills are under intensive cultivation.
Mongar – Trashingang 1500 – 1350m: Temperate broadleaved forests.
Narphang La to Deothang 1700 - 850m: Warm broadleaf subtropical forests
Deothang area 1100 meters - 200 meters: Good habitat consisting of warm broadleaf and subtropical forests.
Deothang - Samdrup Jongkhar 850 - 250 m: Subtropical forest at the border with India. Samdrup-Jonkhar is is usual exit point for a cross-country birding tour starting from Paro or Phuntsholing.

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

3. Bhutan Government Site
4. Bhutan Bird Quest
5. Govt. of Bhutan Tourism
6. Birds of Bhutan by Salim Ali, B. Biswas & S. Dillon Ripley; ZSI 1996
7. Birds of Bhutan by Carol Inskipp, T. Inskipp and R. Grimmett 2007; Timeless Books
8. 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.
9. Personal communication from Sujan Chatterjee.

   
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