The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, land of the thunder dragon is quite simply an extraordinary country. With around 70% of its native forest cover still intact it is undoubtedly one of the least spoilt countries on our planet. A small population of only 770 000 people has certainly helped and together with its Buddhist traditions Bhutan as managed to avoid the environmental ravages that have left its neighbor’s forests sadly degraded. Here majestic mountain passes littered with prayer flags give way to pristine forests often dominated by massive dzongs (temple-fortresses) and chortens (temples). The lush broad-leaved forests dripping with orchids, blazes of rhododendrons, magnolias and seemingly endless coniferous forests all help to enhance some of the most magnificent mountain scenery in the world as a backdrop!
The country has a tiny network of roads that wind through the vast valleys and endless mountains of the Himalayas. These essentially give access to an incredible diversity of habitat, much of which is in excellent condition and almost all of Bhutan’s target species can be found from these roads. Altitude is one of the key points to pay attention to when searching for Bhutan’s many key species and the road network allows easy access to a huge altitude range from the eastern town of Samdrup Jongkhar at 230 meters to the top of Chele La in the far west at almost 4000 meters. The roads also give access to many passes, which are fabulous areas from which to bird and provide the best chances for many of the sought-after targets from Himalayan Monal, Satyr Tragopan and Blood Pheasant to Ward’s Trogon, Snow Pigeon and a variety of laughingthrushes, parrotbills, fulvettas, shrike-babblers, minlas, thrushes, robins, sunbirds, rosefinches and the unique Fire-tailed Myzornis. Of the 680 species you may encounter, there are no endemics!
In a nutshell the country has an extraordinary amount to offer its visitors and birding is just one of the many facets. Bhutan is emotionally stirring, scenically splendid and visually inspiring and most foreigners that enter Bhutan leave feeling moved in some exceptional way. Contributor: Keith Valentine/Rockjumper Birding Tours.
Due to Bhutan’s remote and well protected forests many species still survive here. The area is however very mountainous and largely inaccessible making finding many of the scarce species difficult.
Hiking and trekking, chortens (temples), dzongs (temple-fortresses), monasteries, incredible scenery, mountain passes, magnificent forests, various local markets, Buddhist culture.
The sites in general are very limited for most travelers to the country as the road network is rather restricted. The roads do however pass through a variety of great habitat and also offer access to a great range of altitudes so a number of areas accessible by road have become famous birding sites over the years.
Bhutan has a variety of hotel accommodations to choose from in the larger cities in the west of the country however most of the birding locations are in fairly remote areas with few fixed accommodation options. A camping setup is the best way of gaining access to most of these locations.
Traditionally the best time for birding in Bhutan is from March to early May and is when many species are moving from lower altitudes to their breeding grounds higher up. February can also be rewarding and is when you have an excellent chance of finding Black-necked Crane before they leave. This time of the year is however traditionally a lot colder (especially at higher altitudes) however can be good if you are willing to put up with the lower temperatures.