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Nepal And Bhutan Birding Trip

Tourists arrive in Kathmandu on day 1 where I meet them at night to brief them about the birding trip we will be taking through two Himalayan Nations.

But the actual trip begins from day two when I have to take the birders to Phulchowki from Kathmandu. Being the highest hill that surround Kathmandu, is home to about 300 species of birds. So we spend a full-day at this lovely place located just 15 km away from Kathmandu. Infact Phulchowki is the famous hiking destination in its loveliest jungle around and thus I take the tourists for a hike rather than  a drive around in the region for birding. Starting at the Godavari Botanical Garden (1,520 m) and slowly walking up to the summit of Phulchowki hill (2,760 m), we have to hike uphill, clicking some hundred species in a day. I tell the birders to keep an eye for the Spiny Babbler, Yellow – Throated Minivet, Tibetan Siskin and Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird etc. Ornithologists inform that the reason for the region to have the highest number of birds’ species in the Kathmandu region is that region is the natural migratory path from the north to the south. So you will also find Flycatchers, Yuhinas, Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers, Rosefinches, Babbkers, Warblers, Tits, Thrushes, Minivets, Woodpeckers, Eagles and many migrant birds. Godavari, at the foot of Phulchowki hill where Royal Botanical Garden is situated, records over 100 species of birds including lesser Racket tailed Drongo, Tibetan Siskin and the spotted Forktail. After a full-day birding excursion, we enjoy the sunset here and return to Kathmandu for an awesome Nepali meal and cosy beds.

On Day three, I have to help the tourist transfer themselves to Koshi Tappu via a connecting flight to Biratnagar. That’s where I am joined by another main guide of the tour. Koshi Tappu is the place where the birders will be spending two night. As soon as we arrive, guests check ion at the lodging place which is next to the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. All of us grab a quick byte and then head to Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, which is on the flood plains of the Sapta Koshi in Saptari and Sunsari districts of Eastern Nepal. This bio-reserve was established in 1976 and its entire expanse of 175sq.km has main vegetation of Khar-pater grassland with a few patches of Khairsissoo, scrub forest and deciduous mixed river forest. The Reserve offers important habitat for a variety of wildlife. A total of 423 species of birds are recorded here, including 20 varieties of ducks, two species of ibises, many kinds of Storks, Egrets, Herons, etc. Koshi Tappu is also home to the endangered Swamp Partridges and Bengal Floricans. The last surviving population (about 100 individuals) of Wild Water Buffalo is found here. Other mammals occurring here are hog deer, wild boar, spotted deer and blue bull. its other inhabitants include blue cows, various species of deer, Gangetic Dolphins and Gharial Crocodiles. Such is the diverse avi-fauna in the region that even next day isn’t enough for the avid-birders to capture everything in their cameras! Now wonder, Koshi Tappu is famous as one of the Asia finest wetlands and fabulous bird watching area. You can also see the Wildfowl, Waders, Teems and Gulls occur here plus a great variety of land-birds that include such specialties as Swamp Francolin, Red-necked Falcon and Striated Marsh Wabler.

On day five I have to take the birders to the Chitwan National Park – A UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we will be spending two nights. Drive to Chitwan from Koshi Tappu is about 9-10 hrs through the beautiful landscapes. Thus, making it a great opportunity for birding en-route. I ensure that they get enough glimpses to capture those perfect shots of the White-rumped Needtail Swifts and Ibisbills en-route. Upon arrival in Jungle Lodge, we are joined in by the local guide who give them a brief about what lies ahead for the two days. Chitwan National Park is best explored by a jeep safari as well as elephant rides. And we go by either availability. Chitwan is the most famous national park in Nepal, since it offers 450 species of birds including four species of deer, leopard, sloth bear, wild boar and many other wildlife. If I talk about the main birds here, just to name a few, the endangered Bengal florican, the vulnerable lesser adjutant, Grey-crowned Prinia, swamp francolin and several species of grass warblers etc. can be spotted at Chitwan. Besides, 160 migrant and vagrant birds like the Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Pallas’s Fish-Eagle etc. are seen in Chitwan throughout the year. Eight species of vultures out of nine in Nepal have been recorded in this area. Four of them are resident and four are winter visitor – primary being the White-Rumped Vulture, Slender-billed Vulture and Egyptian Vulture. As far as possible I ensure that the visitors take a combination of both the jeep safari as well as the elephant safari so that they explore the best regions and avi-fauna of the region. Ther otehr regular species of birds that you can find here are Plain Martin, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Oriental Honey-buzzard, Collared Falconet, White-rumped Needletail, Crested Treeswift, Black-hooded Oriole, Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Oriental Skylark, Bar-headed Goose, Red Junglefowl, Lesser Adjutant, Woolly-necked Stork, Black Ibis, Indian Peafowl, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Brown Crake, Small Pratincole, Pintail Snipe, Bronze-winged Jacana, Large-tailed Nightjar, Oriental Scops and Brown Hawk Owls, Rufous Woodpecker Lineated Barbet, Velvet-fronted and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatches, Paddyfield Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, Striped Tit-Babbler, Black-crested Bulbul, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Red-billed Blue Magpie and Common Hill-myna. Each of the two days at Chitwan National Park culminates with me taking the birders to watch the picturesque Sunset amid the songs of the birds. And then we all retire to the meals being cooked usually around the bonfire. This is the time, where I as a guide get time to tell them my jungle stories and also listen to their previous ones! I as a guide enjoy this time a lot.

The wheel of time rotates to bring me to day seven when I have to take the tourists back to Kathmandu. But noe before some early morning birding nearby their lodges. After a hearty Nepali meal, I guide the Karwaan of cars back to Kathmandu by late morning. We take few stops en-route for birding, wherever I get the stakeouts. It is evening by the time we reach Kathmandu. Thus time the accommodation is near the airport, since the next day the tourists have to be taken to Bhutan.

On day eight I join the tourists as the main guide taking them to Paro at noon via a connecting flight. Upon arrival at the new Paro International Airport, we meet the local main guide who escorts us to the lodging place, where we are required to stay overnight. Day eight is practically just about travelling to the lodging place at Paro and an early evening birding, if time permits, around the lodging place.

It is day nine when the actual birding trip begins for the birders in Bhutan. I take them for birding from paro to Thimpu via the Chelela Pass. Some of Bhutan’s signature birds, the elusive and colourful Himalayan Monal and Satyr Tragopan are found in the Chelela Pass region.  Besides these, Rose-finches, Grosbeaks and Laughing thrushes are also few bird species which can be rarely seen. After exploring Chelela and a late morning breakfast at Chele La, we drive to Thimpu, the capital city of Bhutan. The place offers great opportunities to spot Blood Pheasant, Kalij Pheasants, White-winged Grosbeak, White-browed Rose Finch, White-browed Fulvetta, Brown Parrot Bill, Stripe-throated Yuhina Spotted Nutcracker, Rufous Sibia, and various Eurasian Warblers. Before arriving at your hotel, I will always take you for a short trip to the downtown Thimphu. This is the region where the birders are able to spot Ibisbill, River Lapwing, Ruddy Shelduck, and assorted shorebirds along the riverbanks. I wrap the day by making the tourists cosy by the bonfire at your hotel and with some exciting birding stories I have personally experienced.

Day 10 is reserved for en-route birding from Thimphu to Phobjikha which is 140 kms away from the National Capital. The tourists stop over at Dochula Pass, Lampelri Botanical Park and Noboding Road for ample bird wathcing opportunities.  Lamperi’s Royal National park is a 47-square-km region at the tri-junction of three mountain ridges – Sinchula, Helela and Dochula. And thus offers more than 500 varieties of birds that throng the region making it one of the best birding zones of Bhutan. At the three places we stop for birding we get great opportunties to see 200 species of birds out of the 500, in just one long day! Golden-naped Finch, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Scarlet Minivet, Turdus Thrushes of two three types, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Himalayan Bluetail, Grey-chinned Minivet, Periparus Tits, Alpine Thrush, Black Eagle, White-browed Shrike Babblers, Minlas, Green Pigeons Cutia, White-tailed Nuthatch, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch , Large Hawk Cuckoo, Pied Falconet, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Jungle Babbler, Wreathed, Great Hornbill, Puff-throated Babbler, Indian Roller and much more. After the day long birding, the overnight stay is at Phobjikha itself.

On Day 11, my duty is to guide the birders to the next place in Bhutan, where there are great birding prospects. Thus, we drive to Trongsa and start the day by en-route birding! But not before an early morning drive to Pelela for high altitude bird species and amazing Rhododendrons in bloom. Post that, en-route to Trongsa, we not only go for sightings of the White-collared Blackbird, the Himalayan Monal, Black-faced Laughing Thrush and White-tailed Nuthatch but also of the Himalayan Bear and Black Leopard. In the pine forests , I also guide the tourists to look for Rusty-flanked Treecreeper, Dark Rosefinch, Himalayan Greenfinch and Rufus-vented, Grey-crested, Green-backed Tits, Common Buzzard, Mountain Hawk-Eagle, Steppe Eagle and Himalayan Griffon. And all this is done enroute! We then travel to the town of Trongsa through cool broad-leaf forests. There are ample opportunities for the tourists to enjoy sights of Red-billed Leiothrix, Yellow-billed Blue-Magpie and Gray-sided Bush-Warbler, Steak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Grey-bellied Tesia, Crested Buntings, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Common Kestrel, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babblers, White-browed Scimitar Babblers, Long-tailed Shrikes, Prinias, Rufous Woodpeckers, and Common Green Magpie. Trongsa is also famous for its jungle cuisine done on coal-fire especially for the tourists. And that’s the wrap of the day.  

On Day 12, I take the tourists from Trongsa to Tingtibi which is again 140km away. I make stops along the route, at Langthel & Koshala not just for birds but the flowers of the region as well. Our usual lodging site is by the river near Tingtibi at 600m above sea level is perfect for birder and nature lovers. Across the river, there are dense jungles where the tourist get to click the Rufous-necked Hornbill and also commonly see in the Golden Langur Monkey. Later major sighting before lunch was Asian Barred Owlet, Large Niltava, Slaty-backed Flycatcher etc. In another birding trail, me accompanied by other participants saw a Barking Deer, Grey-winged Blackbird and some other commoners.

Day 13 is about exploring Zhemgang and Tingtibi – one of the best birding hot-spots in all of Asia. We travel further east into Bhutan today into places visited by far fewer tourists, to an area known as the Black Mountain National Park, via the town of Zhemgang and finally to Tingtibhi, where we overnight. The path cuts through dense jungles that contain a plethora of wildlife species like the Black-Eagle, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Speckled Piculet, Lesser Yellownape,and the Golden Langur – a strikingly beautiful species of the monkey that is found only in Bhutan. Flowers and fruiting trees that attract Sunbirds will be plentiful en-route along the descent to the lowest elevation. The star attraction of this fine area is Beautiful Nuthatch, found in few known localities and we good chance amongst the taller trees. Amongst the other birds we may well encounter in the area are Oriental (or Crested) Honey Buzzard, the magnificent Black Eagle, Emerald Dove, Bar-tailed Cuckoo-Dove, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, the secretive but noisy Whistling Hawk-Cuckoo (split from Hodgson’s), Indian and Violet Cuckoos, White-throated Needletail, Blue-throated Barbet, White-browed Piculet, Rufous Woodpecker, the gorgeous Long-tailed Broadbill, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Common Green Magpie, Scarlet Minivet, Red-vented, White-throated and Ashy Bulbuls, Bronzed Drongo, Long-tailed Shrike, Oriental Magpie Robin, Blue Rock Thrush, Striated Prinia, Rufous-faced Warbler, Yellow-bellied Warbler, the superb Rufous-necked and Blue-winged Laughingthrushes, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, the lovely Crimson Liocichla (split from Red-faced), White-browed Scimitar Babbler, Grey-throated Babbler, Silver-eared Mesia, Striated Yuhina, Long-tailed Sibia, the impressive Sultan Tit, Streaked Spiderhunter and Crested Bunting.After day long birding we retire for the night at Tingtibi itself.

On the 14th day we take a drive from Tingtibi to Gomphu and back. And this is done to explore birding opportunities, which are in plenty, at the Royal Manas National Park. Apart from being a National Park, Manas also has the unique distinction of being a World Heritage site, a Tiger Reserve, a Biosphere Reserve, and a Wildlife Sanctuary at the same time. The regions basks in teh glory of being home to more than 450 speciies of birds, the primary being the Pale-billed Parrotbill, Pale headed and Bay Woodpecker, White-browed and Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Great and Rufous-necked Hornbill, Wedge-tailed and Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Crested Serpent and Black Eagle, Scarlet and Grey-chinned Minivet, Ashy Drongo, Verdieter, Pygmy Blue and Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Common and Hill myna, White-tailed and Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Brown-throated Treecreeper Chestnut-crowned, Grey-hooded, Yellow-vented, Yellow-bellied and Black-faced Warbler, Rufous-necked and White-crested Laughingthrush and Spot-winged Grosbeak. We’ll also have very good chance of sighting endangered Golden Langur along this beautiful drive, when we head back to Tingtibi for an overnight stay.

On day 15 we again explore Tigntibi for birds. The bamboo groves around Tingtibhi are usually the haunts of Lesser Rufus-headed Parrotbills and Streaked Laughing Thrushes while the fruiting trees attract Golden-throated Barbets, Wedge-tailed and Pin-tailed Green-Pigeon and Scarlet Minivets. This area is also the best chance of encountering the Rufus-necked Hornbill. Chances are you will see flocks of Yellow-bellied and White-throated Fantail and other species like Yuhinas, Minlas, Fulvettas and Sibias. If the time remains, I also take the birders for a hike to the village of Berthi to sight the rarest bird in Bhutan the White- bellied Heron. This is day is one of the most hectic due the hiking expeditions we take at difefrent elevations. So I ensure that the tourists retire early after a sumptuous meal amid best hospitality.

The next day is time to travel back from Tingtibi to Trongsa, but via Wangduegang. This is pretty long – 130km drive where we take stops for not just birding but meals as well. The primary birding area is the stretch called the Wangduegang road. On today’s drive there are possibilities to see Hill Prinia, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, the delightful Red-billed Leiothrix, small flocks of Striated Yuhinas, Streaked Spiderhunter, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Common Green Magpie and Red-faced Liocichla and another chance for Nuthatch.

It is day 17, and we have reached the last leg of the 21 day long trip! Time just flies and tourists have begun to feel nostalgic. It is time to travel from Trongsa to Punakha which is some 125km away. We stop for birds and flowers along Chendibji and Pelela road. En-route to Punakha, I tell the birders to look out for the Red-flanked Bluetail and Golden Bush-Robin, Grey Bushchat and Rufous-breasted Accentor. You may also see the Blue-winged, Red-tailed and Chestnut-tailed Minlas, Rufus-winged, White-browed and Nepal Fulvetta and Whiskered, Stripe-throated, Rufus-vented, Black-chinned and White-bellied Yuhinas. It is also possible to see Barwings, Laughing Thrushes before we land at Punakha. Actually we reach Punakha by late noon, take a short nap and then go for early evening birding where tourists enjoy sights of Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Black-eared Shrike Babblers, Grey-winged Blackbird, and Gold-billed Magpie. The diverse habitats along the way should present numerous prospects of seeing a great range of species such as Cutia, Great Barbet, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Long-tailed Minivet, Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, White-throated Laughing Thrush, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Yellow-bellied Bush-Warbler, Ashy-throated Leaf Warbler, and Verditer. We retire to our nests by late evening since this day is pretty hectic. And I at times ask the birders to dip their legs in hot water, to relax in a better way since some of them really get worked up, on hikes.

Day 18 is about taking two different birding trips. The morning one is done at Tashithang – the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park, at an elevation of 1,300m. It is here at this magnificent forest that we encounter Golden Eagle; Tawny Fish-owl (rare); Red-headed Trogon; Greater Yellownape; Asian Martin; Red-vented, Striated and Mountain bulbuls; Orange-bellied Leafbird; ibetan Siskin; Spot-winged Grosbeak and Scarlet Finch. Plain-backed Thrush; Large and Small niltavas; Little and Slaty-backed forktails; Spotted Wren-babbler; Rufous-capped Babbler; Blue-winged Minla; Rufous-winged and Nepal fulvettas; Whiskered Yuhina; Slaty-bellied Tesia; Ashy and Hair-crested drongos; The drive along Pho Chhu is where we look for White-bellied Heron (perhaps the rarest birds of Bhutan); Pallas’s Fish-eagle; Great Black-headed Gull; White-throated and Crested kingfishers; Oriental Magpie-robin; Chestnut-tailed Starling and Scaly-breasted Munia.

Post lunch we travel to the magnificent Punakha Dzong, where we stay overnight. The route will open an impressive array of species here, and on several occasions in the past these have included a White-bellied Heron, one of Bhutan’s rarest birds. We’re sure to encounter several parties of brightly colored minivets and noisy Striated Laughingthrushes, and we may also see more Ibisbills. A whole host of forest species, such as Bay Woodpecker, Red-headed Trogon, and Wedge-tailed Pigeon, waits to be discovered. Fire-capped Tit breeds here, as do White-gorgeted Flycatcher and the rare Yellow-vented Warbler. the other birds here are Lesser Shortwing, Spotted Elachura and Pygmy Wren-babbler, and two of Bhutan’s three species of Tesia. By early evening we reach the Punakha Dzong, a fabulous fortified monastery. After spoaking ourselves in the Aura of the Divine which is beyond religion, we return to our lodging places to call it a day.

On day 19, I guide the tourists Karwaan from Punakha to Paro. The journey is some 6 hours long, where we stop at Lumetshawa and Lampelri for birding and flowers. The former is the region that we explore in morning , during the first half of the drive. Birders get to click Ward’s Trogon, amongst other avian species such as Mountain Hawk and Black eagles; Eurasian Treecreeper; Spotted Forktail and Slaty Blue Flycatcher. During the second half of the day, I get the tourists to drive to Lampelri National Park. Here we take a hike where the birders get to watch the Brown Parrotbill, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Darjeeling and Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, Speckled Wood Pigeon, Plain-backed Thrush White-collared Blackbird and Green-backed Tits, etc.

On the penultimate day, I am always nostalgic. It is time to bid adieu to the avid birders, who have become my great friends. The time has come for tourists and me to head back to the Paro Airport from where we head back to Kathmandu for an overnight stay. The next day they will be heading home via New Delhi and I will be heading to my place as well. Every trip is a new trip for me even after 20 years now, because every day is a new day as a guide, considering how well Nepal and Bhutan have conserved their forests and inturn  their avi-fauna. So when are you joining me next? Do come, I will be waiting!