ABOUT BHUTAN BIRDING
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Bhutan is a relatively unknown and secretive country between India and Tibet located the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains north of India. It is a much less visited, serene, conservation-oriented birding destination that is a pleasure to visit. The country features excellent birding combined with several fascinating cultural sites and superb scenery. Birding Bhutan is an incomparable and memorable experience. The best months for birding in Bhutan are during migration from March to May and September to November.
Bhutan is a small country with no endemic birds and only two near endemics shared with India, but it is home to one of the rarest birds in the world, the White-bellied Heron, with a global population of about 60 individuals. In addition, a dozen species have very limited ranges in northern India and are often more readily seen in Bhutan. These include Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Bengal Bushlark, Black-throated Prinia, Whistler's Warbler, Hume's Bush Warbler, Brown-throated Fulvetta, Rufous Sibia, Hoary-throated Barwing, Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Himalayan White-browed Rosefinch, and Red-headed Bullfinch.
Birding tours to Bhutan can be about more than birding. There is also a diversity of mammals, with some such as Assam Macaque, Nepal Gray Langur, Gee's Golden Langur, Hodgson's Giant Flying Squirrel, Smooth-coated Otter, and Himalayan Goral regularly seen while others such as Tiger and Red Panda sometimes seen with a little luck. Notable cultural sites include the Memorial Chorten in Trimphu, the dzongs (fortresses) at Panakha and Trongsa, and of course the Tiger's Nest Monastery outside Paro, reached by a 5 mile hike round trip uphill and back downhill. To top it all off, the scenery is spectacular with breath-taking views of the eastern Himalayans visible from high mountain passes on clear days.
There are three main altitudinal zones in Bhutan. The Subtropical Zone with tropical or subtropical vegetation from 150-2000m (600-6500ft), the Temperate Zone with conifer and broadleaf forests from 2000-4000m (6500-13000ft), and the Alpine Zone, which is treeless and found above 4000m (13,000ft). The main forest types in the Subtropical Zone are tropical and subtropical broadleaf forest (up to 2000m (6500 ft) and chir pine forests between 900-1800m (3000-6000ft). The main forest types in the Temperate Zone are Himalayan Fir, Blue Pine, Mixed Conifer, Broadleaf mixed with Conifer, Upland Hardwood, and Lowland Hardwood. Over 60% of the country remains forested, much of it pristine and never cut. The altitudinal zones add to the diversity of species in a quite small country.
Tropical and Subtropical Zone
Tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests are found in the south along the Brahmaputra River bordering with India and in the river valleys south of Punakha, Trongsa, Lhuntse, and Trashigang. These are home to the globally threatened Rufous-necked Hornbill and Beautiful Nuthatch. It is also home to species with restricted ranges, namely Yellow-vented Warbler, Broad-billed Warbler, White-naped Yuhina, Rufous-throated Wren-Babbler, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, and Gray Sibia.
Chir pine forests are found in deeper, steep-sided dry valleys where almost no other tree species are found. There are no specialty birds in those forests but a few breeding birds are present including Black-throated Prinia and Blue-capped Rock-Thrush.
Temperate broadleaf forests on mountain slopes feature diverse bird populations. Range-restricted species in this habitat included Blyth's Tragopan, Wood Snipe, Ward's Trogon, Brown-throated Fulvetta, Beautiful Sibia, Hoary-throated Barwing, Streak-throated Barwing, Beautiful Nuthatch, and Rusty-bellied Shortwing.
Blue Pine forests are the temperate equivalent of Chir Pine and grow in dry valleys between 2100-3200m (6900,10,500ft). They offer low species diversity. Yellow-billed Blue-Magpie breeds in those forests.
At higher altitudes are hemlock and fir forests. The East Himalayan Fir forests at an elevation of 3300-3800m (10,900-12,500ft) often have an understory of bamboo and rhododendrons. Key species in these forests are Satyr Tragopan, Fire-tailed Myzornis, Brown-throated Fulvetta, Hoary-throated Barwing, Streak-throated Barwing, and Rufous-breasted Bush-Robin.
The Alpine Zone is mainly moist alpoine scrub of dense juniper and rhododendrons. Bird diversity is low, as it typical of alpine habitats. Key species include Wood Snipe, Fire-tailed Sunbird, and White-winged Grosbeak.