The tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan - often known as “Land of the Thunder Dragon” - is renowned for its unique cultural identity, created in virtual isolation in its Himalayan valleys. But what you may not know is that the remoteness of Bhutan and the royal protection of its natural environment has enabled wildlife to thrive. It’s a particular paradise for birders, with 670 recorded species and more still being discovered.
The glacial Phobjikha Valley is in central Bhutan. Its broad marshes make for striking scenery, but more important they support 13 globally threatened species, including the black-necked crane. The arrival of these precious birds, visitors from the Tibetan Plateau, inspires the annual Tsechu Crane Festival, a masked celebration led by Buddhist monks. It’s therefore the ideal opportunity not only to see the crane coming to roost, but also to see firsthand how Bhutan’s reverence for the natural world manifests itself in local culture.
The nearby Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park protects a large area of the Black Mountains. It borders two rivers, Mangde Chhu and the Sangkosh River, and the combination of watery habitats and Himalayan broadleaf forest enables a wide variety of bird species to thrive here. Of the 270 species known to reside here, eight are globally threatened. This is the place to come if you want to see great hornbill and wood snipe, white-bellied heron, and the rufous-necked hornbill.
Situated along Bhutan’s border with Tibet you’ll find the Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve, a glorious expanse of broadleaf forest and alpine meadow. It’s a wonderful spot for hiking, and we do recommend getting out on foot whilst you are birding. More than 160 resident and migratory bird species can be seen here.
You can combine this reserve easily with the Jigme Dorji National Park as the two areas are connected by a biological corridor. Jigme Dorji is the only place in the world where the habitats of Royal Bengal tiger and snow leopard are known to overlap, so do keep an eye out for the big cats!
Last but certainly not least, is Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary. Amidst the alpine lakes and forest you can see black-necked crane, grey prinia, and wood snipe. The ideal time to visit Bumdeling is from November to early March as this is when the crane come to overwinter.
Relatively few tourists come to Bhutan each year, and this is part of the destination’s appeal: you can explore the beauty of the country in peace, see its wildlife up close, and meet local people whose values and traditions are unique. Journeysmiths has sought out special places to stay which are in keeping with their surroundings and share Bhutanese beliefs in the importance of environmental and social sustainability. At Amankora you might stay in a lodge in the clouds, the pine forests wrapped around you. And at Como Uma Paro you can birdwatch from your balcony, then step out into the grounds for a traditional archery lesson!