Bhutan Bird Festival 2023

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2023 Bhutan Bird Festival

The Bhutan Bird Festival 2023 is taking place from 13-15 November 2023 at Tingtibi in Zhemgang district, known to be the eco-tourism capital of Bhutan. This is also the third time that Bhutan will be hosting the festival.

As part of an overall tourism campaign, the Department of Tourism for Bhutan has included pre-festival and post-festival activities for visitors who attend this event. This is also an opportunity to observe some of the most magnificent avian species in their natural habitat.

Bhutan Bird Festival 2023

Bhutan is quickly earning its reputation as a birdwatcher’s haven in this part of the world as it is home to 7% of the world’s bird species, and there are 783 species as of 2022. There are also 26 endangered birds on the list.

The White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) is the rarest of the heron species, and to put into perspective how rare this bird is, there are only 50 to 200 of them in this world, and hence, this is one of the reasons the festival is organised because Zhemgang district is home to the White-Bellied Heron and also diverse bird species.

White-bellied Heron
One of the world’s critically endangered birds is the White-bellied Heron. Photo by Devika Pradhan.

During the last survey done in 2021 by the Royal Society of Protection of Nature, it was noted that there are only 23 White-bellied Herons found in Bhutan. However, speaking to one of the bird tour operators at the recent Asian Bird Fair in Sabah, the number has grown to about 50, give and take. But this is not academic proof.

Zhemgang is a well-known birding destination which offers over 500 species of birds, including the Spotted Elachura, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Satyr Tragopan, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, and the critically endangered White-bellied Heron.

All four species of hornbills are also found in Bhutan – The Rufous-necked Hornbill, Great Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill and Pied Hornbill are sighted at different elevations. The Beautiful Nuthatch is occasionally sighted in the upper regions of Zhemgang.

Overall, Bhutan has recorded more than 700 bird species throughout the country, which is also home to many globally threatened species, including four critically endangered species: White-bellied Heron, Baer’s Pochard, White-rumped Vulture, and Red-headed Vulture.

The three-day bird festival aims to promote birding and upscale eco-tourism in the region and to enhance the local economy while featuring cultural and entertainment programs by local bands, dancers and singers, mask dances and traditional Bhutanese music.

Another interesting fact is that birds in Bhutan are easy to see as Bhutanese people do not kill or hunt birds; they coexist with them and nature. This makes it even easier to spot birds here, compared to my tropical country, where birds are a little difficult to spot at times.

Info for Bhutan Bird Festival 2023
The main activities for the three-day festival here in Bhutan.

Activities at the Bhutan Bird Festival

There are several bird-related activities during the festival, which require registration and payment, and they are listed below;

  • Bird-athon – A three-day birding cruise. Birders can form a group of 1-4 members, or individuals can participate. The group or individual can do birding for three days, choosing one of the transects.
    a) Panbang to Tingtibi (75 km)
    b) Batasey to Tingtibi (65 km)
    c) Buli to Tingtbi (57 kms)
    d) Koshala to Tingtibi (55 km)
    e) Zhemgang to Tingtibi via Dakphel (33 kms)
    f) Zhemgang to Tingtibi via Wangdigang (34 kms)
  • Photo Framing  – I believe it is a photo contest; they just put in a different name. Interested groups or individuals can take photographs of wildlife (mammals, birds, butterflies and reptiles) and landscapes (natural areas and cultural landscapes) within the jurisdiction of Zhemgang. The photographs should be taken within a month from the date of submission. The electronic copy of the photographs should be submitted to the event organiser.
  • Trip to Duenmang Tsachu – Not much info, but this is a general trip. A three-day trip to Duenmang Tshachu (Hot Spring) will be organised as part of the post-festival event. Since November is the peak season, participants must book accommodation in advance and make their own arrangements for meals while pantry facilities shall be provided.
  • Bird Photography Trip – Participants choose either Upper Kheng -Shingkhar or Lower Kheng- Bjoka.

*For more information, I recommend you contact the organisers on the website given below. This is my first time writing about the bird festival, and I have not attended this, so I am unsure what happens. Hopefully, next year, I can be part of the media and do coverage for this unique birding festival in Bhutan.

Bhutan Rufous-necked Hornbill.
A pair of Rufous-necked Hornbills in Bhutan.

Birdwatching Locations in Bhutan

There are three main routes or locations for birdwatching in Bhutan,

  1. Narphu – Samdrup Jongkhar birding route lies within an altitude range of 150 – 1900m and recorded a total of 262 bird species.
  2. Shechamthang – Waklaytar birding route lies within an altitude range of 311 – 1960m and recorded a total of 291 bird species.
  3. Rimchu – Gasa birding route lies within an altitude range of 1345 – 2817m and recorded a total of 204 bird species.

The best time to do birdwatching in Bhutan is Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), as the weather is mildest and driest.

Location of Tingtibi from Paro Airport
The overland distance from the Paro International Airport to Tingtibi, where the bird festival is held. I recommend taking a domestic flight there.

Bhutan Department of Tourism News

Dorji Dhradhul, the Director General of the Department of Tourism, had this to say about the Bhutan Bird Festival 2023;

“Zhemgang, located in south-central Bhutan is a popular biodiversity hotspot, known for its rich wildlife, avifauna and subtropical forests. The annual Bird Festival is an exciting event that brings visitors from across the country and abroad to Zhemgang where they can enjoy the natural beauty of central Bhutan. We believe that this festival will not only promote birding and wildlife in Zhemgang, but also raise awareness on the significance of conservation and sustainability efforts, especially of the endangered species found in the region. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the local communities and support their economy. Let’s soar to new heights together!”

The bird festival held here is also one of the avenues for the local people to showcase and market their unique traditions, local products and indigenous local cuisines.

Tingtibi Bird Festival Bhutan
A little additional information was taken from the Zhemgang Government website.
Bhutan Bird Festival 2023

And for any additional travel information about Bhutan, you can also visit the official Bhutan Tourism website, where the theme is Bhutan Believe.

For your added information, the first Bhutan Bird Festival was organised by Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment Research in 2015.

Bird Fair Bhutan
The Bhutan Bird Festival logo.

Conclusion

This is the first time Birdwatching Asia has heard about the bird festival in Bhutan, and we are quite excited to share this news with all our readers and networks worldwide. We hope that we will be able to attend the Bhutan Bird Festival 2024, as it will be our pleasure to document and share the news with everyone.

For anyone reading this article for the Bhutan Bird Festival 2023, we hope that you now know about it and that you can also attend it in the future. I am sure this would be one of the amazing avitourism experiences everyone will enjoy.

About Bird Watching Asia

Bird Watching Asia is a self-funded project to promote bird watching in Malaysia and around Asia.

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