A birding trip to the least visited Western Palearctic country in search of Caucasian endemics and regional specialties!
Birds of Azerbaijan
Saturday 29th April - Wednesday 10th May 2017
Azerbaijan is a very much unknown destination to the European birdwatchers. In fact it might well be the least visited country in the Western Palearctic with only a handful of birders that have been there. And yet it offers great birding including a fair number of very attractive and difficult to find anywhere in the Western Palearctic species. Our tour is focused on the most sought after species in the area, namely Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Black Grouse, Guldenstadt's Redstart, Great Rosefinch, Green Warbler, Caucasian Chiffchaff and the Red-fronted Serin. Other highlights may well include Semi-collared Flycatcher, Mongolian, Trumpeter and Crimson-winged finches; White-throated Robin, Bimaculated Lark, White-tailed Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Great Black-headed Gull and many more.
During the tour we will pass through a big variety of different habitats and beautiful scenery. We will go through steppes and semi-deserts, wetlands, extensive oak and beech forests, high mountains, being as low as 28 meters below the sea level to over 2 900 above it. The fantastic Greater Caucasus Mountains are must for every naturalist and we will pay special attention here, in order to find some of its specialties. No doubt, we will also record a good number of plants, butterflies and mammals. We will also experience the local culture and the hospitality of the Azeri people, and get a glimpse into the lifestyle of the rural communities which are in big contrast even with the capital city of Baku, let alone with the Western civilization.
Day 1 Arrival at Baku airport late in the evening and transfer to a hotel for our first night. Accommodation and dinner followed by early night allowing us to recharge ourselves before our first full day of the holiday.
Day 2 Today we will drive south and our first site will be at Gobustan National Park - here we can see Greater Sand Plover, Finchi's, Isabelline and Black-eared wheatears, Rock Nuthatch, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Black-headed Bunting etc. Some of the oldest petroglyphs are found nearby as well as few active mud volcanoes which we shall visit if the road conditions permit.
Latter we will visit Shirvan National Park - a large semi-desert area, home to a considerable population of the Goitered Gazelles. It also has few large wetlands where we expect many species - Grey-headed Gallinule, Ferruginous Duck, Purple Heron, all the marsh terns, Bearded Reedling etc. The shrubs nearby can reveal Black Francolin, Ruffous Bush Chat, Menetries's and Olivaceous warblers and Stone Curlew. Lesser Kestrel, Roller and Bee-eaters can be seen foraging the area. Stay overnight just south of the park.
Day 3 Today we will drive further south and shall visit few more coastal wetlands where we expect many terns, waterfowl species, waders and gulls, including the Great Black-headed Gull, also Rufous Bush Chat, Kingfisher, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and many more. We will also visit a site where we will look for both Shikra and the Levant Sparrowhawk. Latter in the afternoon we arrive in one of the resorts of Talish Mountain where we stay for three nights.
Days 4 and 5 Both days we will explore the Zuvand plateau situated at about 2000 meters above the sea level and next to the Iranian border. It is a habitat much different than the wet forests of Talish Mountains. The plateau is dry and rocky area, almost treeless except the poplars in the few villages around. This habitat however is excellent for our target birds here - Pale Rock (or Hill) Sparrow, Bimaculated Lark and Eastern Rock Nuthatch. White-throated Robin and the Grey-necked Bunting are also breeding here in small numbers, but not every year. The same is true for Trumpeter, Crimson-winged and Mongolian finches and with some luck we can see some of them. Other species here will be Egyptian Vulture, Long-legged Buzzard, Chukar, Horned Lark and Syrian Woodpecker.
In the gorge which will lead us to the plateau we will look for Upcher's Warbler and Blue Rock Thrush.
Day 6 Today we leave the area and the morning will be devoted to Hirkan NP where we will look for Semi-collared and Red-breasted flycatchers. Other species will be the local subspecies of the Sombre Tit, considered as a separate species - the Caspian Tit, also Icterine Warbler, Wryneck, Lesser Spotted Eagle, woodpeckers and other woodland birds. In the afternoon we drive further north checking few wetlands on the way.
Day 7 Today we continue further north, having several stops on the way for Lesser Kestrel, Redstart, Black-headed and Ortolan buntings, Nightingale etc. In the evening we will reach our base for the next two days - the village of Laza.
Day 8 Early start at 05.00 a.m. as we need to reach the Caucasian Black Grouse leking site. Half of the distance we will drive, then we have less than a mile to walk, using a dirt track. We have plenty of time to reach our observation point from where we can scope the slopes in front of us for displaying grouses. The Caucasian Grouse has a different way of displaying and unlike the common Black Grouse it doesn't congregate in big numbers at one small area. Instead the birds wonder around along the slopes and the distance between them is from 100 to 500 or more meters. From time to time 2 or 3 males will group for a short time, have a little fight then fly away again. Other species will be Green Warbler, Caucasian Chiffchaff, Marsh Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Corncrake, Common Rosefinch etc. After it we will return to the resort and have a rest. Letter we will go birding around the resort - Red-fronted Serin, Alpine Accentor, Ring Ouzel, Goshawk, Peregrine, Griffon and Bearded vultures and Long-legged Buzzard. If we climb higher above the resort we have a chance for Guldenstad's Redstart, Great Rosefinch, and even Caucasian Snowcock. Here we can also find the East Caucasian Tur.
Day 9 In case we have missed some of the target species the previous day we shall repeat our early morning excursion and/or the birding around our hotel. Latter on we will leave the area and make a loop to reach the opposite slopes of the Shahdag mountains. Accommodation for three nights and if time permit birding in the area.
Days 10 and 11 Both days we will explore the southern slopes of Greater Caucasus above the picturesque situated village of Khinaliq. Here we will see the traditional transhumance practices of the Azeri shepherds. End of May they arrive with their numerous sheep flocks to the high mountain which they use as summer pastures. After early breakfast we will drive up to the village and then by dirt roads we will try to reach higher grounds. From here we will walk further above and we need to reach about 3 000 meters a.s.l. where is the habitat of our target species - the Caucasian Snowcock. Already here we will first try to locate the birds by their whistling calls and then we can scope them or get closer. The scenery is wild and wonderful. Here we can also see the other two highlights of our holiday - the beautiful and enigmatic GпїЅldenstad's Redstart and the Great Rosefinch. Other species will be White-winged Snowfinch, Alpine Accentor, Red-fronted Serin, Chukar, Bearded Vulture, Alpine Chough, Wallcreeper, Rock Thrush and many more.
Day 12 Transfer to Baku for our flight back home with stops on the way depending on the time. Departure.
Walking: This tour requires a moderate level of walking but some of the mountain species will require fair walks of few hours until we reach their habitats.
Food: Azerbaijan cuisine has not great diversity (at least not in the restaurants) and meals during the tour will be mainly kebap (but not spicy at all) of lamb meat or beef, a lot of fresh vegetables, dairy products, stuffed vine leaves and freshly baked bread.
Clothes and weather: Climate in May is very pleasant in Azerbaijan, but it can be cold (about 10 Celsius) in the high mountains as well as hot (about 30 or so Celsius) in the south and the lowlands. Rain coat is recommended. In the same time, especially in the rural communities men shorts are best not to wear, but long trousers. Most of the walks will require good walking shoes, but not heavy boots.