Birdwatching news and bird photography from Transcaucasia - by Kai Gauger and Michael Heiß

Samstag, 23. Oktober 2010

trip report from spring 2010

Text © K. Gauger

This year in May/June 2010 we did trips with two groups from Germany. With rented Landcruisers we did the 'classic' routes including the Greater Caucasus, the eastern lowland, the coast and the Talysh Mountains.

Starting in Baku on May 20th we went north along the coast with a stop on Cape Gilazi, where there were six Greater Sandplovers at the beach. In the semi desert we had many Collared Pratincoles, Lesser Short-toed Larks and Isabeline Wheatears. Some scanning for migrating raptors on Besh Barmag the next day already produced a mega, the first  Crested Honey Buzzard for Azerbaijan was circling among some Europeans. The wadi shrubs in the Candy Cane Mountains were full of resting migrant songbirds, mainly Marsh Warblers. Among breeding birds we had Woodchat and Lesser Grey Shrike, Pallid and Menetries's Warbler, Rufous Bush Robin and a nice male Montagues Harrier. In the hills several Calandra Larks and Tawny Pipits were singing.

Greater Sand Plover at Cape Gilazi, by Michael Heiß
Candy Cane mountains on the way to Alti Agach

We went further to Quba and the Xinaliq region. We had the usual flocks of Red-fronted Serins, ochourus-Black Redstarts and Alpine Swifts above the canyon and a couple of singing Green Warblers. Several Griffon Vulture where sitting in the colony in Gudialchay Valley and we also saw single Black, Egyptian and Bearded Vultures. Along the road there were many Ortolan and Rock Buntings, Stonechat and a superb singing male Rock Thrush. On hay meadows around the villages dozens of Commen Rosefiches were feeding.

Griffon Vulture near Qala Xudat, by Kai Gauger

As usual there were many Snowfinches and Rock Sparrows arournd Xinaliq and we also saw Asia Minor Twite and Shore Lark. At about 2.800 masl we got some nice shots of Caucasian Snowcock and saw several Güldenstadt's Redstarts. Two Great Rosefinches were unfortunately only flying by. Another highlight were two Crimson-winged Finches, which we only recently discovered at this only known place in the Greater Caucasus. A Wallcreeper and several Alpine Accentors completed the species list for Xinaliq.

Habitat of Güldenstadt's Redstart and Great Rosefinch, by Kai Gauger

Caucasian Snowcock at Qizil Gaya, by Michael Heiß

We changed to the Laza valley where the weather was unexpectedly nice. Just the other morning we got good views of one ad and two second year male Caucasian Black Grouse. Around the resort there were many coutellii-Water Pipits, Red-fronted Serins, Twites and Common Rosefinches and we also had big flocks of  Choughs with few Alpines among them. There were an Alpine Accentor, a Ring Ouzel and some singing Caucasian Chiffchaffs and Green Warblers along the rock wall above Laza. On the opposite site of the valley we spotted a group of about a dozen Caucasian Turs grazing on the flanks of Mount Shahdag.

Zuvar resort and grouse lack in the background, by Kai Gauger

Alpine Accentor, by Kai Gauger

We continued our trip with a short vistit in the Nabran region to look for Semi-collared Flycatchers wich are quite common here. In the evening there were several Nighjars and Scops Owls around.
In Alti Agach the gravel bed of the river was great with Pied, Eastern Black-eared and Finsch's Wheatear next to each other. We had several Booted, Short-toed and Lesser Spotted Eagles.
The next day we continued south to Gobustan, were many Rose-coloured Starling were flying around. We saw young Lanner Falcons at two locations, a flock of 16! Great Sand Plovers and two Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

Black-headed Bunting in Gobustan, by Michael Heiß


The Shirvan National Park held another highlight with the first Azerbaijan breeding record of Red-footed Falcon at the entrance of the sanctuary. Pallid and Menetries's Warblers were singing in the shrubs and a Scops Owl was roosting in the entrance of its nest hole. Two Black Francolins showed well on the way to the lake. There we had the expected Purple Gallinule, two male Little Bitterns and a couple of other wetland species. Just a few days before Mario Camici from Switzerland saw an Oriental Pratincole close to the scientific centre, another first record! A great non-birding observation was a Wolf chasing a young Goitered Gazelle.

Goitered Gazelles in Shirvan NP, by Kai Gauger
Scops Owl in Shirvan, by Kai Gauger

We followed the highway south to Masalli, where we found some new sites for Shikra, which was also breeding in the garden of our resort. It seems that really every patch of wood in the Lenkoran lowland holds this species! Other birds in the lowland wood were Syrian Woodpeckers, Long-tailed Tits, Golden Orioles and a Hobby.

Male Shikra near Masalli, by Kai Gauger

 The afternoon we spend in Kizil Agach where we saw many Black-crowned Night , Squacco and Purple Herons. There were seven species of tern (White-winged, Wiskered, Little, Caspian, Gull-billed, Sandwich and Common Tern), Slender-billed Gull, Kentish and Ringed Plover and two Terek Sandpipers. On the way to our reort in the forest we visited the colony of Blue-cheeked Bea-eaters in Liman, with some dozens of birds.


Blue-cheeked Bee-eater in Liman, by Michael Heiß
 

The next morning we started early to get to the Zuvand. On the way through the canyon we saw a superb male Blue Rock Thrush at the usual site behind the bridge. There were also Rock Sparrows, Finsch's and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears, Crag Martins and Alpine Swifts around. Two Golden Eagles were soaring above the ridge and two Long-legged Buzzards were carrying branch to their aerie. Just after reaching the upland we had two singing Bimaculated Larks and several Pale Rock Finches. In the floodplains there were the usual Cetti's Warblers, Syrian and Green Woodpeckers, Common Whitethroats and Red-backed Shrikes.

Zuvand semi desert and floodplain, by Kai Gauger
Pale Rock Finch in Zuvand, by Michael Heiß

The second day in Zuvand we spend and around Mistan where we had great observations of two Crimson-winged Finches and White-throated Robin, the most sought after species at this site. Other nice birds were several Barred WarblersOrtolan and Rock Buntings, Alpine Accentor, variegata-Stonechats, Rock Thrush and Ring Ouzel.

Alltogether this was a rewarding trip with nearly 200 species and great sightings. We are looking forward to the next spring season!

winter trip 2010

Text © M. Heiß

From 22nd February to 6th March 2010, we organised a field trip to Azerbaijan. Two friends from Germany joined the expedition. The wintertime is maybe not the best time to visit the country, but it offers great opportunities to see rare wintering species like larks and buntings from western Asia, impressive numbers of waterfowl or globally threatened bird species.

Our tour started on 22nd February in Baku with a rented 4WD. We spent the night mostly in tents. On the first day, we followed the main road from Baku to Shamakhi to reach the steppes of Gobustan. Besides the road we saw some Griffon Vultures and flocks of Starlings, Eurasian Skylarks and Calandra Larks. The first highlight was a beautiful White-winged Lark.

White-winged Lark in Gobustan © Michael Heiß

Further into the steppes we reached a rocky outcrop and found a pair of Lanner Falcons, two singing Finsch's Wheatears and some Isabelline Wheatears. In the evening we reach the mud volcanoes, where we spent the night in tents.

Mud volcanoes in Gobustan © Michael Heiß

The next day we headed further south. In the steppe, we saw a single Ruddy Shelduck, larks and Isabelline Weathears. At a stony cliff we found Rock Sparrows, Western Rock Nuthatchs, Finsch's Wheatears and a pair Red-billed Chough chasing a Golden Eagle
The next stop was at the famous ancient rock engravings of Gobustan where we found Rock Buntings, Finsch's Wheatears, Rock Sparrows, Western Rock Nuthatchs, 25 Woodlarks, Red-fronted Serins and displaying Long-legged Buzzards.

We spend the following two days in the Shirvan National Park. The steppes produced Greylag, 7 Lesser and some Greater White-fronted Geese, Common and Ruddy Shelducks, Black Francolins, only 4 Little Bustards and some hundred larks. The lake within the National Park offered several duck species, 2 Grey-headed Swamphens, our first Pallas's Gull, Flamingos, Dalmatian Pelicans and 200 Pygmy Cormorants. In the evening dozens of Hen Harriers flew in to roost in the reedbeds of the lake.

Hen Harrier on the way to its roost © Kai Gauger

On 25th February, we birded in the Kura delta, but what we found was a waterfowl hunt of some locals. In one line six hunters waded through a long but rather narrow lagoon , which was full of waterfowl, mostly Coots. They pushed the fleeing waterfowl to the one end of the lagoon. Here, at the end of the lagoon, was no escape for the swimming birds, so they start flying. Most of the birds flew overhead of the hunters to reach the other side of the lagoon, but this was for many birds a deadly mistake. As Coots are bad flyers, they are now easy targets for the shooting hunters.

Coot hunt in the Kura delta © Michael Heiß

Further into the south, we visited the Kizil Agach Bay. Here we also found hunting activity and distant shooting was heard throughout the days in that region. Interestingly, the biggest concentration of waterfowl was found in the Mahmudhala Hunting Sanctuary with about 35000 ducks. Among them, we found only 11 White-headed Ducks.
In the Kizil Agach Bay around Liman and Nerimanabad we observed more than 200 Dalamtian Pelicans, 176 Pallas’s Gulls, 800 Little Gulls, 500 Whiskered Terns and hundreds of cormorants, waders and ducks. Interesting highlights were a Terek Sandpiper and a Heuglin’s Gull.

Birding in Kizil Agach with many Dalmatian Pelicans and Pallas's Gulls (background) © Michael Heiß

After a cold night camping in the montane semi-desert of the Zuvand upland we birded  around Gosmalijan and Pirasora on 28th February. The higher mountains were still snow covered. The best observations in this area were two male and a female Pine Buntings.

Male Pine Bunting in the Zuvand © Kai Gauger

Birding high in the mountains close to the Iranian border © Michael Heiß

We then continued our round trip through the country and drove to the Adjinohur valley near Mingechevir. A short stop besides the main road offered 2 White-tailed Lapwings and our first larger flock of 90 Little Bustards.

White-tailed Lapwing © Kai Gauger

We spent the night in a hotel near the Kura river in Mingechevir and were quite surprised how rich the bird life was within the city. We saw from the hotel 8 Armenian Gulls, 6 Pallas’s Gulls, 30 Black-crowned Night Herons, 250 Pygmy Cormorants and a Red-fronted Serin.

After leaving the town we birded 2 days in the Adjinohur valley. Besides the road we saw regularly Eastern Imperial Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards, Steppe and Greater Spotted Eagles, Griffon and Cinereous Vultures, harriers, Lapwings, hundreds of larks, mainly Sky, Lesser Short-toed and Calandra, and Isabelline Wheathears. Beautiful sights were several flocks of Red-fronted Serins and we estimated a total of 500 individuals. Furthermore, we found 4 Pine Buntings in a village.


A flock of Red-fronted Serins © Kai Gauger

Eastern Imperial Eagle © Kai Gauger

At the central lake we saw 1200 Flamingos, 300 Ruddy Shelducks, 2500 Greater and 40 Lesser White-fronted Geese and 5 Red-breasted Geese. However, the highlight of the trip was the mass of Little Bustards. In the Adjinohur valley we found an very impressive flock of 25000 individuals.

A huge flock of Little Bustards © Michael Heiß


 A superb ad male Pallid Harrier © Michael Heiß

We then returned to the Shirvan National Park where we spent our last night in the field. At the lake we saw 185 Dalmatian Pelicans, Pygmy Cormorants, Flamingos, larks, pipits, singing Cetti's and Moustached Warblers, displaying Black Francolins and again two huge flocks of Little Bustards with 10000 and 50-70000 individuals.

The famous IBA "Red Lake" is under threat of local construction works. But still White-headed ducks can be found in large numbers here © Kai Gauger

On our last day we drove back to Baku with some birding stops at the Gobustan rock engravings where we found a Wallcreeper and at the “Red Lake” with 147 White-headed Ducks and 15 Mediterranean Gulls.


Also in wintertime Azerbaijan is worth a birding trip!