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

Donnerstag, 12. Februar 2015

Winter trip 2015. First days: Gobustan and Shirvan National Park

Text © K. Gauger & M. Heiß

Arriving at Baku Airport in the early morning of 16th January we immediately received our cars, which have been organised by our tour operator Kaspian Tur. For the ten participants of the trip we rented three 4WD cars. After a brief instruction we had a nice night drive through Baku city just before the rush hour started.

Our first stop was at the famous Gobustan rock engravings. These are thought to be impressive 5.000 to 40.000 years old. Besides the outstanding cultural value the spot is also excellent for bird watching. The rocks are year-round highly attractive to a large variety of species, especially rock-specialists like Rock Nuthatches that were audible everywhere, Rock Buntings of which we saw 7 in a flock or 2 pairs of Finsch’s Wheatear.

Rock formations in Gobustan © Michael Heiß
Rock Bunting © Kai Gauger
Western Rock Nuthatch © Kai Gauger
Crested Lark © Kai Gauger
Some wintering species were in the rocks as well: Chaffinch, Sparrow Hawk, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Song Thrush, Redwing, 2 Goldcrests, 7 Wood Larks and more than 20 Black Redstarts. Pairs of Red-billed Choughs flew over and a pair of Spanish Sparrows showed up well at the visitors centre. Nevertheless, we missed the Wallcreeper that we have seen on our last wintertrip in 2010.

We headed further south for the next stop in the Shirvan National Park. Several groups of gazelles were around as usual but two distant wolves were a nice surprise. Among the passerines we found mainly Corn Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Common Linnets. Hen Harriers and Merlins were frequent. A first flock of about 3.000 Little Bustards flew in some distance. A stop in the steppe produced flocks of larks, dominated by Skylark and Calandra Lark, but also 3 or 4 White-winged Larks were among them. This species was a main target for some of us but unfortunately only a few saw them. 9 Lesser White-fronted Geese were among hundreds of Greater White-fronted and Greylag Geese. 

Roadside birding without birds © Lukas Pelikan
Roadside birding with Little Bustards © Michael Heiß
Always drive slowly when Little Bustards cross the road © Lukas Pelikan
Goitered Gazelles © Michael Heiß
We stopped at the ‘Flamingo Lake’ to check the waterfowl and we were pretty surprised by the species richness. Among the ducks we saw Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Common and Red-creasted Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Smew. We counted 25 Bewick’s and 4 Whooper Swans, 5 Common Shelducks, 2 Black-necked Grebes, 19 Dalmatian Pelicans, 12 Flamingos, 3 Pallas’s Gulls, few Purple Swamphens and about 300 Coots. In the reeds we saw or heard at least 6 Cetti’s Warblers, several Caspian Reed Buntings, Penduline Tits and Bearded Reedlings. A Black Francolin flushed near the road.

Bird watching at the 'Flamingo Lake' © Michael Heiß
ad Pallas's Gull © Michael Heiß
Female Reed Bunting ssp. caspia © Michael Heiß
Male Reed Bunting ssp. caspia with an impressive bill © Michael Heiß

 And another one © Kai Gauger
Golden jackal in golden reed © Michael Heiß
In the evening we counted the roost flight from the ‘Lake House’. There were 744 Pygmy Cormorants, 205 Marsh Harriers, 40 Hen Harriers, 655 Magpies, 25.000-30.000 Rooks and Jackdaws in mixed flocks and tens of Meadow and coutelli Pipits with a calling Buff-bellied Pipit among them. An impressive flock of more then 40.000 Little Bustards was flying around in the distance. Unfortunately, we had to leave the Shirvan National Park. Due to the new regulations we were not allowed to spend the night there. So we could not camp at our favorite site at the ‘Flamingo Lake’ but did instead camping in the guestrooms of a friend’s restaurant.

The next morning we visited Shirvan again. The tracks in the park were dry, so we reached the coast. We checked the Caspian Sea and found 1 Velvet Scoter, 1 Red-throated and 1 Black-throated Diver, several Great Crested Grebes and a few waders and gulls including an ad heuglini. In the bushes we flushed 3 Black Francolins, a Long-eared and a Short-eared Owl and saw also 2 Long-legged and 1 Rough-legged Buzzard, 2 Peregrines, 1 Imperial Eagle and several White-tailed Eagles, Hen Harriers and Merlins. Just before we left the park we had once again great views on huge flocks of Little Bustards.

Flock of Little Bustards along the road © Michael Heiß
Some more Little Bustards and one of the oil pumps © Michael Heiß

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