Text by Kai Gauger, photos by Lars Delling, Moritz Schulze, Christian Baarlink, Martin Fichtler and Kai Gauger
From May 20th to 28th Kai Gauger led a trip along the birding hotspots in eastern Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan. The guests were from Germany, Austria, Denmark and Great Britain and the ground logistics were (as always) perfectly arranged by Hajibaba Imanli from olivetravel.co
The tour started south along the Caspian shore with a first stop at some former fishponds where there were the usual common songbirds of the lowland like Menetrie's and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and a few Lesser Short-toed Larks. In the ponds we found several Tereks, a White-tailed Lapwing and no less than 19 Great Sandplovers! Probably the largest accumulation recorded in the country so far. The afternoon we spend in Shirvan National Park with the usual Goitered Gazelles, Isabelline Wheatears, Black Francolins, Lesser Kestrels, Little Bittern, Ferruginous Ducks and a lot more. Day one ended with a superb dinner and calling Scops Owls all around us.
|the wide plains of Shirvan NP|
The next day we continued south with a stopp at Machmudchala wetland where 300+ Greater Flamingos where resting. Around Masalli we saw at least 8 Shikras at two spots, several Hobbys and a Lesser Spotted Eagle. Kizil Agach in the afternoon was great as always with all kinds of herons and egrets, 10.000+ Whiskered and many other terns (Little, Caspian, Sandwich, Common, longipennis-Common, White-winged), more Tereks, White-tailed Lapwings and other waders, plenty of Collared Pratincoles, a Great Black-headed Gull and a colony of about 50 Blue-cheeked Bea-eaters. In the evening we drove up the Talysh mountains to our beautiful accommodation Täbässüm.
|Black-crowned Night Heron|
Day three was of very high importance as the main target was the enigmatic Caspian Tit. Several Lada Niwas brought us to a remote mountain village where the birds had been seen just a few weeks ago. The group spread in the forest and after some time of searching we found a family with fledged juveniles. All of the guests got good views and a new species on the WP list. Other nice species where Booted and Short-toed Eagle, Semi-collared Flycatcher and the endemic poelzami -Woodpecker. The second region to visit was the Zuvand, the highest and driest parts of the Talysh. We found a few Crimson-winged Finches and many other good birds like Long-legged Buzzard, Chukar, Finsch's Wheatear, Blue and Rufous-tailed Rock Trush, Alpine Accentor, Rock Bunting and much more.
|upper Talysh Forest, habitat of Caspian Tit|
The next day was domiated by the transit to the Greater Caucasus in northern Azerbaijan. After the lunch we spend some time at the Gobustan Rock Art site and despite the low activity during the day heat we were able to connect with all typical breeding birds such as Western Rock Nuthatch, Pied Wheatear plus hybrids with Eastern Black-eared, Woodchat Shrike and Rock Sparrow. In the evening we reached Nazli Bulag resort on the way to Khinalik.
|Rock habitat in Gobustan|
|Western Rock Nuthatch|
|hybrid Black-eared/Pied Wheatear|
Khinalik and the southern flank of Qizilgaya mountain were our spot for the day. We started early and used again a fleet of Niwas to get up to about 2500m. From there we walked further up across the alpine meadows until we reached the gravel below the impressive rock outcrop of this limestone massif. After some time we found both, several Güldenstadt's Redstarts and Caucasian Snowcocks. The weather was perfect and so we enjoyed a great day with plenty of Snowfinches, Horned Larks, semirufus-Black Redstarts, many Griffon and each several Black and Bearded Vultures which gave nice views. After returning to the resort we packed the bus again and moved one valley further north to our next spot Laza.
|southern flank of Mt. Qizilgaya|
|Eastern Black Redstart|
The morning welcomed us with clear blue sky and at sunrise everybody was up to see the Caucasian Black Grouse at their lek just right from the doorstep. Also a few Caucasian Turs with fawns were spotted on the flank of Shahdag mountain. Other target species seen were Mountain Chiffchaff, Green Warbler and Caucasian Twite. The meadows were full of coutelli-Water Pipits, Red-fronted Serins and Common Rosefinches, Ring Ouzels were singing and Golden Eagles soaring overhead. Unfortunately just two of us saw each one of a pair of Great Rosefinches very briefly. The weather quickly turned into rain so we decided to go back. In Laza the sun was shining again but we were happy anyway and enjoyed one or the other beer in this overwhelming scenery.
|Laza valley and Mt. Shahdag|
|Ring Ouzel and Water Pipit|
After breakfast we left the mountains in strait direction of the Caspian Sea. In the region of the newly established Samur-Yalama National Park we had a good number of raptors including several Honey Buzzards, a Booted Eagle and, pretty amazing, all four species of harriers within quarter an hour. In the beautiful forest we found a Semi-collared Flycatcher singing and flying into its nest hole. Black-headed Buntings were abundant and also Rollers, Red-backed- and Lesser Grey Shrikes were all around. After lunch we continued to Baku airport and took the short flight towards Nakhchivan for the last days of the trip.
Our first and main target in the morning was cleary the Radde's Accentor and after roaming the colourful subalpine meadows above Batabat for some time we finally found a singing male which gave perfect and close views. Other good birds in the area were eg Barred Warbler, Ortolan Bunting and many others we knew already from Zuvand and the Greater Caucasus. There were also two Lesser Spotted Eagles of which one was carrying a snake to its putative breeding site, more Bearded Vultures, Golden and Booted Eagles. Driving down the mountains step by step we saw several White-throated Robins, found Eastern Rock Nuthatches, the first two See-see Partridges, a Trumpeter Finch and a Mongolian Finch. In the afternoon we walked into a beautiful wadi where several Upcher's Warblers, Grey-necked Buntings and Persian Wheatears showed well. Also small groups Bezoar Goats were around.
|colourful meadows above Batabat Lake|
|a wadi in the semi desert|
|Eastern Rock Nuthatch and Isabelline Wheatear|
The last day started in the Negram mountains in the lowest parts of Nakhchivan. The walk was great with perfect and close views of See-see Partridge, a Peregrine, a superb Lanner Falcon, more Trumpeter Finches, Grey-necked Buntings, Persian Wheatears and several Black-bellied Sandgrouse. We drove a bit further to the region around the prominent Ilandag mountain. In the fields were many Greater Short-toed larks and after some time we also saw a Bimaculated Lark very well. Rather surprising were several Crimson-winged Finches feeding here and there. A last and important site was at Daridag where it took us just a minute to find plenty of Desert Finches feeding recently fledged juveniles. A last wonderful dinner and another few beers were a nice conclusion of another perfect birding trip.
|juvenile Persian Wheatears|
|the group in front of Ilandag|