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

Samstag, 4. Januar 2020

Guided birding tour in November 2020


Bird migration count at Besh Barmag bottleneck

Birding Azerbaijan in cooperation with Olive Travel Azerbaijan is offering a ten-day autumn birding tour through Azerbaijan covering the famous Besh Barmag bird migration bottleneck, the Greater Caucasus and its endemic species, coastal wetlands full of waterfowl and waders and the Talysh Mountains in search for the enigmatic Caspian Tit.

Target species are: Caucasian Snowcock, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Red-fronted Serin, Caucasian Twite, Black Francolin, White-tailed Lapwing, Desert Wheatear, Caspian Tit, White-winged Lark, Little Bustard, Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit, Finsch's Wheatear, Black-throated Thrush and the Great Spotted Woodpecker (ssp. poelzami).

The tour starts on 18 November and finishes on 28 November 2020.                          

Tour guide: Michael Heiß (birding.azerbaijan@posteo.de)

Group size: Max. 12 persons

The profit will support the Besh Barmag Bird Migration Count

Itinerary:

18 November - Day 1:
The tour starts in the morning at the airport in Baku, when most international flights have arrived. A short drive in a comfortable bus will bring us to the Absheron National Park, where we enjoy a picnic-like breakfast. The national park is featured by steppes, dunes and the surrounding Caspian Sea with beaches, coastal wetlands and lagoons. Here we will find a good number of waterfowl and waders. Greater Flamingo, Dalmatian Pelican or White-headed Duck are possible. On good days we will see migration of passerines (larks, pipits, thrushes, finches). Along the beach we look for Desert Wheatear and Lesser Short-toed Lark.

Around noon we leave the national park and drive to our accommodation near the famous Besh Barmag bottleneck. On our way we stop at lake Zabrat Gölü to look for White-headed Ducks and a proper lunch. Another stop will be Yanar Dag, the ‘burning mountain’, demonstrating why Azerbaijan is called ‘the land of fire’.

We spend the next three nights in a hotel near Besh Barmag bottleneck.

Absheron National Park
Desert Wheatear between tripods
White-headed Duck

19 November - Day 2:
We leave the hotel in the morning to drive to the observation spot of Besh Barmag bottleneck, where we join the bird migration count until noon. At this location migrating birds that avoid crossing of Caspian Sea and the Greater Caucasus are funnelled annually in this small coastal plain, where up to three million bird can be counted in an autumn season. On good days more than 100.000 birds can be seen on migration. Typical mid-November species are Dalmatian Pelican, Pygmy Cormorant, Great White Egret and Little Bustard. Rare but regular highlights are Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit and White-winged Lark. Migration can be intense and you can check the daily totals of previous years on Trektellen to get an impression of what to expect, e.g. https://trektellen.nl/count/view/1533/20181119.

In the afternoon we explore the scrubland and lagoons for resting passerines and also drive to the top of Mount Besh Barmag to look for Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper, Rock Sparrow and Western Rock Nuthatch before we head back for dinner in the hotel.

White-winged Larks
Mixed flock of Dalmatian and Great White Pelicans

20 November - Day 3:
After another morning at the observation spot at Besh Barmag we visit the beautiful red-white striped Candy Cane Mountains near Xizi, where we look for Golden Eagle, Chukar and Finsch’s Wheatear. In the evening we drive back to our hotel.

Candy Cane Mountains
Searching for Finsch's Wheatear
Golden Eagle

21 November - Day 4: 
We leave the hotel early in the morning as the Greater Caucasus is waiting for us. We drop our luggage in the hotel, change from bus to 4WD cars and leave to our first birding stop in the mountains. Already at lower altitudes we can  observe alpine species like Red-fronted Serin, Wallcreeper, Ring Ouzel, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Rock Bunting or even Güldenstädt’s Redstart.

Higher up we add White-winged Snowfinch, Horned Lark and Red-billed Chough to our list. Overhead soar Griffon and Cinereous Vultures. After a full day of mountain birding, we drive back to the Nazli Bulaq resort, where we spend the next two nights.

Red-fronted Serin
Bearded Vulture

22 November - Day 5: 
After an early breakfast we drive further into the mountains. We pass the picturesque mountain village Xinaliq and enter the Shahdag National Park. A steep, but short and slow birding-paced hike will bring us to the high mountain zone of Qizilqaya, where we search for Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Caucasian Snowcock, Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper, White-winged Snowfinch, Caucasian Twite, Horned Lark and others. We spend the whole day in this area with excellent bird species in a dramatic scenery. In the later afternoon we have a short walk through the ancient Xinaliq, which offers interesting insights into the Caucasian culture and traditions.

Qizilqaya in Shahdag National Park
Birding group in Shahdag National Park
Caucasian Snowcock
Güldenstädt's Redstart
Xinaliq

23 November - Day 6: 
We leave the hotel in the morning reaching Gobustan petroglyphs around noon. The site is famous for ancient rock engravings, but is good for birding as well. Along the trails we might see Western Rock Nuthatch, Chukar, Red-billed Chough, Finsch’s Wheatear, Rock Sparrow, Red-fronted Serin, Wallcreeper and Rock Bunting.

In the afternoon we visit the wide steppes of Shirvan National Park with its healthy population of Goitered Gazelles. But there will be also birds around. We will see Black Francolin, Long-legged Buzzard, Calandra Lark and huge flocks of Little Bustards are possible.

A lake holds good numbers of waterfowl including Marbled Duck, White-headed Duck, Grey-headed Swamphen, Dalmatian Pelican and several species of heron. Cetti’s Warbler, Bearded Tit and Penduline Tit can be found in red beds. In the evening thousands of birds fly to the lake for roost. Usually a spectacular finish of the day. We spend the night in a hotel in nearby Salyan.

Goitered Gazelles
Greater Flamingo
24 November - Day 7: 

Today we focus on the vast wetlands of Azerbaijan with stops at lake Mahmudchala and Qizilagach National Park. Here, waterfowl can be observed in its tens of thousands including Marbled Duck, Dalmatian Pelicans and Greater Flamingos. Chances are good to find White-tailed Lapwing among other wader species, such as Marsh Sandpiper, Avocet, Black-winged Stilts and many others. Pallas’s Gull and Slender-billed Gull are regular. The sought-after Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit is an easy target at the known locations. Merlins and Short-eared Owls are in coastal lagoons.

In the evening we drive into the Talysh Mountains, where we spend the next three nights.

White-tailed Lapwing
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Pine Bunting

25 November - Day 8:
On our 8th birding day we awake in cosy wooden cabins of the Tebessüm resort in the colourful autumn forests of the Talysh Mountains. A bunch of 4WD cars are waiting for us. They bring us to the mountain town of Lerik, where we search for the enigmatic Caspian Tit that was recently re-discovered at a very few locations. This species is endemic to the South-Caspian region and despite its inconspicuous brownish appearance, it is a true highlight during the trip. Other forest species in this area are well-known for many European birdwatchers: Blue, Great and Coal Tit, Wren, Robin, Blackbird and Nuthatch, but the Great Spotted Woodpecker of the poelzami-subspecies looks slightly different to its European counterpart and is currently under consideration to become full species status.

Tebessüm resort in the Talysh Mountains
Caspian Tit
Talysh Mountains near Lerik
26 November - Day 9: 
Today we drive up to the higher altitudes of the Zuvand upland. The landscape is featured by dry mountain semi-deserts with riparian forests and rocky outcrops. Local resident species are Chukar, Horned Lark, Western Rock Nuthatch, Ring Ouzel, Rock Bunting and Red-fronted Serin. Black-throated Thrush and Pine Bunting are possible. In the evening we drive back to our cosy cabins, where the traditional dish 'Plov' is waiting for dinner.
 
Zuvand upland
Black-throated Thrush
27 November - Day 10: 
We have a short morning walk through the pristine forest around our accommodation in the Talysh Mountains before driving back to Baku. Our hotel is in Baku's city centre and we will use the afternoon and evening hours for a combined urban birding and sightseeing walk. Ringed-necked Parakeet and Laughing Dove are maybe the last species that we can add to our tour list.

28 November - Day 11:
The bus will bring us to the airport for our flights back home.

Further information about birding in November in Azerbaijan can be obtained from a scouting trip in a previous blog post:
http://birdingaze.blogspot.com/2019/12/birdelicious-round-trip-in-november-2019.html 

The atmosphere and birding at the counting site is well described here:

Including:
- all entry fees according to the program
- all accommodations
- all meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
- unlimited tea and water
- single entry e-visa and registration
- tips to the hotel bellboys
- transportation service with a comfortable bus
- airport transfers
- 4 WD Lada Niva service in Greater Caucasus (2 days) and Talysh Mountains (2 days)

Excluding: 
- international air tickets
- travel insurance
- all alcoholic drinks
- all extra and personal expenditure

Please contact birding.azerbaijan@posteo.de for detailed information about prices and booking. Don't hesitate to ask any question.

It is also possible to combine your birding trip with a stay at the upcoming Besh Barmag Bird Migration Count in autumn 2020.

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