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

Donnerstag, 7. November 2013

Swedish Birders visited Azerbaijan in autumn 2013

Text © Tomas Axén Haraldsson, Sweden

In April 2012 me and three friends travelled in Azerbaijan for a week of birding adventure. The main source of inspiration, knowledge and help in planning was Kai Gauger and to him we owe the success of our trip. One purpose of that trip was to scout and plan for future organized group trips.
The first such trip was made 3-11 October 2013 by the Swedish bird tour operator AviFauna with me as tour leader.

We were 16 Swedish birders accompanied by Elchin Sultanov of the AOS and with the ground support/logistics by Caspian Tour. Our programe covered the east of Azerbaijan, travelling within some 250km of the capital Baku, from Greater Caucasus in the north to the coastal lagoons of Kizil Agach in the south.

One of the highlights was Besh Barmag, the spectacular bottle-neck migration site some 90km north of Baku. Here we spent 2 hours on October 4th and 6 hours on October 6th in windy and cloudy conditions but with lots of birds: a few hundred migrating raptors of 20 species including Lesser Spotted, Steppe, Short-toed and Imperial Eagles, 12 Pallid Harriers, Rough-legged and Long-legged Buzzard, Red-footed Falcon, Peregrine and the resident Griffon and Black Vultures.
In the tamarisk scrubs on the beach we found Rufous Bush-chat, Green Warbler, Desert Wheatear (3rd modern time record?), Jack Snipe, Nightjar, Red-breasted Flycatchers, Short-eared Owl and a Richards Pipit.
Desert Wheatear at Besh Barmag 6 October © Stefan Andersson

Nightjar at Besh Barmag © J-M Breider
 After wet and misty conditions in the Caucasus with no snowcocks or other exclusive birds we were happy to see the rich bird life in the shallow lowland lake of Haji Gaboul in eastern central Azerbaijan. An estimated 3.000 dabbling ducks and similar numbers of waders kept us busy for an afternoon. Shoveler, Teal, Ruff and Little Stint were the bulk but we also found some some Garganeys and a lone Ferrugineous Duck, 30 Marsh Sandpipers, 7 White-tailed Lapwings and 1 Sociable Lapwing.
River valley scenery at Xinaliq, Greater Caucasus 5 October © Tomas Axén Haraldsson
 Shirvan Nationalpark was rather windy and, at times, poor in birds. The steppes are vast but with time the list of species picked up - all four harriers, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Black Francolin, hemprichii-Stonechats, a 1cy Red-footed Falcon, a flock of 300 Calandra Larks and more. The ”flamingo lake” on the other hand was thick with birds in the open space of water visible from the hide in the reeds: Dalmatian Pelicans, Glossy Ibises, Pygmy Cormorants, egrets and herons, Purple Swamphens, Red-crested Pochards, Kingfishers and more wetland stuff.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Shirvan NP 8 October © Peter Berglin
Spoonbills © J-M Breider
Red-footed Falcon Shirvan NP 8 October © Peter Berglin
Another highlight, perhaps the most pleasant day of the trip both in terms of weather and birds, was the lagoon of Kizil Agach. We visited the southern, accesible lagoon area and the flat sandy island connected by the road built from Liman. Our first views of the lagoon made us stop and we stayed there for hours. Lots of wetland birds and from the reeds emerged Little Bittern, Little Crake, Great Reed and Moustached Warblers, Bearded and Penduline Tits. Here we also found Citrine Wagtails, some 20 migrating Steppe Eagles, Pallid Harrier as well as splendid views of the snow-capped Talysh mountains on the Iranian border.
The rest of the day at the northern tip of the island, around Baliqcilar, provided nice records like Isabelline Shrike, a magnificent Saker, many Menetriés Warblers and Red-breasted Flycatchers, Short-toed and White-tailed Eagles and lots of more migrants.
Caspian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus hemprichii) Kizil Agach © J-M Breider
Menetriés Warbler at Kizil Agach © J-M Breider
Red-breasted Flycatcher at Kizil Agach 9 October © Peter Berglin
A full trip report with photos will be published soon. Azerbaijan is indeed an extraordinary birdwatching destination in the south-east corner of the Western Palearctic.

Donnerstag, 20. Juni 2013

Spring Trip from 21 May to 13 June 2013 (Part 2 - Greater Caucasus)

Text & Photos © M. Heiß
The second half of our round trip through Azerbaijan led us along the Greater Caucasus range. We visted the alpine zone of the Shahdag National Park around the villages Laza and Xinaliq, which produced some good views of the Caucasian specialities.
Welcome to Laza - steep gravel roads need good driving skills
Red-fronted Serins are common around the village of Laza
Male Ring Ouzel in the high mountain area
Common Rosefinches can be heard everywhere
The old village Xinaliq
Xinaliq from another perpective
Horned Lark are common around Xinaliq
Snowfinches are also quite common around Xinaliq
Displaying Caucasian Twites
Typical habitat of the endemic Caucasian Snowcock...
...which is easier to hear than to see
Caucasian Snowcock in flight

Shepherd dog takes care of a sheep
Griffon Vulture
 We then drove further west along the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus.

Black-headed Buntings are widespread in the dry foothills
Eastern Olivacous Warbler
Ruins of Yeddi Kilisa, the 'seven churches' complex near the village Lekit

Sonntag, 16. Juni 2013

Spring Trip from 21 May to 13 June 2013 (Part 1 - Shirvan NP, Talysh and Zuvand)

Text & Photos © M. Heiß

Despite this year’s spring trip did not focus on birds, as the interest of the tourist group was in plants and landscape, we had a plenty of good views on the local bird species.
The trip started in the capital Baku and we quickly headed south to the Shirvan National Park. Here, the typical steppe species such as Isabelline Wheatear, Roller, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Black Francolin were well visible along the roads. At the lake house White-winged and Whiskered Terns, several heron and duck species and Lesser Kestrels were numerous.

A Black Francolin hidden in the bushland near the entrance of the Shrivan NP
Display flight of an European Roller
Two Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters
Goitered Gazelle in the steppe
Purple Heron in flight

Whiskered Terns at the Flamingo Lake in Shirvan NP

We spent the next days in the Talysh Mountains, mainly in the forest zone. The bird species we could observe here is similar to the Central European forest avifauna with species such as Robin, Nuthatch, Great, Blue and Coal Tit and some woodpecker species.

Field camp in the forest zone
Female Chaffinch

Song Thrush
Coal Tit
The endemic Poelzami-Woodpecker
A Raccoon enjoys some mulberries

Unfortunately, we had bad weather conditions in the Zuvand upland and therefore we could not intensively explore this highly interesting region.

The famous rocks of Mistan in the Zuvand, but upcoming thunderstorms did not allow much birdwatching activity
Almond plantation
Garden Warbler

Riparian forest with some sunshine

Great views of a beautiful samamisicus-Redstart

'Nice to meet you!' welcomes a singing Common Rosefinch...
...which later impresses a female
Rock Bunting
The long awaited endemic Caspian Tit found during a tea time. It can be so easy!