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

Dienstag, 22. Dezember 2015

Trip Report Besh Barmag

A very detailed and excellent report of the bird migration count at Besh Barmag in October 2015 is now online available: Azerbaijan 25-30 October 2015

Enjoy reading!

Sonntag, 8. November 2015

Autumn migration at Besh Barmag

 Photos © Emil Lundahl
A Swedish birding group monitored the spectacular migration at Besh Barmag for a few days during the week 25-30 October. The group was from the youth committee of Swedish BirdLife on an initiative and leadership by me. We also met up with a local NGO, Nature Friends, that joined us for a day trip to Shirvan Nationalpark and also for dinner in Baku. We used a private home stay in the village of Qala Alty, about 30 mins driving northwest from Besh Barmag.

Swedish birder in steppe surroundings at Besh
In Besh Barmag we used the observation point from previous field studies (about 5 km north of the shops and cafés below the rock) and tried to count all migrating birds from dawn till lunch. The migration corridor is several kilometers wide and hundreds of passerines pass every minute but we got a fair grip of the numbers. Easily quarter of a million birds passed during our three field days 26-28 Oct with the majority being Starlings (nearly 100.000 on both 27 and 28 Oct) and also tens of thousands of larks (12.900 Calandra Larks on 27 Oct) and corvids. Also in their thousands were Pygmy Cormorants, dabbling ducks and Corn Buntings. Among the many highlights on migration were late records of Black-winged Pratincole (2), Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (2), a Short-toed Eagle and hundreds of Ruddy Shelducks, Great White Egrets and Short-toed Larks.
​​1000+ Calandra Larks resting on the steppe in addition to the thousands on migration
Searching through the steppe areas, coastal bush lands and marshes, the rubbish tip and the beach was equally exciting, if not even more so. With migration going on most of the day and lots of birds also resting, its a conflict of interest... Resident in the area during our days were 40+ Black Vultures, 5 Imperial Eagles, a 1cy Steppe Eagle, some 60 Little Bustards, 1000+ Caspian Gulls (among which we found a 1cy Great Black-headed Gull by scanning the photos afterwards...) and in the bush land many Red-breasted Flycatchers, Chiffchaffs, two Mountain Chiffchaffs, Moustached Warblers, hemprichii Stonechats and Bearded and Long-tailed Tits. Along the marshy lagoon were two Spotted Crakes, Jack Snipes, a Bittern (!), a Citrine Wagtail and to top off this amazing place were a fine male Desert Wheatear (about the 5th recent record for Azerbaijan) on the beach and a Yellow-browed Warbler in the bushes along the beach - a first for Azerbaijan!

​​Mountain Chiffchaff
Jack Snipe
​​Black Vulture
​​Moustached Warbler common along the wet part of the bush land/lagoon
​​A fine male Desert Wheatear on the beach at Besh
A putative tristis Chiffchaff...?
Some 60 Little Bustards rested in the steppe at Besh
​hemprichii Siberian Stonechat
A day trip on 29 Oct to Shirvan Nationalpark was also very nice with for example 9 Bewick´s Swan, 63 Marbled Ducks, 18 Ferrugineous Ducks, 9 Hen Harriers, 12 Purple Swamphens, 2 White-tailed Lapwings, both Short-eared, Long-eared and Little Owls and a Citrine Wagtail. A short visit inland to Haji Gaboul showed us a dried-out lake with a thousand dabbling ducks standing at a tiny pool in the middle of the vast lake and some gulls and waders around, notably a 1cy Black-legged Kittiwake which would probably be only the third record for Azerbaijan. Also a flock of 45 Little Bustards near the lake.
​​A pair of Little Owls at the Shirvan entrance
​​62 Marbled Ducks among dabbling ducks outside the hide in the flamingo lake, Shirvan NP
​​Spoonbill, GW Egret and Grey Herons
Black Francolin in Shirvan
​​This 1cy Black-legged Kittiwake was found at the lake Haji Gaboul

All in all a short, intensive and very successful birding trip that shows how amazing and easy just a short birding break can be to this place.

Donnerstag, 29. Oktober 2015

Calling Chiffchaffs

Interesting article about the vocalisation of wintering Chiffchaffs in Azerbaijan by Lukas Pelikan. (in German with English summary)

Mittwoch, 17. Juni 2015

More photographs from the spring trip by David Monticelli

Just click on the link to his pbase gallery and enjoy!

Caucasian Snowcock © David Monticelli
Güldenstädt's Redstart © David Monticelli
Shikra © David Monticelli

Freitag, 5. Juni 2015

Spring trip with Nakhchivan by Josh Jones

Have a look at Josh's stunnning photographs of Azerbaijan's birdlife including Nakhchivan!

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater © Josh Jones
Terek Sandpipers © Josh Jones
Grey-necked Bunting © Josh Jones

Donnerstag, 28. Mai 2015

Wonderful wildlife videos from Azerbaijan

Enjoy the impressive wildlife videos from Igor Byshnev!

Insights into a colony of herons at Ag Gel National Park!

Colourful Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters!

Displaying Caucasian Snowcocks!

Thousands of Little Bustards!

Rollers in the Shirvan National Park!

A common Raven hunting for Red-beasted Goose and Little Bustards!

Many more videos are available on youtube.

Donnerstag, 26. März 2015

Winter trip 2015. Greater Caucasus.

Text © K. Gauger & M. Heiß

After the awful dump at Besh Barmag we drove via Quba into the Greater Caucasus in order to see a much nicer landscape. Our plan was to reach Xinaliq regardless the possible snow cover or expected cold temperatures high up in the mountains. Nobody of us has ever been there in winter, so we were pretty excited.
The first kilometres offered us brilliant views of the Caucasian winter, but we missed the birds along the road in the lower forested altitudes. We saw mainly Blackbirds, Mistle Thrushes and three Goshawks.

Driving through the Caucasus © Michael Heiß
Caucasian winter wonderland © Michael Heiß
Above the tree layer we had a spectacular sighting of a Lammergeier that was circling above a canyon at about 1.500 m asl. At the same location we observed 35 Red-billed Choughs, 1 Ring Ouzel, some European Goldfinches and a surprising Great Grey Shrike. As it was already late we drove down to our hotel where we spent the night.

Impressive Lammergeier © Lukas Pelikan
Less snow than expected © Pia Fetting
The next morning started with freezing cold -6°C and a calling Black Woodpecker. We headed further to the ancient village Xinaliq. Along the road we saw two beautiful Horned Larks and our first birding stop in the village Cek produced great views of a Wallcreeper and 4 Alpine Accentors. Along the river we saw several White-throated Dippers.

Checking Cek for birds © Michael Heiß

Wallcreeper © Kai Gauger

The asphalted road led us further to Xinaliq and arriving there we were happy that we had no trouble with snow and the sun warmed us with about +6°C. The weather conditions above 2.000 m asl were much more comfortable than in the lowland. A little hike up to 3.000 m asl produced more sightings of Lammergeiers, Griffon Vultures, Horned Larks, 27 Chukars, 42 Alpine and about 220 Red-billed Choughs. We also observed the spectacular hunting of up to 3 Golden Eagles preying on Caucasian Snowcocks at Qizil Qaya.
After a long day we left Xinaliq in the evening and had once again a comfortable night in our hotel.

Flock of Red-billed Choughs © Kai Gauger
Picturesque Greater Caucasus © Michael Heiß

Road to Xinaliq © Michael Heiß
Red-billed Chough along the road © Michael Heiß
Xinaliq in winter © Michael Heiß
Impressive rock formation named Qizil Gaya... © Michael Heiß
...where we observed Golden Eagles hunting for Caucasian Snowcocks © Steve Klasan
High mountain birding can be very relaxing © Lukas Pelikan
Great panorama © Pia Fetting
Sunlit Xinaliq in the evening © Michael Heiß
The following day we drove down to Qusar, where we checked orchards and arable land for some wintering species. Besides the common species we were really happy to see two quite tame Red-fronted Serins. Until these two individuals, we had only disappointing observations of this species. Another big disappointment was that we had no observation of Pine Buntings, which was one of the highlights from our last winter birding trip. Near Qusar, we saw about 120 Yellowhammers and checked each individual carefully. At least 5 individuals showed features of both species and we logged them as possible hybrids Emberiza citrinella x leucocephalos. Another birding stop in the lowland forests of Samur-Yalama produced as a new species for the trip: a single Middle Spotted Woodpecker.

Yellowhammers and a possible hybrid (upper left) © Michael Heiß
Long-legged Buzzard © Michael Heiß
Beautiful Red-fronted Serins © Michael Heiß
...and a short video of them © Lukas Pelikan
Azeri birdwatcher © Michael Heiß

Freitag, 13. März 2015

Winter trip 2015. Besh Barmag: Gulls, gulls, gulls...

Text © K. Gauger & M. Heiß 

After a night in Qəbələ we continued the way back to the coast. Unfortunately, the weather along the mountains was all but good with low clouds, rain and no visibility at all. So we couldn't enjoy the beautiful landscape. Thus birds were rare and there is nothing to tell except three Imperial Eagles along the road in Gobustan, including a pair at the nest, and a Peregrine.

In the afternoon we finally reached Besh Barmag. Some birding in the bushes and at the beach quickly showed that there are a lot of birds in the area. Most prominent were of course the gulls. We pitched our tents at the traditional site to stay here for two nights. In the evening we had a nice campfire and were curious what the next day might bring. But before a little night excursion produced a flushed Short-eared Owl and, much better, a long and close observation of a Jungle Cat- great!

Gulls and morning light on the snow-covered caucasus © Steve Klasan

Our camping site at Besh Barmag © Michael Heiß
The next day started with early birding and walking to the dump. The camping site, the bushes, the migration watchpoint, the lagoon, these are all nice places. But to be honest, the dump is really disgusting. Streams of slaughterhouse wastewater and tons of poultry dung produce a weird scenery. But exactly therefore the place is full of birds. 
After several estimations we finally noted 100.000 gulls of which ~60% were large ones and ~40% heinei-Mew Gulls. They were sitting at the beach, swimming offshore and flying around in huge clouds. These clouds were building eddys down to the feeding and despite the poor quality this video gives a little impression of the steady gull stream to the delta of the main wastewater outflow.
We were wondering what the eagles and vultures might feed her. But just until an old tractor brought a hanger of dead or even more or less living chicken and dropped them off. Now we knew...
The maximum count of White-tailed Eagles was 205, Black Vultures were at least 42, Black Kites about 30 and also each a handful of Griffon Vultures, Long-legged Buzzards and immature Imperial Eagles were around. Other numerous species were thousands of Rooks, hundreds of Jackdaws, 300 Grey Herons and some thousand Starlings.
Fresh food for eagles, vultures, wolves and jackals © Kai Gauger
...and chicken feet with tomato sauce for the gulls © Michael Heiß
Gull feeding © Kai Gauger
Too much gulls © Michael Heiß
A few of more than 200 W-t Eagles and 40 Black Vultures © Kai Gauger
Juvenile Imperial Eagle © Kai Gauger
Immature White-tailed Eagle © Kai Gauger

Among the gulls we managed to find Azerbaijan's second Glaucous Gull (after the first one at the same site in April 2012) and the first ever Herring Gull. It was hard to get close to the huge, chaotic and rather shy mass and there might have been a lot more to find... The discussion about how much barabensis are amoung the cachinnans is still going on. But there were basically no dark birds (heuglini, fuscus) as we know from migration times.
Other birds to mention were some migrating flocks of ducks, two unidentified divers, 8 Dalmatian Pelicans and 12 Flamingos and each the only Red-breasted Merganser and Woodcock of the trip. There were quite a lot songbirds in the bushes but nothing new for the list. Very interesting and great to observe were about 10 Water Rails on just a few meters along one of the bloody creeks.

Distant Besh Barmag © Michael Heiß
The sky full of birds © Michael Heiß
2cy Glaucous Gull in flight © Steve Klasan

Video of the same Glaucous Gull on a framework © Lukas Pelikan
Azerbaijan's first Herring Gull © Cornelius Schlawe

A flock of Flamingos resting at the shore © Michael Heiß
Water Rail at a bloody creek © Kai Gauger

Brilliant video of a bloody fight © Lukas Pelikan
...and everywhere are the gulls © Michael Heiß