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

Mittwoch, 20. Juni 2018

spring birding tour 20.-28.05.2018

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

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
Goitered Gazelle
Lesser Kestrel

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.

Blue-cheeked Bea-eater

Black-crowned Night Heron
Purple Heron
Collared Pratincole

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
Caspian Tit

Short-toed Eagle
poelzami-Woodpecker, endemic to the Hyrcanian forest
Brahmaea christophi

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
Pied Wheatear
hybrid Black-eared/Pied Wheatear
Woodchat Shrike
Caucasian Agama

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
Güldenstadt's Redstart
Caucasian Snowcock
Griffon Vulture
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
coutelli-Water Pipit
Red-fronted Serin
Mountain Chiffchaff
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.
Semi-collared Flycatcher
Black-headed Bunting

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
Radde's Accentor
a wadi in the semi desert
Upcher's Warbler
Eastern Rock Nuthatch and Isabelline Wheatear
Nosed Grasshopper

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.

the Negram
See-see Partridge
Lanner Falcon
Crimson-winged Finch
juvenile Persian Wheatears
Dersert Finches
the group in front of Ilandag

Dienstag, 19. Juni 2018

News from Max and the breeding birds

Text & Photos © Max Baumgarten

I continued my breeding bird survey in western Azerbaijan and May started superb with the discovery of an Armenian Gull colony. Although supposed for some years this was the first breeding record for the country and it might even be one of the largest colonies of this species in the world. An incredible find in terms of conservation! Thanks to Amir Ben Dov for evaluating the importance of this site. Hartmut Müller, who is one of the the naturalist with most knowledge of the country and me independently discovered breeding pairs and teamed up to look for the colony.

Armenian Gulls resting at a dump
Adult Armenian Gull

Besides searching for Armenian Gulls Hartmut and I continued surveying together for a few days and were able to find a yet unknown breeding site for White-tailed Lapwings, which might be the largest of the country. The same site also hosted other nice species like Marbled Teal and Ferruginous Duck, both of which are on the national red list.

White-tailed Lapwing
White-tailed Lapwing
Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters

Continuing on my own I went to the foothills of the Greater Caucasus and started mapping the forests on the southern slopes. Green Warblers had now arrived and also some Semi-collared Flycatchers were present. Some of the forests are still in good condition and almost natural, while others are heavily degraded to 5m high impenetrable beech (Fagus orientalis) thickets.
Forest slopes in the Greater Caucasus

On 15th of May Raphael Woll a bachelors student from Greifswald University arrived and accompanied me to apply distance sampling for his thesis and to improve abundance data quality. Together we went into the ornithologically unexplored hills bordering the Georgian Vashlovani National Park and we found high densities of Woodchat Shrikes, European Nightjars and more Eastern Orphan Warblers for which several new sites were discovered.

Black-headed Bunting singing
well hidden Nightjar
Well hidden Nightjar
Penduline Tits are locally common
A pair of Imperial Eagles with their nest

Cuckoos are a common sight
Calandra Larks get along well with agriculture

The second half of May was more or less business as usual but we visited Kai Gauger and his tourist group to spent two nice days together watching Shikras, Terek Sandpipers and many other nice species in the Lenkoran lowland in southern Azerbaijan.
After leaving the tourist group we went to the Greater Caucasus and for the first time since my arrival we started working in alpine zone. We observed new species like Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Black Grouse, Red-fronted Serin or Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris penicillata). Unfortunately a period of bad weather started shortly after our arrival in the mountains and mapping was impossible. We used the time to meet Michael Heiß and his tourist group in Laza and made the best of the situation.
The bad weather was good for the Vultures
Raphael in Snowcock country
Mt. Shahdag in the Greater Caucasus
All in all May was a fantastic month and while migration was still ongoing with some late species such as Honey Buzzards or Steppe Eagles, the breeding bird inventory was complete and all the colorful birds were present. Orioles, Bee-eaters, Kingfishers, Rollers and Hoopoes could often be observed in one spot during a usual 10min point count. 
With the second month over it feels like the end is near but there will surely be more news in June!
Honey Buzzards on migration
Colourful European Bee-eater