Armenia___________________________________________________

 

 

Armenia 2014

...with Mark Finn

May 28th - June 5th


This tour to Armenia was arranged for the Inverness branch of the Scottish Ornithologists Club. The vast majority of Armenia’s interesting species were recorded during the 9-day tour which resulted in 176 species being observed. A few late migrant waders and terns at Armash fishponds helped the list on the penultimate day. Interesting species seen included a migrant Rustic Bunting near Lake Sevan. In addition to this several Caucasian specialties were located notably Caucasian Grouse, Lammergeier, Levant Sparrowhawk, White-tailed Lapwing, Armenian and Caspian Gulls, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Rock and Persian Nuthatches, Mountain Chiffchaff, Upcher’s, Moustached, Paddyfield, Eastern Orphean, Eastern Olivaceous and Menetries Warblers, White-throated Robin, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Finsch’s and Persian Wheatears, Radde’s and Alpine Accentors and the beautiful Fire-fronted Serin.

I am also indebted to Hayk for driving us safely around Armenia, Bagrat for his language skills and Arthur for his preparation of lunches and general help to the group.

May 28th/29th: Gatwick, Kiev, Yerevan, Dilijan
Weather: Sunny with afternoon showers 24c

The group met up at Inverness and travelled to Gatwick for the flight to Yerevan via Kiev. The various flights went smoothly and we landed at Yerevan the Armenian capital on time at 2300 hours. Passport control and customs were quickly dealt with at the new airport. From here we made the short transfer to our private villa in the suburbs of the city. On the 29th Common Swift, Eurasian Magpie and House Sparrow were around the gardens. After breakfast we headed in a northerly direction towards the town of Sevan. The first stop produced flocks of Rosy Starlings and a singing Corn Bunting. Further along the road at an abandoned filling station we located a Common Buzzard. I decided the area was worthy of further investigation which produced Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Common Whitethroat, White Wagtail, Black-headed Bunting and a single Rock Petronia. Near the town a European Roller perched on a wire and European Starlings hunted for food. Lake Sevan is close to the town and we made a diversion to the shore. Great Crested Grebe, Gadwall, Common Coot, Armenian and Caspian Gulls were quickly located. Among the cattle and sheep Little and Cattle Egrets, Black-headed Wagtail, Black-eared Wheatear and singing Skylarks. A female Eurasian Marsh Harrier flew by pursued by Hooded Crows. A return to the main road resulted in another stop next to some degraded farmland where the bushes attracted Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Common Rosefinch, Red-backed Shrike and a singing Mountain Chiffchaff. Lunch was taken on the outskirts of Dilijan and then to our hotel at the top of the pass. Grey Wagtail was seen on the hotel roof. We arranged to meet up and visit an area of oak and beech forest close to Dilijan. On entering the forest we heard the songs of Green Warbler and Blackcap plus sightings of Great, Blue and Coal Tits. A fenced area added Hawfinch, Eurasian Bullfinch and Eurasian Wren with a calling Common Cuckoo in the background. Further up the track a Black Woodpecker called and Song Thrush and Woodpigeon were heard. On the return journey Common Redstarts (Eastern race) were observed in a dead tree and nesting under the eaves of a house.

May 30th: Dilijan, Lake Sevan, Selim Pass Road, Chiva
Weather: Warm and sunny 27c

The group met at 0630 hours to visit the Composers House which is close by. The whole area is rather run down with the buildings in a state of disrepair. However the grounds are excellent for birds and wildlife. The main building had good numbers of House Martins. In the alpine meadows above the compound we could observe displaying Caucasian Grouse and hunting Lesser Spotted Eagles and Long-legged Buzzards. A walk in the grounds produced the common woodland species with the addition of Eurasian Treecreeper and a male Northern Goshawk carrying food above the forest. After checking out we travelled south and stopped beyond the tunnel to search for birds. This is always a productive spot for birds as we heard at least three calling Corncrakes and dozens of Eurasian Crag Martins catching insects above the meadows. Bushes attracted Red-backed Shrikes and Whinchat whilst the grassy areas had Water Pipits. Further down the valley another stop added a pair of Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes and displaying Tree Pipits. Lake Sevan was next on the agenda with the area beyond the causeway being our main point of attention. The pools had Green Sandpiper, Common Moorhen, Little Egret and a male Eurasian Marsh Harrier. In the surrounding scrub the group located Cetti’s and Marsh Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats and Black-headed Wagtails. Next was Gull Island an internationally important site for breeding Armenian Gulls. On the entrance track the rocky grassland habitats attracted Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Hoopoe and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers. Scanning the lake and islands was productive as we located Black-crowned Night Herons, Little and Cattle Egrets, Great Crested Grebes, Great Cormorant and Mallard. Lunch was taken at a campground by the lake with a pair of Black Redstarts for company. In the afternoon we joined the road towards the Selim Pass (7200 feet) which passes through a dazzling array of habitats including grasslands, rocky outcrops, gullies and seasonal wet points. A walk through the grasses attracted plenty of Skylarks and a single Rustic Bunting. At another overlook we watched Red-backed Shrikes, Whinchat, Corn, Black-headed and Ortolan Buntings. Chiva was our base tonight along a river valley with nesting White Storks. The village gardens had Syrian Woodpecker, Common Nightingale and calling Golden Orioles.

May 31st: Chiva, Zenada, Gormayk, Goris, Meghri
Weather: Warm and sunny 28c

I walked down the road to join the others for breakfast. In the garden great views of a male Golden Oriole and a Syrian Woodpecker hammering away on a rotten telegraph pole. After breakfast we continued on our journey south with a diversion to the village of Zenada. The habitat here of rocky slopes with bushes is ideal for several summer visitors. In the first sector a Persian Nuthatch showed well along with White-throated Robin and a showy Eastern Orphean Warbler. The birding was good as a male Blue Rock Thrush, Upcher’s and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers were observed in good light. By the river we had views of Eurasian Jay and Rock Petronia. Back to the main south road which passes through some of the most spectacular vistas of Europe. High, snow-capped mountain peaks bordered with huge areas of grassland dotted with bushes. On the road we encountered cattle and sheep flocks going to their summering meadows high above the road. At the ‘entrance gates’ to the south a short walk into the meadows produced views of Long-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Kestrel, Whinchat, Tree Pipit, Common Whitethroat and Black-headed Wagtails. Further along the road another stop was made for one of the only colonies of Lesser Kestrels in Armenia. Gormayk is a small village in the mountains with extensive flower meadows and a cemetery. This was excellent for close views of Eurasian Hoopoe, Whinchat, Common Rosefinch and at least two Marsh Warblers singing from stands of cow parsley. An added bonus was the Caucasian race of Twite perching on rusting fence lines. Lunch was taken at a roadside restaurant and then onto the town of Goris. Before reaching the town a wide range of raptors were observed including a superb Lammergeier, Steppe Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard. Beyond Goris the scenery is spectacular with wooded gorges and rocky outcrops. A walk down the main road added Rock Bunting and Woodchat Shrike to the tour list. The journey towards Meghri and the border with Iran was made and onto our accommodation situated in a beautiful place.

June 1st: Meghri, Kaler Valley
Weather: Warm and sunny 31c

The gardens of the guesthouse are excellent for birds. Before breakfast a short walk along the entrance track produced White Wagtail, Lesser Grey Shrike, European Golden Oriole, Common Rosefinch, Hawfinch, Black-headed Bunting and House and Eurasian Tree Sparrows. At 0820 hours we set off in two 4x4 jeeps to explore the high mountain pastures and valley of Kaler a village only inhabited by shepherds in the summer months. The meadows are dotted with wild flowers and rocky outcrops with the higher ground dominated by rock cliffs and scree. Abundant species in the meadows included; Northern Wheatear, Whinchat, Tree and Water Pipits, Common Whitethroat, Common Rosefinch and scarcer species in Dunnock and Horned Lark. Careful scanning of the outcrops revealed the presence of Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel and hunting Eurasian Kestrels and Long-legged Buzzard. We returned to the old farming settlement where Black Redstart, Fire-fronted Serin, Mountain Chiffchaff and Red-backed Shrikes were in evidence. Lunch was taken at a picnic site with Green Warbler in the trees and Lesser Whitethroat feeding in the poplars. Bird life slowed down a little in the afternoon with the group recording a pale phase Booted Eagle, Common Buzzard, Blue Rock Thrush, Eurasian Crag Martin and healthy numbers of Rock Buntings.

June 2nd: Meghri Gorges
Weather: Warm and sunny with late afternoon showers 30c

/ The usual species were around the guesthouse this morning with the addition of a Common Sandpiper on the river. We travelled through Meghri towards the Iranian border and then turned inland to visit one of the many gorges. The rocky cliffs tower above the valley which in turn has a habitat of tamarisk trees and bushes. At the old quarry the group located the highly localised Persian Wheatear which forages on the cliff face looking for insects and spiders. A slow walk up the valley produced Chukar, Black-eared Wheatears, Eastern Orphean, Upcher’s and Menetries Warblers. Just after noon we headed back to base for lunch and out again at 1500 hours to visit another gorge. Birding was slow to start with a Eurasian Jay in the orchards and a pair of Woodchat Shrikes hunting crickets and beetles from exposed perches. Within the gorge Black-eared Wheatears and Lesser Whitethroats were common and a family group of Rock Nuthatches were located feeding on a pile of sticks. At the end of the day I found a Levant Sparrowhawk perched on a telegraph pole which allowed a close approach.

June 3rd: Meghri, Goris Gorge, Zenada, Chiva
Weather: Cloudy with afternoon sunshine 26c

After breakfast we started the journey back to Chiva. A quick look around the grounds added nothing new apart from an increase in the numbers of European Golden Orioles. The first birding stop was just north of Kapan where the forest had singing Green Warblers, Eurasian Jay and three species of tits. Shortly afterwards a stop at an elevated viewpoint into the vast Goris Gorge proved to be very successful. An adult Egyptian Vulture literally flew over our heads. On the other side of the gorge Eurasian Griffon Vultures, Long-legged Buzzards, Booted Eagle, Common Swift and Common Raven. Above us we located three, Lammergeier searching the hillsides for food. On the outskirts of Goris a rubbish dump was attracting large numbers of Common Ravens and at least twenty-five Egyptian Vultures which must be a high count for Armenia. Lunch was taken at the same place and followed by a short walk into an area of cereal fields dotted with bare earth and stands of bushes. Initially we did not find anything until a pair of Red-billed Choughs flew past and a Common Quail called from cover. The track attracted a Tawny Pipit and a Tree Pipit was feeding young nearby. The plateau was windy so I decided to visit Zenada again. On arrival we drove over the bridge and onto the higher ground which is dominated by rock stacks and fallow fields with bushes. Poor weather had driven Common Swifts lower down with a few Alpine Swifts and House Martins. A walk down the road produced a stunning White-throated Robin sitting on a boulder, Woodlark, Upcher’s, Eastern Orphean and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, Persian Nuthatch and three European Turtle Doves the latter a rare species in Armenia today. On the road to Chiva roving flocks of Rosy Starlings and on the outskirts of a town a group of European Bee-eaters and a Crested Lark. In a short time we were back with the delightful families at Chiva where we stayed the night.

June 4th: Chiva, Armash, Vedi
Weather: Hot and sunny 33c

The group left Chiva and made the short journey to Armash and its fishponds sited under the mountain of Mt Ararat. After gaining permission to enter the ponds which are under private ownership we started the exploration of this incredible area. The first stop by flooded fields revealed breeding Northern and White-tailed Lapwings and Black-winged Stilts. A walk along the track adjoining the reedbeds was to prove very productive. In the distance we watched flocks of Pygmy Cormorants flying over the reeds to feeding areas. On the first pool our first Ferruginous Ducks of the trip plus commoner species in Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret and Common Coot. The stands of reeds
gave us great views of Great Reed, Eurasian Reed, Paddyfield and Moustached Warblers, Bearded Reedlings and singing Savi’s and Cetti’s Warblers. On the wires Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Common Cuckoos the latter looking for suitable hosts. The sky was alive with birds as we watched Eurasian Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Purple Heron and a Collared Pratincole hawking for insects. On the return walk exceptional views of a Moustached Warbler feeding on insects and a Rufous-tailed Bush Robin walking around on the ground. The last of the pools added new species; Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, White-headed Duck and a calling Little Grebe. Next stop was a recently drained fishpond with pools of water. This was to produce some scarce species and late migrants. Careful scanning on the first visit of two allowed us to observe Caspian, Armenian, Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls, Little, White-winged and Common Terns, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Little Stint, Dunlin and Ruff. It was getting very hot so a lunch stop in the shade of a shelter was most welcome. A steady stream of cormorants, herons and egrets was noted and a Eurasian Penduline Tit called from the reeds. A return to the drained pool (with better light) produced Eurasian Spoonbills in breeding plumage, Gull-billed Terns, Common and Spotted Redshanks and good views of birds from our earlier stop. Afterwards we travelled inland to the arid and desert like habitats of Vedi which is in stark contrast to Armash. On the entrance track several Isabelline Wheatears and near the parking area at least two Pale Rockfinches an uncommon and nomadic breeding bird. A walk to the end of the gorge was enjoyable with group sighting the scarce Finsch’s Wheatear, Lesser Grey Shrike, Lesser Whitethroat and Upcher’s Warblers. Despite extensive searching there was no site of Grey-necked Buntings on this occasion which was disappointing. We then headed back to Yerevan which was bustling with traffic and people for our last two nights in Armenia.

June 5th: Yerevan, Mt Aragats
Weather: Warm and sunny although cooler at high altitudes 13c/24c

Our last full day in Armenia was spent visiting the varied habitats of Mt Aragats. The usual species within Yerevan were present in good numbers plus a Laughing Dove seen briefly by Carol. After leaving the suburbs of the city we entered a habitat of grasslands and bushes the latter being mainly juniper. A Mistle Thrush was seen flying in front of the bus before promptly disappearing. A short walk up the road resulted in Lynda locating the scarce Radde’s Accentor hopping around a muddy pool. Also present were Ring Ouzel, White-throated Robin, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and Rock Petronia. The bus turned down towards the old church and fort with another stop in the lush valley for singing and displaying Barred Warblers. Eventually the group had great views of this skulking and sometimes elusive species. Lunch was taken by the fort followed by a slow drive towards the summit of Mt Aragats at 4095m. The grassland habitats attracted good numbers of Skylark, Horned Lark, Water Pipit and low-flying Eurasian Crag Martins. An adult Eurasian Griffon Vulture soared pass looking for a carcase. At the summit we eventually located several Alpine Accentors, a single White-winged Snowfinch and territorial Black Redstarts. It was time to go back to Yerevan where in the evening an enjoyable meal was consumed.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.


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