Azerbaijan, one of the most enchanting and yet hidden gems of the great Caucasus region, stretching on the western coast of the world’s largest lake, known as the Caspian Sea and along the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, forming the conditional border between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Still little is known about this truly fascinating birding destination, but although comparatively modest size, the country reveals an exceedingly rich and varied nature, constantly holding one of the most remarkable birdlife ranging in the Western Palearctic. This eight day tour offers wonderful opportunity to experience the delights of the wintering fauna of Azerbaijan. Climatically, this eastern edge of the Caucasus is relatively dry, with dominating subtropical conditions that makes winter soft and pleasant. With that, giant lakes and shallow waters along the Caspian coast, in combination with a semi-desert steppes and plains, provide unique ground for millions of wintering water birds and terrestrials, including massive flocks… thousands of Little Bustards, a highest wintering concentrations in the world.
Caspian Winter Adventure
A winter birdwatching tour to Azerbaijan
5 – 14 February 2021
|Marbled Duck||Pygmy Cormorant||White-tailed Lapwing||White-tailed Eagle||Spanish Sparrow|
|Ferruginous Duck||Greater Flamingo||Pallas’s Gull||Eastern Imperial Eagle||Red-fronted Serin|
|White-headed Duck||Grey-headed Swamphen||Black Francolin||Greater Spotted Eagle||Moustached Warbler|
|Dalmatian Pelican||Marsh Sandpiper||Little Bustard||Syrian Woodpecker||White-winged Lark|
Our journey will launch from a glamorous and the never sleeping capital of Azerbaijan, heading southwards, into one of the most rewarding hotspots and the country’s first ever established national parks, with a biggest in the South Caucasus and yet steadily growing population of Goitered Gazelles Gazella subgutturosa. A thousand hooves graze around an area and in winter, bare landscape offers very easy chances to encounter quite a few. Heading deeper into the national park, we will find various floodplain wetlands and so called Flamingo Lake, with a several nicely placed bird viewing towers around and a hide in the reeds, from where we should expect to see diverse water related species, including Dalmatian Pelicans and as the name of the lake itself describes why, certainly very first flock of Greater Flamingos. Apart from that, various common and comparatively rarer wildfowl can be expected here, while surrounding intact steppes unfold some of the terrestrial highlights, where we should not miss getting very easy and good views of numerous Black Francolins, small flocks of Little Bustards, some interesting owls and passerines. Other representatives of a local fauna here includes commonly seen White-tailed Eagles, Eastern Imperial Eagles and other raptors typical to the area in winter.
The journey continues along the Caspian coast and particularly to the giant river delta, with many big and small ponds about. This area is disposed on the main migratory corridor, alike the famed Besh Barmag sanctuary and here we should expect simply anything and everything amid magnificent fall of wintering groups, where the great selection of many appealing wader species are regularly found, whilst birding surrounding mudflats, shallow waters and sandy beaches along the shoreline. Apart, various gulls are another numerous species observed here, including one of the most prized Pallas’s Gull. Further south, another Caspian treasure deserves our visit. Only a few birders except Soviet ornithologists have ever had a chance to step into this hotspot so far. Hitherto restricted for public entry, the government has very recently allowed visitors to access and explore this national park, and using such a great opportunity, we will be among firsts with such a privilege. The park is considered to be one of the most important wintering sites in Europe, covering an extremely large territory along the coast, however, luckily for us, the most of wintering aggregations are concentrated on relatively small or well approachable areas, with interesting array of highlights on offer; hundreds of Pygmy Cormorants, thousands of various waterfowl species, gulls, terns and some of the interesting passerines, with a chance to encounter also a Citrine Wagtail and Bluethroat. From a raptor point of view, here we have the best opportunity to see a Greater Spotter Eagle.
Moving on along the administrative border with Iran and through the country’s central part, the first we come across is a second biggest wetland site in Azerbaijan, another large national park of our focus, with numerous steppe water bodies of shallow brackish water. This flawless birdwatching hotspot attracts an umpteen water birds, but not only, providing another great boost to our list. Various swans and duck species, including Ferruginous Ducks, White-headed Ducks and hundreds of Marbled Ducks are expected here. The area also harbors country’s one of the largest assemblage of wintering Greater Flamingos and diverse geese, with a chance to spot the globally threatened Lesser White-fronted Goose. Another top highlights in the park are some of the most wanted waders, including quite numerous White-tailed Lapwings and Marsh Sandpiper. Some rare observation may also be part of our checklist, such as the second modern record of a Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva made very recently on January 15, 2020. What is more; this is probably the best place in the entire Caucasus region to see a Grey-headed Swamphen. Amongst wintering passerines, our target Spanish Sparrow, Moustached Warbler, as well as Siberian Chiffchaff are also commonly seen here. Exploring surrounding steppes, we will witness a blanket of Little Bustards spreading all over the plains. A vast wheat fields and other low prairies around, create an excellent wintering habitat for impressive flocks of thousands… a mind-blowing spectacle indeed. The harriers here dominate the rest of the raptor species, with most numerous Marsh and Hen, but chances are high to see also a Pallid Harrier.
Just couple of hours further and we come by the country’s north western brink, an area of beautiful arid badlands, open steppes, semi-desert landscapes and a nice small size steppe lake. Considering that we are just one step away from Georgia and famous hotspot, also known as the Imperial Eagle Land, we will definitely have an opportunity to see a few of this charming birds again. Undoubtedly, some other raptors are also most likely to appear here and possibly both Griffon and Cinereous Vultures, while with little more fortune, why not also a Saker Falcon. The area is also good for a Syrian Woodpecker, Red-fronted Serin and White-winged Lark… occasionally a Black Lark can be also encountered. These special larks are usually spotted amongst flocks of Calandra Larks, Skylarks and Lesser Short-toed Larks, and we will certainly keep our eyes peeled for such an ultimate bonus.
|Duration||8 full birding days|
|Grading||Smooth and gentle walks only|
|Other focus||Mammals; Goitered Gazelles Gazella subgutturosa.|
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- Eastern Imperial Eagle by Hugh Jansman
- White-headed Duck by Stephen A Daly
- Marbled Duck by Ilya Ukolov
- Black Francolin by Ilya Ukolov
- Dalmatian Pelican by Stephen A Daly
- Greater Flamingo by Ilya Ukolov
- White-tailed Lapwing by Alexander Rukhaia
- Little Bustard by Ilya Ukolov
Bird Migration, Raptor Migration, Birding Caucasus, Birding Azerbaijan, Tours for Conservation in the Caucasus, Winter Birding in Azerbaijan, Besh Barmag Birding