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.
Above the tree line 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.
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.
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.
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.