guiding, travels, winter birding

Caucasian Winter Tour: February 2021 (11 days)

Date: 31 January – 11 February 2021

Target species: Little Bustard, Dalmatian Pelican, Caucasian Snowcock, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Red-fronted Serin, Caucasian Twite, Black Francolin, White-tailed Lapwing, Caspian Tit, White-winged Lark, Little Bustard, Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit, Finsch’s Wheatear, Black-throated Thrush and the Great Spotted Woodpecker (ssp. poelzami).

Locations: Greater Caucasus, Absheron National Park, Gobustan, Shirvan National Park, Qizilagach National Park, Talysh Mountains, Sheki, Baku

Group size: 6 – 12 persons

Tour guide: Michael Heiß

Price: 2150 € (single supplement 200 €)

The profit will support the Besh Barmag Bird Migration Count.

Itinerary

31 January – Day 1:

The tour starts in the morning at the airport in Baku, when most international flights have arrived. A short drive in a comfortable bus will bring us to the Absheron National Park, where we enjoy a picnic-like breakfast. The national park is featured by steppes, dunes and the surrounding Caspian Sea with beaches, coastal wetlands and lagoons. Here we will find a good number of wintering waterfowl and waders. Greater Flamingo, Dalmatian Pelican or White-headed Duck are likely. We will search for wintering larks (eg. Calandra and White-winged Lark) and Little Bustard.

Around noon we leave the national park and a short drive will bring us to Gobustan. This site is famous for ancient rock engravings, but also contains a good number of residential and wintering species. Along the trails in a rocky landscape we will see Western Rock Nuthatch, Chukar, Red-billed Chough, Finsch’s Wheatear, Rock Sparrow, Red-fronted Serin, Wallcreeper and Rock Bunting. Most of them are well-adapted to tourists, so close views and great photographic opportunities are guaranteed.

In the evening we drive to our hotel in Salyan, where we spend the next two nights.

Wallcreeper
Western Rock Nuthatch at close range
The rocky landscape of the Gobustan petroglyph site offers easy birding

1 February – Day 2:

After breakfast we leave the hotel for a full day birding in the nearby Shirvan National Park. The areas is well-known for its healthy population of Goitered Gazelles, which can be easily seen and offer good views. The winter steppes of the national park welcome us with Black Francolins and Long-legged Buzzards just behind the entrance. Different lark species (including White-winged Lark) can be found. Main attractions are the huge flocks of wintering Little Bustards. Sometimes up to several tens of thousands individuals can be observed in a single flock.

A lake in the central part of the park holds good numbers of waterfowl including Marbled Duck, White-headed Duck, Grey-headed Swamphen, Dalmatian Pelican and several species of heron. Cetti’s Warbler, Bearded Tit and Penduline Tit can be found in red beds. In the evening thousands of birds fly to the lake to roost – usually a spectacular finish of the day.

We spend another night in the hotel in nearby Salyan.

Black Francolin
Goitered Gazelle
Little Bustards crossing the road during a scouting trip to Shirvan National Park
Another impressive flock of Little Bustards and oil production in the background
White-winged Lark

2 February – Day 3:

Today we focus on the vast wetlands of Azerbaijan with stops at lake Mahmudchala and Qizilagach National Park. Here, waterfowl can be observed in its tens of thousands including Marbled Duck, Dalmatian Pelicans and Greater Flamingos besides many other species. Chances are good to find White-tailed Lapwing among other wader species. Pallas’s Gull is regular. The sought-after Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit is an easy target at the known locations. Merlins and Short-eared Owls are hunting in coastal lagoons.

In the evening we drive into the Talysh Mountains, where we spend the next three nights.

Dalmatian Pelicans near Qizilagach National Park
Pallas’s and Caspian Gulls

3 February – Day 4:

We wake up in the cosy wooden cabins of the Tebessum resort in the pristine forests of the Talysh Mountains. A bunch of 4WD cars are waiting for us. They bring us to the mountain town of Lerik, where we search for the enigmatic Caspian Tit that was recently re-discovered at a very few locations. This species is endemic to the South-Caspian region and despite its inconspicuous brownish appearance, it is a true highlight during the trip. Other forest species in this area are well-known for many European birdwatchers: Blue, Great and Coal Tit, Wren, Robin, Blackbird and Nuthatch, but the Great Spotted Woodpecker of the poelzami-subspecies looks slightly different to its European counterpart and is currently under consideration to become full species status.

Caspian Tit – our main target near Lerik

4 February – Day 5:

Today we drive up to the higher altitudes of the Zuvand upland. The landscape is featured by dry mountain semi-deserts with riparian forests and rocky outcrops. Local resident species are Chukar, Horned Lark, Western Rock Nuthatch, Ring Ouzel, Rock Bunting and Red-fronted Serin. Black-throated Thrush and Pine Bunting are the species we have to search for, but chances are good to find them. In the evening we drive back to our cosy cabins, where the traditional dish ‘Plov’ is waiting for dinner.

Snow-covered semi-desert of the Zuvand upland
Black-throated Thrush

5 February – Day 6:
We have a short morning walk through the pristine forest around our accommodation in the Talysh Mountains before driving further to the Aggöl National Park. The park is featured by a huge wetland complex including shallow lakes. Here we find a wide range of wintering waterfowl species (including Marbled Duck and White-headed Duck) in outstanding numbers. The steppes around provide good opportunities to enjoy once more amazingly large flocks of Little Bustards and geese (including Red-breasted Goose and Ruddy Shelduck).

In the late afternoon we continue our drive to Sheki, where we spend the next two nights. Our accommodation will be the historic caravanserai, a former roadside inn for traders along the ancient Silk Road. The Sheki Piti, a tasty and traditional dish, will be served for dinner.

6 February – Day 7:

After an early breakfast we drive to the Varvara wetland complex, where we look for White-tailed Lapwing, Ferruginous Duck and others.
Our next birding destination will be the steppe area around lake Adjinour, which is usually the best spot for huge numbers of wintering Little Bustards. Furthermore, we can find several highly attractive raptor species like Eastern Imperial Eagle, Pallid Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard, Merlin (pallidus subspecies) or Cinereous Vulture. Other attractive species that are possible include White-winged Lark, Red-fronted Serin and Pine Bunting.

In the evening we drive back to the caravanserai and enjoy the Azerbaijani cuisine.

White-tailed Lapwing
The Adjinour area is another excellent place for amazing numbers of Little Bustard
White-winged Larks between Lesser Short-toed Larks
Eastern Imperial Eagle
Wolf running through the winter steppe

7 February – Day 8:

Today is transfer day. We drive around the eastern part of the Greater Caucasus from Sheki to Quba. In the morning we have a short sightseeing walk before we start the longish bus drive. The drive will lead us along the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus offering dramatic sceneries and panoramic landscapes. We stop at a few locations for short birding walks and a restaurant visit to embellish the transfer day.

We arrive in the late evening in our hotel “Nazli Bulaq” in the mountains, where we spend the next three nights.

8 February – Day 9:

We leave the hotel early in the morning and change again to a bunch of 4WD cars. Already at lower altitudes we can observe alpine species like Red-fronted Serin, Wallcreeper, Ring Ouzel, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Rock Bunting or even Güldenstädt’s Redstart.

Higher up we add White-winged Snowfinch, Horned Lark and Red-billed Chough to our list. Overhead soar Griffon and Cinereous Vultures. After a full day of mountain birding, we drive back to the Nazli Bulaq hotel.

Red-fronted Serin
This group enjoyed good views of Bearded Vultures
The area above the Nazli Bulaq hotel

9 February – Day 10:

After an early breakfast we drive further into the mountains with the 4WD cars. We pass the picturesque mountain village Xinaliq and enter the Shahdag National Park. A steep, but short and slow birding-paced hike will bring us to the high mountain zone of Qizilqaya, where we search for Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Caucasian Snowcock, Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper, White-winged Snowfinch, Caucasian Twite, Horned Lark and others. We spend the whole day in this area with excellent bird species in dramatic scenery. In the late afternoon we have a short walk through the ancient Xinaliq, which offers interesting insights into the Caucasian culture and traditions. In the evening we drive back to the Nazli Bulaq hotel.

High mountain birding around the ancient village Xinaliq
The lazy way of enjoying distant views of Caucasian Snowcock
Closer views of the Snowcock need a short but fair hike
Güldenstädt’s Redstart is another target species of the Caucasian alpine zone
Alpine Accentor

11 February – Day 11:

We leave the hotel in the morning towards Baku. Along the road we have a scenic stop at the “Candy Cane Mountains” near the town Xizi. We look for Golden Eagle, Chukar and Finsch’s Wheatear. Pine Bunting was observed here in winter time as well.
We arrive at our hotel in Baku’s city centre in the early afternoon. We have time in the afternoon for urban birding and sightseeing in the historic old town and along the Caspian promenade. Ringed-necked Parakeet and Laughing Dove are guaranteed, but little surprises such as Brambling or Waxwing can pop up as well.

Candy Cane Mountains on the way back to Baku
Narrow street in Baku’s historic old town, which is surrounded by a modern city
Last evening in the city centre of Baku

 12 February – Day 12:

The bus will bring us from the hotel to the airport for our flights back home.

Travel route:

Further information about winter birding in Azerbaijan can be obtained from scouting trips in previous blog posts:

Including:

  • all accommodations
  • all meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • all entry fees according to the program
  • unlimited tea and water
  • single entry e-visa and registration
  • tips to the hotel bellboys
  • transportation service with a comfortable bus
  • airport transfers
  • 4 WD Lada Niva service in Greater Caucasus (2 days) and Talysh Mountains (2 days)

Excluding:

  • international air tickets
  • travel insurance
  • all alcoholic drinks
  • all extra and personal expenditure

Price: 2150 € (single supplement 200 €)

Please use the contact form below for detailed information about reservation and booking. Don’t hesitate to ask any question.

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