We are happy to announce another bird migration counting season at Besh Barmag bottleneck for autumn 2023. After the very successful full season in 2022 we are in good spirit and eager to run another long-awaited round of the epic bird migration count. With some highly motivated additions to our local team and keen old fellows the stage is set! Besh Barmag bottleneck is still one of the most promising frontiers of Western Palearctic birding with an amazingly diverse and intense bird migration and great potential for some big highlights.
What is your task? As a counter you will:
- monitor the daily bird migration through a narrow coastal plain in Azerbaijan at the shore of the Caspian Sea from sunrise to sunset
- work closely with a mixed team of Azerbaijani and international birdwatchers
- learn and teach others in bird counting and bird identification
- enjoy a frontier bird project in a little-known part of the world
The sacred Mountain Besh Barmag is situated 90 km north of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. Here, a coastal plain between the foothills of the Greater Caucasus and the Caspian Sea acts as a narrow bird migration corridor leading to a high number of bird species and individuals. In autumn 2018 about 2.8 million birds were counted and so far 320 species have been recorded.
Species and numbers vary throughout the autumn with thousands of Garganeys, waders, terns, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Yellow Wagtails in August/September, up to 20 species of raptors on single days in September/October and tens of thousands of Calandra Larks, Little Bustards and waterfowl in October/November. Eastern species like Pallid Harrier, Saker, Pallas’s Gull, Black-winged Pratincole, White-winged Lark, Citrine Wagtail, Richard’s Pipit, Buff-bellied Pipit etc. are regular encounters. But always expect the unexpected, as rare eastern species, such as MacQueen’s Bustard, Little and Pine Bunting, Sociable Lapwing, White-tailed Lapwing, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, White-headed Yellow Wagtail and Long-tailed Rosefinch, were also observed in the last years. Anything is possible!
Check https://www.trektellen.org/count/view/1533/20221115 or https://www.trektellen.org/site/totals/1533/2022 and explore the numbers of previous counts!
Autumn 2023 from 1 September until 30 November. A participation of at least two weeks is preferred.
This project is open for birdwatchers with different skills and experiences. While the novice but dedicated birder is of great help for counting more common and easier identifiable species, the advanced counter will e.g. focus on seawatching or distant passerine migration.
However, everyone should be prepared for long days in the field (from sunrise to sunset) and counting through all types of weather. Recording the whole range of birds from passerines to raptors requires teamwork among a heterogeneous international team. The project language is English so you should have at least some basic English skills.
You will stay in a simple guest house in the village Zarat about a 20 minutes drive south of the counting spot. There are several apartments with sleeping rooms, kitchen and a bathroom. Max 3–4 people will share each apartment with two rooms so be prepared to share a room. Breakfast and dinner will be in a common room with kitchen where you can also spend the evenings.
We provide lodging in a small guest house within the bottleneck area and local transportation to the counting spot for a daily participation fee. The price is 45 Manat (~25 €) per person per day. Since we are still waiting for anticipated funds and donations and do not know the total number of participants that might come, we can unfortunately not cover catering yet. The accommodation, however, has a well equipped kitchen for self-catering, nearby supermarkets and for a small additional fee of 6-7 Manat (~3.5 €) a local family can provide daily dinners (traditional tasty cuisine).
If you wish to stay for a longer period, but pricing is too high, we can try to offer lower daily fees, but it highly depends on our calculated budget.
Additionally, you arrange your own flight tickets to Baku and digital tourist visa (convenient process, ~26 €: https://evisa.gov.az/en/) for a maximum of 30 days. Longer stays of 30 to 90 days can be arranged, but cost around 400 €.
When you stay longer than 15 days in Azerbaijan a registration in the country for 50 Manat (~25 €) is required.
You will be picked up from the airport to reach the accommodation. The transportation cost 100 Manat (~55 €) one-way for a 1.5 hour drive.
Furthermore, we can also arrange customised day trips in the surrounding areas (Shirvan National Park, Absheron National Park, Gobustan, Baku, Greater Caucasus) depending on your budget.
To get an impression how migration counts at Besh Barmag are taking place, please read the experiences by the counters from previous seasons:
Report of the first 10 days of the season at Besh!
Text © Gabi Caucal Photos © Abdin Abbasov, Elvin Məmmədsoy (Camping Azerbaijan) The first days of the count were really enjoyable for the diversity with more than 70 species by session. We can mention these first day with more than 3000 Garganeys or several days with thousands of Terns! Recently, some other water birds were also on…
September summary of the Besh Barmag Bird Migration Count autumn 2022
Text © Gabi Caucal Photos © Philip Elbek, Elvin Məmmədsoy, Patrick Weber, Sebastian Andrejeff Although less present than the last season with the same methodology (2018), the Garganeys and Marsh Tens have marked the first days of the count. The nice day September 11th was definitely the peak day for these species with respectively 4214 Garganeys and 3444…
Visitors at the Besh Barmag Bird Migration Count
Photos © Shahin Garayev, Elvin Məmmədsoy, Michael Heiß What a lovely weekend at the counting station of the Besh Barmag Bird Migration Count! On Saturday and Sunday the counters were joined by two groups of visitors from Baku. Together they enjoyed birdwatching and freshly brewed tea from the samovar. The many kids got a small lesson in…
November, spectacular days at Besh Barmag!
Text © Gabi Caucal The migration of Little Bustards is a phenomenon that any spotter would like to experience one day. The emotion it brings was as great as the number of groups counted! At Besh Barmag bottleneck on 6 and 15 November, 11 569 and 11 913 Little Bustards, respectively, were counted. On 15 November, while…
Slow bird migration at Besh, but a European Serin and a Red-rumped Swallow!
Photos © Elvin Məmmədsoy, Zülfü Fərəcli, Leyla Muslim, Pia Fetting In the last week the counters at Besh Barmag bottleneck were surprised by some warm and sunny days. Unfortunately, this resulted in pretty slow migration with only a few birds on passage. But at least some delightful highlights were presented to the team like a European Serin…
Late October / early November impressions by Michael Hoit
Text © Michael Hoit Bird counters at the spot © Michael Heiß Avian migration is a truly amazing natural phenomenon. The mass long-distance movement of birds across the world is quite familiar to most, but is still somehow underappreciated and taken for granted by many. To some of us, at least, it is inherently exciting and endlessly…
Apply as a counter
Please provide us with some basic personal information about yourself. Tell us your preferred counting period and please give some details about your birding activities and your bird migration count experiences. You will find the application form below.
Apply as a tourist
You can visit the counting station at Besh Barmag as a birdwatching tourist at any time you want. This is for free and you are very welcome! Due to the limited space in the accommodation in Zarat and daily transportation to the counting spot we prioritise our counters, but we can help to organise stays nearby for touristic visitors.
Interested? Of course you are!
Please fill in the application form below or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to join an awesome birding experience this autumn. Some FAQs are listed below.
What is the accommodation like? – You will stay in a simple apartment hotel in the village Zarat about 20 minutes south of the counting spot. There are several units with sleeping rooms and a bathroom. Max 3-4 people will share each house with two rooms so be prepared to share room. Breakfast and dinner will be in a common room with kitchen where you can also spend the evenings.
Are single rooms available? – Space is limited, and counters have to share apartments with up to three (or even four) other counters. The apartments have two double rooms.
Is bedding provided? – YES, you get bedding and towels from the guest house.
Can I wash clothes? – YES, for a small fee clothes can be washed in the village.
Is there vegetarian food? – YES, most dishes will be vegetarian anyway and if not, a vegetarian option will be arranged. Though vegan food is possible, this would be less diverse/ more difficult in the Azerbaijani countryside.
Are there shops? – YES, there are simple grocery shops close to the accommodation, where you can buy snacks, beer or whatever.
Can I pay in other currencies? – YES, within the project you can pay in Euro, Dollar or the Azerbaijani currency Manat. Outside the project (shops etc.) you need Manat, which can be exchanged at the airport, in Baku or the nearby town Siyezen.
What do I have to bring for the count? – OPTICS, of course; binoculars and telescope both are very important. A camera can be a useful tool for subsequent identification of tricky species. There will be a sound recorder as a back-up for flight calls, but bring your own device if you want. We provide some tally-counters, but if you have them yourself, please feel free to bring them.
Do I get free days? – YES, we will always try to allow one free day per week if you require this and if there are enough counters to cover the work. Afternoon excursions to spots in the surroundings with part of the counting team will be arranged as well. But this highly depends on the number of available counters and magnitude of bird migration and is thus not guaranteed, but we try our very best to make you happy.
Is there internet connection in the hotel? – YES, there is rather slow but free WiFi in the hotel. Another possibility is a local SIM card, which can be purchased in most shops or upon arrival at the airport.
How is the weather? – DIVERSE. September is rather hot with possible temperatures above 30°C, but nights can be chilly. October can be warm (10 to above 20°C), but rain and cold is also likely. This is already the time to bring hats and gloves. November can be cold with temperatures mainly below 10°C, rather windy and fresh. First snowfall can occur. Don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses and a cap/hat throughout the counting season.
Which birds can I see? – MANY. The easiest is to pick out your period and check the daily count data on Trektellen, eg. https://trektellen.nl/count/view/1533/20181115
What about the highway construction at the counting spot? – We have no information about the current status of the highway construction. We might have to react flexible and alter the counting spot accordingly. We may not be able to count from the best spot all the time but will certainly witness good migration from anywhere in the area. We have even counted successfully from close by the accomodation.
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