White-tailed Lapwing. Photo: G. Kirwan
BIRDING TOURS IN ARMENIA
FROM WHITE-TAILED LAPWING TO CASPIAN SNOWCOCK
10 days: 04 May 2020 – 13 May 2020
The Concept of Expedition
BREEDING BIRDS OF ARMENIA
During the trip we will watch the restricted-range and vulnerable species as the Caspian Snowcock, White-tailed Lapwing, Bearded Vulture, and Trumpeter Finch, which are suffering from habitat transformation, pollution, overharvesting, and poaching. A solution of those issues is hardly possible without rethinking the value of birds among the local people. This tour will develop an additional income for local communities, linking that income to birds. Also it helps preventing poaching at the key areas of birds aggregation. And eventually 20% of the tour’s income will be allocated for conservation of the endangered species. Thus, the tour makes input into global conservation of threatened birds, and the keen birders will continuously have opportunities to watch the White-headed Duck at the wetlands of Ararat Plain, and the Caucasian Grouse at sub-alpine meadows of Pambak Mountains.
Description of Itinerary
Experience Armenia at the time when foothills are blooming, while forests still stay leafless, when returnees just arrive in the country and begin displaying and the mountains are still covered by snow. Here you might expect over 200 bird species in full ten days, including such regional endemics as Mountain Chiffchaff and Armenian Gull, and Central Asian species, as Persian Wheatear and Eastern Rock-Nuthatch.
An evening arrival to Yerevan, then airport transfer and check-in in the hotel. Weather in the capital is nice at this time of the year, especially at evening, being warm enough for nice walking through the central part of the city, where old buildings are mixed with modern ones. It is very old city dated by 3,200 years BC, but is also very young, with the new-fashion houses made of multi-colored tuff stone. The historical remains are of more strictly style, made of gray and black stone, which does not reduce their charm. In one of such older buildings we will have the dinner of traditional cuisine, which will be followed by walk towards the hotel, where you can have another drink in the bar. An early sleep is recommended, taking tomorrow’s early morning into account.
In early morning, after breakfast, we will head to Armash Wetlands to catch the variety of the waterbirds, ducks, herons, egrets, grebes, shorebirds, as well as wetland-associated songbirds. The area was saved from regular poaching when we have designated it as the Emerald Site, and have set up a ticket system for the visitors. From that point forward the owners started valuing the place and the birds. Our target species here include White-headed Duck, Ferruginous Pochard, Marbled Teal, White-tailed Lapwing, Persian Bee-eater, Paddyfield, Savii’s, and Menetrie’s Warblers, we also will be able to see numerous other waterbirds, including but not limited to Little Bittern, Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Stilt, and Pied Avocet. With a piece of luck we might expect also Spur-winged Plover – a new regular visitor to our country.
Later we will direct towards South-West, to Yeghegnadzor for two-night stay and dinner, having couple of stops en route aimed at finding Bimaculated Larks.
ON THE WAY – 3 hours BIRDING AT TARGET SITES – 5 hours
Today we plan a very early start with 4WD cars in order to get the high-mountain areas at about 7:00 am – the best time when the Caspian Snowcocks begin displaying. We would have quite a little time to find those, as well as the Brown Bears, which, at this time of the year are usually searching for the eatable roots, insect larvae, and mice under stones, and the Bezoar Goats, grazing at the shadowy slopes. This intensive search for the targets will be lead by local person – former hunter, whom we have transferred into wildlife guide, and who put down his gun once and forever. Search of the mentioned species will be supplemented by somewhat easy observation of other mountain specialists, such as Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Alpine Accentors, and hopefully Crimson-winged Finches.
Later, after picnic lunch we will start moving back. On the way down we will have couple of stops in scrubs aimed at search for White-throated Robin and Siberian Stonechat (ssp. variegatus).
Then, we will move to Noravank Canyon, for watching the Eastern and Western Rock Nuthatches, and will make an unusual dinner in the local restaurant in cave, after that we will move to hotel for overnight. On the way, we will also have a stop for searching for Levant Sparrowhawk, that breeds in riparian woodlands and orchards.
On the way – 3 hours Birding at target sites – 6 hours
Today we are not in a rush and after a normal breakfast will drive to Sisian Plateau to watch a colony of Lesser Kestrels, along with some other mountain meadow species, like Montague’s Harrier, Calandra Lark, and Common Rosefinch. The long-lasting monitoring program of Lesser Kestrels, along with education of the local people brought to the increase of number of the Kestrels at the Sisian Plateau.
Later, we will visit the Arpa River Canyon, to watch the cliff-nesters, such as Bearded and Egyptian Vultures, Peregrine Falcon (ssp brookei), Alpine Swifts, and Blue Rock Thrush. The gorge is under our attention since 2002, we supported its designation as Emerald Site, and now the place went into Governmental Program of development of the new protected area.
On the way – 3.5 hours Birding at target sites – 5 hours
Today, after breakfast, we will start our climb to the Vardenis mountains, having the first a stop near river, where we can observe Golden Oriole, Lesser Grey Shrike, Kingfishers, Penduline Tits, Marsh and Cettis Warblers. Then we will drive along the gorge, where landscape is gradually changing from semi-desert to juniper woodland. Here we will have the more stops aimed at finding Rosy Starlings, Red-fronted Serines and Rock Bunting.
After we will reach Orbelyan’s Caravanseray, a Silk Road artifact, which hosts Rock Sparrows breeding inside the walls, and Ortolan Buntings which live in surrounding grasslands. Here we will have the picnic lunch.
Our next destination will be the flat plateau, full of meadows and marshes, where we will look for Black-headed Wagtails and Northern Lapwings.
On the way – 3 hours Birding at target sites – 5 hours
Today after breakfast we at first will visit the Lichk area – a small lakes, which filter the river, that flows into the Lake Sevan. This area is always full of various waterbirds, including Ruddy Shelducks, Black-necked and Little Grebes. Being surrounded with the woodland, the area hosts a breeding pair of Goshawks, which are often chasing the waterbirds. Our conservation program aimed at development of birdwatching in this area eliminated poaching here, and brought the Ferruginous Pochards back to this site.
After Lichk we will travel along the shore of the Lake birding en route and making a stop near the breeding Eagle Owls. After we will visit the Gull Island, which hosts second large colony of Armenian Gulls in the world. The ongoing program on raising of water level of the Lake is going to put the island under water in next decade, and we together with the Lake Sevan National Park work on resettlement of the colony to new emerging island.
On the way – 2.5 hours Birding at target sites – 5.5 hours
Тoday we will visit two forest areas with the main aim to search for the forest specialists, such as Semi-collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers, Green Warbler, Medium Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Hawfinch and Bullfinch. The Dilijan National Park was under old-style management for a while, which meant tree logging for various reasons. At current we are setting up adaptive management system supported by monitoring of forest birds as indicators of ecosystems’ health. The restoration of fragmented forests aimed at increase of forest’s resilience as bird habitat is another direction of our work at this area.
On the way – 2 hours Birding at target sites – 6 hours
Today is another early start and we will take both: breakfast and lunch in boxes. In 4WD cars we will climb the high mountains above the timberline – the habitat for Caucasian Grouse. Meanwhile we will search for other high mountain specialists, possibly Wallcreeper, Water Pipit (ssp. koutelii) and Snowfinch. Closer to the noon we will start traveling down having couple of stops in the forest to watch the Mountain Chiffchaff along with other forest birds.
Later, after picnic lunch we will drive towards Yerevan through a gorge, where will have couple of stops to catch some possible arid species, such as Red-fronted Serin, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Black-headed and Rock Buntings.
On the way – 2 hours Birding at target sites – 6 hours
The day appears to be tough with visiting two arid gorges, with two different goals. In the morning we will take 4WD cars and will drive to the arid gorge to the South of Yerevan, where the main target is Persian Wheatear. The gorge also will provide us with opportunities to observe Finsch’s Wheatear, Bimaculated and Lesser Short-toed Lark, and Chukar.
Later, we will drive to another gorge, where will search for Grey-headed Bunting, Trumpeter and Desert Finches. As at another spot the search will be accompanied by observing some other semi-desert birds as Isabelline Wheatear and Short-toed Lark. We have promoted designation of both sites in Emerald Network, and continue monitoring and protection of those.
On the way – 3 hours Birding at target sites – 6 hours
Today we will visit several belts of Aragats mountain, which include semi-desert part, mainly aimed at catching Bimaculated Lark and Rufous-tailed Bush Robin, if we miss it the other days. Then we will move further up, getting to the forest, where will observe number of forest raptors, including Short-toed, Booted, and Lesser Spotted Eagles. The area is one of the main spots which we use for training of young birders in Raptor ID. Then will continue towards mountain steppes to search for Bluethroat (ssp. magna) and Radde’s Accentor. After, we will continue driving higher up to search for high-mountain specialists, which we could miss the other days, such as White-winged Snowfinch, Horned Lark (ssp. penicillata), Water Pipit (ssp. coutelii), Alpine Accentor, and Crimson-winged Finch.
After, will visit the Amberd Fortress and will watch the gorge, where Bearded Vulture and Golden Eagle are breeding.
Later will drive back to Yerevan, where will have a stop at souvenir shop, and then continue to hotel. After some rest we will have the farewell dinner at the local restaurant located at the yard of the old Yerevan house.
On the way – 2.5 hours Birding at target sites – 6 hours
The transfer to airport and departure will take place early in the next morning.
Насколько этот трип подходит именно вам?
Сколько времени в пути
The total trip supposes to take about 20 hours of driving on asphalt road and about 6 hours off-road. During the trip there are some walks, which mostly take place in the flat areas, having a maximum distance of 1.5 km.
Сколько времени в на местах
In total we suppose to spend about 50 hours at the target sites, allocating one-two hours per site, depending on how easy is it to find the needed species. Of course we also do some birding en route, having stops on the way, if something special appears.
We take a comfortable minivan with 17 sits, equipped with air-conditioning and a fridge for drinks. With such a transportation unit we secure that in groups up to 8 people, everyone has a sit near window. For groups over 8 (but no more than 12) we use a rotation rule. Our drivers are experienced on the roads of Armenia and Georgia.
For the off-road trips we take local 4WD cars with local drivers. These guys have already been tested by us many times for the safe driving on the mountainous roads. Many of those are former hunters and know the area very well, and often help us to spot birds, goats, and bears.
We stay in good quality hotels and are served the authentic Armenian and Western Armenian cuisine in local restaurants and guesthouses. Most of the hotels have elevators, or rooms at the first floor, or for exceptional cases, they are easy to walk to the second floor. We experience wide variety of wild-herb dishes, local vine, and home-made fruit brandy. The single rooms are available.
Food & Drink
You will experience a nice mixture of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and National cuisine, having famous Armenian barbecue and dolma, together with various salads and soups from wild herbs. Wide variety of appetizers made from local vegetables supplement every dinner. Do not forget about delicate Armenian Wine, saturated beer, deep brandy, and very local home-made vodka from various fruits and berries.
Climate & Clothing
The climate in Armenia varies a lot and you must be prepared. While at the lowlands you would have to expect quite a hot weather, at the higher elevations the temperature can be as low as +3°C, so a warm jacket, hat, and gloves, are absolutely must. At this season we would have to expect some rains, which can be quite heavy, so the appropriate rain equipment will help you to stay in a good condition. The sun in Armenia is quite strong, especially in higher elevation, so be prepared with the necessary suntan creams, and other relevant accessories.
Safety & Security
Armenia is a safe country. You can walk at the middle of the night in Yerevan, and maximum what could happen – you will be invited to have a glass of wine. Nevertheless, for your own security, in the crowded places, like open souvenir markets, pay attention to your wallet, as art-level stealing has been recorded.
Some wetland areas, like Armash, are not mosquito free, so be prepared with the repellents.
In Armenia there are four species of venomous snakes and two species of scorpions. At the areas, where such snakes could occur, you will be warned by the tour-guide, who will instruct you: what to do. The scorpions are only dangerous in some spots, where can get into your boots during nights. Again, the guide will instruct you about such areas, but for your own security, shake out your boots in the morning, before you put them on.
In case of any health issue, there are internationally accredited clinics, where you can go with your health insurance policy.
3 SEATS AVAILABLE