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Tour Itinerary

Armenia May-June Birding Tour Itinerary (8 field days)

From the 21st to the 31st of May 2023

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Armenia is small landlocked country in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, with rich cultural heritage going back many centuries.

Armenia is particularly mountainous. The country's average elevation is 1,800 m a.s.l. with extreme points ranging from 360 m a. s. l. (Araks River-bed) to 4,090 m a.s.l. (summit of the Aragats Mt). The upfolding and powerful volcanism, considerable contrast in altitudes and the remoteness from seas account for the complicated relief and climate of the country. All these features taken together resulted a diverse vegetation, displaying a well-defined altitudinal zones.

Armenia's physical characteristics, variety of habitats and geographical situation at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East are explicating relatively rich avifauna found in the country. There are about 350 species recorded from Armenia, with over 220 breed here and about 170 found in winter. Following a major flyway more than 180 species pass through Armenia on the way to and from their wintering grounds in Middle East and Africa.

The tour starts from £2,250 and includes return flights from London Heathrow to Yerevan (The Captial of Armenia). It is a 10 day tour and offers great opportunity to find some of the most sought after Western Palearctic birds amongst breath taking sceneries of the Lesser Caucasus, lead by a renowned Armenian Scientist with good knowledge of all aspects of the countries nature.

Day 1. Yerevan > Fishfarms of the Ararat Plain > Vedi Hills > Yerevan.

The tour starts at the fish farms of the Ararat Plain. The fishfarms here were established back in the soviet era and are represented with medium to large ponds densely fringed with emergent vegetation and interconnected with complicated network of ditches.

Because of insufficient management many ponds were overgrown with extensive reedbeds. The areas adjacent to the ponds are represented with shallow marshes and the remaining patches of saline semidesert with characteristic plants like Saltwort, Tamarisk etc.

Establishment of the fishfarms with time has offered favourable condition for an outstanding variety of birds.

Some of the common breeders of the area include Great Crested and Little Grebes, Pygmy Cormorant, Little Bittern, Night, Squacco and Purple Herons, Cattle and Little Egrets, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Marsh Harrier, Water Rail, Black-winged Stilt, Redshank, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Black-headed Wagtail, Savi's, Sedge, Eurasian Reed, Great Reed and Menetries's Warblers and Bearded Tit.

Less numerous or uncommon breeders here are Spoonbill, Greylag Goose, White-headed Duck, Marbled Teal, Pied Avocet, Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, White-tailed Lapwing, Little and Whiskered Terns, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Moustached and Paddyfield Warblers and Reed Bunting. Spring and autumn migration offers here species like Dalmatian and White Pelicans, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew and Broad-billed Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh and Terek Sandpipers, Slender-billed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, large flocks of White-winged Tern.

The second half of the day we will spend in the arid landscape of Vedi Hills. The area is characterized with gentle treeless hills with rock exposures here and there and loose rocky ground sparsely covered with shrubs of Tamarisk, wild almond, Pallas’s buckthorn and semidesert vegetation.

The hills are often patrolled by various raptors, such as the Cinereous, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Long-legged Buzzard and Short-toed Eagle.

Flatter areas are home to Isabelline and Finsch's Wheatears, Greater Short-toed and Crested Larks and Tawny Pipit. Dry gullies with sparse shrubs and scarce water sources attract a range of semidesert specialists like Rufous Bush and White-throated Robins, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Upcher's and Eastern OrpheanWarblers, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Rock Sparrow, Pale Rockfinch, Trumpeter Finch, occasional Desert and Mongolian Finches, Rock, Black-headed and Grey-necked Buntings. Orchards in nearby villages attract Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes and large mobile flocks of Rosy Starlings.

Day 2. Yerevan > Dilijan National Park.

Today we move to the forested part of the north-eastern Armenia. On the way we will make few short stops to explore roadside tree plantations, bushes and wet meadows in the mountain steppes at the north-western shore of the Lake Sevan.

Common encounters here include Lesser Spotted Eagle, Armenian Gull, Tree Pipit, Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Common Rosefinch.

The rest of the day and the next morning we will spend in the mature deciduous mountain forest of the Dilijan National Park. The forest here is mainly composed of oak, beech, hornbeam, linden and various other trees and shrubs forming dense understory.

Our primary targets here include Middle Spotted Woodpecker, the samamisicus Redstart, Green Warbler, Red-breasted and Semi-collared Flycatchers. Other birds of the area include Goshawk, Common and Honey Buzzards, Booted Eagle, Stock Dove, Tawny Owl, Green, Black and Greater Spotted and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Dunnock, Robin, Blackcap, Spotted Flycatcher, various tits, Eurasian Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Bullfinch and Hawfinch.

In Dilijan forest we also have chance for a Caucasian Squirrel.

Day 3. Dilijan > Pambak Mts > Dilijan.

This day will be spent at Pambak Mountain Range.

At the foothills, in the outskirts of villages in hayfields and wet meadows we will look for Quail, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Tree Pipit, Black-headed Wagtail, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Common Whitethroat, Sedge, Grasshopper and Cetti's Warblers, Red-backed Shrike and Common Rosefinch.

Broadleaved forest and pine plantations on the northern slopes of Pambak Mountains are home to Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dunnock, Robin, Common Redstart, Mistle Thrush, Caucasian Chiffchaff, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Treecreeper and Bullfinch.

Our primary target for the day is Caucasian Grouse, which inhabits talus fields and Rhododendron bushes at the upper timberline of Pambak.

Neighbors of the grouse include Grey Partridge, Water Pipit, Black Redstart, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel, Twite and Red-fronted Serin. Possible raptors here are Bearded and Griffon Vultures, Golden and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Common Buzzard and Goshawk.

Day 4. Dilijan > Lake Sevan > Selim Pass > Yeghegnadzor.

Early in the morning we have a pre-breakfast excursion in the forest and open glades, and after the breakfast we head south to the Yeghegnadzor town via the Selim Pass. On the way the road passes by one of the world's largest freshwater alpine lakes – the Lake Sevan. Our main target at the lake is the breeding colony of the near threatened Armenian Gull, which is the second largest in the world. The gull, however, is omnipresent in the basin of the lake, although it is always notoriously shy towards humans.

Back in the soviet era the shoreline of the lake has been extensively planted with poplar, pine and especially sea buckthorn. The planted areas here are adjoining shallow wetlands, small lagoons and few small inland lakes, where we will stop in search of species like Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, Great Cormorant, Night Heron and Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Glossy Ibis, Ruddy Shelduck, Gadwall, Shoveler, Garganey, Ferrugibous and Tufted Ducks. Abundance of prey attract here Marsh Harrier, Goshawk and Peregrine. Waders at the Lake Sevan include Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Northern Lapwing, migrating parties of stints and sandpipers, Common Snipe, Ruff.

Other birds to mention at the lake are Common, White-winged, Whiskered Terns and occasional Black Tern, Hoopoe, Roller. Tree plantations attract Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Mistle Thrush and Penduline Tit. Sea-buckthorn thickets are home to Cetti's and Marsh Warblers and Caucasian Chiffchaff, Red-backed, Lesser Grey and Woodchat Shrikes. Sandy banks of the rivers flowing into the Lake Sevan host colonies of European Bee-eater and Sand Martin.

While traveling along the western shore of the lake we will visit the 9th-12th century Hayravank Monastery.

As the road gently ascends towards the pass through mountain steppes and along the Argichi River, we will make few stops to explore highland waterlogged meadows at the foothills of the Armaghan volcano for possible waterbirds and will search the roadside slopes and rock outcrops for species like Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Bluethroat, Whinchat, Twite and Snowfinch.

The Selim Pass (2,410m a.s.l.) regularly provides various raptors like vultures, eagles, buzzards. The Selim Caravanserai (built in 1332) is situated just below the highest point of the pass and its environs are inhabited with various passerines such as Black Redstart, Rock Sparrow, Eastern Stonechat and the frequently seen here Crimson-winged Finch. As we descend down to the Arpa River Valley, the landscape changes into a Mediterranean type with abundance of rocks, open juniper woodland and phrygana dominating vegetation. Here we have chances for species like Chukar, Ring Ouzel, Blue Rock Thrush, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Eastern and Western Rock Nuthatches and Red-fronted Serin, while orchards around villages are home to Levant Sparrowhawk, Golden Oriole, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and Common Nightingale.

Day 5. Yeghegnadzor > Arpa River Valley & Jermuk Gorge > Yerevan.

This day will be spent in the valley of Arpa River. The area is notorious for its Mediterranean type landscape with abundance of rocks, open juniper woodland and phrygana dominating vegetation. Here we will search for various raptors, such as Bearded and Egyptian Vultures, Golden and Short-toed Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard and Peregrine.

Other species here include Chukar, Ring Ouzel, Blue Rock Thrush, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Eastern and Western Rock Nuthatches and Red-fronted Serin, orchards around villages are home to Levant Sparrowhawk, Golden Oriole, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and Common Nightingale.

Forested rocky gorges Common and Long-legged Buzzard, Golden and Short-toed Eagles, Common Kestrel, Chukar, Turtle Dove, Alpine Swift, Roller, Crag Martin, Blue Rock Thrush, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Lesser Whitethroat and Rock Bunting. Gallery forest along the river is home to Hobby, Syrian Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, Spotted Flycatcher and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. Dipper and Grey Wagtail are found on the river.

While in the Jermuk Gorge we will visit the Gndevank Monastery (X century CE).

Day 6. Yeghegnadzor > Slopes of Karkatar Mts > Noravank canyon > Yeghegnadzor.

Our day starts with early morning ascend on 4x4s up to Karkatar Mts. The first half of the day will spend high in the mountains among rock outcrops, meadows with talos and deep gullies densely overgrown with bushes and trees.

Our primary target here is Caspian Snowcock. Other birds regularly observed in the area include Grey Partridge, Golden, Lesser Spotted and Short-toed Eagles, Griffon, Bearded and Egyptian Vultures, Long-legged Buzzard, Grey Partridge, Woodlark, Water Pipit, Tree Pipit, Crag Martin, Radde–s and Alpine Accentor, Black Redstart, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Ring Ouzel, Western Rock Nuthatch, Red-billed Chough, Red-fronted Serin. The area regularly provides superb views of Brown Bear and Bezoar Goat.

On the way down we will stop near rocky slopes with shrubs, holding Chukar, Tawny Pipit, Eastern Black-eared and occasionally Red-tailed Wheatears, Eastern Stonechat, Rock Bunting. The area is frequented by various raptors breeding nearby – Kestrel, Peregrine, Egyptian Vulture and Long-legged Buzzard. Old orchards and cultivated areas lower down provide an additional chance for garden and farmland species – Common Cuckoo, Syrian Woodpecker, Wren, Cetti's Warbler, Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes, Golden Oriole and Black-headed Bunting.

In the second half of day we will visit the scenic canyon of Noravank Monastery (XIII century CE) as well as the Areni-1 Cave – a Bronze Age settlement, where during recent excavations the World's oldest known shoe (5,500 years old) and winery (6,000 years old) were discovered.

Day 7. Yeghegnadzor > Urts Mts > Yerevan.

Today we return to Yerevan, and on the way we visit Urts Mountains. At the foothills of Urts we will look for the specialists of open habitat of arid mountain steppe – Bimaculated and Greater Short-toed Larks, Tawny Pipit, Isabelline and Finsch's Wheatears, and later in the summer ' Pale Rockfinch. Further up in a gorge overgrown with various xerophytic shrubs and abundant rock exposures we have an additional chance to see the Red-tailed Wheatear and good opportunity to find Rufous Bush and White-throated Robins, Upcher's and Eastern Orphean Warbler, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Woodchat Shrike, Rock Sparrow and Red-fronted Serin. Rocks of Urts Ridge are home to various raptors such as Bearded and Griffon Vultures, Golden Eagle, and the rare Lanner Falcon.

Day 8. Yerevan > Aragats Mt > Yerevan.

Our last day is spend on the volcanic slopes of the Mount Aragats. Here we explore foothills of the mount for the birds of the orchards and open habitats, such as Bee-eater, Roller, Hoopoe, Syrian Woopecker, Tawny Pipit, Bimaculated, Crested and Greater Short-toed Larks, Isabelline and Finsch's Wheatears. As we ascend, we will pass by orchards and lightly forested areas with bushes holding Woodlark, Golden Oriole, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Common Nightingale, Chetti's Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Caucasian Chiffchaff. Higher up among the mountain meadows and rock fields with scattered dwarf juniper and Dog Rose bushes we will look for Skylark, Horned Lark, Water Pipit, Radde's and Alpine Accentors, Bluethroat, White-throated Robin, Black Redstart, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and Ring Ouzel, Barred Warbler, Rock Sparrow, Snowfinch, Twite and Crimson-winged Finch.

Here we will also visit a VII century Amberd Fortress and the Church of Amberd built in 1026.

Other birds at the Aragats Mt include Alpine Swift, Red-billed Chough, Crag Martin, Ortolan and Rock Buntings. A good selection of raptors usually observed at Aragats, including all European vultures, Golden, Lesser Spotted, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Black Kite, Long-legged, Common and Honey Buzzards, Peregrine, Hobby, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Goshawk.

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