an invitation to enjoy the rich birdlife in an ancient landscape
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Lying amidst the Lesser Caucasus, this small but diverse country is squeezed between Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. Its rich diversity of both flora and fauna is mirrored by an impressive bird list.
Our tour is timed to find regional specialities including Caspian Snowcock, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Bimaculated Lark, Armenian Stonechat, Radde’s Accentor, White-throated Robin, Finsch’s Wheatear, Paddyfield Warbler, Mountain Chiffchaff, Green Warbler, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Asian Crimson-winged Finch and Grey-necked Bunting. Late arrivals such as Upcher’s Warbler and Pale Rock Sparrow will also be back on breeding territories.
The country remains a somewhat neglected destination for both birdwatchers and naturalists alike. Despite being relatively unknown, those that have travelled to Armenia all say it exceeds expectations, with memorable birdwatching experiences to be had throughout. We shall also see a diversity of plant life and butterflies.
Standing at 13420ft, Mount Aragats is Armenia’s highest mountain, part of an isolated ancient volcanic massif that towers to the north of Yerevan. On our first full day we will be concentrating on the montane specialists which breed here. On the lower slopes we can expect to find Isabelline Wheatear, White-throated Robin, Barred Warbler and Black-headed Bunting. Higher up amongst the juniper scrub, there are Ring Ouzels, Bluethroats (lacking either red or white spots), and Radde’s Accentors. Water Pipit is abundant, whilst Shore Larks can also be found in decent numbers. Further on there is a chance of finding higher elevation species such as Crimson-winged Finch, Red-fronted Serin, Twite, White-winged Snow Finch and Alpine Accentor. We will also visit the impressive Amberd Fortress, one of the few well preserved Medieval castles to be found in Armenia. The magnificent Lammergeier breeds at this site.
LAKE SEVAN AND THE FORESTS OF DILIJAN
On day three we will transfer to Lake Sevan, taking a detour to the forests of Dilijan on the way. The ancient beech woods which grow around the canyon of the Haghartsin River hold a mix of Caucasian species such as Levant Sparrowhawk, Green Warbler, Mountain Chiffchaff and Semi-collared Flycatcher. This is also the site of the Haghartsin monastery built in the 13th century and now the beneficiary of careful renovation.
Our next night will be spend in a lakeside hotel on the shores of Lake Sevan, the largest water body in the Caucasus region. A colony of Armenian Gulls is the most important breeding site for this large white headed gull. Late passage waders such as Broad-billed Sandpiper and Terek Sandpiper can be expected. Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Citrine Wagtail, Black headed Wagtail, Cetti’s Warbler and Marsh Warbler also breed around the lakeside.
Our journey then continues south to the town of Yehegnadzor which will be our base for the next few days. Leaving the shores of Lake Sevan, the road passes through Alpine meadows and marshes. Around the small homesteads en route an interesting selection of birds can be found with White-winged Snow Finch, Radde’s Accentor, Bluethroat, Common Rosefinch and Red-fronted Serin all likely. Selim Pass is the site of the best preserved caravanserai in Armenia. Built in 1332, the Orbelyan Caravanserai provided shelter for travellers and their animals along the ancient Silk Road.
YEHEGNADZOR TO GORIS
With the aid of 4x4 vehicles we will head into the Yeranos Mountains to search for Caspian Snowcock on their breeding crags. In the afternoon we will explore the famous Noravank Gorge where Eastern Rock Nuthatches build their nests on the canyon wall. At the head of the valley is the 13th century monastery and the surrounding brick red cliffs light up as the sun sets. This is also home to wild Bezoar Ibex which show off their climbing skills on the sheer cliff faces. In the valley at Zedea a mix of rocky outcrops and scrub is home to a great variety of birdlife. All around you can hear the songs of Woodlark, White-throated Robin, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Barred Warbler and Black-eared Wheatear. Both Western and Eastern Rock Nuthatches also breed here along with Rufous Bushchat, Crag Martin, Rock Bunting, Black-headed Bunting and Woodchat Shrike.
On day six we will take a diversion to the town of Goris in eastern Armenia, where the landscape changes, becoming more mountainous. We will stop at the ancient stones of Karahunge where you may be reminded very much of Stonehenge. This stone “observatory” dates back to 7500 BC making it 2000 years older than its English counterpart. On the way we shall look out for Long-legged Buzzards, Lesser Kestrels and steppe birds such as Bimaculated Lark. After a night in Goris we return to Yehegnadzor via the Khndzoresk cave village, another picturesque site with yet more raptor watching opportunities. Black and Griffon Vultures and Eastern Imperial Eagle are all possibilities.
ARMASH FISH PONDS
The next day we will depart Yehegnadzor for the final time and head back towards the capital Yerevan, taking in a visit to the famous Armash ponds en route. Originally an area of semi-desert, this is now a network of man-made fish ponds lying in the shadow of the snow covered Mount Ararat, which sits just 20 miles away across the border in Turkey. This Important Bird Area has a list of over 220 species. Collared Pratincole and White-tailed Plover nest on the drier margins whilst the ponds hold breeding White-headed Duck, Marbled Teal and Ferruginous Duck. The reedbeds are full of Great Reed Warblers, Bearded Tits and a few Paddyfield Warblers, whilst Purple Herons, Squacco Herons and Glossy Ibis fly to and fro. Drained fishpond can attract a huge variety of passage waders and terns whilst roosting flocks of Armenian Gulls usually contain a few Caspian and Great Black-headed Gulls. Another star bird here is undoubtedly the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. This is probably the best birdwatching spot in the whole country and we will make a second visit at the end of the tour from our base in Yerevan.
Many of the country’s best birdwatching locations are situated within easy reach of the nation’s capital, Yerevan. This is a handy location from which to visit the final habitats of the trip. We will be in easy reach of the dry valleys and badlands of Vedi Gorge and the Oorts Mountains. Our targets here include some very special and tricky-to-see species such as Pale Rock Sparrow, Grey-necked Bunting and Upcher’s Warbler, which all breed in the dry gulleys. Any running watercourses will be attractive to many thirsty birds which may include Trumpeter Finch or even Desert Finch. Isabelline and Finsch’s Wheatear both nest here whilst rarer still is the Persian Wheatear which has been found nesting in the valleys on the edge of the Oorts Mountains. Commoner birds include Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks and Eastern Orphean Warbler, whilst Mongolian Trumpeter Finch has also been recorded here in the past.
The Khor Virap monastery sits overlooking the fertile Ararat valley and we shall stop here for a while to enjoy the spectacular views of Mt Ararat. You can enter the dungeon which held St Gregory the Illuminator, incarcerated for 13 years by the pagan King Trdat. Ultimately the king released Gregory and then adopted Christianity as the state religion in 301 AD. The scrub covered hillside here is also a good place to see the charming Menetries’s Warbler.
After three nights in Yerevan, we will drive to the airport, arriving in good time for our morning flight home.
CLIMATE AND PACE
In the mountains it is often clear but chilly, although rain is a possibility. In contrast, the lowlands are hot and dry. Breakfast will be taken around 7am on most mornings. There will be an earlier start on one morning in order to be out early to see the snowcock. Full days will be spent in the field and basic fitness is all that is required. At Mt Aragats and in the Yeranos mountains there will be some uphill walking which we will manage according to the abilities of the group. Transport will be provided to take the group to the higher valleys and vantage points to reduce the need for any strenuous walking.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full board accommodation is provided with two nights in the Hotel Nairi in Yerevan, one night at the Best Western Bohemian Resort in Sevan, two nights at the Hotel Arpa in Yehegnadzor, one night at the Hotel Diana in Goris, one night back at the Hotel Arpa in Yehegnadzor and the final three nights in the Hotel Nairi in Yerevan. All the hotels are comfortable and modern with good restaurants. All rooms have en suite facilities.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with Bird Holidays leader and expert local guide, full board accommodation (starting with dinner on the 7th and ending with breakfast on the 17th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini coach and 4x4 jeeps, reserve entrance fees and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from both London Heathrow and Manchester to Yerevan (via Paris) using the scheduled services of Air France. Outbound flights depart early morning, return flight arrives back early afternoon. It may be possible to join this tour from other UK airports, please contact us for details.
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