This was an exploratory trip organised by Branta-Tours Birdwatching Company and with the main goal of accessing the feasibility of running guide ornithological trips to the country. Our aim was to visit several of the reserves and national parks as well as looking for any other good looking areas of habitat and getting a feel for the species on offer as well as their ease of accessibility.
Dave Bowes – England
Patrick de Harenne – Belgium
Tour Leader: Pavel Simeonov (Branta-Tours)
Total distance: 1600 Km
Species recorded: 192
Getting thereWe all made our way to Istanbul independently, where we met up for onward flight again with Turkish Airlines to Baku. I travelled with Turkish Airlines whose planes and flight crew were excellent, both on my outward and homeward journey.
June 1st: Arrived Baku at 04:15 having travelled overnight from Stansted via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines. On arrival your passport was checked. Then followed a wait in the visa line, after this collecting luggage and customs was a doddle and I eventually arrive outside the airport to meet up with Patrick, Pavel and our local escort at 07:30. Our first pleasant sight was the Lesser Kestrels that were nesting in the terminal building roof, with at least five birds present. A Gull-billed Tern also flew low over the car park as we loaded the car.
June 2nd :
After a good nights sleep we were up and out by 07:00 to be greeted by the most fantastic morning and scenery, the previous evenings low cloud and rain had given way to a bright cloudless morning and all around us were vibrant green meadows and the snow covered peaks of the Caucasus. In the rain and cloud of the previous evening none of this had been visible and it was something of an assault on our senses first thing in the morning. A pre-breakfast amble provided good views of Chough, Common Rosefinch (which were very numerous) a couple of Peregrines overhead and several more Red-fronted Serins which favoured the short grassy meadows around the village. After breakfast we split up and went our own ways in an effort to explore as much ground as possible. At 1700 meters our base was situated on a small plateau nestled above the river Koosarchal but overshadowed by the mountains of the Caucassus.
June 3rd :
Up at 05:30 and after some welcome "Chi" and bread and cheese Paul and myself set out, we travelled up a track for about 5km in Pauls Toyota Land Cruiser, before setting out on foot into the mountains following the north-west bank of the river Koosarchall. Marsh Warblers were again very much in evidence with 18 singing males been noted. As we started to climb in the last bush of the tree line a glorious male Great Rosefinch revealed itself perched sunning and allowed us superb views. After that a strenuous five and a half hour climb up through some stunning scenery followed and we finally reached our objective a hanging valley at 2800 meters in the shadow of Sahdag Mountain at 4243 meters, which was absolutely alive with the Asian subspecies of Twite, the so called Asia Minor Twite (Carduelis flavirostris brevirostris), with more white on wings, black spots on breast and longer bill having less yellow. As we sat drinking Chi and eating home made bread and Marmite a strange wailing curlew like call began to emanate from our left and for a few frustrating minutes nothing showed, then a magnificent Caucasian Snowcock launched itself from the rocks and settled on a grassy slope some 100 meters below us giving great views and to add even more excitement to the moment a fine Snowfinch flew from where the Snowcock had landed and a pair of Wallcreepers foraged along the cliff right next to us a magic five minutes. Two more Snowcocks were seen and another three heard along with Chukar several Alpine Accentors and a Red-throated Pipit during the two hours we explored the area. Arrived back at lodgings 20:00 shattered but elated after a very successful day.
After yesterdays exertions a lie in was in order and it was 08:00 before we broke cover, after breakfast we decided to split up again for our last day and arranged to meet up for lunch prior to our departure at 16:00. Pavel and Patrick decided to attempt some photography and I went down into the bottom of the gorge leading up to the village to explore there. This provided nothing much new a female Great Rosefinch at the start of my decent been the best.
We left Gorbustan at about 17:30 aiming for our overnight stop at Shirvan National Park a huge area of 75,000 hectares and home to a large population of Goitered Gazelles. We arrived at Shirvan at 16:40 and were met by Hartmut Muller, a German fellow who was employed as an advisor to the Ministry of Ecology who had also worked with Pavel in previous years. Black Francolin and Ménétries´s Warbler were immediately ticked as we signed into the reserve. We birded the area until dusk when we picked up a Barn Owl which flew from roost under the observation tower roof. At least 4 Scops Owls and a Long-eared Owl were around the cottage after dark. Supper in a local café.
June 6th : Spent all day in Shirvan National Park birding and taking photographs, a fantastic place could have spent all week here. So much to see and explore. I would mention at Great Sand, Kentish, Ringed and Grey Plovers, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Terns, Stone Curlew, Short-toed Eagle, Ferruginous and other Ducks, Herons etc… and some other wildlife maybe, Gazelles, rodents etc.