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20–30 May 2024

This ground-breaking new tour to the farthest reaches of the Western Palearctic where, amidst spectacular mountain scenery, we will search for such sought-after species as Caucasian Snowcock, White-winged Redstart, Great Rosefinch, Caspian Tit, Mongolian Finch, White-throated Robin, the ever-delightful Wallcreeper and Shikra in its only breeding area within the boundaries of the Western Palearctic region.

Day 1 Overnight flight from London to Baku, arriving in the early hours of Day 2.

Day 2 Early morning arrival in Baku, where we will head to a local café to take breakfast. Subsequently we will drive some 120 kilometres south to Shirvan National Park. En route we will encounter our first steppe habitat species, which should include Lesser Grey Shrike, European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, flocks of Rosy Starlings, Black-headed Bunting, European Roller and Lesser Kestrel. We will also look for the poelzami race of Great Spotted Woodpecker and should encounter Common Cuckoo and Eurasian Golden Oriole in the Masalli area. Overnight in Masalli.

Day 3 This morning we will explore the Kura River delta, where we should see White-tailed Lapwing, Garganey, Caspian Tern, Syrian Woodpecker and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. Subsequently we will continue our journey southwards, stopping at the Mahmud Chala lakes, where, amongst the commoner Great, Little and Cattle Egrets, Purple Herons and Black-crowned Night-herons, we hope to pick out Marbled Teal and White-headed and Ferruginous Ducks. Other species we might hope to encounter here include Calandra Lark, Moustached Warbler and Great Bittern. After lunch we will visit the coastal lagoons of Gizil Agaj, an impressive reserve that is home to some 248 bird species and where we will be treated to the spectacle of thousands of White-winged and Whiskered Terns together with hundreds of waders including good numbers of Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers. Other species we should pick up here include Gull-billed and Black Terns, Great Reed Warbler, Eurasian Penduline-tit, Red-throated Pipit, Collared Pratincole, Red-necked Phalarope, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Pygmy Cormorant, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis and Caspian Gull. If we are lucky, we may even find a few remaining Dalmatian Pelicans. Two nights in Lerik in the far south of the country.

Day 4 We will take breakfast at the hotel before setting off to explore the Talysh Mountains and Hirkan Forest. During the course of today we hope to add Shikra to our growing lists. Azerbaijan holds the only breeding site for this species within the boundaries of the Western Palearctic and, as such, this will be a key target for the tour. We should also see species such as Bimaculated and Greater Short-toed Larks, Western Rock Nuthatch, Semicollared Flycatcher, Tawny Pipit, Black Stork, Isabelline Wheatear and make a concerted effort to see the near-mythical Caspian Tit which has an extremely limited range of just southeast Azerbaijan and northwest Iran.

Day 5 If weather conditions were poor yesterday, or we missed any target species, we will spend a second day exploring the area. If we had a successful day yesterday, we may move on to another nearby mountainous area near Mistan, just a few kilometres from the Iranian border, in search of Blue Rock-thrush, Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, Asian Crimson-winged Finch and Radde’s Accentor. This evening we will return to Baku for an overnight stay.

Day 6 After breakfast we will pay a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape. Here, among the extraordinary rock paintings, we will be looking for species such as Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Rock Sparrow, Finsch’s and Pied Wheatears, Woodchat Shrike, Chukar, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Long-legged Buzzard. After lunch we will revisit Shirvan National Park, where we will focus on Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin, Black Francolin, Ménétries’s Warbler and Eurasian Thick-knee. We will also encounter Goitered Gazelle, a mammal on the IUCN Red List and for whose protection the park was established, at close range. Late in the afternoon we will bird around the migratory counting station at Besh Barmag; here we hope to see migrating Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, Lesser Spotted and Steppe Eagles as well as the local Levant Sparrowhawk. Our overnight stay tonight will be in the tiny mountain village of Khinaliq.

Day 7 After breakfast we will hike up towards the rocks and boulder fields at some 3,000 metres on the slopes of Gizil Gaya. Around Khinaliq village we may see Black Redstart and White-winged Snowfinch, while up on the slopes our main targets will be Caucasian Snowcock, White-winged (Güldenstädt’s) Redstart and Great Rosefinch. We also hope to see Alpine Accentor, Horned Lark, Water Pipit, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs, Twite, Eurasian Griffon and Cinereous Vulture here. In the afternoon we will drive to the village of Laza for our overnight stay. En route we will make stops to look for Green Warbler, Ortolan Bunting and Red-breasted Flycatcher, and we should also pick up Hawfinch, Common Rosefinch, Red-backed Shrike and Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush. Around Laza village itself, we should see Fire-fronted Serin, Rock Bunting and Ring Ouzel. Overnight Laza.

Day 8 This morning’s birding should add the always delightful and much sought-after Wallcreeper and Bearded Vulture to our lists if we have not already seen the latter. If the weather is clear, we also hope to catch a glimpse of Caucasian Grouse on the slopes of Mount Shahdagh, although our views will be distant. Later in the morning we will walk the short but tiring track towards the Suvar Resort and spend a few hours on the green slopes amidst spectacular scenery. The rewards for our efforts will come in the shape of Mountain Chiffchaff, the calls of Caucasian Snowcock, Golden Eagles and possibly the calls of distant wolves on the highest ridges. If we missed Great Rosefinch yesterday, we have another chance to find it here. This afternoon we will make the long drive back to Baku to catch our internal flight to the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (NAR), where we will spend the next three nights.

Day 9 At sunrise this morning we will drive eastwards in the Negram semi-desert to a known location for Mongolian Finch. At an escarpment with lots of boulders and some small creeks we should find both Trumpeter and Mongolian Finches, but they are elusive and will need some effort to track down. We also hope to see Eurasian Crag-martin, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Red-tailed Wheatear and See-see Partridge here. A stop to look for White-throated Robin will also be on our agenda today.

Day 10 After breakfast this morning we will spend some time around the mythical mountain of Ilan Dag, where the keel of the Ark of Noah is said to have crunched into the peak and split in two. Today it is home to a multitude of raptors, and we hope to see Egyptian Vulture, Black Kite and European Honey-buzzard here. We should also see Crested Lark, White Stork, Armenian Gull and possibly Upcher’s Warbler in this area. Our last birding of the tour will be at a site for Desert Finch. A few birds should appear relatively quickly, and we also have a good chance of Grey-necked Bunting here.

Day 11 Sadly, this morning we must say goodbye to Nakhchivan and make our way back to the airport to connect with our return flight to London, arriving later the same day.

General Information The weather can be highly variable from below freezing with snow the mountains to hot in the lowlands. The amount of physical effort required is moderate, although it may be necessary to walk up some mountain paths for high altitude species. E-visas are available for citizens of most countries. All areas we will be visiting are entirely safe. During this trip you should expect to see around 250 species.

Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 14 with 2 leaders.

Caspian Tit

Caspian Tit

Recommended books available from NHBS