12–26 April 2018
Until very recently, Iran, with its incredible history and diverse avifauna, was off-limits to Western birders, but with travel restrictions now lifted, we are once again able to enjoy this fascinating country and its birds. This exciting tour will see us looking for such sought-after species as the endemic Iranian Ground-jay, Caspian Tit, Sind Woodpecker, Hypocolius, Iraq Babbler, Plain Leaf Warbler and Caspian Snowcock.
Days 1–2 We will catch an overnight flight from London to Tehran’s IKA Airport, where we will be met by our guide and transfer to Mehrabad Airport for a flight to Bandar Abbas in the south of Iran on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Time permitting, upon arrival in Bandar Abbas, we will pay a short visit to the city’s coastal areas where we hope to see Broad-billed Sandpiper, Great Knot, Sooty Gull, Gull-billed, Lesser Crested, Saunders’s and White-cheeked Terns, Sand Lark and other common local species such as House Crow and Pallid Swift before driving to our hotel in Minab for a two-night stay. After freshening up, we will visit the local palm gardens and orchards looking for species such as White-eyed Buzzard (rare), Oriental Honey-buzzard, Grey Francolin, Red-wattled Lapwing, Spotted Owlet, Pallid Scops-owl, Indian Silverbill, White-eared Bulbul, Laughing Dove, Indian Roller, Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin, Common Myna, Variable Wheatear, Purple Sunbird, Red-backed and Red-tailed Shrikes, Afghan Babbler, Grey-hooded Bunting and the very rare Sind Woodpecker.
Day 3 We will spend the whole of today exploring the mangrove forest and inter-tidal areas east of Minab. This is one of the most pristine environments of its kind along the Persian Gulf and provides excellent habitat for Striated Heron, Greater Spotted Eagle, Eurasian Marsh-harrier, Osprey, Black Kite, Shikra, Terek Sandpiper, Crab and Common Ringed Plovers, European Golden-plover, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Great Thick-knee and White-throated Kingfisher. The number of migrant birds can be impressive through the winter, and in April we should still encounter Dalmatian Pelican, Eurasian Spoonbill, Great Cormorant, Greater and Lesser Sand-plovers, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Temminck’s Stint, Sanderling, Black-bellied and Kentish Plovers, Green Sandpiper, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew and Caspian Tern. We may also be lucky enough to pick out an Oriental White-eye in the mangrove or an Indian Pond-heron in one of the channels; other members of the heron family, such as Great Egret, Grey Heron and Western Reef-heron, are common.
Day 4 We have another opportunity to try for Sind Woodpecker this morning if necessary, otherwise we will pay a visit to some nearby wadis, which provide the perfect habitat for Graceful Prinia, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Egyptian Vulture, Green Bee-eater and Eastern Orphean Warbler. On our way back to Bandar Abbas, time permitting, we will visit Kuh-e-Genu, an isolated mountain rising to 2370 m and just 25 kilometres north of the town. The scenic winding road up the mountain takes us through a variety of vegetation zones to scattered junipers not far below the summit. Birds we will be looking for here include Red-rumped Swallow, Long-billed Pipit, the restricted-range Hume’s Wheatear, Blue Rock-thrush, Scrub and Upcher’s Warblers, Persian Nuthatch, Bay-backed Shrike and Striolated Bunting. We will then catch an evening flight to Tehran, where we will transfer to a nearby hotel for an overnight stay.
Day 5 This morning we will drive to Babolsar for a special visit to some small ponds by the Caspian Sea, where we should see Black-headed Penduline-tit as well as Great Reed-warbler and Moustached Warbler. We will then drive on to Sari for a two-night stay.
Day 6 Our first destination this morning is Zagmarz Lagoon, where we will look for migrating waders. We will then spend the rest of the day birding the protected wildlife refuge and biosphere reserve of Miankaleh and Gorgan Bay. Gorgan Bay is a large, shallow, brackish inlet at the extreme south-east corner of the Caspian Sea, almost totally cut off from the open sea by the Miankaleh Peninsula. On a good day it is possible to see almost 100 species here, and we can expect to see Great Crested, Eared and Little Grebes, Greater Flamingo, Squacco Heron, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Black-winged Stilt, Northern Lapwing, Pallas’s and Slender-billed Gulls and Whiskered, White-winged and Sandwich Terns. With luck we may also pick out a Black Francolin in the wild pomegranate forest or in the grasslands, and maybe a lingering White-tailed Eagle.
Day 7 We will leave early this morning to drive to the Parvar protected area via the Alborz mountain range. We will stop en route to bird in the mountainous habitats along the road, especially in the high-elevation regions. Birds we will look for in this area include a good variety of high mountain, alpine and juniper forest species like Saker Falcon, Caspian Snowcock, Finsch’s and Red-tailed (Kurdish) Wheatears, Alpine and Radde’s Accentors, European Stonechat, Mistle Thrush, White-throated Robin, Rufous-backed Redstart, Green and Plain Leaf Warblers, Fire-fronted Serin, Rock Bunting, Mongolian Finch and maybe even a White-winged Grosbeak. Other species we may encounter here include Eurasian Griffon, Water Pipit, Alpine Swift, Golden Eagle, See-see Partridge, Chukar and Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush. Late in the afternoon we will drive on to Semnan for a two-night stay.
Day 8 We will continue our exploration of the Parvar Valley today by making another early start and heading for the areas of Molla-Deh and Roodbarak on the northern slopes. This area consists mainly of Caspian broad-leaf forest and is therefore an ideal spot to look for the semi-endemic Caspian Tit. We should also see Eurasian Hobby, Wood Lark, Common Redstart, White-winged Snowfinch, Common Rosefinch, Long-tailed Tit, Spotted Flycatcher, Eurasian Linnet, Black-headed and Corn Buntings, Crimson-winged Finch, Yellow-billed and Red-billed Choughs, Lesser Kestrel and Isabelline Wheatear, and we may be lucky enough to spot a European Honey-buzzard or a Lesser Spotted Eagle.
Day 9 This morning we will drive to Touran National Park via Shahroud city, where we will stay for the next two nights in local houses. The varied habitat within Touran covers steppe, semi-arid deserts and mountains, with Artemisia and Artemisia–Zygophyllum steppes in the north, prime habitat for the endemic Iranian Ground-jay and the rare Asian Desert Warbler. Other birds we can expect include Cream-coloured Courser, Black-bellied and Crowned Sandgrouse, Bar-tailed, Crested and Desert Larks, Oriental Skylark, Rock Martin, Desert Wheatear, Mountain Chiffchaff, Sykes’s Warbler, Lesser and Southern Grey Shrikes, Desert and Trumpeter Finches and Pale Rockfinch.
Day 10 A second day spent in Touran will give us the opportunity to catch up on any species we may have missed yesterday. We will also be on the lookout for Steppe Eagle, Pallid Harrier and Macqueen’s Bustard together with any lingering smaller migrant species, which could include Citrine Wagtail, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Eurasian Golden Oriole. Non-avian highlights today may include sightings of the rare Onager (also known as the Asiatic Wild Ass) and maybe even signs of Asiatic Cheetah, of which fewer than 100 remain in Iran’s deserts.
Day 11 We will have another opportunity to do some early morning birding in the areas surrounding Touran before we have to set off on the long drive back to Tehran, where we will stay overnight.
Day 12 This morning we will transfer to Mehrabad Airport to catch our morning flight to Ahvaz, our base for the next three nights. After some time to freshen up, we will drive northward to bird some marshland near to the Karkheh River, where among the birds we may see are White Stork, Wood and Marsh Sandpipers, Little Tern, Pied Kingfisher, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Spanish Sparrow and the endangered Marbled Teal.
Day 13 We will spend the day birding the area around the Karkheh and Dez rivers which rise from the Zagros Mountains to the north. Most of the area is a treeless desert but there is a dense ribbon of riverine woodland alongside the rivers which, since the 1960s, has protected this critically-endangered habitat. This area gives us good chances of seeing Iraq Babbler, the enigmatic Hypocolius and the Mesopotamian subspecies of Hooded Crow, considered a full species by some authorities, as well as Woodchat Shrike and Ménétries’s Warbler. Other birds we can expect to see here include Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, European Turtle-dove, Egyptian and Eurasian Nightjars, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Common Nightingale, Dead Sea Sparrow and the African form of Sacred Ibis. Whilst in this area we will also pay a brief visit to the nearby Chogha Zanbil ziggurat, a stepped pyramid-style complex dating back to the 13th-century BC.
Day 14 Our destination today will be Houre Bamdej, a large permanent freshwater marsh. Here, our primary target species will be the range-restricted Basra Reed-warbler, but we will also have plenty of other species to look at, as the marshlands are a stop-over point for Red-necked Phalarope, White-tailed Lapwing, Collared Pratincole, Red-throated Pipit and other waders and waterfowl.
Day 15 Early this morning we will catch a flight to Tehran, where we will connect with our return flight to London.
General Information The climate will vary from cold at altitude to hot and sunny elsewhere. Some rain is possible. Please note that no alcohol will be available during this tour. There are some dress code requirements: men may wear short-sleeved shirts/T-shirts if they wish but should not wear shorts; women should cover their heads with a headscarf and cover their arms and legs. There are special health requirements, which should be referred to your GP. Visas are required. It is also possible to arrange a cultural extension for anyone wishing to explore Iran’s historical sites further; please contact the Birdfinders office for further details.
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 10 with 2 leaders.