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Georgia / Armenia April/May 2022 (1 Viewer)

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
I've just had a very enjoyable trip to Georgia and Armenia, joining DMW and his friend Phil in the mountains Georgia which they had already planned, then adding a brief two days in the Georgian steppe prior and a few days in Armenia after. There's plenty of gen out there for these sites but I wrote up a bit of up to date info with some GPS coordinates and details on where to scan for Snowcocks and the like. Also, I have detailed how to arrange a 4WD and where to go to on Mt Gndasar for Caspian Snowcock, and how to arrange access to Armash Fishponds. It's short and to the point if anyone is interested: https://www.cloudbirders.com/be/download?filename=BECK_GeorgiaArmenia_0405_2022.pdf

The key bits about Gndasar and Armash I'll reproduce here so that the information is more readily findable!

To arrange a visit to Mt Gndasar, contact Arpa Protected Landscape via Facebook. They responded quickly in English, thankfully. I was able to arrange a 4WD to take me up to scan for Caspian Snowcock (my rented 4WD Renault Duster would NOT have made it up) for 35000 AMD (about US $75). Two rangers / Arpa employees picked me up from my guesthouse (Areni Wine Cellar - nice place, got an early breakfast, recommended) at 5:45 and we set off for about 1:15 of driving. Eventually we arrived to nearly 39.8396, 45.1689 before the 4WD truck could not get up the last 100-200m of grassy slopes to crest the last hill, so we walked the last 400-500m to a good grassy ridge to scan the rocky peak in front from. (The tracks up the mountain are present in Open Street Maps data, I use the Maps.Me application when travelling to access Open Street Maps which is an excellent alternative to Google, particularly for trails and dirt tracks.) We heard Snowcock all morning but it took three of us scanning for hours to find a single extremely distant Caspian Snowcock (2+ km but ok looks all things considered with a decent scope and the cold / still morning air). We never could find birds that were clearly calling from closer, frustratingly. While scanning though I saw stacks of Bezoar Ibex including some terrific males, but much more exciting was multiple sightings of at least four Brown Bears including a mother with two mostly grown cubs. A few raptors passed over, a few Fire-fronted Serin were flying about, we were serenaded by Wood Lark all the while, but the birding around the area were were scanning from was not terribly exciting beyond the Snowcock and mammals.

To arrange a visit to Armash Fishponds, contact Karen Aghababyan (note that Karen is a man’s name in Armenia) on +374 95 544405. He doesn’t use WhatsApp so you’ll need to call or text but he speaks good English and was very responsive and helpful, I really appreciated his assistance. He will coordinate your visit. You will need to make a photocopy of your passport(s) to give to the gate guards upon arrival, then you will need to somehow pay Karen 5000AMD (about $10 EU / 11 USD) per person. I tried to cross paths with him in Yerevan on my way back to town / the airport but he was stuck in traffic so I left it for him at a hotel reception, I hope he got it without any problems. I stayed at B&B Sunrise House Aygavan in the town of Ararat. It was dusty, smelled of cigarette smoke (the hosts smoked inside while I was there, unfortunately), the bed not terribly comfortable, and the dinner was really salty and mediocre. Breakfast was better but basic. For all this it was the most expensive guesthouse / meals I had in either Georgia or Armenia, so I would fairly strongly recommend against this guesthouse. There aren’t many places to stay down there but an extra 20 minutes drive in the morning for a decent place to stay would be a good tradeoff!

Hope this helps if anyone is planning an independent visit in the future, cheers :)
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
Superb, has inspired me to pay a visit, thinking of summer butterflies as well as birds 👍

Other than the poor track, are you allowed to visit Arpa without the guides?
 

jogresh

Bimble and patch
Superb, has inspired me to pay a visit, thinking of summer butterflies as well as birds 👍

Other than the poor track, are you allowed to visit Arpa without the guides?
Yes, some friends of mine did at Gndasar. Iirc, they were wild camping, got invited into someones house, and fed and vodka'd and stayed the night.
Great place to visit - vast open spaces, rolling mountains stretching on forever, traditional Yazidi nomads following the snowline up into them. Russian oligarchs in shell suits lounging around hotels in crumbling spa resorts.
Friendly people, no crime.
 

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
As Jogresh said, yes I believe it should be no problem and have heard of others doing the same. It might be 9-10-12 kms from where a typical rental car can get to up to where you would want to scan for Snowcock from. Maybe 600-800m elevation gain, hiking dirt roads that are likely to be muddy. I would have done exactly this if I had not been able to arrange the 4WD. As it was, I felt the 4WD price was fair and it went to a good cause and worked out much more efficiently on what was ultimately a quite short trip.
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
I fully agree with your last sentence, Armenia is a particularly poor corner of Europe and I would worry that without the paying visitors there would be cuts in the rangers’ numbers, they do a good job protecting the environment and deterring rogue hunters, it makes a contrast with neighbouring Azerbijan where on the Internet you can find hunting trips to kill Bezoar Ibex etc. Like Jos and many others I prefer to find my own birds but in Armenia we made an exception and did as PBJosh did.

PS. The border fence at Armash is with Turkey, so still high security but at least no risk of sniper fire coming from outside Armenia.
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
Like Jos and many others I prefer to find my own birds but in Armenia we made an exception and did as PBJosh did.
My question was more for thinking about a butterfly trip ... probably the hike up is better for butterflies than the top. Now debating a trip in early July, should be peak for butterflies, but probably lousy for seeing the snowcocks, thus my interest would be the walk up 👍

That said, if arrangeable, I might do a hike one day and organise a trip up on another.
 

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
I fully agree with your last sentence, Armenia is a particularly poor corner of Europe and I would worry that without the paying visitors there would be cuts in the rangers’ numbers, they do a good job protecting the environment and deterring rogue hunters, it makes a contrast with neighbouring Azerbijan where on the Internet you can find hunting trips to kill Bezoar Ibex etc. Like Jos and many others I prefer to find my own birds but in Armenia we made an exception and did as PBJosh did.

PS. The border fence at Armash is with Turkey, so still high security but at least no risk of sniper fire coming from outside Armenia.

I generally prefer to find my own birds as well, but have no qualms employing local drivers / trail guides / etc from time to time as appropriate. It felt pretty appropriate here, and I managed to get up the mountain, see the Snowcock, and back down for lunch which was handy for continuing on and seeing more sites / birds that day.

As far as border fences, you're near both Turkey and Azerbaijan (Nakhchivan I guess technically). The fence I referenced is at 39.7428, 44.7791 and runs southwest to northeast, effectively prohibiting driving closer to what would eventually be the Azerbaijan/Nakhchivan border. There are probably fences in the complex closer to the Turkish border as well, I should think, but I didn't get around the far W / SW side of any of the ponds so I never found out.
 

DMW

Well-known member
Throughly enjoyed our time in Georgia with Josh and not at all envious of his bears in Armenia. I knew we shouldn't have let him out of sight. At least I can console myself with Ötzi, the freshly defrosted Snow Vole at the pass.
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
My question was more for thinking about a butterfly trip ... probably the hike up is better for butterflies than the top. Now debating a trip in early July, should be peak for butterflies, but probably lousy for seeing the snowcocks, thus my interest would be the walk up 👍

That said, if arrangeable, I might do a hike one day and organise a trip up on another.
It’s probably a bit late too ask (as we leave for Armenia again fairly soon), but is there a decent butterflies field guide for this region Jos?
Otherwise we‘ll just have to bombard you with photos !
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
It’s probably a bit late too ask (as we leave for Armenia again fairly soon), but is there a decent butterflies field guide for this region Jos?
Otherwise we‘ll just have to bombard you with photos !
Yes there is a guide, but a very expensive book (UKP 130-160) and, to my eye, not very user friendly - images look cramped, text not designed to aid id, no English names.


I have not bought it, and will not.
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Yes, but a very expensive book (UKP 130-160) and, to my eye, not very user friendly - images look cramped, text not designed to aid id, no English names.


I have not bought it, and will not.
Quite right too, I like a challenge after all😬
 

Jos Stratford

Eastern Exile
Europe
But there is a very nice website that has a full species list - click on each link and there is English name, at least one photo of each species and comments on distribution etc.


This should be enough to point you almost to the species, probably need to do more online checking for harder groups such as skippers, etc

Good section on same website with localities
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
But there is a very nice website that has a full species list - click on each link and there is English name, at least one photo of each species and comments on distribution etc.


This should be enough to point you almost to the species, probably need to do more online checking for harder groups such as skippers, etc

Good section on same website with localities
Brilliant, thanks Jos.
 

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