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Return to Armenia, Sept 2019 (1 Viewer)

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
17 and 18 September

(As I suspected, the Stonechats we saw were normal European ones, expanding their range further east it seems.)

Best laid plans and all that, my ideas of an early morning exploration of Goris’ town parks were scuppered as I couldn’t get out of the well-secured hotel courtyard!
So we pointed the Niva southwards from Goris on the twisty main road to Kapan, Meghri and Iran, progress was slow with the steep inclines and hairpin bends down into and then out of the deep Vorotan Gorge which made driving hard work (mind you, it’s worse for the Iranian lorry drivers with their heavy loads). Still the slow speeds and occasional water stops enabled us to see or hear a few passerines, including our first Chaffinch, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Sombre Tit, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat. We had a great view of two Egyptian Vulture wheeling over the gorge, an adult and a young bird and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was another addition.
At Kapan you have a choice of roads south, we chose the newer more easterly one which the lorries all avoid, it is a good road with gentler gradients than the old one, but has no petrol stations or towns/large villages which I assume is the reason they don’t use it. It passes through beautiful scenery that becomes more mineral as the road descends into the Arax valley, the river forms the frontier with Iran and perched on the barbed wire was a Roller (awaiting its visa perhaps) and a Chukar scuttled across the road in front of us. Around the B & B Haer where we were to stay we saw three Turtle Dove. I found a Spotted Flycatcher in the nearby cemetery and overhead picked out Blue-cheeked Bee Eaters calling as well as the more regular European ones. A light form Booted Eagle drifted across to the Iranian mountains. Meghri is renowned for its figs, almost every house with a garden or orchard had racks of figs drying outside in the shade and there were trees with ripe pomegranate fruit looking like red baubles on a Christmas tree. Our amazing host Marietta greeted us with tea and all sorts of fruit upon our mid-afternoon arrival and the evening meal was excellent.
Through Karen Aghababyan our Armenian Bird Council contact we had arranged to have a guided half day in the Arevik National Park, an area normally out of bounds without escort. Among the rare species in the park is Caucasian Leopard, the tiny population hanging on thanks to the efforts of the dedicated rangers.
Despite the scheduled 6am pick up Marietta provided us with breakfast (and hopefully went back to bed afterwards!). The Park ranger ‘Haro’ was a big guy with a big smile, dressed in army fatigues but he only spoke Armenian and Russian which made communication tricky (I suspect Karen had asked for one of the Park’s staff that speaks some English but there had been an availability problem). The area we visited was certainly off the beaten track (or any track for that matter) and birding tricky with all the bumping about. As the 4WD started climbing a group of four or five Black Francolin crossed the track and further up some of the usual high altitude species were seen, such as Red-billed Chough and Water Pipit ssp coutellii (one a very smart example with almost rusty flanks). The highlights, though distant (typically for this difficult to approach species) were two or perhaps three Caspian Snowcock, one having a dawn preen on a rock and later two having a bit of a chase round the ridge. It was pretty chilly so when Haro said “Tea” we didn’t say no! But instead of producing a flask from inside the vehicle it was back down the track to a little farm where we were treated like royalty by the couple and their friend from the only village in the whole area it seemed. More Stonechat, Red-backed Shrike, Black Redstart and Sombre Tit were seen as we regained the valley, passing a working gold mine just outside Meghri (no free samples available though). On reflection I think we should have asked to stay longer up on the mountain (we’d put on our walking boots for nothing it turned out!) and would surely have seen more than we did, but the overall experience, especially visiting the farm was one to remember.
All this meant we were back at the digs by 11 instead of the 2pm I had imagined, so after a quick wash and brush up (and change into ‘summer plumage’ clothes as it was warming up now) we crossed the centre of Meghri and turned up to the fairly open wadi just beyond the Primary School.
As soon as we got out of the car we saw what I presumed was a Persian Wheatear fly off! A few minutes of panic ensued until we relocated it and were able to watch it chasing a second one. A couple of Upcher’s Warbler were flicking and fluttering as they do and a cracking male Finsch’s Wheatear showed briefly. Both Western and Eastern Rock Nuthatch were present as was Sombre Tit and Chukar. A strange call was coming from the mountains flanking the wadi, I would describe the sound as half donkey, half bird!
We then pootled down to the Arax and passed a very pleasant hour eating crisps and drinking beer (in my case anyway) on a shaded pontoon floating in Meghri Pond, complete with feral ducks quacking away. Try as I might I couldn’t find any Crakes or Citrine Wagtail on the water’s edge, just Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe and White Wagtail. A lost-looking Woodpigeon flew over and an Isabelline Wheatear was on the border fence.
Photos of Lammergeier from earlier, Stonechat rubicola and Persian Wheatear
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Some quality birds there - I never knew Black Francolin got that far west.

Cheers
Mike

Thanks Mike and Chris,

In fact Armenia is further east than several countries where the Black Francolin is found, eg Syria, Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Cyprus. Apparently Yerevan is on the same latitude as Baghdad!
Cheers
Richard
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
A few photos: winding down to the southernmost part of Armenia; looking into Iran across the Arax; Iranian lorry
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Spectacular scenery Richard!

Chris

Yes indeed, and the roads were much improved since last year!

19 September

Today was to be our longest drive, from Meghri by the Iranian border all the way to near Khor Virap just 45 minutes from Yerevan. I managed a bit of birding before breakfast, an obliging Tree Sparrow in the B&B’s garden and a 1st year Syrian Woodpecker the best birds. We were on the road for around nine hours, so my notes written up at the end of the day don’t do justice to the spectacular scenery we passed through and most birds were glimpsed from the moving car. Two new birds of prey species were added, a Goshawk circling around near a Steppe Buzzard (good for size comparison!) and a nice male Honey Buzzard at one brief stop. More Griffon Vultures and Lesser Spotted Eagles were noted, a Semi-collared Flycatcher in practically the same place as the one we saw on our way down to Meghri, more Black Redstart, Northern Wheatear and Red-billed Chough and two Trumpeter Finches and two Corn Buntings were additions to the trip list as we approached Vedi. The sun was just about setting when we located the village where the B&B I had booked for two nights on line was located –supposedly! I had memorised the location from Google Earth and the Booking.com site (four roads after the Winery etc etc) but the people at the house shrugged their shoulders and suggested there was no such establishment there........ We were extremely frazzled by now and darkness was falling so I drove onto the motorway in the direction of Yerevan, vaguely remembering that a trip report on Cloudbirders mentioned a roadside hotel in that area. We found it and booked ourselves in and ate the pie and pastries we’d bought en route for our supper. It was a strange place, we saw just one other guest and just two cars when we arrived and loud music blared in the garden until midnight! :C Finally getting to sleep I was awoken at 2am by a couple arriving with a bang in the next bedroom who promptly started playing their own sound system. Even when it eventually stopped the lady spent the rest of the night coughing!
Even before the middle of the night disturbance we made an executive decision and decided not to try and locate the B&B in the morning. My idea had been to spend that day in the wadis and desert habitats around Vedi but we had seen some cracking birds already and the idea of wallowing in a bit of luxury in Yerevan for an extra night was too tempting (yes, I am a bit of a lightweight as a birder I admit it, especially now I’m past the first flush of youth (and the second, third etc…;)). A quick call to the hotel in Yerevan and another to Europcar re. returning the car a day early and all was sorted.
Photos: Steppe Buzzard, Black Redstart ssp ochruros and Northern Wheatear
 

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rollingthunder

Well-known member
Great stuff - the garden disco would have been ‘terminated with extreme prejudice’ likewise the couple arriving:C Sleep is important and non-birders need to be made aware of that fact;)

Laurie:t:
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
20 September

Leaving the ‘Hotel California’ with its foam fountain (!) early in the morning we nipped back down the motorway a few kms to do the last birding of the holiday around Khor Virap. The site is one of Armenia’s most-visited, not only a group of ancient buildings where St Gregory the Illuminator had been imprisoned by King Tiridat way back in the 3rd Century, but its raised position gives the best, and closest views of Mount Ararat whilst still remaining in Armenia. So it’s also the most photographed site! A young Red-backed Shrike photobombed our classic image of Khor Virap with Ararat and Little Ararat in the background. We turned off the approach road down a muddy (well, dusty) track and parked up at the edge of a massive reedbed. As we’d found earlier in the trip at Masis, reeds have grown pretty high by September so once again seeing any open water was a challenge. Still it was quite birdy and we clocked up a nice selection of species including five ‘new’ ones in the wetland and surrounding fields: Marsh Harrier, Pygmy Cormorant, Armenian Gull, Water Rail, Coot, Moorhen, Collared Dove, Rock Dove, male Black-headed Wagtail, Common Redstart, Ménétries’, Paddyfield and Reed Warbler, Penduline Tit, Bearded Reedling, loads of Red-backed Shrike 1st years, Common Starling, Hooded Crow, Magpie, Rook, Jackdaw and Tree Sparrow. The Khor Virap car park was already heaving (Ararat is best viewed in the morning before cloud hides its snowy summit so tour buses start their days there it seems) and the young man selling (very nice ) coffee was keen to discuss the merits of Chris Rea’s music with me :eek!: We walked up onto the dry hillsides overlooking the reeds and found a weary Northern Wheatear warming itself up in the sun.
We stopped near the refuse dump at Masis on our way to the airport to drop off the faithful Lada Niva, still plenty of White Storks, Armenian Gulls and a few Black Kites, but no Steppe Eagles (well, I tried :C..).
Photos: The Persian Wheatear spot at Meghri (note the author in summer plumage;)); 'Mixed bag' on Aragats; Rock Doves at K Virap, photobombing RBS in our postcard shot of Mt Ararat and Khor Virap.
 

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Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
I thought you can book out any time you like but you can never leave? 3:)

John

Ha ha, well, to continue the Eagles theme we wanted 'A Peaceful Easy Feeling' so we were 'Already Gone' before the guards, err, reception had arrived for the morning:t:
To wrap up:
21 and 22 September

An increase in cafés, restaurants and children’s fairground style attractions in Yerevan’s central ‘Green belt’ has reduced the greenery in the city’s parks over the last few years, Victory Park on the northern side that we visited in May 2018 is probably the best for bird species variety, but this time we contented ourselves with visiting museums, the market and the smaller more central parks during our last two days. Stock Dove and Greenfinch were added to the trip list and it was interesting to see Crag Martin and Syrian Woodpecker as city centre birds. The 10 days went too quickly and there’s still a lot of Armenia we haven’t seen, so who knows, maybe I’ll be writing a third report in the next couple of years..............
A few final Armenian atmosphere shots to finish.
 

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Scridifer

Registered User
Supporter
Bulgaria
A thoroughly enjoyable report from what looks like a very interesting country! Many thanks for taking the time to write it Richard!

Chris
 

Richard Prior

Halfway up an Alp
Europe
Thanks Chris, maybe the Armenian Ministry of Tourism will pay me as a ‘consultant’.
Forgot to mention, the overhead pipes you see in the Meghri photo are a real feature in the country, it’s gas, with the region being so prone to having earthquakes it’s more practical not to bury them underground!
 

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