armtrip2

TRIP REPORTS - ARMENIA

ARMENIA 04 - 10 July 1998

Together with my wife I spent a week in this former Sovjet-state of Europe and Middle East on the invitation of a friend of hers. This was not a birdwatching trip but I nevertheless tried to find some species. We stayed at their house in the outskirts of the capital Yerevan. Most of our excursions were made with at least one member of the family in their car. "Having a car, why would you walk?" seems to be a common idea there and walking with binoculars on the lookout for birds is even less of a thought in this country. Therefore it was not easy to take the time to observe together with our hosts, although on one occasion we got them watching through our binoculars at the rollers, bee-eaters and pygmy cormorants. Because of high speed driving and the fact that an Armenian driver doesn’t understand nor react to the word "stop" - it needed to be translated by the available interpreter and the Armenian equivalent is an extremely long word which I didn’t manage to remember - roadside observations generally proved to be difficult.

04/07/1998 - Yerevan
Having installed ourselves and after some resting we visit the "Vernissage", a open market in town. Very few birds occur in the surroundings: Black-billed Magpie, House Sparrow and 1 Carrion (Hooded) Crow. Above the town there are Common Swifts everywere and in inmense numbers. The temperature is high (30-35° C) and sweaty in the evening.

05/07/1998 - Yerevan - Sevan - Geghard
In the morning around the house again lots of House Sparrows and Magpies. I hear a unknown sound which I strongly believe is the Laughing Dove, but at this moment I fail to see it. Later observations here and elsewhere in the capital prove this to be correct.
Together with our hosts we drive to Lake Sevan (one of the big altitude lakes in the world, altitude 1897 m, 1256 square km), at about 50 km from Yerevan. A highway leads to this tourist resort. Apparently it must have known better days in earlier (Sovjet) times. Along the road you find little shops; sheep are being sold and slaughtered on the spot. Once getting nearer to the lake Armenian Gulls seem to be attracted by this. At the lake, on a peninsula, two old churches (now being restaured) have their Black Redstart. Here we can observe the Armenian Gulls better. On a somewhat higher return road we find Red-backed Shrike, Common Whitethroat, Tree Pipit, Carrion Crow and Eurasian Jackdaw.

Tsaghkadzor is a former training resort for the Sovjet olympic teams with swimming pool, sports center and apartments, situated in a nice wooded environment. While our host meets a friend, we make a little walk. The site seems a place for a sunday out with pick-nick places and restaurants. In that short time we find Chaffinch, Great Tit, White Wagtail, Common Chiffchaff, and we see Common Redstart feeding it’s young.
Returning, in a small marsh near the river at Hradzan village we hear Cetti’s Warbler from the car.
The surroundings of the monastery of Geghard (13th century) are very beautifull, as is the monastery itself. Common Swifts fly by as do Crag Martins. The river has its Grey Wagtail. Male dragonflies Aeshna mixta rest in the shadow of a wall full of katchkars (stone-crosses, a unique and nice art form from this country), some females are flying from which I manage to catch one, much to the astonishment of our hosts.
Driving back to Yerevan I identify the first but unmistakeble Black-headed Bunting from the car and near Geghadir we find a Hoopoe disappearing with food into an old barn, Common Kestrel, European Roller, and a flock of Rosy Starlings.

06/07/1998 - Yerevan city
On ourselves we visit the town of Yerevan. At the Republican square the National museum proves home to an important number of Crag Martins. In general very few birds seem to live in the town itself.
Through the center of town passes the quite impressive Hrazdan River Gorge: there I hear the calls of Western Rock Nuthatch and the river seems to be rather rich in dragonflies. I manage to identify Epallage fatime, Calopteryx splendens and Platycnemis pennipes. More species are present but the people swimming and picknicking here want to talk to us, want us to take pictures, invite us to share a drink. Someone insists on driving us back to town center. The "overwhelming hospitality" (someone had warned me...) makes it difficult to study and photograph the animals quietly. Further away along the river lies a park with more interesting species, but we don’t manage to get there. Anyway the weather is hot !

07/07/1998 - Ararat valley - Armash Fish Ponds
We had been advised about the Armash Fish Ponds as being one of the ornitological highlights of the country. Our host told us he would take us there. Arriving at the Cognac factory in Ararat village we meet a guide - a local hunter - through the aid of a friend of our host.
White storks are present in Ararat, with nest from this city southwards to Armash. The waiting for our guide in the village of Ararat gives us: Lesser Grey Schrike (a couple with food for young), Hoopoe, Crested Lark, House Martin, Barn Swallow, Goldfinch, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and of course numerous Crow, Magpies, House Sparrows and the ever present Common Swifts.

The Armash Fish Ponds consist of a number of great rectangular ponds surrounded by more or less extensive reed beds, and are the home of hundreds of Pygmy Cormorants. Arriving we soon start seeing them  flying over. Spectacular are also the groups of Night Herons, 2 Glossy Ibis, and an Osprey on a pole close. Great numbers of White-winged Black Terns fly together with lesser numbers of Whiskered Terns. Frequently we observe Little Bittern flying by and even one Great Bittern. 4 Squacco Herons chase from the edge of a reed bed and Red-crested Pochard has young. We also see Common Pochard but the common duck is Mallard. Furthermore we get: 1 Grey Heron, much Purple Heron, a lot of Little Egret and a small number of Cattle Egret, White Storks, Moorhen and Common Coot with chicks, 1 Gull-billed Tern, 1 Common Sandpiper, Common Kingfisher and Reed Warbler. In the fields around we also note Common Quail, Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, and European Roller. We get our Armenian friends really liking the birdwatching with these last two colourfull species.

08/07/1998 - Mount Aragats - Garni
At 06.00 (it is still dark) we leave with our guide Vasil Ananian and the driver Ashok in his black Volga for a trip up to Mount Aragats. Leaving Yerevan and going up on the road to Lake Kari we get splendid views of>Mount Ararat (5165 m) in the morning light. The old volcano lies in Turkey but the best views are from the Armenian side, the cone rising from the plain on this side. As roadsigns are completely absent it’s as well not to have to drive yourself. Even our driver from time to time has to ask for the direction …

Still relatively low, in Ashtarak we find Bimaculated Lark and Black-headed Bunting,the latter a common species here. A wooded area lets us hear Common Cuckoo and where the scenery gets more open we watch our first and only Lesser Spotted Eagle.
Closer to Amberd Castle ruins (11-13th century) the scenery gets amazingly beautifull. Just before the castle we stop at a valley where we hope to see Radde’s Accentor. The species nests in the here common dwarf Juniperus but it takes us a long time before we hear one singing and find it. In a similiar habitat (small scrubs) Vasil shows me a female White-throated Robin. Further away in the neighbourhood we find both Blue and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush.
On the ruins sings a Black Redstart; observing it we see a spectacularly coloured bird: the semirufus or samamiscus as illustrated in Lars Jonsson. In the old church (11th century) Rock Sparrows nest.
Going higher we find Bluethroat (with a complete blue throat), Twite, very commonly Horned Lark in its breeding habitat and regularly Northern Wheatear.

The road ends at Lake Kari at the foot of the Mount Aragats (4090 m). We make a small walk.
Black Redstart (more like the West-European forms - so very different from the specimen at Amberd) is common in its original habitat as is Alpine Accentor. A flock of Snowfinch is the most interesting observation. Some Common Raven fly over.
Once down in the valley again, being rather early in the afternoon, we decide to go to Garni (also wanting to see the Hellenistic temple, 1st century AD).
Heading for it in Hatsavan Vassil shows me Isabelline Wheatear and we also watch Lesser Grey Shrike. In this steppe area we also watch Black-eared Wheatear (coloured much lighter here than in Spain) and some Common Buzzards. A Little Owl here is the only species of his family we observe during the whole trip..
Garni is very beautifully situated. From the temple you have a splendid view. A raptor is soaring at a great distance and Vasil learns me why he is sure it is a Long-legged Buzzard. Near the temple remains a Western Rock Nuthatch lets us watch it from very close. The surroundings are rich in water, so I hope to find some dragonflies down by the river, but very few are present (because of temperature, season … ??). The volcanic scenery with basalt walls is spectacular and we see lots of House Martin, 1 Sand Martin, some Alpine Swift and a Syrian Woodpecker. Golden Oriole is heard and a White-throated Dipper flies over the water.
On the dragonfly side I see flying by what I suppose to be Pantala flavescens. I’ve never before seen this species but this XXL Sympetrum-type with broad hindwings (in a soaring flight) leaves me with no other option.

09/07/1998 - Ecmiadzin - Sargarapat - Zvartnots
A cultural day bringt us first to Ecmiadzin (the "Vatican" of Armenia); then to Sargarapat, a momument and historical museum worth a visit. In the newly arranged gardens around we find Tree Sparrow, and a warbler which might be Orphean warbler but I'm not sure. In the surrounding fields White Storks, Hoopoe and lots of House Sparrows.
The ruins of Zvartnots (7th century, destroyed by an earthquake in 10th century) are the vestiges of an ancient cathedral which must have been very impressive in its era. In the hot afternoon we only see Tree Sparrow and Hoopoe.

Conclusions
We saw 96 species of which 18 were lifers to me. The most common and numerous species were Common Swift and House Sparrow, both present everywhere and in great numbers. We saw very few raptors; even our one-day guide Vasil didn’t understand. Generally birds seem to hide from the heat, so only in the higher and/or cooler places you find more important numbers of active birds. The trip up to Aragats was well worth it - it takes you through all the altitude zones; Armash Fish Ponds proved to be a must and Geghard and Garni deserve it to be explored not only for ornitological but also for cultural reasons.
The population is very friendly, generally open-minded and orientated at the West. So visiting this country should not be to much of a problem for the adventurous-hearted. You’ll meet only very few "Western" tourists in this country.

Bird book
A Field Guide to Birds of Armenia by Martin Adamian and Daniel Klem. 1997. ISBN 0-9657429-1-1. Well-illustrated and with distribution maps for every species.

Guides
Anyone wanting to visit this country can contact Levan Janoian at Birds of Armenia Project of the American University of Armenia. He can provide you with a guide. tel (3742)27.45.32 - 53.69.10 (home) - fax (3742)15.14.13 - e-mail: ljanoian@aua.am

General information
Printed travel guides are (up to my knowledge) non-existing, but there is a well-designed Website with tourist information http://www.arminco.com/tourarmenia/ . There you can also order the more complete guide on CD-ROM, worth its value.

Map
A traveller’s reference map of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Although it gives a good overview of the country and the major roads and it may be the most beautifull map of the country available, it's not accurate for self-drive of biking. Scale 1:650.000. ISBN 0 921463 03 0. ITM-map, http://www.nas.com/travelmaps

List of observed species

Little Grebe

Tachybaptus ruficollis

Great Crested Grebe

Podiceps cristatus

Pygmy Cormorant

Phalacrocorax pygmeus

Great Bittern

Botaurus stellaris

Little Bittern

Ixobrychus minutus

Night Heron (black crowned -)

Nycticorax nycticorax

Squacco Heron

Ardeola ralloides

Cattle Egret

Bubulcus ibis

Little Egret

Egretta garzetta

Grey Heron

Ardea cinerea

Purple Heron

Ardea purpurea

White Stork

Ciconia ciconia

Glossy Ibis

Plegadis falcinellus

Mallard

Anas platyrhynchos

Red-crested Pochard

Netta rufina

Common Pochard

Aythya ferina

Common Buzzard

Buteo buteo

Long-legged Buzzard

Buteo rufinus

Lesser Spotted Eagle

Aquila pomarina

Osprey

Pandion haliaetus

Common Kestrel

Falco tinnunculus

Eurasian Hobby

Falco subbuteo

Common Quail

Coturnix coturnix

Moorhen

Gallinula chloropus

Common Coot

Fulica atra

Common Sandpiper

Actitis hypoleucos

Black-headed Gull

Larus ridibundus

Armenian Gull

Larus (cachinnans) armenicus

Gull-billed Tern

Gelochelidon nilotica

Whiskered Tern

Chlidonias hybridus

White-winged Black Tern

Chlidonias leucopterus

Wood Pigeon

Columba palumbus

Laughing Dove

Streptopelia senegalensis

Common Cuckoo

Cuculus canorus

Little Owl

Athene noctua

Common Swift

Apus apus

Alpine Swift

Apus melba

Common Kingfisher

Alcedo atthis

European Bee-eater

Merops apiaster

European Roller

Coracias garrulus

Hoopoe

Upupa epops

Syrian Woodpecker

Dendrocopos syriacus

Bimaculated Lark

Melanocorypha bimaculata

Crested Lark

Galerida cristata

Wood Lark

Lullula arborea

Sky Lark

Alauda arvensis

Horned Lark

Eremophila alpestris

Sand Martin

Riparia riparia

Crag Martin

Ptyonoprogne rupestris

Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

House Martin

Delichon urbica

Tree Pipit

Anthus trivialis

Grey Wagtail

Motacilla cinerea

White Wagtail

Motacilla alba

White-throated Dipper

Cinclus cinclus

Radde's Accentor (spot throated accentor)

Prunella ocularis

Alpine Accentor

Prunella collaris

Bluethroat

Luscinia svecica

White-throated Robin

Irania gutturalis

Black Redstart

Phoenicurus ochruros

Common Redstart

Phoenicurus phoenicurus

Isabelline Wheatear

Oenanthe isabellina

Northern Wheatear

Oenanthe oenanthe

Black-eared Wheatear

Oenanthe hispanica

Rock Thrush (rufous tailed rock thrush)

Monticola saxatilis

Blue Rock Thrush

Monticola solitarius

Ring Ouzel

Turdus torquatus

Blackbird

Turdus merula

Mistle Thrush

Turdus viscivorus

Cetti's Warbler

Cettia cetti

Reed Warbler

Acrocephalus scirpaceus

Common Whitethroated (greater whitethroat)

Sylvia communis

Common Chiffchaff

Phylloscopus collybita

Great Tit

Parus major

Western Rock Nuthatch (rock nuthatch)

Sitta neumayer

Golden Oriole

Oriolus oriolus

Red-backed Shrike

Lanius collurio

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lanius minor

Black-billed Magpie

Pica pica

Eurasian Jackdaw

Corvus monedula

Carrion Crow

Corvus corone

Common Raven

Corvus corax

Common Starling

Sturnus vulgaris

Rosy Starling

Sturnus roseus

House Sparrow

Passer domesticus

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Passer montanus

Rock Sparrow

Petronia petronia

Snowfinch (white winged -)

Montifringilla nivalis

Chaffinch

Fringilla coelebs

Goldfinch

Carduelis carduelis

Linnet

Carduelis cannabina

Twite

Carduelis flavirostris

Rock Bunting

Emberiza cia

Ortolan Bunting

Emberiza hortulana

Black-headed Bunting

Emberiza melanocephala

Corn Bunting

Miliaria calandra

Marc Tailly
Hoonakkerdreef 35
B-8791 Waregem (Belgium)