Baku, April 4, AZERTAC
Azerbaijan’s convenient size and dazzling diversity are a winning combination when it comes to birdwatching.
While anywhere can be a potential birdwatching site in Azerbaijan, there are a number of well-established places for birders around the country, which between them offer a wonderful range of high-alpine, wetlands, forest, steppe and semi-desert habitats populated by the full spectrum of Azerbaijani birdlife.
One of the exciting birdwatching spots which is home to exclusive bird species is the Talish Mountains, which cover large parts of Azerbaijan’s south-eastern corridor and straddle the border with Iran.
Lower down the climate is subtropical and much of the region is covered by the Hirkan Forest, an internationally significant refuge of tertiary relict flora including many endemic tree species and interspersed by creeks and rivers which is protected by the Hirkan National Park.
The most interesting species living here are the Caspian Tit, the very localised subspecies, poelzami, of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Shikra and in winter the Black-throated Thrush from Siberia, mostly found near the popular Tabassum restaurant on the road from Lankaran city to the hilltop town of Lerik. Here, in the hillside bushland and forest near the treeline, is the only place in Europe inhabited by the elusive Caspian Tit, which was only rediscovered by a British birder in 2017 after decades of going unsighted.
Similarly, the Shikra, another speciality to the region similar to a Eurasian Sparrowhawk, was spotted in 2008 for the first time since 1968, though today birdwatching groups have an excellent chance of seeing them in Masalli district.
Beyond Lerik a delightful country road passes through lush meadows en route to a dramatic canyon, after which it enters an expanse of semi-arid highland scattered with thorny bushes and small oases of luxuriant forest. Up here in the Zuvand highlands you may encounter species that are otherwise limited to Nakhchivan like White-throated Robin, Pale Rock Sparrow and Crimson-winged Finch.
Here late spring or late autumn, visitors can observe exclusive bird species not found elsewhere in Azerbaijan, such as follows: Black-throated Thrush (Turdus atrogularis), Caspian Tit (Poecile hyrcanus), Shikra (Accipiter badius), Semi-collared Flycatcher (Ficedula semitorquata), White-throated Robin (Irania gutturalis), Radde’s Accentor (Prunella ocularis), Asian Crimson-winged Finch (Rhodopechys sanguinea), Pale Rock Sparrow (Carpospiza brachydactyla), Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus), Gray-necked Bunting (Emberiza buchanani), Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Bimaculated Lark (Melanocorypha bimaculata), Eastern Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe melanoleuca) Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia).
Both shikras and Caspian tits are the main target species for birdwatching tourists that visit the Talish Mountains. This is the only place in Europe where both species occur and as knowledge about their current distribution has improved guided tours have almost a 100 per cent chance of satisfying birdwatchers.
The Shikras seem to arrive in late April so the best time to see them is May and June. That is a good time also for songbirds like flycatchers and warblers, and visiting the Zuvand highland.
Black-throated Thrush and spectacular snow-powdered scenery can be seen from mid-November until early March. The Caspian Tit seems to be present all year but is best seen in spring and late autumn.
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