zaterdag 18 mei 2013

Armenia: the last day

Today was our last day in Armenia: we were flying back to Paris tomorrow Sunday.

Gayanel, our guide for today had a special mission: she had to show us the Armenians, their culture and their history. And I must admit it: she succeeded with brilliance!

First we visited Vagharshapat, the head of the Holy spiritual centre of the Armenians, and the Saint Hripsime Church, both nearby Yerevan and then we went to the village of Garni where we visited a 1st-century AD temple.

The restaurant where we had lunch that noon was situated nearby the monastery of Geghard. After a typical meal - one as these we had already had every noon and evening! - we went by feet to the monastery. One has to see this! It is an amazing World Heritage Site from the 13th century where - during the visit - in a cave our guide song for us till we had goose bumps.

Back in the evening in Yerevan it was Museum Night and thus after dinner Jef and I went out to visit some exhibitions. We started in the Cafesjian Center where we visited 3 different floors and afterwards we also entered the Yervand Kochar Museum. Around midnight we were back in the hotel for a rather short night!

Conclusion after all I have seen this week: I love the Armenians, their country, their culture and history, the landscapes, the mountains, the valleys, the lakes, the woods ... I like the capital Yerevan but also Agarak.  One day I will go back to that beautiful country, not with a 500mm lens to photograph birds but with a good wide-angle lens to take pictures of the monasteries, the churches, the landscapes, the nature, the mountains and the lakes and most of all the Armenian people! Kisses to you all!

This last picture is taken at the Zvartnots Cathedral that we also visited today, by an unknown person with the camera of Guido. You can see from right to left: Harry, me, Hedy, René, Marc, Jef, Chris and Guido. We form a great team and I wish that next year we can once again experience a new adventure! Thanks to you all for the great compagny!

vrijdag 17 mei 2013

Armenia: Back in Yerevan and up in the mountains

Yesterday evening we arrived back in Yerevan in "our" Cascadehotel. So this morning we were once again walking on the place in front of the Cascade and the Cafesjian Center of Arts.

After breakfast we climbed in our little bus the curved and bad roads that lead up to the Mount Aragats. (4090m). At the first stop we saw the Isabelline Wheatear, the Ortolan Bunting, the whole family lark and more special a new species: the Bimaculated Lark!

Ortolan Bunting


Bimaculated Lark

We also saw some birds of prey but these disappear rather quickly in the upcoming mist. When we reached the snow border, the mist was very heavy, we only saw the road and then suddenly there they were: some Horned Larks were sitting on the road. It was the white version: the Eremophila alpestris penicillata or Southern Horned Lark!

Suddenly the sky was once again clear and René found a eagle sitting on a pole. Our specialists discusted a long time about the determination of this bird and in consensus they all agreed: it was a second year Imperial Eagle!

Imperial Eagle

 But once again the sky was covered and when it started to rain again we left the snow for a visit of an Armenian fortress located on the slopes of the Mount Aragats: Amberd. After a short visit we were invited in a small restaurant - if one can call it so - where we were served a delicious meal: a mediterranean stew of fresh trout!

In the afternoon we went to search for a Radde's Accentor, but it was only Mika who saw it. As it rained again we drove back to Yerevan. At a stop nearby a camp of Nomads we saw a group of Rock Sparrows. And a Long-legged Buzzard, one of the birds we saw every day, was photographed through the front window of the bus.

Long-legged Buzzard

Later that evening in an exclusive restaurant we said goodbye to Mika and Sam. Tomorrow an other guide will take us on a cultural trip. We now had counted 170 species!

(Please click on the images for a larger view!)

donderdag 16 mei 2013

Armenia: the Armash fishponds and more

Yesterday May 15, I did not take one picture! And we added only two new species to our list: a Hobby and a Rufous-tailed Wheatear. Yesterday morning, after a walk in Agarak we left this nice city for a long way (long in time not in distance!) back to the north. We stopped in the Karavget gorge where we found the Isabelline Wheatear and the Rufous-tailed Wheatear. It is the only place in Armenia where one can see this last one! We were lucky, we had Mika as guide! I tried to have this bird closer in my viewer but I could not take a picture: it was to nervous. Via a scenic road (57km in 1h25!) we arrived in Goris for lunch. The owners welcomed us (the second time we were there) with a well-known song in Belgium (Chicken Dance!). In the afternoon we visited in the rain Gndevanq, an Armenian monastery and we arrived at 7 PM in the Touristic Centre Lucy in Hermon. Our group still don't understand why we had to stay here overnight!

This morning we left this resort in Hermon for the fishponds of Armash. During a short stop we all photographed the Rosy Starlings! Hundreds of these birds were sitting in the trees along the road.

Rosy starlings

The ponds are laying nearby the Turkish/Armenian border and we had already a permission to visit this place. It are large ponds surrounded by reed fields. We walked between the old fishponds and had not eyes enough to see all those birds. A few pictures I took:

Bearded Reedling

Black-headed Wagtail

Blue-cheeked bee-eater

Glossy iris

Great Reed Warbler

Night heron

Purple Heron

Pygmy Cormorant

White-tailed Lapwing

Lesser short-toed Lark

The most spectacular - for us Belgian birders - was indeed the White-tailed Lapwing. Therefore an other picture of this bird, this time in flight:

White-tailed Lapwing

We had a wrap as lunch along this ponds so we hoped to stay there a little bit longer but we had to go. On the program was still for today a visit of the Vedi gorge. There we saw the Isabelline Wheatear, the Woodchat Shrike, the Eastern Black-eared Wheatear, the Booted Eagle, the Egyptian Vulture ... and last but not least a Grey-necked Bunting. This beautiful little bird was too far away to take a picture.

Isabelline Wheatear
Woodchat Shrike

In that gorge, I also could take a picture of our driver Andronic and of our "wonderful" guide Mika. My warmest greetings go to the both of them accompanied with a kiss for Mika!!



(Please click on the images for a larger view!)

dinsdag 14 mei 2013

Armenia: Gorges around Meghri

Early in the morning Jef and I made a 2 hours walk in the city of Agarak. In a little park nearby the hotel we listened to the song - if one can call it so - of a Hoopoe and a Golden Oriole. We saw a lot of Goldfinches and a Syrian Woodpecker.

After breakfast we went to explore different gorges, deep ravines in the hope to find some species we did not see yet. Mika leaded us with her GPS to the places where some birds may be ... And as always these were there: a Eastern Black-eared wheatear, a Eastern Rock Nuthatch, a Black-headed Bunting.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Eastern Rock Nuthatch

Black-headed Bunting

When we returned in the direction of Meghri, we stopped at a place along the road where a Levant Sparrowhawk was seen. While we looked out over the valley the hawk came sitting on a pole only 15m away from Mika. We were all very happy with this exceptional observation. For me it was once again a lifer!

After the lunch we visited another gorge where a dog was watching over 3 goats. The first bird we saw was a Finch's Wheatear ... I thought ... but I was told that it was another wheatear, an Eastern Black-eared Wheatear. We continued our way up and made a long walk.  We saw a Lesser Whitethroat, a Eastern Rock Nuthatch, a Green Warbler and we could add for the first time a Red-fronted Serin to our list.

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Red-fronted Serin

As we did yesterday, we added today 7 new species to our list: the total was now 149!

(Please click on the images for a larger view!)

maandag 13 mei 2013

Armenia: transfer to Meghri - Agarak

Today we had a long way to drive: almost 280km over not so good roads, sometimes over the so-called "dirty roads". This distance was good for a drive of a whole day! Of course we stopped from time to time not only to stretch our old limbs but most of the time to look at the birds.

In the city of Yeghegnadzor we noticed already early in the morning - during a walk before breakfast - the Nightingale, the Syrian Woodpecker, the Golden Oriole, the Goldfinches.

We stopped at Carahunge, the "Armenian Stonehenge", an ancient archaeological site near Sisian. We made a long walk between the stones in search of birds. That we not only found birds (such as the Long-legged Buzzard, the Blue Rock Thrush, the Tawny Pipit, the Red-backed Shrike) one can see at the first 2 pictures ... In the meantime Mika was always looking for something special to show us!

Long-legged Buzzard

Blue Rock-Thrush

Tawny Pipit

Red-backed Shrike


When we continued our way to the Armenian/Iranian border we suddenly saw a Long-legged Buzzard struggling with a snake. We all jumped out of the bus, the bird flow away and we had a closer look at the snake thanks to our driver. Afterwards - at home - we could identify this snake as a Blint Nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina), a venomous snake which bite is deadly dangerous for man and pet!

We had lunch (with a view) in Goris and later in the aftenoon we passed the Meghri pass at a height of 2534m! All transport from Iran to Armenia has to use this pass: very heavy Iranian trucks drive very slowly in a cloud of exhaust gas. We stopped for a short walk just over the top and we could follow a fox while he was hunting. We searched once again on the snow for some rarity but we saw only a Water Pipit and a Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush.

Finally we arrived in Agarak after a drive of a few kilometers along the border between Armenia and Iran. The valley of the Aras river, so green, is in hard contrast with the naked brown rocks of the Iranian mountains! Agarak is a lovely village with friendly people and very lively. That we noticed during our dinner: now we know how a birthday party for a 6 years old child is organized!

Seven species were added to our list which brings the total at 142 species!

(Please click on the images for a larger view!)


zondag 12 mei 2013

Armenia: Mount Gndasar

When we woke up this morning 3 SUV's were already waiting for us in front of the hotel. Two modern American Jeeps and one 5-years old Russian jeep. After an early breakfast we took place in these jeeps. I chose for the Russian one. I could sit in front, Mika and René behind me. The drivers should take us up in the mountains as high as possible where we wanted to search for Caucasian Grouse and the Caspian Snowcock.

The road was really dirty after the thunder-storms of last night and the SUV's finally stopped in the sticking mud. We still had to climb a long way to reach the alpine fields where perhaps the birds we were looking for, were living. The views were breathtaking and we enjoyed the songs of the Sky and Wood Larks, the Black-headed Buntings, even the call of a Chukar.

Rock Bunting



We climbed higher and higher and our respect went to Sam who was carrying our lunch for today without complaining. In the meantime the Ortolan Bunting became the bird of the day: he was everywhere and appeared sometimes only a few meters of our group.

Ortolan Bunting

Ortolan Bunting
Ortolan Bunting

Ortolan Bunting

As said Guido: the intention was good, the motivation and the patience were great but ... there were no snowcocks or grouses to see. We were simply much to late ... On the way up, the group was rewarded with the observation of a White-troated Robin, one of the many high-lights of this birding trip. We had lunch high in the mountains and some of us took afterwards a little nap in the sun who showed her face from time to time.

On the way back to our transportation we saw some birds of prey: Common and Long-legged Buzzard and a Lammergeier above the valley.


When we arrived at the jeeps we had made a walk of more than 10km on a height of more than 2000m!  The coffee the drivers prepared for us was very tasty!

It started to rain again, not so heavy as last evening but enough to become wet! We changed the transportation - from SUV's to our little bus - and drove to the monastery of Noravank in a beautiful Gnishik gorge where even late that Sunday afternoon a lot of local people where taking pictures in front of the chapel. Mika searched and found - thanks to the co-ordinates in her GPS -  a Eastern Rock Nuthatch and while we were looking at this bird a Finch's Wheatear sat only a few meters away from us!  

During the evening we added 12 new species to our list, the total was now 135 species!

(Please click on the images for a larger view!)

zaterdag 11 mei 2013

Armenia: Via Lake Sevan to Yeghegnadzor

We left this morning Dilijan with destination Yeghegnadzor. The way leads along the south side of the Lake Sevan, one of the largest fresh-water high-altitude (1900m above sea level) lakes in the world! 

At every stop along the lake we saw the migration of a lot of Honey Buzzards and we noticed many new species of birds. Where possible I took pictures of all these birds. This was not always so easy as the light was sometimes not so bright: a lot of clouds were coming over, the sun was not so often helping us! 

Common Buzzard (Western Steppe)
Buteo buteo vulpinus

For lunch we stopped in Lichq at the southern end of the lake. Somewhat later we passed the Sulema Pass at 2410m and we stopped again a bit further nearby the Selim Caravanserai.  Of course, we visited that structure for a short time as we were - as always - looking for some more birds. Marc was very lucky: he was the only one in the group to see a Radde's Accentor! In the meantime locals were collecting mushrooms in the fields to sell these along the street together with other vegetables, fruits, jam, yes even wine and brandy ...

It was already late when we arrived in our Arpahotel in Yeghegnadzor. A thunder-storm was the cause of an electricity interruption, so we had a romantic dinner by candle light. Today we added 66 new species to our list! At the end of the second day birding we had 123 species!

(Please click on the images for a larger view!)