Relaxed Eastern European birding in a quiet, unspoilt environment
|Prices:||£2995 PP, £195 single supplement. Deposit £600. 2020 prices TBC.|
|Dates:||4 May - 15 May 2019, 2 May - 13 May 2020|
|Guides|| Dave Pullan|
This is a birdwatching holiday featuring many of the key species of far eastern Europe, and is a comprehensive tour of key birding habitats and locations, to see a great deal of the birdlife of the country. This holiday will appeal particularly to bird lovers with an eye for culture.
Neighbouring Georgia is already known as an excellent birding destination, and we are delighted to introduce Armenia to Heatherlea clients. A small, landlocked country located in the Caucasus region, Armenia is sparsely populated (total 4 million people, 1.4 million of whom live in Yerevan) and very hospitable. Rural, peacful and unspoilt, Armenia seems a world away from other destinations in this part of the world, and is an excellent choice for birding, as it forms a geographical bridge between the avian populations of Europe and Asia. The country holds a variety of birding habitats including semi-desert, steppe, deciduous forest, meadowland, and alpine grassland. The landscape is alternated with deep canyons, rocks and screes, lakes, rivers, wetlands and marshes, and the country is incredibly scenic, with the Transcaucasian mountains providing a backdrop to beautiful pastoral landscapes, set among a carpet of flowers including wild tulips and orchids.
Armenia holds many species from the Western Palaearctic birding list, and of over 350 birds recorded here, more than 200 are breeding. Many will be “lifers” for those who have not visited this remote part of eastern Europe. Among our targets will be such mouth-watering birds as Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck, Pygmy Cormorant, Collared Pratincole, Caucasian Black Grouse, Caspian Snowcock, Levant Sparrowhawk, White-tailed Lapwing, Armenian Gull, Syrian Woodpecker, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Radde’s and Alpine Accentor, White-throated Robin, Finsch’s, Red-tailed Wheatear, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Rosy Starling, Western and Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Caucasian Mountain Chiffchaff, Upcher’s, Eastern Olivaceous, Eastern Orphean, Green and Menetries’s Warbler, Red-fronted Serin, Sombre Tit (these two species both possible but both difficult), Grey-necked and Ortolan Bunting, Armenian Horned Lark, and many more. Many raptors breed here, including Golden, Lesser-spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagle, Lammergeier, Egyptian, Griffon Vulture, Long-legged and Steppe Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon, Levant Sparrowhawk, and we expect a total of around 180 species, including many migrants heading north in spring.
Other species may include Spotted Crake, Little Crake, Corncrake, Gull-billed Tern, Laughing Dove, European Scops Owl, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Eurasian Bee-eater, European Roller, Greater Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, White-throated Robin, Isabelline Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush, Moustached Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Barred Warbler, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, Alpine Chough, Red-billed Chough, Pale Rockfinch, Rock Sparrow, White-winged Snowfinch, Trumpeter Finch, Common Rosefinch and Rock Bunting.
Each habitat hosts specific flora and fauna, and as you might expect, our targets change as we tour the country; woodpeckers and tits occupy forests; wheatears and nuthatches live in semi-desert; larks and buntings are found in the grasslands, herons and ducks at lakes and wetlands, and possibly Snowcock in high mountain areas. Some species will require a little effort, and to see the mountain birds one might have to walk for approx. one hour in the mountains. We cover a large part of the country during this comprehensive tour, and you will leave with the sense of having experienced 'true' Armenia and its birdlife.
Armenia is a cradle of early Christianity, and its landscape features many early Christian treasures, churches, relics and monasteries. Our focus is on birding, though we will visit some of these sites, perhaps including 'Carahunge', a stone circle older than Stonehenge, without losing important birding time. Our tour is accompanied throughout by a professional Guide/Translator who will help us appreciate our surroundings, and in this delightful country we are sure you will enjoy the landscape, cultural treasures, cuisine, and of course Armenian hospitality, in addition to the wonderful birdlife.
Day 1: Sat 4 May London to Yerevan
We fly from London to Yerevan, where we will be welcomed by our local driver and local guide, and go directly to our hotel, where we stay for one night. www.metropol.am
Day 2: Sun 5 May Armash Fish Ponds
Today will be an early highlight of the trip, as these fish ponds offer one of the most exciting birding opportunities in the entire Western Palearctic. One of the Caucasus' richest ornithological hot spots, Armash fish ponds boast the largest concentration and variety of bird life in Armenia. Nestled in the foothills of Mount Ararat, at the junction of Armenia, Iran, Turkey and Nakhichevan this is an area of extensive wetland. The terrain is mainly saline semi-desert, yet the pools, natural salt marshes, irrigation and drainage channels, standing fresh water and warm artesian springs have turned Armash into a bird paradise. The diversity of birds is impressive, with about 220 different species recorded including Red-necked Grebe, Little Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco, Purple Heron, Pygmy Cormorant, Glossy Ibis, Garganey, Red-Crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Western Marsh Harrier, Water Rail, Little Crake, Stone Curlew, Collared Pratincole, Kentish Plover, Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Wood and Green Sandpiper, Armenian Gull, and Caspian, Gull-billed, Little, Black, White-winged and Whiskered Tern. This is the only site in Armenia for Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck, Eurasian Spoonbill and graceful White-tailed Lapwing. Rare migrants may include Red-necked Phalarope, Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Broad-billed Sandpiper,
Land diversity is also impressive and includes Blue-Cheeked Bee-Eater, European Roller, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Rosy Starling, Sand Martin, Yellow Wagtail, Bearded Reedling and many other passerines. The great attraction of these fish ponds lies not only in the habitats available, but also in the annual practice of draining the pools in order to harvest the fish, thereby providing a habitat exceptionally rare in Armenia, that of exposed mud used extensively by many thousands of waders during migration.
A final link in the rich chain of habitats here is the semi-desert, with Tamarisk, Camel's Thorn and Sagebrush vegetation which supports an impressive selection of warblers. The bushes and scrubby areas hold Olivaceous, Upcher´s and Menetries's Warblers and Finch's Wheatear, while dense stands of reed contain Great Reed, Sedge, Cetti's, Savi's and Paddyfield Warblers and many other passerines. Yerevan – Armash (70 km) – Yeghegnadzor (58 km). Overnight for two nights at www.hotelarpa.am
Day 3: Mon 6 May Yeghegnadzor
A day of excellent birding and culture, which begins on a high plateau where we have chances of Egyptian Vulture and Crimson-winged Finch. Next we pay a brief visit to the Areni caves, where people lived 6000 years ago, and then progress to Noravank monastery, located in a narrow gorge made by the Darichay river, near the city of Yeghegnadzor. Noravank dates from the 13th century, and is best known for its two-storey S. Astvatsatsin church, which grants access to the second floor by way of narrow stones jutting out from the face of the building. The architect Siranes and the remarkable miniature painter and sculptor Momik worked here in the latter part of the thirteenth and early fourteenth century. The gorge is famous for its tall, sheer, brick-red cliffs, directly across from the monastery. Those who aren't interested in culture can just continue birding because it is a great site, often with Red-fronted Serins sitting on the top of the monuments! Other birds include Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, Eastern and Western Nuthatches, Upcher´s Warbler and White-throated Robin.
Day 4: Tue 7 May Gndasar – Karahunj - Goris
Another spectacular day, as we leave after an early breakfast and travel by four-wheel vehicles to explore the mountains and alpine meadows. The mountain of Gndasar is 2945m high, and we drive to the higher reaches in search of Caspian Snowcock, Alpine Accentor, Snowfinch and raptors. A beautiful walk of about 1.5 - 2km is expected. This day is of course weather dependent, though we have excellent chances of finding Caspian Snowcock and many other birds perhaps including Crimson-winged Finch and Ring Ouzel. There is an outside chance of seeing Brown Bear here too.
Again we spend some time for local culture with a stopover for the Carahunge stone circles, most likely much older than Stonehenge. Carahunge is derived from: Cara = stone + Hunge = voice/echo, and the stone circle would have served for star observations and also for astronomical calculations. Of course birds are really everywhere, so while enjoying the stones watch out for raptors, Twite (Asian race), Common Rosefinch, Red-backed Shrikes …! Overnight in Goris at www.hotel-mina.am
Day 5: Wed 8 May Goris, Shikahogh, Meghri and Agarak
Today we drive into the Meghri region, close to the Iranian border, noting a change from the green landscapes so far to the arid southern mountains, with very permeable volcanic rocks. Early morning birders might find Syrian Woodpecker, Rosy Starling, Golden Oriole and Nightingale. In the forests around Shikahogh State Reserve we look for Red-breasted Flycatcher, Green Warbler, Semi-collared Flycatcher and Middle-spotted Woodpecker. En-route we make stops to enjoy fabulous birding for raptors, including Egyptian Vulture, Steppe, Honey and Long-legged Buzzard, Golden, Lesser-spotted, Imperial, Booted and Short-toed Eagle, Pallid and Montagu’s Harrier, Lesser Kestrel and more. As we pass we will see life in the countryside with shepherds herding sheep and cows, rising in altitude as we travel, the highest point being the the Meghri Pass at 2534m. Our new hotel is situated in the green valley of the Arras river, in a lively little town called Agarak, surrounded by the brown dry mountain peaks. We stay here for two nights. http://www.hotels.am/syunik/agarak-ml-hotel.
Day 6: Thu 9 May Meghri
Near the hotel we again look for Laughing Dove, Syrian Woodpecker, Hoopoe, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Olivaceous Warbler, Nightingale, Golden Oriole and more. Today we visit nearby gorges, searching for Levant Sparrowhawk, Ménétries’s Warbler, Red-tailed Wheatear, Sombre Tit, Red-fronted Serin, Finch´s Wheatear, Eastern Rock Nuthatch and Western Rock Nuthatch. The Meghri area borders Iran, and is relatively remote and undiscovered by most birders. Its gorges are a paradise for birders, and you just won’t know where to look first! New species for Armenia are found locally every year, and in 2014 our guide Jozef found the first Armenian White-eared Bulbul here. The habitat is completely different due to the preponderance of highly permeable volcanic rocks, and this semi-desert area is a paradise for wheatears, and the best place for Sombre Tit and Levant Sparrowhawk. Egyptian Vulture is another important breeding bird in the area. At the very fertile gardens around the River Araz, we may see Golden Oriole, Menetries’s Warbler, Laughing Dove, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat and Barred Warbler, guaranteeing a good mix of birds today. Most of the area is now a nature reserve and we will have permits to gain access.
Day 7: Fri 10 May Meghri to Goris over the Tashtun Pass
An enjoyable transfer day, spent mainly in the mountains with a travelling distance of approx 160km, including plenty of stopping places for birding and short walks. We target raptors and vultures, and also walk in beech woods in the valleys. we will have good opportunities for Red-breasted Flycatcher, Semi-collared Flycatcher and Green Warbler, plus more common woodland birds including Nightingale, Golden Oriole and both Syrian and Middle-spotted Woodpecker. Shrikes are everywhere and there will be plenty of opportunities to look for Common Rosefinch and Rosy Starling. These beech woodlands are also very rich in flowers, and orchid species include Dactylorhiza romana ssp georgica and Orchis simian to name just two. The whole mountain area should be covered in flowers and many are endemic for the Caucasian area, including Frittilaria kurdica and Fritillaria caucasia. 4-star Hotel Mina, www.hotel-mina.am
Day 8: Sat 11 May Goris, the Jermouk Gorge (Gndevank) and Yeghegnadzor
Again we are in the high mountains today, not surprisingly in a country with an average altitude of 1900mtrs! The landscape remains impressive, as does the raptor migration and local breeding birds. Egyptian Vulture, Golden Eagle, Booted Eagle, Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon and possibly Eurasian Eagle-owl and Wallcreeper are among our targets. Of course, we continue to focus on passerines too, including shrikes and finches. The Jermouk Gorge is one of the prettiest in Armenia with lots of Basalt columns and of course a gorge without a monastery is impossible in this country! We will have a little walk to the Gndevank Monastery, which has a 10th-13th century round cathedral. Our travelling distance is around 125 km, and in our hotel grounds there is a possibility of Scops Owl, Golden Oriole, Nightingale and Syrian Woodpecker. Hotel Arpa; www.hotelarpa.am
Day 9: Sun 12 May Yeghegnadzor, Selim, Lichk and Sevan
After breakfast we head north towards towards Lake Sevan, a beautiful location and Europe's second highest lake. We make plenty of birding stops during our journey of around 130km, and birds en-route may include Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Goshawk, and Levant Sparrowhawk. On the Selim pass there will be a stop by the old Caravanserai, an Inn for travelers and their animals follwing the silk route to China. Here Ortolan Bunting are incredibly confiding, and should provide an excellent photo opportunity. At Lake Sevan we will explore the shores and surrounding marshes, where there should be a good selection of ducks, waders, terns, gulls, herons, wablers and wagtails. The day contains a good variation of birds from high mountains for raptors, rock steppes for wheatears, and marshes and shores for waders. Armenian Gull is virtually certain to provide good photo opportunities. Overnight in Sevan, at Hotel Best Western Bohemian Resort www.bohemianresort.am
Day 10: Mon 13 May Sevan, Tsaghkunyats Mountains/Hanqavan and Yerevan
Another memorable day as we drive to the slopes of the Tsaghkunyats Mountains in search of Caucasian Black Grouse. After our search for the grouse, we spend some time in the beech woodlands lower on the mountains, again a good opportunity for Red-breasted Flycatcher, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Green Warbler and woodpeckers. These mixed beech woodlands are very rich in vegetation and of course birds, with other possible species today including Water Pipit, Lammergeier, Alpine and Radde’s Accentors, Siberian Stonechat (armenica race), White-throated Dipper, Twite and Mountain Chiffchaff. Total distance around 120 km, followed by two nights in Yerevan. www.metropol.am.
Day 11: Tue 14 May Yerevan, Byurakan and Amberd en de berg Aragats
For the early risers there is the possibility for a walk in the city in the famous Republic Square, with its artwork and monuments. After breakfast we are off again to the mountains with our final destination being the mountain of Aragats. We drive to the snow line for Caucasian Horned Lark, Rock Bunting, White-throated Robin and Raddes Accentor. Lower on the mountain we may find Lesser-spotted Eagle. Mount Aragats is located just outside Yerevan and offers good views of Mount Ararat in Turkey, a holy mountain for the Armenians not only because Noah landed here with his Ark but also because this area was populated by Armenians until 1915. At the beautiful snow-covered Mount Aragats we will visit the Amberd Burgh, a 7th-century fortress located 2,300 metres (the name means 'Fortress in the Clouds'), at the confluence of the Arkashen and Amberd rivers. We drive for about 100km today, and stay overnight in Yerevan.
We will end the day with dinner in Yerevan
4* Metropol Hotel http://www.metropol.am/
Day 12: Wed 15 May Departure
A mornin flight from Yerevan to London.
Accommodation is in comfortable hotels with all rooms en suite. All the hotels are of good standard, and some are more or less brand new. We use a total of five hotels with eight transfers as we tour the country, returning to three hotels for a second stay. Please see individual daily itineraries for weblinks to hotels.
Food Breakfast is usually a buffet with boiled eggs and lots of herbs, yoghurts and cheeses, pastries and even cake! Lunches are mostly in restaurants again with lots of fresh herbs and fresh vegetables, fish or meat. Be careful with your starters, more dishes are always arriving, follwed by a dessert or fresh fruit. Armenia is a leading country for fruit, with pears and apricots originating here. Some days we take well-prepared lunchboxes for picnics. Armenian cuisine is a mix of oriental, European and Mediterranean food, and we phone ahead to restaurants to make sure our meals are ready. Typical dishes feature fish and barbecues, and with many fresh vegetables and herbs vegetarians should be well catered for. Evening meals often feature live traditional music.
Walking is generally light/moderate. There may be some uphill track and road walking, and overall an average level of fitness is required.
Weather Typically, temperatures will range from 10c in the early morning to around 25c, though temperatures can be even higher in the gorges. Sunshine should be plentiful, but cloud and rain are possible. Cold weather, with temperatures as low as 5c, is rare but possible in the high mountains.
Insects biting insects may be encountered, though not usually as a major problem.A good repellent is advised, just in case.
Group size is restricted to 12 clients maximum.
Flights are by scheduled airline, from London Heathrow. Please note that alternatives to our chosen flights may be at very inconvenient times or be via Ukraine or Russia. We can quote without flights should you wish to make your own arrangements. If you wish to add an extension either before or after your holiday, please contact us and we will be happy to arrange this for you.
Dave Pullan is a popular leader with Heatherlea, both in Scotland and overseas, Dave is a top birder whose skills will be much appreciated in Armenia.
What's included in your holiday price:
* return scheduled flight from London Heathrow - Yerevan via Paris, airport taxes, baggage and hand luggage up to airline included limit.
* airport transfers, ground transportation including 15-seat vehicle (Mercedes Sprinter type) and 4x4 vehicles where necessary, accommodation and meals as specified.
* the services of a Heatherlea leader and local guide/translator.
* entrance fees to museums and cultural and historical centres.
* The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included free of charge subject to terms and conditions. Read more ...
What's not included in your holiday price:
* travel to and from departure airport before and after holiday, in-flight meal, baggage above airline included limit.
* incidental tips, expenses of a personal nature including drinks and personal insurance.
Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday in Europe?
Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.
Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.
The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;
- We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 25 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
- Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
- Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
- All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
- Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
- Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).
Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).