Sunday, 12 January 2014

Shirvan National Park

I took a second trip to Shirvan National park today. Overall bird numbers were lower than last week, (400 greylag goose and 120 little bustard), but I did add four species to my Azerbaijan list which now stands at 110.

Goitered gazelle

Shirvan is nationally renowned for wintering greater flamingo which in spite of their size can be a little hard to find in the extensive pools but today a flock of 30 were far out on the lake sheltering from the cold. Not so far out among the commoner ducks and a good count of 10 smew were two fine male pintail.

Crested lark

The flamingo and pintail were both new Azerbaijan species for me, the third was three water rail found picking through the drainage ditch reeds.

Dalmatian pelican

Raptor numbers were much as last week, 25 marsh harrier, 2 merlin, 2 common kestrel and a sparrowhawk which was was all set to land on the boardwalk above my head until it noticed me at the last minute.

The fourth new Azerbaijan species was corn bunting, a small flock was perched on the electricity cables by the lake.

Corn bunting

Saturday, 11 January 2014

'Duck hunting' at Red Lake

Today I took another drive down to Red lake specifically looking for white-headed duck and marbled teal. I drove as much of the shore line as was possible but to no avail. The nearest I came was a possible distant sighting of two of the latter but too far off to discount teal. The windy conditions and low winter sun didn't help.


Dalmatian pelican numbers were up to 12 and marsh harrier were everywhere, hunting over the extensive reed beds together with a single sparrowhawk.

A good thing about having only been in country six months is that I'm still seeing new 'country ticks' on each trip. The first of the day was a single black-necked grebe diving close to the shore.

The commonest ducks were shoveler, with smaller numbers of mallard, pochard, tufted duck and gadwall. Generally waterbird numbers appeared to be increasing with 150 pygmy cormorant, 300 coot and 30 great-crested grebe.

Mediterranean and black-headed gull

The mostly man-mad rocky shores aren't too welcoming to waders but I did manage to find 35 common redshank and 20 dunlin. A couple of pied avocet and a single little stint were both new Azerbaijan species for me.


Sunday, 5 January 2014

Shirvan National Park

Shirvan National Park is about 100 kms south of Baku and was set up in 2003 primarily to provide a refuge for the dwindling population of goitered gazelle against hunters and shepherds dogs.

It's one of the best winter sites for birding in Azerbaijan and as it's on a migration route it should also be worth visiting in spring and autumn.

The 50,000 hectares are mostly featureless coastal salt scrub and today it was bright and clear and cold and I had the entire park to myself all for a four euro entrance fee.

The nearest thing to a desert in Azerbaijan

This isn't the kind of place to bird on foot. Get yourself a 4WD and hit the extensive tracks.

The first few miles were endless (at this time of year) dead grassland with only the occasional tamarisk bush. Apart from a few hooded crow and magpie the first bird I saw was a lifer, a smart male black francolin flushed from the side of the track.

This time I drove out to the 40 hectare lake in the middle of the park, some 12 kms from the gate, but there are tracks out to the Caspian sea some 40 kms away.

Shirvan is renowned for 3 species of wintering bustard and pretty soon I saw the first flock of little bustard (another lifer) take to the air, their white wing flashes visible from miles away. They over winter here in massive numbers (up to 30,000, some 10% of the worlds population) but as they are so far out in the scrub the number I saw (still over a thousand) probably accounted for a mere fraction of their true presence.

Little bustard

Also in big numbers were greylag goose, which in this environment feeding out on the scrub, looked so much wilder than their English cousins.

The lake is maybe a little too far from the two storey viewing platform but there is a resident day warden there who made me a welcome pot of tea.

Up to 25 marsh harrier were quartering the lakes and four bittern (probably the most I've seen in a day) were crashing into the reeds.

About ten minutes walk from the platform is a short boardwalk out to the lake edge and this was a fantastic place to view the open water. Mute swan, dalmatian pelican, greater white-fronted goose and whooper swan were all present plus plenty of common ducks including gadwall and wigeon but best of all were a flock of seven smew (all 'redheads'). I also heard a water rail in the reed beds and a Pallas's gull landed on the lake.

This really was a fantastic spot and much as I love birding with my mates, to be miles from anyone and anywhere was awesome.

Then it was back into the jeep for a slow crawl back to the park gate. The electricity poles out to the lakeside house provide a perch for both long-legged buzzard and rough-legged buzzard, add to that kestrel, a wonderful male hen harrier and a male merlin the raptor species count for the day was a not too shabby six.

Long-legged buzzard (juvenile?)

Now I've bagged a lot of the birds I'm familiar with I'm looking forward to going back and nailing some of the more unusual birds, especially the larks.

And the gazelles? Well, I saw about 200, mostly their white bums as they disappeared into the distance. I guess they are still a little wary.

Shirvan National Park Official Site

Saturday, 4 January 2014

South again

Pouring rain put me off heading out until mid-day and again I went south to the lakes around Bakim Market about 30 kms south of Baku to try out my new Swarovski scope, 400mm Canon lens and Gitzo tripod... toys for boys eh?

The idea was to get some flight shots of mediterranean gull that were hovering and posing last time I went but the wind had shifted although they were still present and happy enough to pose on the rocky shore (by which I mean concrete demolition fly tipping!).

Dalmatian pelican numbers had increased to seven and there were still plenty of pygmy cormorant and great cormorant and with the little gulls were a few black-headed gull and caspian gull.

Mediterranean gull

Then I drove further south to the petroglyph site at Qorbustan, not for ancient cave paintings but to bag a few year ticks such as western rock nuthatch. Unexpectedly I got two lifers, a small flock of twite (these are the isolated caucasian sub species brevirostris which are quite likely to be split from the nominate species at some time) and with them a single european serin.

Eurasian sparrowhawk, meadow pipit, robin and dunnock were also all additions to my fledgling Azerbaijan list.

Gobustan always suprises and as it's an isolated mountain it should be good in spring.

Western rock nuthatch