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Friday, December 16, 2011

An Imaginary Birding Trip Across The Middle East

Recounting our epic fantasy family birding adventure across South Eastern Europe: starting in Yerevan, Armenia and ending in Rome. I dabble with endless supplies of cash in my imagination. Wars, borders, Visas, natural and not-so-natural disasters cannot stop us as we voyage in search of a mosaic of feathers. Carefully planned with overly excessive use of Ebird and Google Earth I write up an IMAGINARY birding exploit.

Part One, Birding Yerevan

We arrived at Erebuni Airport at around 10pm on the 20th of June. We found a motel on the outskirts of Yerevan to stay for the 2 nights we were to spend in the city. We filled up the first day exploring the city in a rental car. It's a fascinating place with lots of stunning architecture. We checked out the Botanical Gardens where we saw 6 lifers including a group of seven Hooded Crows which we saw flying over the Botanical Gardens and a male Common Rosefinch also in the Gardens. But by far my favorite find of the day was the communal nesting site of Lesser Kestrels on one of the buildings! Apparently Lesser Kestrels are big on communal roosting as well as communal nesting. One roost in Senagal contained 28,600 kestrels plus 16 Scissor-tailed Kites!!! DNA testing shows that the Lesser Kestrel is not closely related to the Common Kestrel which it resembles almost to the extreme.

We ended the day having seen 8 life birds, 6 of which were found in the gardens.
Here's a list of birds seen (a star next to their name means that they were lifers):
Lesser Kestrel*
Rock Pigeon
Common Wood Pigeon*
Hooded Crow*
Great Tit*
Garden Warbler*
Common Rosefinch*
Spanish Sparrow*
House Sparrow

A female Lesser Kestrel, these photos were taken with my fantastical D3000,000,000 Nikon Camera!

A male Common Rosefinch

A Hooded Crow

A male Spanish Sparrow

The next day we got up at around 2pm suffering from an awful case of jet lag. We stopped by Lake Yerevan, scanning the lake from Shengavit Road, before starting the extremely long drive to Igdir, Turkey.

(A passerby who spoke fairly fluent English told us about a heroic act that occurred here in 1976: Shavarsh Karapetyan and his brother Kamo, both professional fin-swimmers, were running alongside the reservoir when they heard the alarming sound of a crash and saw a sinking trolleybus which had gone out of control and fallen from the dam wall. The trolleybus lay at the bottom of the reservoir some 25 meters (80 ft) off the shore at a depth of 10 meters (33 ft). Karapetyan swam to it and, under conditions of almost zero visibility due to the silt rising from the bottom, broke the back window with his legs. The trolleybus was crowded, but in less than an hour he saved all 92 passengers on the bus. An amazing story, but one that sounded true in the telling.)

The lake was fairly birdless; only a few Mallards, a small flock of Eurasian Coots (which bare a shocking resemblance to America's American Coots), flyby trio of Pygmy Cormorants (which sent us all into a hopping frenzy - not that the other lifers didn't, but these birds were particularly cool and one of the goal birds for the trip) and a possible Yellow Wagtail on the far side of the lake. I needed to look at the photos I took of the wagtail before I marked it down on my life list). Ben swears he saw a Common Redstart flyby (but I tend not believe him). We got some great looks at Black-headed Gulls and a (lifer) Armenian Gull.

A Pygmy Cormorant with a Eurasian Coot in the back

The Armenian Gull was formerly considered a subspecies of Herring Gull but was recently split, some people now lump the Armenian Gull with the Yellow-legged Gull.
We saw only one of these gulls which landed on the shore to fight for a scrap of fish collected by one of the Black-headed Gulls. Needless to say the much larger Armenian Gull got the stinking treat. The Armenian Gulls largest breeding colony is Lake Sevan a much larger lake then Yerevan. It is located to the east of Yerevan.

My Totally Awesome Fictional Plan from here: From Yerevan, Armenia we will drive 6 hours South to Marand in the North Western section of Iran. Here we plan to stay the night then the next day we bird at Kiamaky Wildlife Refuge. From there we will drive 3 hours North to Igdir in Turkey which looks excellent for farmland, marsh, river and lake birding. I know it would be easier to go due East from Yerevan directly to Igdir but for some reason (probably unfriendliness between the 2 countries) there are no roads from Armenia into Turkey so South into Iran is the only way to go. Going East from Yerevan would have cut out about 11 hours of driving but fantasy birding doesn't mean there are fantasy roads.

From Igdir we will drive 6 hours to Erzican stopping at Erzurum on the way. Then another 6 hour drive Erzican to Samsun will bring us to the Black Sea where we will look for... wait for it... some birds!

Then 9 hours of my father sleeplessly imaginary driving from Samsun to Istanbul, to look for some good birds on the Sea of Marmara particularly Lapwings and Collar Pratincole. Then to Kalamaria, Greece (7 hours from Istanbul). Here we should have large numbers of gulls and hopefully shorebirds. Then from Kalamaria to Athens, 5 hours away, for no trip to Eastern Europe would be complete without a visit to the famed city. Eight hours from Athens to Igoumenitsa (also in Greece) from there we will take a ferry across the Adriatic Sea to Brindisi in Italy. Brindisi to Naples (3 hours) then 2 hours to Rome from Naples. Where we will stay for about a week before taking a plane home.

The next post will be on how our luck went as we birded Iran.

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