We want to thank all the people who helped us in various ways: Olivier Debre, Umberto Gallo-Orsi, Marjan Mashkour, Otto Overdijk, Dirk Raes, Didier Vangeluwe, and all the Turkish and Iranian people we met.
Our trip to Eastern Turkey and Iran was tempted by two Polish birders who went to Iran in August-September 1998. They returned with following news: good birds, people extremely friendly (for a few days, they were even honoured by people who apparently were hashish smugglers!), but unbearably hot. Therefore we planned our trip a month later, hoping to spend half time on Persian architecture and half birding. This plan partially broke, when first I and later Krzysztof became ill - happily nothing serious. Then we found that visa regulations changed, and getting an extension ate 6 days of our time in total (in Tabriz, than Esfahan, then Tehran). However, overall we find this visit to this unusual destination rewarding.
Walk on dry fields and tree-lined stream N and NE of the village. Levant Sparrowhawk 1 male; Quail 1; Bee-eater 20; Isabelline Wheatear 2; Spotted Flycatcher 1; Redstart 1,1; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Red-backed Shrike 1,1;
From Karadut village we walked to the top of Nemrut mountain for a sunrise. There we met a flock of Shorelarks feeding around the entrance post together with Red-rumped Wheatears. One of these actually came under the parked car, with the driver sleeping above it. We enjoyed the ancient statues and the remarkebly fearless birds on them. Later - birding in the groves around Karadut.
Honey Buzzard 1; Levant Sparrowhawk 1; Levant/Common Sparrowhawk 1,1; Kestrel 1,1,1; Chukar calls; Bee-eater 20+; Syrian Woodpecker 1, calls; Crested Lark 15+; Shore Lark 60; Tawny Pipit 20; Redstart 5+; Black-eared Wheatear 10; Red-rumped Wheatear Oe. x. xanthoprymna 20; Rock Thrush 5+; Blue Rock Thrush 1,1; Sombre Tit 1; Masked Shrike 1 first-winter, Alpine Chough 2, calls; Rock Sparrow 1; Snow Finch 1 sunning or sick.
We tried to get permission to visit waterbird reserve on Kabudi Island but failed. Krzysztof went birding to the southern end of Orumiye lake near Mohammad Yar. He saw adult and young Greater Flamingos, Stone-Curlew and many waders and ducks. When he tried to return at dusk, nobody wanted to pick him up. He walked for ca.20km along the road, before a car took him - and found our hotel in Orumiye shut for a night! He spent this night at another hotel nearby.
Beautiful ancient Persian monuments.
Great Crested Grebe 1, Night Heron 1, Little Egret 100+, Great White Egret 1, Grey Heron 1, Moorhen 3, calls; Temminck's Stint 1, Kingfisher 1, Barn Swallow 500+, Grey Wagtail 1 female/immature; White Wagtail 1 Spotted Flycatcher 1.
Little Egret 15+, Great White Egret 1, Hobby 3 hunting over park, Moorhen 2 families; Kingfisher 1; Syrian Woodpecker 1 park.
Bee-eater 1, Syrian Woodpecker call.
We went by bus from Tehran to Reine, a village which is the usual base for hikers going to Mt Damavand. We took the Tehran-Amol bus (shared taxi were quicker) and got out after the "Amol 75" sign, near the road to the left and restaurant. From there by shared taxi to Reine. There we walked for ca.1 hour on the road going to the left towards the top. Unfortunately, Krzysztof was unwell, I left him and went into the gully near the road, above the military-post near the village, with stream and some low sloe-type bushes for few hours. Of the birds, Radde's Accentors were a surprise, since they had yellow-honey supercilium and brown-grey (not black) mantle stripes. I had trouble with identifying them; fortunately consultations via Eurobirdnet helped to ascertain their identity.
Golden Eagle 1 ad, 1 juv; Kestrel 1, Chukar 7-8; Bee-eater 3 juv, Radde's Accentor 8+; Red-rumped Wheatear Oe. x. chrysopygia 1, Chifchaff song x2; Eastern Rock Nuthatch 20+, everywhere including roadside stones in village; Red-backed Shrike 1, Chough 1, Red-fronted Serin 5 juv, Rock Bunting 10+.
Large city with few birds.
Sparrowhawk/Shikra 1,1, White Wagtail dukhunensis type (white wing patches) -1
We went from Ahvaz by road to Shadegan (90km S) and from there to Shadegan Marsh reserve. Many birds were on roadside pools on the fields and steppe, some close to Ahvaz. Unfortunately, the reserve was bone-dry, partially burned reedbeds. When flooded (December till summer) marsh must be marvelous for birds. From the Shadegan - Bandar-e-Marshar road we turned into the dirt road south. It led to the saltmarsh and saltwater channels with sort of small haven, with two buildings, pier and few boats with Arabian crew. We originally wanted to get to the place where Slender-billed Curlew was seen three years ago. This turned out impossible - it would require a boat. On the channels we saw waders, terns and plenty of mudskippers. Evening walk on the riverside in Ahvaz.
Little Grebe 5x1, Night Heron 10 Ahvaz evening, Little Egret 1,1,1; 50+ Ahvaz, Grey Heron 1,1,1; Black Kite 1,1,1; Long-legged Buzzard 2, Black-winged Stilt 15, Greater Sandplover 1,1; Red-wattled Lapwing ca.10, 1 Ahvaz; White-tailed Lapwing ca 7x2;1 Ahvaz; Curlew 3x1; Redshank 1,1; Wood Sandpiper 1; Common Sandpiper 1-2; Yellow-legged Gull 1; Gull-billed Tern 6; Woodpigeon 2; Collared Dove 20+; Laughing Dove 10+; Swift 50+ Ahvaz; Pied Kingfisher 10+; 3 Ahvaz; White-breasted Kingfisher 1,1,1; Indian Roller 30+, including flock of 8, common and fearless on roadside wires; Hoopoe 1 morning in Ahvaz; Crested Lark 100+, Hoopoe Lak 1; Sand Martin 1,1,1; Barn Swallow 1,1; Black-eared/Pied Wheatear 1; Graceful Warbler 1,1; Isabelline Shrike 1; White-cheeked Bulbul 2 morning in Ahvaz.
Local ornithologists advised us to this reserve as a spot for Iraq Babbler. We went north from Avhaz for ca.1 hour and turned left (west) into a dirt road. This led to the fenced tamarisk and poplar thicket. We searched there for about an hour, before going to the second, larger area. There we searched in older "forest" or tamarisk, poplar and thorny scrub with the local warden. Just outside the warden house, we flushed a flock of unidentified babblers. Unfortunately, our guide didn't stop, and the birds took flight and disappeared. Judging from the overall pale plumage they were more likely Arabian Babblers (both Iraq and Arabian Babblers occur in W Iran). After several hours of further unsuccesful search, we got to the river where we had a much-needed swim. Afterwards, I'm not sure whether we went to the right place. Iraq Babbler is supposed to prefer the wet habitat, and the tamarisk thickets were generally dry. About 2.00 pm we returned to the warden house (unbearable heat), ate a lunch there and returned home. Another evening riverside walk in Afhaz.
Little Egret 1,1; Booted Eagle 1 first forest; Black Francolin 1 male on the roadside Avhaz-Dez; Red-wattled Lapwing 30+; Green Sandpiper 1; Black-winged Stilt 1; 4 village pond; Woodpigeon 200+; Collared Dove 200+; Pied Kingfisher 1; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater 1 first forest; Iraq/Arabian Babbler 6; Grey Hypocolius 2 KL first forest; 1 male JD; White-cheeked Bulbul 20+; Graceful Warbler 1; Willow Warbler 2; Blackbird 6; Great Tit 2 first forest, 2; Isabelline Shrike 1,1.
Morning birding (2 hrs) in the suburbs near the bus terminal. Went on the main road north and found a small overgrown pool and open wasteland. Later bus to Kerman.
Little Egret 2-3; Cattle Egret 1; Little/Baillon's Crake 2 flushed; Red-wattled Lapwing 2; White-tailed Lapwing 2; Wood Sandpiper 3; Common Snipe 2; Black-winged Stilt 2; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater 3; Graceful Warbler 2, calls; Isabelline Shrike 2. Woodpigeon, Collared Dove and Laughing Dove - big flocks on fields, far from habitations on the road to Kerman.
Indian Roller 1.
In the afternoon, we went to the scrub steppe west of the town, hoping to see Iran's only endemic: Pleske's Ground Jay.
Approaching Shahr-Babak city from Sirgan (103 km) road (roughly south) you see to your left about five groups of rocky outcrops rising from the flat steppe (to the right is a single rocky mass). From Chahr-Babak, the closest outcrop appears round-topped, while the rest have conical tops. We took the minor street on the outskirt of Chahr-Babak, which changes from asphalt to a dirt road. Where the road turned to dirt, there was a sandy track (actually several interconnecting tracks) going to the right, leading slightly north of the northernmost outcrop roughly in W-SW direction. The path was mostly relatively flat, crossed by dry streambeds (it could be possible to pass it by ordinary car, at least in autumn). After some fields and groves we went on the open semi-desert with scrubs. Finally we reached the isolated hut with a water tank and a single tree, roughly at the level of a hill. There we turned away from the road and went NE and returned at dark.
Of the desert birds, most surprising was Little Owl perched on a small bush on the open flat steppe. I suppose it must have roosted and nested in a rodent hole. Around dusk, we saw a flock of unidentified partridges (most probably See-see Ammoperdix griseogularis) and a large agamid lizard. However, no Jay.
Kestrel 1,1; Cream-coloured Courser 2, 3 (1ad, 2juv), 2; Little Owl 1; Hoopoe Lark 1; Isabelline Wheatear 1; Pied Wheatear 1, Desert Wheatear 1,1; Scrub Warbler 2; Desert Warbler 1,1.
Early morning our guide took us by 4WD on the main road out of the town (to Robat). After about half an hour we turned left (roughly east) to the roadless steppe with Zygophyllum bushes. Apparently, our guide was checking habitat at random. We slowly turned left and drove roughly a 60 km loop and returned to yeasterday's track. Somewhere in between, we saw our Jays. First, Krzysztof spotted two extremely distant Jays perched on the bushes. They quickly dropped to the ground and disappeared and could not be found. Sad, we driven further. My hopes began to sink... and then, we saw an adult Jay on a bush close to our car! There was also a second individual nearby. Our guide pished quietly, and the bird came as little as 5 meters to our car. I made a few photographs, Krzysztof was really missing his telephoto lenses which went wrong in Bam! For about 10 minutes we watched this unusual corvid, running around like a huge Hoopoe Lark. We were really happy, and our guide caught our happiness too - even when we saw a flock of sandgrouse near, he didn't stop singing and they were gone. After some further driving we arrived at yesterday's track and returned by it to the town.
According to information we got from ornithologists in Iran, PGJ is common in Kerman Province and seen always in Shahr-Babak area. It can even sometimes be seen scavenging at the roadsides. It is habitat specialist, occuring whenever Zygophyllum steppe occurs. If Zygophyllum is the scrub in which we saw our Jay, it is 0.5-1.5 m tall, with twisted, rather thick and juicy branches and small spoon-shaped leaves, few of which remained on the plants in autumn. It sometimes makes relatively thick growths, but our Jays were in slightly more open place, with much sand visible. The Jay is active in the morning and evening, avoiding the afternoon heat.
Long-legged Buzzard 1,1; Lesser Short-toed Lark 10-20; Isabelline Wheatear 1; Desert Wheatear 10+; Scrub Warbler 2,2; Pleske's Ground Jay 2,2 (1 ad, 3 unknown); Brown-necked Raven 2.
In the afternoon we arrived in Barshir. There we went N, NE and NW of village in agricultural land, bare foothills and open plain. Our guide spoke no English but was excellent, taking us through the variety of habitats. Besides birds, we saw Common Gazelles Gazella gazella: 3,2,4 and one.
Long-legged Buzzard 4x1 Sirjan-Bardsir road; 1,1; Common/Steppe Buzzard 1 Sirjan-Bardsir road; Black-bellied Sandgrouse 2,14; Little Owl 1; Redstart 1, Isabelline Wheatear 5+; Desert Wheatear 5+; Pied Wheatear 1; Isabelline Shrike 1,1; Great/Southern Grey Shrike 1;
Birding at the seashore. East of the city centre there is a creek, then another with a concrete pier. We birded east of pier towards the Azadi street. During the high tide, birds gathered in the reedy sewage (?) ponds just east of creek, hidden behind the concrete wall. Fortunately, you could look over the wall. There was the usual tower with a gun-holding soldier, but I just went some distance away, and nobody minded. Worse were kids - one needs to treat them sharply. I usually keenly show people binoculars etc. (it is among others a way to raise people's interest in birds) but these didn't know when to stop. Soon the tide receded, and bird flocks dispersed. In the evening, we went into the sea with binoculars, enjoying terns circling overhead - it is one of my best memories from Iran.
Cormorant 1; Wigeon 2, Mallard 1+, Teal ca.6; Western Reef Heron 10+, Little Egret 20+; Grey Heron 3+; Spoonbill 2; Greater Flamingo 1 imm; Black Kite 230; Osprey 1 flying; Moorhen 3; Oystercatcher 30 white throat band appeared longer and broader than European birds; Black-winged Stilt 30; Ringed Plover 50+; Lesser Sandplover 3; Greater Sandplover 1; Golden Plover 20; Grey Plover 20+; Red-wattled Lapwing 5-10; White-tailed Lapwing 2-3; Sanderling 20+; Little Stint 200+; Temminck Stint 100+; Curlew Sandpiper 30+; Dunlin 100+; Ruff 20+; Common Snipe 6; Bar-tailed Godwit 20+; Whimbrel 1; Curlew 20+; Spotted Redshank 10+; Redshank 70+; Greenshank 3+; Marsh Sandpiper 2; Wood Sandpiper 1; Green Sandpiper 2; Common Sandpiper 6+; Terek Sandpiper 3; Turnstone 100+; "Yellow-legged" Gull ssp. 300+; "Heuglini" type Lesser Black-backed Gull 1+; Slender-billed Gull 200+; Common Tern 200+; Caspian Tern 10+; Crested Tern 30+; Lesser Crested Tern 30+; Gull-billed Tern 50+; Little/Saunder's Tern 5; Collared Dove 5+; Laughing Dove 5+; Kingfisher 1; Little Green Bee-eater M. o. belushdicus 10+; Indian Roller 1; Lesser Short-toed Lark 5+ (on beach); Rock Martin 2; Swallow 10+; White Wagtail 10+; Citrine Wagtail 1+; Yellow Wagtail 5+; White-cheeked Bulbul 2; Graceful Warbler 1,1; Magpie 5+.
Went from Bandar Abbas west on the Bandar Lenge road for ca.1 hour. After that, a large seaside forest became visible - mangroves. We borrowed a small boat from locals and went to the mangroves - part rowing, part wading in the shallow water. Krzysztof took his shoes off and immediately got his feet cut by sharp shells. We waded to the open patch in the middle, with egrets and curlews and then to the sea. Back we were invited for a lunch by the Arab shipyard owner. Later we driven a bit further west, to the end of mangrove island. The tide receded quickly, and mangrove island quickly became dry ground. Unfortunately, flocks of franticaly feeding birds also quickly dispersed on huge mudflats.
Indian Pond Heron 20+ mangroves (In winter/immature plumage Indian Pond Heron is very difficult to identify from Squacco Heron. We assume they were Indian Pond Herons based on the range and habitat); Western Reef Heron 20+; Little Egret 5+; Great White Egret 30; Grey Heron 10; Greater Flamingo 3 ad.; Black Kite 2 roadside, 2; Shikra 1 juv; Levant Sparrowhawk 1 juv + Levant Sparrowhawk/Shikra male calling, mangroves. Bonelli's Eagle 1 ad circling mangroves; Black-winged Stilt 5; Crab Plover 15 (including 1 ad feeding juv); Ringed Plover 10+; Lesser Sandplover 5+; Greater Sandplover 1+; Grey Plover 5+; Red-Wattled Lapwing 2; Dunlin 5+; Bar-tailed Godwit 10; Whimbrel 20; Curlew 30+; Redshank 30+; Common Sandpiper 5; Terek Sandpiper 5+; "Yellow-legged" Gull ssp. 5; Gull-billed Tern 10; White-breasted Kingfisher 1; Kingfisher - 5 +calls; Little Green Bee-eater M. o. belushdicus 10+; Bee-eater 8+; Crested Lark 10; Swallow 10; Eastern Pied Wheatear Oe. p. picata 2 roadside; Clamorous Reed Warbler? calls and song heard in mangroves, but not seen.
From Bandar Abbas by motorboat to Ghesm. Boatman driving at mad speed and boat banged up and down, although waves were low. During the way back, I lost the head of the scope tripod. It must have got unscrewed from the constant vibrations and fell off unnoticed. The interior of the island was very dry and hot semi-desert with scattered bush. We took a taxi (relatively expensive - 40.000 Rial for 50km) to the village of Laft (some distance south of Laft ferry to the mainland) and went south along the shore lined with dwarf mangroves. It was very hot (35-40°C). Back from Laft to Ghesm we had to hitchhike. We saw waders which we carefully scanned for Slender-billed Curlew (unsuccesfully). Birds were mostly similar to yesterday, and getting there and back took much time and was expensive by Iranian standards.
Pelican sp (Dalmatian?). ca.12 flying far; Indian Pond Heron 20 (identification as yesterday); Western Reef Heron 1; Great Egret 20; Grey Heron 1; Egyptian Vulture 1; Marsh Harrier 1 male; Long-legged Buzzard 1; Osprey 1; Crab Plover 15+; Ringed Plover 10+; Kentish Plover 20+ (probably overlooked on 11/12.10.1999); Greater Sandplover 10+; Dunlin 10+; Bar-tailed Godwit 100+; Whimbrel 25+; Curlew 20+; Redshank 80+; Common Sandpiper 1; Terek Sandpiper 10+; Gull-billed Tern 10+; Laughing Dove 5+; Indian Roller 1; Swallow 1; Clamorous Reed Warbler ? (heard and briefly seen in mangoves).
In the bird lists above I omitted: Feral Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Crested Lark, corvids and sparrows.
Our guide was: Lonely Planet - Iran. It was worse than other LP guides, but neverheless good. Very useful was the update, available free from http://www.lonelyplanet.com
Lack of any information about birds in Iran was a problem (even the Ornithological Society of the Middle East couldn't help). One useful Web site was Protected Areas Information Service
Porter et al. Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East proved good for making friends. We sometimes handed the book to locals for a look, and beautiful pictures immediately attracted attention. We then kept pointing at species we particulary wanted to see, and people understood.
Iranian people in general are extremely, even embarassingly, friendly to foreigners.
Military or police are everywhere, but they are friendly, and we didn't have any problems.
In Iran, distances are vast and buses - slow. Count on no more than 50-60 km/hr on longer routes. We quickly started to take the evening buses, otherwise travel would eat away most of daylight hours. Driving for yourself can be a nightmare for a Westerner since Iranians totally ignore driving lanes, traffic lights etc. In Turkey buses look better, but perhaps are not quicker overall.
Dust-proof covers for books, scopes, cameras etc. are valuable in the desert.
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