Armenia is home to over two-thirds of Europe’s regularly occurring bird species, including many that are rare or difficult to find elsewhere. We begin our holiday at Mount Aragats, where we’ll look for such species as White-throated Robin, Caucasian Black Grouse, Horned Lark and special local plants including fritillaries, orchids and gladioli. Next we travel to the Armash Fish Ponds, Armenia’s premier wetland region, which teems with birds such as Pygmy Cormorant, White-winged Black Tern and Glossy Ibis. We will be based for two nights at Yeghegnadzor, where we’ll look for montane species such as Red-fronted Serin and Caspian Snowcock, and we’ll also visit Norovank, one of Armenia’s best-known churches. We’ll then spend two nights at Dilijan exploring Lake Sevan en route. Flycatchers, redstarts and warblers should provide a fitting finale to our holiday in this fascinating country.
• Radde’s Accentor, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush & White-winged Snowfinch, Mt Aragats
• Lammergeier & Levant Sparrowhawk plus several eagle species
• Marbled, White-headed & Ferruginous Ducks among a host of other wetland birds
• Moustached, Great Reed, Paddyfield, Menetries’ & Upcher’s Warblers
• Small colony of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters & rare plants near Armash Fish Ponds
• 3-centre holiday staying at the capital Yerevan, Yeghegnadzor & Dilijan
• Visit Armenian Orthodox churches, silk route ‘caravanserais’ & 9th century monastery
• Look for Crimson-winged Finch, Wallcreeper, Armenian Gull & Rose-coloured Starling
• Semi-collared & Red-breasted Flycatchers, Roller & Lesser Grey Shrike
• Wild gladioli, salvias, orchids, bellflowers, scabious, irises & gypsophilas
• Alpine plants include Scilla Armenia & Orchis stevenii
• Led by expert ornithologist & botanist guides
All included in the price.
Comfortable tourist hotels in Yerevan and Dilijan, each room with private facilities. Elsewhere we use a small guesthouse/homestay where facilities may be shared.
Rose-coloures Starling (Armenia Travel)
Day 2 Mount Aragats, from Yerevan
Day 3 Armash Fish Ponds; overnight Yeghegnadzor
Day 4 Mount Gdnasar; overnight Yeghegnadzor
Day 5/6 Lake Sevan; overnight Dilijan
Nestling in the snow-capped Caucasian Mountains and overlooked by Mount Ararat just over the border in Turkey, Armenia is a gem of a natural history destination. Despite its small size, not much bigger than Wales, and the fact that it is landlocked, this former Soviet Republic is home to over two-thirds of Europe’s regularly occurring bird species, including many that are rare or difficult to find elsewhere, and boasts a fantastically diverse flora reflecting a location at the meeting point between Europe and Asia. Unusually in a region where the Moslem faith predominates, Armenia is a Christian country and its capital, Yerevan, bustles with a lively juxtaposition of old churches, a thriving jazz scene, and such reminders of the Soviet era as the impressive Republic Square, while at weekends the huge and atmospheric ‘vernissage’s open-air flea market attracts locals and tourists. Elsewhere, 13th century bridges, and well-preserved ‘caravanserais’s — stopovers for traders plying the silk route in the 14th century — serve as fascinating reminders of Armenia’s long history and strategic location. As well as offering a wealth of birdlife, as yet little-explored by Westerners, the country is home to many interesting Armenian Orthodox churches and monasteries, some dating back as far as the 9th century, such as Haghartsin near Dilijan, and Sevanavank, which enjoys a scenic location on a promontory extending into Lake Sevan.
Following an early morning arrival in Yerevan we begin our exploration by visiting Mount Aragats which, at 3,190 metres, is the highest of Armenia’s mountains. With each change of altitude we will encounter a different selection of birds, beginning with White-throated Robins and the distinctive local race of Bluethroat at lower levels before entering the windswept world of Horned Larks, Alpine and Radde’s Accentors, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes and White-winged Snowfinches at higher elevations. This alpine region also offers us the chance to see some of the special local plants, including Fritillaria caucasica, Orchis stevenii, Orchisschelvcornikova, Gladiolus tenuis and Scilla armenia. Throughout this largely unspoilt and sparsely populated country, bird of prey populations remain healthy, with several eagle species, Lammergeier and Levant Sparrowhawk likely to be among the highlights. Our 9-day tour covers each of the country’s main habitat types but, being such a small country with generally good infrastructure, travelling times between areas are usually short, allowing us to maximise the amount of time spent in the field.
Next we exchange mountains for wetlands as we drive to the Armash Fish Ponds, Armenia’s premier area for waterbirds where attractions include breeding Pygmy Cormorant, plus Marbled, White-headed and Ferruginous Ducks. This wonderful complex of lakes and marshland is teeming with birds and other highlights could include Glossy Ibis, White-tailed Lapwing, White-winged Black Tern, and such passerines as Moustached, Great Reed and Paddyfield Warblers. Meanwhile the surrounding countryside holds Menetries’s and Upcher’s Warblers as well as a small colony of exotic Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and some of Armenia’s rarer plants, including Salvia grossheimii, Gladiolus atrovioleceus and Vicia cappadocica.
We again turn our attention to the mountains during a couple of days based in Yeghegnadzor. Close to the town lies Noravank, one of Armenia’s best-known churches, situated in a narrow gorge by the Amaghu River. From Yeghegnadzor we’sll journey to Mount Gdnasar in search of the elusive Caspian Snowcock and a fine selection of montane species such as Lammergeier, Red-fronted Serin, Crimson-winged Finch and Wallcreeper. Then we will transfer to Dilijan, stopping en route to scan Lake Sevan, the largest lake in Armenia and a nesting site for the rare Armenian Gull. Here we may also see Iris paradoxa, Cleome ornithopodioides and Gypsophila elegans. During our 2-night stay in Dilijan, we will look for Caucasian Black Grouse on an early morning visit to their favourite display areas, and walk through verdant deciduous forests where Green Warblers, Redstarts and both Semi-collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers will be defending their summer territories and feeding young.
Our tour of Armenia concludes with two further nights based in the capital, from which, before it is time to leave this small but fascinating country, we will enjoy yet more exciting birding and botanising during visits to nearby Garni and Geghard where, in a landscape of steppe and rocky gorges, we will hope to encounter Finsch’s and Isabelline Wheatear, Roller, Lesser Grey Shrike, Bimaculated Lark and Rosec-oloured Starling, as well as such plants as Alkanna orientalis, the bellflower Campanula choziatowskyi, Achillea filipendulina, the scabious Scabiosa micrantha and Lotus glebelia.
I particularly enjoyed the botany with Paul as our botanist. He found some delightful treasures for us.
I also enjoyed the dinners at local restaurants, especially the last one.
It was well organised and led. The driver of the bus was good and helpful (he lent me some pliers to fix a problem I had with my tripod). Paul Harmes ensured a fair balance between the (sometimes) competing interests of the botanists and birdwatchers in the group. Hasmik (the local guide) was a very good birdwatcher with extensive local knowledge who enabled us to identify birds I had never seen or heard before. She always tried very hard to find the special birds for us and this was much appreciated especially on the rare occasions when, through no fault of hers, the bird could not be found (something which always happens in birdwatching). Paul and Hasmik worked well together to deliver an enjoyable holiday for us.
Wildlife observations were excellent.
Paul Harmes and Hasmik Ter Voskanyan were excellent guides and worked well for our team. All the travel arrangements went well. The accommodation was very satisfactory and we greatly enjoyed the locations chosen for us.
The birding was full on and very good indeed. James Lees was brilliant.
A thoroughly enjoyable trip with two excellent leaders and Hasmik did an excellent job making sure everything went smoothly on the ground. The mixture of interests went very well and the leaders made sure that everyone was catered for.
James is an excellent guide - knows his birds well, but is also interested in other things, even plants. He is also very aware of everyone's needs and works hard to meet them. Paul's encyclopaedic knowledge of all forms of wildlife is always impressive as is his keenness to share it with others. Both leaders' patience and good humour made the trip memorable.