Where to Watch Birds in Armenia
Armenia has only recently has been discovered by western birders to be a rewarding birding destination, and published information on the subject in English is still limited. With the exception of the few trip reports (see here), widely available practical information on the web is almost non-existant or inadequate. This section aims to partially fill this gap and hopefully will be useful, especially for birders who prefer to travel on their own, as well as for those who visit Armenia for business or other purposes and would like to spend a spare day or two birding.
In late 1900s hardly any of the local tourist agencies had any idea of such odd things as birdwatchers and birdwatching. At that time even among local ornithologists there was little understanding of the concept of birdwatching. One of the early summer tour itineraries encountered was offering observations of Saker, Purple Swamp-hen and other Armenian vagrants and extreme rarities. It was, however, ineptly grabbed from Turkish itinerary in a British tour operator’s brochure and, judging by the locations to be visited, would doubtless have resulted in a disappointing adventure.
In June 1999 Birdwatching Breaks visited Armenia at the invitation of the Armenian Ecotourism Association (ARMECAS) to investigate the possibilities and potential of developing birdwatching tourism in the country. One of us was involved as their local guide. Some of the sites (Armash fish farm, Lake Sevan) were historically well-known, others (e.g. Vedi Hills) were remarkably discovered to host rare birds by British and Russian volunteers and local field researchers during 1994 - 1995 surveys for the Birds of Armenia Project. There was, however, a need to design an appropriate route, that would cover more sites, most of the breeding species, all Armenian specialties and sought after WP targets as well as some East European migrants within the 10-15 days period. At the same time travel distances need to be kept as short and as easy as possible. We eventually ended up with the "classic" route, which today is the standard and is reflected in the trip reports. Slight variations and amendments were adopted in subsequent years during the trips with Mark Finn, Simon Busuttil, Chris Bradshaw, Roy Beddard (Birdwatching Breaks), Nigel Redman and Nik Borrow (Birdquest) and many individual visiting birders. Thus the route has been further polished, incorporating new sites of special interest and improved roads and shortcuts.
Thorough observations from our first birding tours and thereafter produced some significant discoveries in ornithologically familiar locations or at least so it was thought! It turned out that White-headed Duck, White-tailed Lapwing, Savi's and Paddyfield Warblers were largely overlooked in preceding years and are regular breeders at Armash fish farm. Hobby, Black, Green and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Meadow Pipit, Barred Warbler, Common Nightingale, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Pale Rockfinch and many others are not rare or uncommon, as was previously considered, but just under recorded and are widely distributed and common in all appropriate habitats. Levant Sparrowhawk normally breeds in all wooded parks of Yerevan city and rises young right above peoples heads and passing cars. It was on 30 May 2000 when near Gorayk at Spandarian reservoir we found a breeding colony of Lesser Kestrels - still the only known in Armenia. Additional finds were further accumulated with every new tour and further new species were added to the Armenian avifauna including Long-tailed Duck, Eleonora's Falcon, See-see Partridge, Mongolian Finch, as well as additional records of several major rarities and breeding range extensions for a number of poorly known species.
Today the new data and information are increasingly being utilized by some local organisations and agencies. Sadly though their printed and online materials rarely credit original sources, including our principally verbal communications, online trip reports and sets of observations by a number of enthusiastic birders from Europe, US and elsewhere. Many birders have now put their funds, efforts and energy in increasing our knowledge on Armenian avifauna simultaneously rising country’s profile as a new West Palearctic birding hot spot.
So, where to watch birds?...