Friday 24 May 2024

Armenia 2023 - Part 4

Having enjoyed a relatively late breakfast (8am), we checked out of our B&B, said our thanks and goodbyes to our host Anna and took to the road once more.

Our eventual destination late that day would be the Dilijan National Park. Habitat-wise somewhere completely different to the fishponds of Armash or the dry arid hills of Vedi. Therefore we could obviously expect a whole different suite of birds. The initial stages of our journey took us along the ancient Silk Road and over the Selim Pass. We pulled over just north of the Orbelian Caravanserai (a traditional resting place for those travelling the Silk Road). In these high mountain meadows we had singing Whinchats, Meadow Pipits and Northern Wheatears. Nick also had a small group of Honey Buzzards heading north over the pass. 

Views from the Selim Pass along the old Silk Road

Ideally what we were looking for along this stretch of road was any kind of suitable habitat for Radde's Accentor. But suitable habitat was not easy to find. At the next spot as we walked out across a mountain meadow we kicked up a largish-looking Snipe. Not knowing if we were in the region for breeding Great Snipe or not (we weren't) and not having any real clue myself as to how to distinguish Great Snipe from Common Snipe based on flight views or open wing and tail patterns. Something in my head told me that the presence or absence of a white trailing edge on the wing was a helpful identification feature. I immediately and entirely focused my binocular view on the trailing edge of the wing and could not see a trailing edge on our bird. Whether that mean Great or Common I didn't know but I knew there was no trailing edge on this bird. Nick being far more clued in than me on conundrums like this had also been able to take in the white-borded dark mid-winged panel. So, whilst neither of us got time to take a photo and we couldn't relocate the bird we were both happy to call it as Great Snipe, a good find and a lifer for me!

We drove on a little further and reached a small stone bridge over a little stream that was fringed by small willows. We expected this might be good for singing Bluethroat so we pulled over and had a bite to eat before setting off along the bank. At this point we bumped into another British Birder (Duncan Bulling) and shared information about Persian Wheatear at Noravank Monastery and our recent Great Snipe encounter. At the bridge we had a Black-bellied Dipper (my first Dipper in ten years!!), feldegg Yellow Wagtail, Common Cuckoo and an odd Armenian couple who needed help changing a flat tyre!

Duncan lends a hand with the jack!

We didn't have anything in the willows but further up the track we could see a small settlement of tumble-down and ramshackle dwellings that looked like the place that had been referred to in some recent rip reports and certainly warranted further investigation. 

The best birds are often in the most unappealing places and no disrespect to the people living in this settlement but it was pretty basic and scruffy. But........we enjoyed an excellent few hours birding around this spot. I think the trip highlight was the first bird we laid eyes on here, a stunning male luristanica race of Bluethroat. We also found our Radde's Accentor here, plus a male Common Redstart, a smart male Black Redstart of the race ochruros, Water Pipit and Lesser Grey Shrike.

Radde's Accentor

Male Black Redstart (race ochruros)

Male Common Redstart

Nick advised me that the Bluethroat was favouring a certain spot around the dry walls so I decided to position myself comfortably nearby and hope that the bird would show well. 

Bluethroat's favoured spot

I wasn't disappointed and all I needed to do was sit comfortably with my back against the stone wall and wait for the bird to come into view. At several points it was literally on the stone wall above my head paying not the slightest bit of notice to me. I captured what in my opinion are amongst my favourite ever images of this species and in fact of any bird species I've ever photographed.

Having filled our boots here we set off on our journey once again, passing along the western edge of the huge Lake Sevan before reaching our digs at the Dili Vita guesthouse amid the rolling hills and lush deciduous forests of the Dilijan National Park. It was here where we would hope to see Green Warbler, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Ehrenberg's Redstarts.

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