Bird Watching

Iran’s vast topographic diversity provides the avid birder with a fantastic opportunity to observe an excellent cross section of shore and wading birds.  It is because of this diversity, we are pleased to announce our special expedition to the Qeshm Island Hara Mangroves.  Located just two kilometers off the Iranian coast, the Qeshm Island mangroves are not only home to over 60 varieties of birds but is the largest mangroves encompassing 85,686 hectares.  Whether you are in search of Common Babbler,  Finsch Vulture, Dalmatian Pelican or Red-necked Phalarope the Qeshm Island mangroves provide both the novice and professional birder with one of the world’s unique ecological biospheres.

About the Hara Mangroves: This area is of major importance to breeding, wintering and migrant water birds. Many herons breed, including great white egret (Egretta alba) western reef heron (E.gularis), Indian pond heron (Ardeola grayii) and goliath heron (Ardea goliath). Crab plover (Dromas ardeola) and stone curlew (Burhinus aedicenemus) also breed here. Migrant birds include grey heron (Ardea cinerea) red shank (Tringa totanus), terek sand piper (T.cinereus) bar tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica) and curlew (Numenius arquata). Flocks of dalmatian pelican (pelecanus cripus) spoonbill (platalea leucorodia) and greater flamingo (phoenicopterus ruber) winter here. More than 60 species of birds have been recorded in the reserve.  Because of its ecological importance, it was designated a RAMSAR site in 1975 and in 1976 the mangroves were listed as a Biosphere reserve.

Why You Should Visit the Hara Mangroves: This coastal wetland is an important wintering site for cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, several species of heron (Ardeidae), spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Dalmatian pelican Pelecanus crispus, waders such as oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, redshank Tringa totanus, bar-tailed godwit Limosa lapponica and curlew Numenius arquata and gulls (Laridae). Most importantly, you can contribute by helping our partners with counting the area’s breeding population as it has yet to be investigated in detail.

Suitable time: Mid April to May

Climate: Mostly warm or hot, dry and sunny. It can be cool or cold at higher altitudes in the north, where some rain is likely. It will be humid on the Persian Gulf coast.

Walking Effort: Easy to moderate. Group size: max 14

Day 1 Arrival to Tehran International Airport and transfer to domestic airport to take early morning flight to Bandar Abbas.

Days 2  3 Bandar Abbas is a major harbor town on the shores of the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. We have now very definitely left the Pale arctic proper and are in the desert fringes of the Oriental Region. The star attraction here is the Sind Woodpecker, a species endemic to Iran and Pakistan, while other birds we can expect to see in the coastal lowlands include Black Kite, Shikra, Black and Grey Francolins, Red-wattled Lapwing, Eurasian Collared and Laughing Doves, Spotted Owlet, Pallid Swift, White-throated Kingfisher, Little Green Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Sand and Crested Larks, Rock Martin, Barn Swallow, White-eared Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Pied Bushchat, Graceful Prinia, Sykes’s Warbler (split from Booted), Common Babbler, Purple Sunbird, Southern Grey Shrike, House Crow, Chestnut-shouldered (or Yellow-throated) Sparrow, Indian Silver bill and Black-headed Bunting. The Hara Protected Area is situated on the shores of the Clarence Strait, a narrow channel separating the large island of Qeshm from the mainland. The reserve contains the largest stands of mangroves in Iran and the adjacent mudflats provide very rich feeding areas for large numbers of migrant shorebirds, gulls and terns. The reserve also harbors such interesting resident species as Striated (or Green-backed) Heron, Indian Pond Heron, Western Reef Egret, Great Thick-knee and Clamorous Reed Warbler. Other species we should find here or elsewhere in the Bandar Abbas area include Great Egret, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, the strange Crab-plover, Common Ringed, Little Ringed, Kentish, Lesser Sand and Grey Plovers, Curlew, Broad-billed, Terek and Common Sandpipers, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Arctic Skua (or Parasitic Jaeger), Sooty, Black-headed, Slender-billed, Caspian and Heuglin’s Gulls, and Gull-billed, Caspian, Sandwich, Common, Saunders’s and Whiskered Terns. We will also visit Kuh-e-Genu, an isolated mountain rising to 2370m. The spectacular winding road up the mountain takes us through a variety of vegetation zones until we end up in scattered junipers not far below the summit. Birds we will be looking for here include Common Kestrel, See-see Partridge, Chukar, Desert Lark, Red-rumped Swallow, Long-billed Pipit, Hume’s Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Scrub and Upcher’s Warblers, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Bay-backed and Isabelline Shrikes, and House Bunting.

Day 4 After a final morning around Bandar Abbas we will catch an afternoon flight back to Tehran and transfer to hotel, we will rest for the evening to be fresh for the next long day drive.

Day 5 Iran’s capital is a large, relatively modern city at the base of the Alborz Mountains, situated at about 1600m on the edge of the great central desert of Iran. Behind the city the snow-capped peaks of the Alborz rise to over 4000m. Today we will drive up the dry and barren south-facing slopes of the Alborz almost to the snow-line and then down through the luxuriant forests on the northern slopes to the densely populated, rice-growing areas along the shores of the Caspian (which has a surface 26m below sea-level!). We will stop briefly near the top of the pass to enjoy spectacular views (weather permitting) of Mount Damavand, at 5670m the highest mountain in western Eurasia. On reaching the Caspian lowlands we will make a detour to the coast in order to gaze at this vast inland sea. Later we will continue eastwards to the extreme eastern end of the Caspian lowlands where we will stay for two nights at Gonbad-e-Kavus. During the journey we may encounter Mallard, Western Marsh Harrier, White Wagtail, Great Reed Warbler, Eurasian Magpie and Common Starling.

Day 6 Golestan National Park is Iran’s oldest and one of its finest, spanning the divide between the lush forests of the Caspian lowlands and the semi-arid steppes of northern Khorosan. We will spend the day investigating the deciduous forest, shrub and steppe zones, and also visiting the rolling grasslands at higher elevations. Mammals abound in the park and we should encounter Wild Boar in the forests, Goitred Gazelles on the steppes and Wild Goat (or Persian Ibex) and Mouflon in the hills. Even though we are now well to the east of the Caspian Sea, we are still effectively in the Western Palearctic avifaunal region, albeit at its very edge. Indeed, the birds of the forest zone scarcely differ from those found in British woodlands and thickets, including such species as Eurasian Sparrow hawk, Common Buzzard, Common Cuckoo, European Green Woodpecker, European Robin, Common Redstart, Common Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Coal and Blue Tits, Eurasian Nuthatch, Common Chaffinch and Common Linnet, although Red-breasted and Semicollared Flycatchers are a notable exception and species scarce in Britain include European Honey Buzzard and Eurasian Hobby. The star attraction here is the uncommon Hyrcanian Tit, a split from Sombre Tit that is restricted to the Caspian forest zone stretching from eastern Azerbaijan to northeast Iran. We will certainly be making an effort to find this poorly known bird, although we shall need some luck to find it. As we move out of the forest into the shrub zone we will begin to encounter some species more typical of Central Asia. Birds we can expect to find in this habitat include European Roller, Wood Lark, Pied Wheatear, Orphean Warbler, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Red-fronted Serin, European Goldfinch (of the canicepsgroup, sometimes split as Grey-headed Goldfinch), Common Linnet, Common Rosefinch and Rock Bunting. In the east of the park the shrub zone gives way to dry Artemisia steppes where we should find Long-legged Buzzard, Calandra Lark, Eurasian Skylark, Isabelline Wheatear, Rosy Starling (sometimes in large swirling flocks) and Red-headed Bunting (here at the southwestern extremity of its breeding range). We will take a side valley up onto the rolling grassland along the divide to look for raptors such as Lammergeier, Eurasian Griffon and Eurasian Black Vultures, and Golden Eagle. Common Quail and Corn Buntings are present in the grasslands and Alpine Swifts may be sailing overhead.

Day 7 Once again we will be crossing the divide between the Caspian lowlands and Iran’s arid interior, this time as we head south to Shahrud for a two nights stay. We will break our journey near the top of the divide to pay a visit to Khosh Yeilagh Wildlife Refuge, a large reserve in a wild region of mountain grassland and steppe. Species we may encounter for the first time today include Common Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Bimaculated and Horned Larks, Tawny Pipit, Northern and Finsch’s Wheatears, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Ortolan Bunting. As we continue onto the northern rim of the Central Plateau the landscape becomes increasingly arid.

Day 8 Iran’s largest reserve, Touran Wildlife Refuge and Biosphere Reserve, lies at the northeastern edge of the great Dasht-e-Kavir desert, about 100km southeast of Shahrud. Established in 1973 and covering 18,000 square kilometers, this vast reserve protects a wide range of semi-desert and desert habitats from Artemisia steppe in the arid foothills of the Alborz in the north through bushy Zygophyllum steppe, sparsely vegetated sand dunes and bare stony plains to the immense salt wastes of the Dasht-e-Kavir proper in the south. Our primary target species will be the highly localized Pleske’s Ground Jay, not only a member of a uniquely Central Asian group of aberrant corvids, but also a species endemic to the eastern deserts of Iran. The predominant vegetation in its favoured habitat is Zygophyllum, a desert shrub which can grow to two meters in height, and we will wait for a ground jay to pop up on top of a bush to give its ringing call, or try to keep up with this swift runner as it dashes between the bushes. We will also be looking out for a number of other birds characteristic of much of Iran’s central plateau including Egyptian Vulture, Cream-colored Courser, Black-bellied Sand grouse, European Bee-eater, Bar-tailed and Lesser Short-toed Larks, Desert and Variable Wheatears, Desert Warbler, the enigmatic Pale Rock finch (or Pale Rock Sparrow) and Desert and Trumpeter Finches. With a little luck we will also find the stately Macqueen’s Bustard (split from Houbara), which is still a fairly common breeding species in this area. Vast numbers of migrants pass over the deserts of Iran in both spring and autumn, and while the great majority doubtless make the desert crossing in a single hop, the luxuriant vegetation around the many small springs always seems to attract stragglers, such as Eurasian Golden Oriole, Red-throated and Tree Pipits, Citrine and Yellow Wagtails (of an interesting variety of forms), Green and Willow Warblers, and Spotted Flycatcher, whatever the weather. Larger migrants such as Pallid Harrier and Steppe Eagle also make a pause in the reserve. Touran is one of the last strongholds of the Asiatic Wild Ass, or Onager, in Iran and, although numbers have been much depleted in recent years, we have a good chance of seeing this endangered species.

Day 9 This morning we will drive westwards to Semnan for a two nights stay. In the afternoon we will begin our exploration of the surrounding area.

Day 10 During our stay at Semnan we will explore the high uplands to the north of the town where small valleys with stunted shrubby vegetation hold Radde’s Accentor, Rufous-tailed Wheatear, the diminutive Plain Leaf Warbler and Grey-necked Bunting, while the high alpine steppe dominated by spectacular cushion plants and a few lingering snow patches are home to Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and White-winged Snowfinch. We will also explore the Parvar Protected Area, further into the Alborz Mountains. The reserve is noted for its spectacular scenery and excellent stands of juniper forest. Here we will search the shrub zone, juniper forests, boulder slopes and crags for Caspian Snowcock, Eurasian Crag Martin, the splendid White-throated Robin, Black Redstart, the distinctive althaea form of Lesser Whitethroat (sometimes split as Hume’s Whitethroat), Western Rock Nuthatch, Red-billed Chough and Rock Sparrow.

Day 11 After spending the morning in the Semnan area we will return to Tehran for an overnight stay. As we near the city we should see Rooks in the cultivated areas.

Day 12 Transfer to the airport for departing flight.