Authors: Martin S.
Adamian and Daniel Klem Jr.
220pp. Yerevan, American University of Armenia.
Armenia (a country the size of Belgium or the U.S.
State of Maryland) has an extraordinary 346 species of birds whereas the whole
of Europe has 550 and the area encompassed be the former Soviet Union has 750
species. But every year, as trees are cut down and wetlands are destroyed, the
environmental health of the country is slowly deteriorating. At the forefront
of preserving the habitat for future generations is Pennsylvania resident,
Sarkis Acopian, whose tireless commitment to conservation in Armenia began many
years ago and culminated with a major donation to the AGBU (Armenian General
Benevolent Union) to establish the Sarkis Acopian Chair in Conservation and
Environmental Management at AUA (American University of Armenia) in 1996.
Birds have long been a part of Armenias history.
Magnificent miniatures created by medieval Armenian artists were included in
ecclesiastical manuscripts, and a great deal of bird information is mentioned
in the philosophical tracts written by Armenian historians during the fourth to
For conservationist Mr. Acopian, featuring the birds
of Armenia is just his latest way to introduce the importance of environmental
conservation to the general public. Leading a global team of experts, Mr.
Acopian published "A Field Guide to Birds of Armenia" aimed
not just to update the level of knowledge on Armenias bird population,
which was last done 40 years ago, and provide practical assistance to an
international contingent of bird enthusiasts, but also to introduce the beauty
and utility of Armenias birds to Armenian communities world-wide. "
I wanted to accomplish something for Armenia that was lasting that would
be good for many years from now. And to do something that has international
interest," says Mr. Acopian.
From the AGBU publication "Acopians Legacy
In 1993, the Birds of Armenia Project was launched, and specialists, primarily
from the United States of America, Russia, and United Kingdom were invited to
the Republic to ensure an optimal professional effort and a field guide that
would meet the highest international standards. I believe these joint efforts,
completed in 1997, are successful. This book comprehensively documents the bird
life of Armenia using published, previously unpublished, and new records. It is
presented in a way that the entire Birds of Armenia Project Team believes will
be a major contribution and reference for anyone interested in the birds of the
region known as Little Caucasus. I am extremely enthusiastic about what this
book will do to introduce birds, and more importantly, the ideas of conserving
and preserving all our natural treasures for us, but most importantly, for
those that will come after us. Especially for our children to enjoy and
appreciate and hopefully it will further encourage all of us to better
appreciate birds, these special riches that are not always so obvious to the
struggling citizens that work so hard just to survive. But conservation is a
wise and worthy cause, and struggles are easier when you acquire practical and
spiritual strength from the pride receive in knowing that Armenia has national
treasures that are worth protecting, not just for Armenians, but for all
worlds people everywhere.
Martin S. Adamian, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist and Curator of Vertebrates Institute
of Zoology, Armenian National Academy of Sciences
Martin Scott (Birding
World, Volume 10, N 5, May 1997)
The former Soviet Republic of Armenia lies at the
southeastern corner of the Western Pale- arctic, between Turkey and the
Caucasus Mountains. It is mountainous throughout, Topping 4.000m at Mount
Aragats and drop- ping to 600m in the Arax Valley by the Iranian border,
Armenia's western landscape is over- shadowed and dominated by the biblical
Mount Ararat in Turkey. Its avifauna is amazingly unspoiled and rich in
diversity, due to the mainly traditional farming methods still employed and the
large areas of semi-natural habitat remaining,
I visited Armenia from May to December 1995 as a part of the 'Birds of Armenia
Project', The results of the fieldwork of this project, relating primarily to
distribution and status, are to be published in two forthcoming books. During
my seven-month stay, six other British birders visited as volunteers. We were
the first westerners known to have extensively surveyed the country, and the
only westerners known to have birded the country apart from a British group for
two weeks in the 1970s and two German groups in the 1980s.
The Armenian bird list currently stands at346 species, and many of these are
muchsought-after by Western Palearctic birders -notably Caspian Snowcock,
Caucasian BlackGrouse, Radde's Accentor, Red-tailedWheatear, Upcher's Warbler
and Red-fronted Serin. There is also the added prize of Armenian Gull, which
breeds on the alpinelakes.Although internal travel can be rough, thespecies
encountered are certainly worth theeffort. I recorded 301 species during my
stayand II new species were added to the nationallist in the same period. This
indicates that muchis still to be learnt in Armenia. It has much moreto offer
than simply lending its name to a gulland a stonechat.Armenia is only just
opening up to westerners, but it is a safe country and visiting
isstraightforward (although a visa is required).the international airport is in
the capital, Yerevan. Car hire is readily available and quiteinexpensive, and
whilst hotels and cafes can befound in almost all areas, camping also
The capital, Yerevan, holds nearly half of the republic's population of 3
million people. It lies on the eastern side of the Arax Valley, looking towards
Mount Ararat in Turkey, and it is the logical base for a visit. Yerevan is
split by the Hrazdan Gorge running through its centre, and this forms an array
of habitats within the city's boundaries. Syrian Woodpecker, Thrush
Night-ingale, Olivaceous Warbler and Western Rock Nuthatch are common in the
gorge, whilst Eagle Owls and Crag Martins also breed there and Wallcreepers
occur in winter. The city parks hold Laughing Doves and several pairs of Levant
Sparrowhawks and roving flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings regularly fly over in
spring. In autumn, Sakers regularly use multistory buildings as hunting posts
for their attacks on Feral Pigeons.
The world's second largest alpine lake (the first is Lake Geneva in
Switzerland), covering an area of nearly 1,300 square kilometres. Lake Sevan
plays host to an impressive wealth of species. Breeding birds are rather
limited, but the area does hold a substantial colony of Armenian Gulls (mainly
along the northwes-tern shore). They remain at the lake all year round, even in
late winter when a total freeze-over is the norm. For gull enthusiasts, the
winter period is of special interest with the added bonus of large numbers of
Great Black-headed Gulls (eg over 600 in December 1995), concentrated mainly
around Cape Noratoos on the northwestern shore.
In autumn and early winter, wildfowl num-bers peak, with internationally
important numbers of Red-crested Pochards and Bewick's Swans. Passage migrants
such as Ruddy Shel-ducks and Broad-billed Sandpipers are also drawn-in,
especially to the muddy southern shores, while the adjacent reedbeds are alive
with Penduline Tits, Marsh Warblers and Mountain Chiff chaffs. Large numbers of
the last species were seen between September and November 1995, with up to 400
estimated around the lake. The wintering zone of this species remains unknown
but this record cer-tainly acts as an important piece of the jigsaw.
Next to the lake, near the village of Lichk, two ponds with fringing reedbeds
and adjacent scrub and trees provide a migrant haven. Large numbers of herons,
Acrocephalus warblers and Spotted Crakes were present in September 1995, and
roosts of Yellow Wagtails, Reed Buntings and Sand Martins attracted a number of
Hobbies. At the southeast corner of Lake Sevan lies Gilli Marsh, an expanse of
open ground where Demoiselle Cranes stop off on their southward migration. In
1995, over 1,000 passed through the area during 2nd-9th September - a
significant count for this globally-declining species.
Peaking at 4,095m, this extinct volcano can be ascended through most of its
habitat zones by car, as far as Lake Kari and the adjacent weather station at
3,200m. Alpine Accentor, Snowfinch, Shorelark, and Crimson-winged Finch are all
common in the upper boulder field zones, whilst Wallcreeper and Caspian
Snowcock can be found on the precipitous peaks surrounding the crater.
Some 9km lower down, towards the Amberd Fortress, is a band of juniper scrub on
the south- western slopes. Radde's Accentor breeds at the roadside here, along
with White-throated Robins, Bluethroats and Rock Thrushes. The rocky middle
zone, around the fortress, holds breeding Rock Sparrows and Rock Buntings
whilst, lower down the mountain, rich sub- alpine meadow areas hold numerous
Water Pipits and Common Rosefinches, with Twite and Black-headed Wagtails on
the eastern slopes. Long-legged Buzzards are resident on the mountain, whilst
Steppe Eagles and Pallid Harriers are mainly seen in autumn. Several wooded
gorges on the lower slopes support Mountain Chiffchaffs, Syrian Woodpeckers and
Golden Orioles, with Lesser Grey Shrikes breeding lower down. Raptors are
common in these lower areas with 26 species recorded in 1995, including
Short-toed, Lesser Spotted, Imperial, Golden and Booted Eagles.
Meghri and the south
The city of Meghri lies on the north bank of theRiver Arax, at Armenia's
southern extremity.The surrounding landscape is primarily sub-desert,
intersected with a maze of steep-sideddry river valleys and alleviated only by
occa-sional fig, peach, and pomegranate orchards.Summer temperatures are
blistering in thisregion, reaching 49°C during July. Finsch's,Black-eared,
and Red-tailed Wheatear (the lastof the eastern race chrysopygia) breed
here,whilst other residents include Black Francolin,Sombre Tit and the duo of
Western and EasternRock Nuthatches, which breed side-by-side inmany rocky
gorges in the region.
Gegham range Running north to south and separating Yerevanand the Arax Valley
from the Lake Sevan basin,the Gegham mountain range acts as a tremendous
natural barrier: roads go into themountains but do not cross them. At
thesouthern tip of the range lies the KhosrovReserve, an area of mountainous
cliffs sparselycovered in open scrub woodland. Breedingbirds here include four
species of vulture,Lesser Spotted Eagle, Lanner Falcon, MountainChiffchaff and
Green Warbler. Due to humanpressure, mammals are now decreasing, butBrown Bear
and Wild Boar are still present andLeopards are still occasionally reported.
The village of Hatis lies on the western side of the range on the edge of a
huge alpine meadow and boulder field. Here White-throated Robin, Rock Thrush,
Barred Warbler, Rose-coloured Starling and Black-headed Bunting breed in
numbers and Common Rosefinches are abundant.
The western side of the Sevan basin was found to be the best location for
raptor watch-ing in autumn 1995. On one day, 17th September, counts of 167
Steppe Eagles, 61 Lesser Spotted Eagles, 16 Pallid Harriers and 18 Levant
Sparrowhawks were made from Gree Gorge, five miles west of Kamo city. The
divers-ity of species in this gorge was outstanding, with Radde's Accentors and
Crimson-winged Finches being the highlights (a flock of 330 of the latter was
seen here in early December 1995) whilst migrants included Marsh Warbler, Green
Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Snow-finch. The last are likely to breed
in the higher peaks in the range, where there are old records of Caspian
Snowcock and Wallcreeper.
To the north of Lake Sevan and to the east of Stepanavan, the northeastern
forests comprise a large, but rather fragmented expanse of ancient beech
forest, with oaks and hornbeams. Red-breasted and Semi-collared Flycatchers
breed in the dense canopies, whilst Green Warblers are abundant in the Dilijan
area - picked out by their explosive song and hyper-active behavior.
Woodpeckers are well represented by Black, Green, Great, Middle, and Lesser
Spotted, and there is one old record of White-backed (from near the Georgian
border). Rap-tors include breeding Lesser Spotted and Short-toed Eagles, whilst
one Spotted Eagle was seen in the region in June. The only record of Black
Stork breeding in Armenia comes from this area, and Spanish Sparrows were found
in one orchard near the Azerbaijan border. Caucasian Black Grouse remains a
great prize for visiting birders. Despite extensive searching, it was located
at only two sites in 1995, both near Hrazdan city. The easier birds to find
were those at the track-side (suitable for 4-wheel drive only and not for the
faint-hearted!) on the saddle of Mount Tezhier. Several were seen here, feeding
in the grassy alpine zone above the tree line on the north-facing slopes. There
are also old records of Caspian Snowcocks in this area.
Northern Arax Valley
The northern Arax Valley runs along the closed Turkish border and is the
largest valley in Armenia, averaging 20km wide. The northern part of the valley
around Hoktembarian is covered in volcanic basalt and, with summer temperatures
regularly around 35°C, it is an inhospitable place. Nevertheless, the
birdlife is excellent. Finsch's Wheatears and Bimaculated, Short-toed and
Lesser Short-toed Larks are abundant, Calandra Larks pass through on migration,
and Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Menetries' Warbler are regular. There are
sev-eral records of Great Bustard from the area whilst, in April 1995, two
Caspian Plovers were recorded from the dry steppe near the village of Vanand.
The town of Vedi lies just 40 minutes drive south from the centre of Yerevan.
In the low hills between here and the neighbouring village of Dashtakar lies a
zone of frost-shattered rocks which form a unique, rugged habitat which
supports several pairs of Grey-necked Buntings and Trumpeter Finches (the most
northerly confirmed breeding record of this species in the world), as well as
White-throated Robins, Upcher's Warblers and both rock nuthatches. A spring,
the only source of water in this dry environment, attracts many birds
year-round, whilst over 350 Red-fronted Serins were in the area on a daily
basis during November.
Some four kilometers south of here lies Dashtakar. To date, this is the only
known site for Pale Rock Sparrow in Armenia. This is a difficult bird to find,
as it is well camouflaged amidst its sun-baked rock habitat; it is best located
by tracking down its dry, buzzing song. Raptors migrate through the valley in
consider- able numbers, but its breadth makes viewing tricky. Levant
Sparrowhawk, Pallid Harrier, and Steppe Eagle proved to be numerous on autumn
passage, with Black Kites and Steppe Buzzards passing through in the largest
Running through the Arax Valley is a chain of fish farms and marshes near the
villages of Yeghegnoot, Masees, and Armash. Combined, they cover nearly 350km
square. Each fish farm can only be entered through security gates, and proper
authorization is best obtained for entry. although a bottle of vodka can
certainly ease the way! Vast quantities of insect repellent are also
recommended. Little Bitterns and Night and Squacco Herons are common breeding
species, while Pygmy Cormorants are resident (particu larly around their island
colony at Armash); counts of the last species neared 2,000 at timesin 1995.
Waterfowl include Ferruginous andWhite-headed Ducks and Marbled Teal,
whilstLesser White-fronted Geese make regular visits.Six species of terns occur
regularly andArmenian and Slender-billed Gulls are com-mon. Perhaps the main
attraction of the pondsis wader migration. Spring brings a few GreatSnipe,
whilst other sought-after but regularspecies include Black-winged Pratincole,
Soci-able Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Broad-billed,Marsh and Terek Sandpipers
and Red-neckedPhalaropes. Almost anything is possible, as proven by the
White-tailed Plover recorded in1989 and the Spur-winged Plover in November1995.
The three species of crake visit and PurpleGallinule is a rare visitor,
presumably frompopulations to the east. Great Reed Warblersabound in the
reedbeds, whilst PaddyfieldWarbler breeds in small numbers. MoustachedWarblers,
Mountain Chiffchaffs and PendulineTits make use of the reedbeds on
autumnpassage, whilst stonechats of four forms occur(including armenica and
variegata). The drierareas around the fish ponds are scattered withtamarisk
bushes which hold Rufous BushRobins as well as Menetries' and Olivaceous
Warblers; Menetries' is particularly common here, with many breeding.
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater remains one of the jewels of the east. In late summer,
numbers build up at both Masees and Armash; a peak of 145 was recorded at the
latter in 1995.
A visa is required, obtainable for US$35 per month from the Armenian Embassy in
London. Travel to Armenia is by Armenian Airlines via Paris, Athens, Moscow or
Amsterdam. Currently the return fare from Amsterdam to Yerevan is $800. Another
option would be to travel overland via Georgia, but political un-certainties
there and occasional blocking of the border may make this problematic. Once in
Armenia, a trip can be arranged to cater for any budget level. Hotels are
limited and vary drasti-cally in price and quality - $45-110 per room in Hotel
Armenia, $8 per room at Lake Sevan and $4 in Hotel Circack at Vanadzor. The
normal rules apply - ie you get what you pay for! In summer, camping is a good,
easy option although, as almost all land is privately owned, a supply of
bottles of vodka may be useful to break the ground with inquisitive locals.
Water supplies can be a problem in late summer. Small shops and cafes are
everywhere, with meals averaging about $5 per head. In Yerevan, western cuisine
is available, but elsewhere it remains the traditional grilled kebab. Car
rental is available (with Ladas at about $100 per week) and drivers can also be
hired. This is best arranged through Hotel Armenia or Levon Travel (a US firm
recently established in Yer-evan). Armenian is the native language, but Russian
is spoken widely, whilst many of the young people of Yerevan speak some
English. The local currency is the dram (approx. 400 dram to US$1); US dollars
are readily accepted throughout the country, but they must be in pristine
condition, and preferably of less than $100 denomination.
I would like to thank to all those involved with the Birds of Armenia Project,
John Muddeman for the many months he endured with me, the other British
volunteers - especially James Siddle and John O'Sullivan who made useful
comments on this article in the draft stage. I am also grateful to the American
team, in particular Peter Saenger and the project sponsor, Sarkis Acopian, for
their time and patience. The field work could not have been carried out without
Dr. Martin S. Adamian of the Institute of Zoology, Academy of Sciences, in
Yerevan and his Armenia team.
Martin Scott, Angus