During a trip to Azerbaijan, visitors to the capital city of Baku can find eccentric modern architecture, vibrant bazaars, and a historic walled city—but beyond the municipality’s borders, there’s a wealth of wildlife just waiting to be discovered. While ibex, wildcats, and brown bears are just a few of the mammals that call the nation home, Azerbaijan is also a particularly underrated destination for birdwatching, drawing avian-focused organizations from across the globe to encounter rare species firsthand.
“Azerbaijan has an incredible diversity of habitats and bird species crammed into a very small country,” says Tomas Axén Haraldsson, a Swedish international birdwatching tourism expert. “Within a couple of hours driving from the capital Baku you reach both high alpine zones in the Greater Caucasus, desert-like steppe, huge wetlands, flowering foothills and dense forests. All with its set of attractive birds and during a week in May you can see up to 230 different species, many of which are very difficult to see elsewhere.”
In addition to the rich avian biodiversity found across the nation, Haraldsson also notes that Azerbaijan is a particularly viable destination for spotting species that have been driven from parts of Western Europe by habitat loss, including the Eurasian hoopoe and European roller. Beyond these few species, the exclave of Nakhchivan offers the opportunity to spot the Mongolian finch and see-see partridge, while the Caucasus region as a whole is home to endemics ranging from the Caucasian black grouse to the Caucasian snowcock—but during autumn in particular, there’s one natural feature that’s an absolute must-visit for seasoned birders.
Known as Besh Barmag, this 1,253-foot-tall mountain serves as an important stopover point for migratory species, with more than 100,000 individual birds appearing in the area in just one day. While the peak draws visitors from all across the globe, it’s also a particularly popular site for local birders—many of which offer tours to visiting naturalists and outdoor adventurers alike.
“At Besh we observed mainly wetland species and passerine migrants,” states Zülfü Ferecli, an Azerbaijani native who’s been offering birding tours of the area for the past five years. “However, for me, the fun is the sudden ‘popping up’ of rare species like the houbara bustard and black-winged kite.”
While these two varieties are particularly rare to spot, they’re far from the only megaticks found across the region. For fellow regional tour guide Abdin Abbasov, previous rare sightings have ranged from the pallid harrier—a raptor that typically spends its winters in South Asia—to the black stork, while garganeys and a wide variety of terns, gulls, and wagtails can be spotted on a regular basis during migration season.
Though Besh Barmag is certainly one of Azerbaijan’s most coveted destinations for birding, it’s far from the only spot worth visiting during a trip to the country. For Abbasov, preserves like the wetland-rich Agh Gol National Park, picturesque Ajinohur Lake, and flamingo-laden Ghizil-Agaj State Reserve are all valuable destinations for those wishing to add to their life list, while Ferecli is a fan of his home region in particular.
“As a ‘local’ guy from Nakhchivan, I have to vote for Nakhchivan for its local ‘taste’ and particular birds,” he says. “However, the Caucasus mountains [including the district of Quba] as well as Lerik in the far south are also special.”
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