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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Iran

2017 Narrative

Sunbird’s first tour to Iran kicked off with a few hours in a well-wooded park in Tehran where amongst the familiar Chiffchaffs and Great Tits we found smart male Semi-collared Flycatchers and Syrian Woodpeckers. Flying south we reached the large coastal town of Bandar Abbas where the mudflats were alive with birds. A few Greater Flamingos were joined by Western Reef Herons while the host of shorebirds included Pacific Golden Plover, Kentish Plovers, both Lesser and Greater Sandplovers (some in smart breeding plumage), Bar-tailed Godwits, Little Stints, lots of Terek Sandpipers, a couple of distant Great Knots, and single Marsh and Broad Sandpipers. A flock of Slender-billed Gulls was joined by Caspian Gull and a mixture of terns which included Caspian and Gull-billed Terns. A few Sand Larks along the promenade were also nice to see.

The next couple of days were spent exploring this south-eastern corner of Iran where birding is influenced by species from the Indo-Malay avifauna. This was obvious from birds such as Indian Roller and Red-wattled Lapwing which were quite common, as well as Bay-backed Shrike, Purple Sunbirds, and Yellow-throated Sparrow. One of our main aims was to find Sind Woodpecker, and this initially proved to be an easy task, although we soon realised that some of the birds we were looking at were Sind/Syrian Woodpecker hybrids. However eventually we obtained good views of some birds we were satisfied were ‘pure’ Sind. We visited a range of habitats from coastal lagoons and mangrove, to open desert, wooded areas, inland pools and rocky hillsides and the birds were equally varied. These included Marbled Duck, Chukar, See See Partridge, Striated heron, Dalmatian Pelican, Shikra, Great Spotted Eagle, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Crowned and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, and Green Bee-eater.  There were a nice selection of monotone warblers to sort out into Syke’s, Eastern Olivaceous, and Upcher’s Warblers, although the large Barred Warbler was easier to identify. A drive into the hills took us to a commanding view over the coastal plain where we found Eastern Rock Nuthatch, dapper Variable and Hume’s Wheatears, Striolated Bunting, and obliging Pale Rockfinch. Migrants were few other than some large flocks of migrating Black-headed Buntings.

Moving west we based ourselves in Ahwaz for a few days. Here we were looking for another special bird of southern Iran, the enigmatic Grey Hypocolius.  We were not to be disappointed and we were able to spend a few hours with groups of these birds on their breeding grounds. This site also produced good views of Egyptian Nightjar, the distinctive ‘Mesopotamian’ Hooded Crow, Menetries’s Warbler, and Dead Sea Sparrows. There were also some impressive gatherings of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.

Flying back to Tehran we began our journey to the mountains and deserts in the north of the country. Our first stop was the hills and mountains surround the town of Keladasht, where the grazed hillsides close to the town were perfect habitat for Woodlarks, Pied, Black-eared, and Isabelline Wheatears, and Ortolan Buntings.  Moving higher up into some spectacular mountain scenery we were treated to a fine array of species. Caspian Snowcock was the real prize here and we had birds calling from the ridge tops and also in flight overhead. Radde’s Accentor was another special bird that showed really well, joining Western Rock Nuthatch, Black and Common Redstarts, Siberian Stonechat, Water Pipits, Red-fronted Serins, and Rock Buntings. After some searching we were treated to great views of Caspian Tit with a pair nest-building, and were also entertained by a pair of Wallcreepers. Raptors were scarce in the mountains but we watched a fine Lammergeier repeatedly dropping a large bone onto rocks to break it open.  Lower down the lush woodland held singing Green Warblers and some ‘interesting’ Chiffchaffs.

Leaving the mountains we moved to the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. Two habitats were of interest here, wetlands and forest. This is a big rice growing region and amongst the extensive rice paddies we found the striking Black-headed Penduline Tit nest building around the edge of a fishpond. Some of the flooded paddies held good numbers of waders with a large flock on Collared Pratincoles at one site.  Fringing the southern part of the Caspian Sea and the lower reaches of the Alborz mountains, the Hyrcanian forest is a rich mix of broad-leaved woodland.  Here we found the distinctive local race of Great Spotted Woodpecker which must surely warrant full species status. A pair of Icterine warblers on territory were some way out of their usual range and the woodland rang out to the songs of Red-breasted Flycatchers and Nightingales. 

Our final destination was the extensive Khar Turan National Park. This is perhaps most famous for two species – Asiatic Cheetah and Pleske’s Ground Jay.  We knew that a Cheetah sighting was nigh on impossible, but we had better hope for the Ground Jay – and we were not disappointed, finding a pair on our first visit to the Park.  This landscape was also home to numerous Streaked Scrub Warblers, and Desert Wheatears, while the close up views of Macqueen’s Bustard, both displaying and in flight we exceptional. We also had a close encounter with a group of Persian Onager – the wild donkey of these open plains - while tracks leading from right behind our homestay village took us to Persian Wheatear, Desert Finch, and Grey-necked Bunting. The village’s Eurasian Scops Owl also paid us a visit one evening!

Our final journey back to Tehran took us through more wonderful scenery and stops along the way resulted in sightings of Rock Thrush, a male White-throated Robin and Crimson-winged Finch. A fine lunch at a quaint restaurant mirrored the wonderful food we had eaten throughout the tour, and as with everywhere we visited, the welcome was as warm as ever.” - Steve Rooke.

Created: 12 May 2017