Past and Present
Starting from 1934, when Roger T. Peterson published his first Field Guide to the Birds of North America, birdwatching became a big industry in a category of wildlife tourism. Today, every fourth American is a birdwatcher, number of birdwatchers in UK has exceeded one million, birders' community grows in other countries of Western and Eastern Europe, as well as in Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand.
Armenia, due to variety of landscapes includes a high diversity of bird species, many of which are extremely desirable for European tourists. Small size of the country (which is comparable to Belgium or Maryland State) in this case is an advantage, since it allows decreasing the time for travel between spots, leaving more time for bird observations.
Key Birding Sites (KBS)
Key Birding Sites are areas, which aggregate target species, most interesting for birdwatching. In some cases those are territories, where it is possible to observe a big amount of species in a small area (e.g. wetlands, which attract great number of herons, ducks, sandpipers, gulls, terns, passerines, etc), in other cases those are special biotopes, which are inhabited by limited number of specialist species. For example, alpine zone, where it is possible to observe Caspian Snowcock, Alpine Accentor, Wallcreeper and White-winged Snowfinch or mountain steppe with prevalence of juniper bushes, which is inhabited with Radde's Accentor, Bluethroat, Ring Ouzel and White-throated Robin (see also the full Checklist to Birds of Armenia).
Often Key Birding Sites overlap with Prime Butterfly Areas, which assists diversification of opportunities for wildlife tourism and correspondingly to mutual strengthening of those territories. Besides, KBS allow to get annual unstandardized data through birdwatchers (see Bird Monitoring Scheme) at least from 30 spots, which makes the bird monitoring in Armenia substantially easier.
Meghri is a territory, situated in Meghri river valley in foothills of Meghri mountain range, at the altitude of 800 - 1000 m a.s.l. Sagebrush semidesert turns into juniper light forest, riparian forest alternates with mozaically situated gardens. Levant Sparrowhawk, Menetrie's Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Black-eared Wheatear and many other species may be observed here. Griffon Vultures nest on neighboring cliffs. This territory substantially overlaps with Prime Butterfly Area Meghri. The old part of the city attracts with its XII century church and its unique frescoes.
Kaladash is a territory, covering slopes of one of Meghri range peaks - Kaladash mountain. Stone semidesert is turning into juniper light forest at the altitude of 700 - 1200 m a.s.l. Here we can observe Persian Wheatear, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Chuckar and other species. In the lower part territory overlaps with Prime Butterfly Area Kaladash.
Shvanidzor is a territory, located in foothills of Meghri range at the altitude of 1000-1500 m a.s.l. Shiblyak is passing into juniper light forest. Here we may observe Woodchat Shrike, Orphean Warbler, Upcher's Warbler and many other species. Sombre Tit and Red-fronted Serin may occur in juniper open forests, while in the riparian scrubs along Araks River it is possible to find Black Francolin. The territory borders upon Shvanidzor Prime Butterfly Area and with Important Bird Area Meghri
Kaler is a territory, covering watershed of Meghri range at the altitude of 2500 - 3200 m a.s.l. Upper border of hornbeam-oak forest passes into subalpine zone with numerous rocky formations and stone runs. Caspian Snowcock, Water Pipit, White-winged Snowfinch and other alpine species may be observed here.
Kajaran is a territory, located in Voghji river valley in the Southern part of Zangezur mountain range, between 2200 and 3500 m a.s.l. Subalpine meadows pass into alpine meadows, gorges are indented with rock formations. Alpine species, such as Caspian Snowcock, Alpine Accentor, Twite and others may be observed here. Territory includes the Prime Butterfly Area Kajaran and in some extent overlaps with Important Bird Area Zangezoor.
Khoustoup is a territory, covering mountain massif of the same name. It branches from northern slope of Meghri mountain range, between 2000 and 3100 m a.s.l. Territory includes different types of mountain steppe, some spots of hornbeam-oak forest, but the main part consists of subalpine and alpine meadows, alternating with rocky outcrops and deep gorges. Territory suits perfectly for Caspian Snowcock, Wallcreeper, White-winged Snowfinch and other alpine species.
Tatev is a territory, covering deep canyon in middle course of Vorotan river. Elevation of territory ranges between 1200 and 2400 m a.s.l. Different biotopes are presented here: from shiblyak and hornbeam-oak forests to subalpine meadows. High vertical cliffs serve as a shelter for many raptors and other species of rock birds. A small colony of Griffon Vulture, several pairs of Egyptian Vultures, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, and other species are breeding here. Monastic ensemble of XIV century Tatev is located on the territory.
Gorhayk is a territory, covering mountain steppes and meadows at the elevation between 2000 and 2500 m a.s.l. Territory is mostly covered by herbaceous vegetation with swampy areas alongside the rivers. This is one of few breeding places for Lesser Kestrel, besides, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Black-headed subspecies of Yellow Wagtail and other birds of steppes and meadows may be observed here. The territory overlaps with Important Bird Area Zangezoor.
Gndevaz territory is a canyon in middle course of Agra river, ranging between 1500 and 2300 m a.s.l. The main biotope of the canyon changes with elevation from shiblyak to juniper light forest and later to oak forest. Canyon is surrounded by vertical cliffs. Diversity of habitats attracts different species, such as Peregrine Falcon (Caucasian race), Bearded Vulture, Rock Bunting, Red-fronted Serin, and number of others.
Teksar is a territory, covering mountain massif, branching from Vardenis mountain range, at the altitude of 1500-2500 m a.s.l. Territory is mostly represented by mountain steppes and subalpine meadows. Rocky outcrops form deep gorges. The place is ideal for observation of Caspian Snowcock, Wallcreeper, Crimson-winged Finch, and other high mountain specialists. Mountain Goats often occur here as a nice bonus to bird species.
Noravank is a territory, covering one of the most picturesque canyons in Armenia, at the considerable length of Gnishik river, streaming down from Vayots Dzor mountain range. Biotopes change from semidesert to juniper light forest and sainfoin mountain steppe at elevation ranging between 1200 and 2200 m a.s.l. Canyon is formed by vertical cliffs, alternating with steep slopes, covered with red clay. White-throated Robin, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Upcher's Warbler, and other species occur here. Monastic ensemble Noravank of VIII century, located in the cliffs, is a nice addition to the scenarios of the area. Territory considerably overlaps with Prime Butterfly Area Gnisheek and with Important Bird Area Noravank.
Gndasar is a territory, covering southern slopes of Vardenis mountain range at the elevation between 1500 and 2700 m a.s.l. Biotopes change from mountain steppe to subalpine meadows, slopes are jagged with rocky outcrops. Ascenting to subalpine zone Stonechats (race armeniaca), Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Caspian Snowcock, and number of other rocky mountain specialists may be observed. Observation of brown bear is possible here as well. Territory overlaps with Important Bird Area Gndasar.
Selim is a territory, which covers surroundings of Selim pass on Vardenis mountain range, at the altitude of 2000 - 2300 m a.s.l. An intensive flight of raptors passes over the territory, which allows to observe Steppe Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Pallid Harrier, and number of others during their migration period. Almost at the highest point of pass Selim caravansary of IX century is located. It is one of few artifacts, remained from Silk Road. Today caravansary attracts both tourists and several pairs of Rock Sparrow which are breeding in the cracks of the building.
Armash is a territory, covering fish farms of Armash, founded in 1972. A number of waterbirds found refuge here after losing their natural habitats at Sevan lake and Gili marshes due to human economical activity. The territory is represented by large artificial ponds, many of which are not being exploited and allow watching White-headed Ducks, White-tailed Lapwing, Savi's Warbler, and huge number of other waterbirds. Many of them use this site for breeding, others, such as Demoiselle Cranes use the territory for stopovers during migration. Wetlands alternate here with saltwort semidesert, having its own species composition. Territory includes the Important Bird Area Armash.
Ourtsadzor territory covers foothills of Geghama and Ourts mountain ranges at the elevation between 1000 and 1600 m a.s.l. Semidesert with rocky outcrops prevails here, later it changes to juniper woodland. This is the only nesting site of Lanner Falcon, known for Armenia, besides, here it is possible to observe Grey-headed Bunting, Trumpeter Finch, Isabelline Wheatear and other semidesert birds. The territory is located close to Khosrov Nature Reserve, and substantially overlaps with Prime Butterfly Area Ourtsadzor.
Ourts is a territory, covering foothills of Ourts mountain range at the elevation between 1000 and 1500 m a.s.l. The prevailing landscape here is semidesert, which turns into juniper light forest. The northernmost border of Persian Wheatear is passing here, besides, Finsch's Wheatear, Chukar, and number of other semidesert specialists occur here. The site is often visited by Cinereous and Griffon Vultures.
Metsamor is a territory covering the system of Sevjur river and a number of water bodies, both of natural origin and at the place of former sand-gravel pits. It is a plane, at the latitude of 900 m a.s.l. with slight fluctuation. Majority of biotopes here are represented either by wetlands, or by agrocenosis, therefore, it is possible to meet here both waterbirds, such as Little Bittern, Ferruginous Pochard, and Kingfisher, and birds typical for orchards, such as Syrian Woodpecker and Menetrie's Warbler. Territory overlaps with Important Bird Area Metsamor.
Hatsavan is a territory, covering spurs of Voghjaberd and Yeranos mountain ranges at the elevation of 1000-1500 m a.s.l. It is represented by fragments of mountain steppe with few rocky outcrops. Species, such as Lesser Short-toed Lark, Woodchat Shrike, Hill Sparrow, and number of other semi-desert birds occur here.
Hatis is a relatively small, rather separate mountain at elevation range between 1700 and 2500 m a.s.l. The habitat of Hatis is represented by tragacanth and grassy mountain steppe, which provide a destination for wide variety of Passerines, including White-throated Robin, Barred Warbler, Radde's Accentor, and other steppe birds.
Araler is another separate mountain in elevation range in 1500-2500 m a.s.l., however the habitat diversity here is much higher. While the southern slopes of the mountain are covered with arid and semi-arid vegetation, the northern slope is covered by oak-hornbeam forest. The upper part of the forest is made by birch trees. Above timberline, starting from about 2000 m a.s.l. the subalpine meadows are located. This site is destination for Caucasian Grouse, Water Pipit, Mountain Chiffchaff, and number of other meadow, forest, and arid bird species. Territory includes the potential Prime Butterfly Area and overlaps with Important Bird Area Mount Ara.
Aragats is a highest peak of Armenia. Being located from 1200 to 4090 m a.s.l. it includes wide variety of habitats from semi-desert to alpine zone. It is rugged with several canyons, where the Hamberd river canyon is the most famous. Wide variety of birds including Short-toed Snake Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Bimaculated Lark, Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin, Horned Lark (race penicillata), and number of others can be observed here.
Bjnee is an area along Hrazdan river, where eastern slopes of the gorge are covered with juniper woodlands, with gradual change to oak-hornbeam forest, then to birch woodland and eventually to sub-alpine area. The site attracts Red-fronted Serin, Ring Ouzel, Stonechat (race armeniaca), and other birds of juniper woodlands and deciduous forest.
Meghradzor is the area at the Pambak mountains between 1800-2600 m a.s.l., which is represented by mixed pine and deciduous forest at the northern face, and by mountain steppe at the southern face. Upper part of the ridge is covered by sub-alpine meadows with numerous rocky outcrops. Here such birds as Caucasian Black Grouse, Common Rosefinch, Common Redstart (race samamisicus), and number of others can be found.
Tezhler is the highest peak of Pambak mountains. The area is located between 2000 and 3100 m a.s.l. and is mostly represented by sub-alpine scenarios. Numerous gorges are formed by incredibly beautiful cliffs and rocks. The area is destination for high mountain specialists, such as Caspian Snowcock, Wallcreeper, White-winged Snowfinch, and others. Territory is within the Important Bird Area Pombak.
Artanish-Shorzha is a peninsula at the Lake Sevan, covered by juniper woodland and arid mountain steppe, despite on the fact that the area is located at 1900 m a.s.l. This area is alternated with grasslands, which make possible living of variety of Passerines. Among those one can observe Red-fronted Serin, Rock Bunting, Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush, and number of others. The area mostly overlaps with Prime Butterfly Area Artanish-Shorzha, and it is within the Important Bird Area Lake Sevan.
Norashen is a location at the South-western shore of Lake Sevan. The area is famous by Gull Island - a destination of about 6000 pairs of Armenian Gulls. Beside Gulls there are other species breeding, such as Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Ruddy Shellduck, and number of others. The shoreline is formed with number of small lagoons, which are attracting numerous migrants in spring and autumn. Territory is within the Important Bird Area Lake Sevan.
Lichk is represented by two small lakes in close proximity to the Lake Sevan. The lakes are surrounded by poplar forest and sea-buckthorn bushes alternated with marshes. Thus the location provides a habitat not only for waterbirds such as Tufted Duck and Yellow Wagtail (race feldeggi), but also such forest birds as Goshawk and Mountain Chiffchaff.
Dilijan is the area mostly covered by deciduous forests, dominated by beech, oak and hornbeam. It is located between 1200-2600 m a.s.l. Above the timberline sub-alpine meadows are located, rugged by long cliff walls. The area provides wide variety of habitats for forest specialists, such as Semi-collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers, Hawfinch, and number of others. Territory is within the Important Bird Area Lake Sevan.
Lasti Ver is a deep canyon covered by deciduous forest and is relatively untouched by tree logging. That is why here number of thick hollow trees is larger, which secures breeding of large cavity nesters, such as Black Woodpecker. Among other forest birds that can be observed here are Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Green Warbler, and others.
Kirantz is also represented by beech dominated forest, however the forest here begins from about 800 m a.s.l. and the area is more humid than the previous sites. The area provides wide variety of opportunities for forest specialists such as Green and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Tawny Owl, Bullfinch, and others.
Dzoraget is represented by deep canyon along Debet River from 900 to 1200 m a.s.l. The area is covered by high cliffs with numerous caves, grotto, and covered ledges. Thus the site provides wide variety of opportunities for cliff-nesters, such as Griffon Vulture, Lammergeyer, Egyptian Vulture, and others.
Tashir is an area at Lori plateau located at 1300-1700 m a.s.l. The site is rich with small lakes and marshes, alternated with wet meadows and humid steppe areas, and also with some deciduous or pine forest patches. The area provides destination for number of waterbirds, such as Red-necked Grebe and Paddifield Warbler, but also for some woodland species, such as Lesser Spotted Eagle. Territory overlaps with the Important Bird Area Tashir.
Jajur is represented by mountain pass at 2000-2400 m a.s.l. Despite on its high elevation, the area is covered by arid type of sainfoin steppe, which is gradually changing towards meadow. Artificial pine plantations are also covering the area in patchy pattern. Some rocky outcrops and cliffs supplement the site. The area supports variety of mountain steppe birds such as Bluethroat (race magna) and Ortolan Bunting, the cliffs host resident pair of Golden Eagle, while the pine plantations provide habitat for some forest birds, such as Mountain Chiffchaff.
Akhuryan is a located at Shirak Plateau at 1500-1700 m a.s.l. The area is represented by mountain steppe. At the border with Turkey there is a large water reservoir. The area is mainly inhabited by steppe birds such as Long-legged Buzzard and Western Rock Nuthatch, but also provides habitat for some water birds, like Red-crested Pochard, Marsh Harrier, etc.
Lake Arpi is subalpine area at 2000-2400, covered by grasslands, meadows, and marshes. Another large water reservoir is constructed here. The island at the middle of the lake hosts about 8,000 pairs of Armenian Gulls, as well as Dalmatian Pelican, Ruddy Shellduck, etc. The meadows host Montague's Harrier one of the few places of its breeding in Armenia. Territory overlaps with the Important Bird Area Lake Arpi.