AZERBAIJAN – a birding trip in late migration time


The goal was to use 4 days off and a public holiday to go on another birding trip to a distant country after the corona pandemic had ended. This was also a reconnaissance trip to investigate birding destinations in western Asia. We didn’t want to linger long with stopovers at any airport. So the destination should be easy to reach from BER (Berlin Airport). It should be a real bird experience. A look at gives me the idea to book a trip to Baku, Azerbaijan. I am also looking at flights to Baku from BER. Azerbaijan Airlines takes you there non-stop in just over 4.5 hours.

Despite having only 6 full days, we wanted to focus on 4 locations:

  • Baku
  • Besh Barmag
  • Shirvan
  • Talysh Mountains


30th of October: flight arrival in Baku AP

31st of October: birding Besh Barmag bottleneck, Siyäzän

1st of November: birding Cape Gilazi, Xizi

2nd of November: birding Shirvan NP & general area, Salyan and Little Kizil Agach Bay, Länkäran; drive to Riva Hill Resort Hotel

3rd of November: birding Mastail and Monidigah, Lerik; in the evening Mahmudchala Lake

4th of November: birding Besh Barmag bottleneck, Siyäzän

5th of November: birding Qobustan Nature Museum & the caspian shore near Sangachal, Baku

6th of November: flight back from Baku AP.



Visas are required for Azerbaijan. But they can easily be applied online with scanned passports. I printed out both visas just 2 days later. I paid for 2 persons 54 Euro. This was the 1st time I flew with Azerbaijan Airlines. This airline takes you from Berlin to Baku non-stop for roughly 4 hours. For 2 passengers & 1 add. baggage I paid 1,197 EUR.

The baggage conditions with Azerbaijan Airlines were not too strict. 1 piece of hand luggage + 1 additional item (such as a laptop bag) with a total weight of 8 kg is accepted. In addition, you may give up 1 piece of luggage, which may weigh 23kg. As a light hand luggage I took the small photo backpack with a Canon 4,0/ 400 DO. Proof of corona vaccination or proof of recovery was checked at immigration; otherwise Corona handling was relaxed throughout.



During the trip in the remote parts I wanted a 4X4. Considering the good experiences with AurumCars, I ordered a Toyota Prado or similar (PFAR) with automatic transmission and air conditioning via Check 24. All this in a all-round carefree package with fully comprehensive insurance without excess (100% refund).

Receiving the car – it was a Toyota [Landcruiser] Prado – turned out to be a bit tricky. When I leave the baggage claim area, I first look for the rental car counter. There is only one from Hertz and it turned out, that they substitute the others – in this case Thrifty. But since nobody was sitting behind the counter, that’s no use to us either. The lady from the mobile card company next door agrees to call the guy responsible. Although my arrival was announced for 5:00 p.m. According to the information, it would take a quarter of an hour. I use the time and buy myself a local SIM card so that I don’t pay myself stupidly when surfing the web, because I also want to use the Samsung mobile phone with Google Maps as a navigation system. When the guy from Hertz comes, the handling is quite straight forward. Shortly we were guided outside. We should wait there. It’s already pitch black. We walk with our big suitcases onto the Rolley, which we luckily got hold of, across the large parking lot. There we officially receive our car without any bigger condition control. I take some pictures with my cell phone.

The return took place in the pouring rain during the night in a way of fastidious condition control. It was quite frantically searched for dents or scratches.

Some people were a bit skeptical about travelling and especially travel times. There is an almost perfect road net (with Autobahn-standard) to the south. Excellent travel times are possible.

On the other hand, the journey to Besh Barmag was quite exhausting. One construction site after another extends over a good 100 km. Although a motorway parallel to the coast is largely finished, the current 4-lane runway is being completely renovated on one side. Therefore, all traffic to and from Russia took place in one lane at a time. This provoked daring overtaking maneuvers. The accident-prone driving style is not really prevented by the frequent (and sometimes unexpected) police checks. Radar controls take place at a surprisingly large number of locations. I’ve never seen a country with so many speed traps.

Signage in general leaves a lot to be desired. E.g. the airport is only signposted from the beginning of the airport motorway in the city. Without Google-Maps-navigation you would have almost no chance.

Afterwards, I noticed that we drove a whopping 1,542 km in one week. With fuel costs for “Premium” of 2 AZN, I recalculated that the car consumed 12.2 liters/100 km.



Since the plane arrives in the evening and leaves in the early morning, the drive to/ from the hotel shouldn’t take too long. On the other hand, the good birding locations should be easy to reach. I then quickly end up with the Ramada by Wyndham Baku.  I thought, it’s probably not worth moving in just a week. The hotel is only half an hour away – in low traffic – from the airport. It is located still in a suburb of Baku and excellent for a trip to the south. Breakfast from 7:00 a.m. on was included. Additionally the view down the balcony to the beach was promising. And could kept its promises although the beach is just a narrow strip squeezed between hotels and industrial areas.

For the mountains in the south we decided spontaneously to stay 1 night in the Riva Hill Resort Hotel (38,709, 48,754). The hotel is distanced 15 km from the city of Lankaran on the coast and offers accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking, a seasonal outdoor swimming pool and a bar. It is a neat new resort. The hotel is located right next to a wild river, which is not that narrow. It must have only recently really burst its banks, because the traces of it are still fresh. During a tour we saw White Wagtails, which later also cavort around the pool and we clearly heard a Gray Wagtail.

We just showed up and quickly came to an agreement with the receptionist. For 79 AZA we could stay one night; Breakfast (on request) at 7:00 a.m. was included. The bar served draft beer, which was top notched.



Azerbaijani were remarkably quite fluent – but only in urban areas around Baku – with English.

Still from the Russian time, the writing is anything else. However, most of the signs are also written in Latin script.



Azerbaijani manat (Azerbaijani Azərbaycan Manatı resp. AZN) or manat for short is the currency of Azerbaijan. 1 AZN is 0,55 EUR. So if you calculate the prices as equivalent half in Euro you might be a bit too optimistic. The cost of living for food supply in Azerbaijan is almost the same as in Germany. Diesel premium cost throughout 2.00 AZN/liter and thus about half in comparison.



As I said concerning the flights, Corona handling is relaxed throughout Azerbaijan. Wearing of masks is more or less unknown. Otherwise, no special issues, too. The country turned out to be safe. During our stay we never suffered from stomach problems. One policeman tried to take us money out of our pockets for stopping at the traffic light in a wrong manner. The “price” was a matter of negotiation. In general Azerbaijani (even the police) are very friendly and I never felt unsafe.



Azerbaijan consists predominantly of mountainous areas. There are three major mountain ranges that cross the country, towards the north, along the border with Russia are the mighty mountains of the Greater Caucasus, where rises the highest mountain in the country, Mount Bazardüzü Dağı. To the west, along the border with Armenia is the chain of the Lesser Caucasus, between the two mountainous systems extends the valley of the Kur River, the main river in the country, which flows in the Caspian Sea. Situated at the south of the country along the border with Iran are the oak/beech forests of the Talysh Mountains and the adjacent barren Zuvand Mountains, which reminded us very much to a Middle European hilly landscape (although the altitude is much higher). Landscape in the south is quite green whereas the middle and the northern part of the coastel area consists predominantly of semi-deserts and coastal lagoons and steppe-like habitat.

The tourism infrastructure is still poorly developed outside the capital Baku in the predominantly rural regions.



As I had only visited the Caspian Sea more than 25 years ago (Wolga delta) in the spring season, I did not know what I should anticipate in Azerbaijan for late fall. Much rain we suffered only on the last day and had a rainy day in the 2nd day when birding Cape Gilazi. Otherwise the days started after a cool and sunny morning with some overcast and temperatures quite comfortable over the rest of the day.

The weather in the lowlands was very comfortable when the sun shined. In the mountainous southern areas of Talysh Mountains the temperatures were pleasant during the day, but cold especially in the morning.



Despite the focus on relaxing and nature experience this trip was also a reconnaissance endavour, which showed excellent birding and some good photography results.

As outlined in the itinerary, we stayed at the Ramada by Wyndham Baku and sometimes in the morning just relaxed on the balcony birding by occasion.

In general a lot of landscapes are remarkably productive and not overcroweded. The national park in Shirvan and the Talysh Mountains stand out, but the highlight – of course – was Besh Barmag with an exceptional migration.

Highlight was for sure the migration of raptors at Besh Barmag with Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus), Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus), Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), Eurasian Marsh-Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus), Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus), Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Steppe Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus), Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and last not least Merlin (Falco columbarius). All to be seen on two occasions, the one on 31 Oct the other on 04-Nov-2022. The bird migration site of Besh Barmag, along the Caspian Sea coastline, with its millions of birds annually is one of the most important and diverse bird migration locations in all of Eurasia. A perfect spot!

The Gull-family was remarkably well represented particulary at Cape Gilazi roughly 30 kms south of Besh Barmag. In total 11 species were recorded during the week. Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei), Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus), Pallas’s Gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus), Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans), Lesser Black-backed [Heuglin´s] Gull (Larus fuscus heuglini), Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica), Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida) and Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis). For surprise, a Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus) showed up over the sea at Besh Barmag.

A perfect sighting of a male Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis marginatus) at Riva Hill Resort Hotel was remarkable for the foothills of Talysh Mountains.

During our climb over muddy trails up the well-known site above Mastail near the town of Lerik in the Talish /Talysh Mountains we had our only lifer: the Hyrcan (or Caspian) Tit (Poecile hyrcanus). One bird showed quite well although the head did not shine as brown as shown in some images. The preferred habitat seems to be the good 2 meter high hedges of rose hip and hawthorn which grow in lines along the steep slopes. It was quite a good view although autumn is probably not the best time to observe this species.

One of my thought-after birds, the Finsch’s Wheatear (Oenanthe finschii) was only seen with a male individual at Qobustan Nature Museum on 05-Nov-2022.



I was glad bringing my scope on this trip because I realized how useful scoping birds over far distances in the Skadar Lake can be. I brought along a complete selection of bird songs on my MP3 player (and the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G as well), which I use sometimes to attract species. I placed the scope on a combination of a Gitzo tripod GT3542 XLS Systematic with the FlexShooter Pro Lever Black.

My standard photo combination was a Canon EF 400mm 1:4 DO IS II USM on a Canon EOS R 5. I never used converters.



A nice introduction is an official brochure “Birdwatching in Azerbaijan”. There is relatively much information about birding in this Caspian shore country on the Internet. Travel reports mostly describe trips to Besh Barmag and the Greater Caucasus.



In preparation for Besh Barmag, the migration hotspot, I got the contact data from Kai Gauger, the top birder (in terms of ebird-ranking) for Azerbaijan. He was also on the road in Azerbaijan the same time. He travelled for a tour operator across the country with a Belgian group. He told me, that dedicated birders are permanently present at the Besh Barmag for the count from August to at least early December. Nearby there is also accommodation if you don’t want to drive the route in the dark. The actual counting point is at 41.001829 49.227290. Of course, you always have to be lucky to catch a good day, but the beginning of November – he told me – is a time with a lot of migrating birds. Other areas he recommended around Baku would have been Shirvan (always good; there is only one road in the park, from the entrance to the lake), Gobustan, Absheron, or even Besh Barmag foothills in the afternoon.


A total of 123 species were recorded; List is part of Trip report Part II

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