A black crowned night heron native to Armenia

Mass Audubon Offers Birding Tour to Armenia, September 15-29

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By Roxanne Etmekjian

YEREVAN – For a birder (or bird-watcher, as many people know us), nothing beats the thrill of seeing a species in the wild that you have never seen before.  It’s even better if you have the opportunity to do it in Armenia.

This year, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which has been offering birding tours worldwide for over 50 years, is offering a birding tour to Armenia for the first time, and has openings available. The trip is scheduled for September 15-29, 2019, a 2-week period that allows for seeing many of the 350+ species documented in Armenia, including migrating birds from Europe and Asia. The itinerary includes stops along the Ararat Plain, Lake Sevan, Dilijan, the Selim Pass, Noravank Canyon, Gndasar, Meghri and Shvanidzor (along the Iranian border), Goris, Tatev, Jermuk, Garni and Geghard, and Mount Aragats.

While this trip is primarily for seeing birds and nature in Armenia, cultural and historic sites will be included. The group will be accompanied by a local Armenian guide knowledgeable about the birds of the area as well as a Mass Audubon guide.  Each day will start early in order to see the most birds, and will include walking 1-2 miles on most days.

Birds native to Armenia

I personally had the chance in October 2017 to spend 8 days birding in Armenia with local Armenian guides and a driver, arranged by Dr. Karen Aghababyan, executive director of TSE – Towards Sustainable Ecosystems NGO, who also worked with Mass Audubon on the arrangements for the upcoming trip. The excitement of birding in full view of Mount Ararat or Noravank Monastery (designated an Important Bird Area, or IBA by BirdLife International) is indescribable. But just as meaningful can be a visit to ignored and depopulated villages such as Vanand near Sardarapat, where we picked up a second guide, Veelen Minasyan, a village resident whose whole family had moved to Russia for work.  As a local expert for his area, he was able to take us to a favorite spot of the uncommon Black-bellied Sandgrouse, where our presence attracted the interest of local elderly men who were surprised to see visitors, armed with binoculars and spotting scopes, who had come merely to see a gamebird.

As ecotourism develops in Armenia, it can contribute to improving the economy, particularly in less developed rural areas, and thereby also strengthen support for policies that protect Armenia’s natural treasures.

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For more information and to book a reservation on Mass Audubon’s September 2019 birding tour of Armenia, contact the Mass Audubon travel office by phone at 800-289-9504 or email travel@massaudubon.org. The travel itinerary is available on their website at https://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/travel-tours/upcoming-tours. A minimum number of participants will be needed by the end of March to proceed with the trip.

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