Welcome to Birdquest


A quest for some of Asia's least known specialities

Iran is a scenically varied land that for obvious reasons has seen few birders in recent decades. Indeed Birdquest has been just about the only bird tour company to go there during this period. Iran is situated at the eastern edge of the Western Palearctic faunal sub-region (which basically comprises the western part of Eurasia plus North Africa) and has a very rich avifauna that inhabits some diverse and remarkably scenic landscapes. Mega-specialities we will be concentrating on include the endemic Pleske’s Ground Jay and such highly restricted-range species as Sind Woodpecker, Basra Reed Warbler, Afghan Babbler, Caspian Tit, Black-headed Penduline Tit and Mesopotamian Crow, backed up by a fabulous supporting cast that includes Caspian Snowcock, Sooty Gull, White-cheeked Tern, Grey Hypocolius, Plain Leaf Warbler, Hume’s Wheatear, Iraq Babbler and Red-headed Bunting.

Sunday 21st April — Saturday 4th May 2019
(14 days)

Leaders: a Birdquest leader and Ali Alieslam

Group Size Limit: 10

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and mostly comfortable accommodations

Whatever you think of Iran’s government, since the nuclear ‘detente’ this has become the very best time in decades to go birding in this big and little-known country with some special birds. Unlike some of its neighbours, Iran is an entirely safe country to visit, with surprisingly friendly people, an expert local bird guide and good travel facilities.

Once famous for its outstanding archaeological sites, magnificent mosques and fine carpets, the name Iran later became synonymous with Islamic fundamentalism and the politics of oil. Almost completely closed to Western visitors between 1978 and 1990, Iran is now well past its tumultuous revolutionary period and has opened up its borders to those more adventurous and culturally-tolerant travellers who wish to explore this large country (almost the size of Italy, Spain, France and the British Isles combined). The courtesy and friendliness of the Iranians, even officialdom, comes as a surprise to many visitors.

Although often thought of as a land of barren hills and deserts, Iran is in fact a land of great contrasts. Altitudes range from 26m (85ft) below sea-level by the Caspian Sea to 5760m (18,899ft) above sea-level in the Elburz Mountains, temperatures from under minus 30°C (minus 22°F) in winter in the northwest to over 45°C (113°F) in summer in the south, and annual rainfall from over 2000mm (78 inches) in parts of the Caspian watershed to almost zero in the central deserts! This wide diversity in climate is reflected in the diversity of habitats, which range from luxuriant deciduous forests near the Caspian through oak, pistachio and almond woodlands in the central highlands to acacia woodlands, fan-palms and mangrove swamps in the south.

Not surprisingly the avifauna is similarly diverse. Over 500 species of birds have been recorded in Iran and no less than 325 species are known to breed. Although much of this diversity can be attributed to the great range of habitats, it also springs from Iran’s position at a crossroads in Asia. Iran lies in the Palearctic faunal region, with the country straddling the divide between the Western and Eastern Palearctic sub-regions. Iran’s avifauna includes about 80 species of strictly Western Palearctic distribution which reach their southeastern limits in the Elburz and Zagros Mountains, while only a much smaller group of strictly Eastern Palearctic species extends into the northeastern highlands. Many of the birds of the desert interior belong to the so-called Saharo-Sindian desert fauna, characteristic of the great desert belt which stretches along the southern edge of the Palearctic region from North Africa to Mongolia. By contrast Iran’s southeasternmost province of Baluchistan lies on the borders of the Oriental faunal region and its birdlife has strong affinities with neighbouring southern Pakistan. This Oriental element extends, in increasingly diluted form, up the coastal plain of the Persian Gulf as far as the Iraq border.

Iran’s position as an ornithological crossroads is also evident in the diversity of migrants which pass through the country. We will be visiting Iran at the peak of the spring migration and, while concentrating on the country’s breeding specialities, will encounter many migrant species on their way from winter quarters in Africa to breeding areas in Central and Northern Asia, as well as others on their way from the Indian subcontinent to Western Asia and Europe.

We will begin our Iranian journey in the southeast, in Persian Baluchistan, ornithologically one of the least well-known parts of the country. Around Bandar Abbas, on the shores of the Strait of Hormuz, we will be looking for such special birds as See-see Partridge, the restricted-range Hume’s Wheatear, Variable Wheatear, Streaked Scrub Warbler (now a monotypic bird family), Upcher’s Warbler, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, and Striolated Bunting. Further to the east, from a base at Minab, we will explore southwards along the Mekran coast towards Jask in search of two near-endemics, Sind Woodpecker and Afghan Babbler, the striking Crab-plover (another monotypic family), the restricted-range Sooty Gull and White-cheeked and Saunders’s Terns, Sykes’s Warbler and a number of Oriental species, including Indian Pond Heron, Shikra, Grey Francolin, Great Thick-knee, Spotted Owlet, Sand Lark, Pied Bushchat, Bay-backed Shrike and Indian Silverbill, that reach the western extremity of their ranges in this area.

From the southeast we will move to Khuzestan Province in southwestern Iran where we will explore riverine marshes and thickets in search of White-tailed Lapwing, Egyptian Nightjar, Grey Hypocolius (the third monotypic bird family on this remarkable tour), Ménétries’s Warbler, Iraq Babbler, Mesopotamian Crow and Dead Sea Sparrow. We will also visit the swamps at the eastern extremity of the once vast Mesopotamian Marshes, which provide habitat for Basra Reed Warblers, a species that has only recently found to be breeding in Iran.

From the hot, dusty plains of Khuzestan, we will travel north to the cool, humid Caspian forest on the northern slopes of the Elburz Mountains, where our primary target will be the near-endemic Caspian Tit. We will also explore drier habitats in the high Elburz in search of Caspian Snowcock, Radde’s Accentor, Finsch's and Red-tailed (or Persian) Wheatear, Plain Leaf Warbler, Red-fronted Serin and Grey-necked Bunting.

Finally, for the endemic Pleske’s Ground Jay, we will have to travel to the northeastern side of this large country, to Touran Wildlife Refuge – a huge reserve on the northern edge of Iran’s great central desert basin. En route, we will pass close to the southeastern corner of the Caspian Sea, where we will search for Black-headed Penduline Tits at reed-fringed pools and then have our first opportunity to find Red-headed Bunting in the steppes. The Touran reserve has been well protected for many years and still supports good populations of Pleske’s Ground Jays and the endangered Asiatic Wild Ass, along with many other desert species including Macqueen’s Bustard, Asian Desert Warbler, Pale Rockfinch and Desert Finch.

Ali Alieslam is one of the few birders/ornithologists in Iran who is also a qualified bird guide. Ali has a profound knowledge of the birds of his country and how to find the specialities that visitors most want to see.

Birdquest has operated tours to Iran since 1998.

Cultural Options: It is straightforward for us to arrange a cultural extension with local guide services to anywhere in Iran, including Persepolis, Isfahan etc., either before or after the tour. Please contact the Birdquest office.

Important: Please note that alcohol is illegal in Iran. It is necessary for women visitors to follow the local dress code when in public places, which basically means wearing a head scarf, loose trousers and a long-sleeved garment, with nothing tight or revealing. Male visitors need to avoid shorts.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good or medium standard throughout. At Touran we will stay for one night in simple village ‘homestay’ accommodation. Road transport is by small coach or cars and roads are good.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, occasionally moderate. There may be one optional more demanding walk in the highest part of the Elburz Mountains.

Climate: Mostly warm or hot, dry and sunny. It can be cool or cold at higher altitudes in the north, where some rain is likely. It will be rather humid in the Bandar Abbas/Mekran coast area.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are good.

These are provisional prices

Tour Price: £3990, €4710, $5230 Tehran/Tehran.

Price includes all transportation (including all flights inside Iran), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.

Single Room Supplement: £360, €425, $472 (excluding the night at Touran).

Deposit: £500, €600, $650.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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