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A quest for some of Asia's least known specialities

Iran Birding Tours: our Iran bird watching holiday explores a country with a very rich avifauna that inhabits some diverse and remarkably scenic landscapes. Our Iran birding tour concentrates on such mega-specialities as the endemic Pleske’s Ground Jay and such highly restricted-range species as Sind Woodpecker, Basra Reed Warbler, Iraq and Afghan Babblers, Caspian Tit, Black-headed Penduline Tit, Mesopotamian Crow and Sistan (or Afghan) Scrub Sparrow. These are backed up by a fabulous supporting cast that includes no fewer than three monotypic bird families, Crab-plover, Grey Hypocolius and Streaked Scrub Warbler, as well as Caspian Snowcock, See-see Partridge, Macqueen’s Bustard, Sooty Gull, White-cheeked Tern, Pallid Scops Owl, Egyptian Nightjar, Radde’s Accentor, Hume’s, Red-tailed (or Persian), Finsch’s and Variable Wheatears, White-throated Robin, Upcher’s, Sykes’s, Hume’s, Asian Desert, Green and Plain Leaf Warblers, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Dead Sea Sparrow, Pale Rockfinch, Asian Crimson-winged and Desert Finches, and Grey-necked Bunting.

Wednesday 17th April — Monday 29th April 2019
(13 days)

Northern Baluchistan Extension: Monday 15th April — Wednesday 17th April (3 days)

Leaders: Pete Morris 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 very 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. Iran also has the richest avifauna of any country in western Asia (greater even than Turkey or Israel) and more regional specialities than any of its rivals.

Once most famous for its outstanding archaeological sites, magnificent mosques and fine carpets, the name Iran later became synonymous with Islamic revolution and the politics of oil. Almost completely closed to Western visitors between 1978 and 1990, Iran is now long past its tumultuous revolutionary period, that saw the autocratic government of the Shah replaced by a theocratic government, 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 at 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 of climates 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. Well over 500 species of birds have been recorded in Iran and well over 300 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. In the mountains behind Bandar Abbas, a city situated on the shores of the Strait of Hormuz, we will be looking for such special, restricted-range birds as See-see Partridge, Hume’s and Variable Wheatears, Upcher’s Warbler and Eastern Rock Nuthatch, as well as Streaked Scrub Warbler (now a monotypic bird family), and Striolated Bunting.

We will also will explore the Makran (or Mekran) coast eastwards and southwards towards Jask in search of two near-endemics, Sind Woodpecker and Afghan Babbler, as well as the striking Crab-plover (another monotypic family), Saunders’s Tern and Sykes’s Warbler. We also have modest chances for Sooty Gull and White-cheeked Tern, two more species of restricted distribution.

From Baluchistan we will move to Khuzestan Province in southwestern Iran where we will explore riverine marshes and thickets in search of Marbled Duck, White-tailed Lapwing, Egyptian Nightjar, Grey Hypocolius (the third monotypic bird family on this remarkable tour), Ménétries’s Warbler, Iraq Babbler, Mesopotamian Crow, Dead Sea Sparrow and Basra Reed Warbler, 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 (or Hyrcanian) Tit. We will also explore drier habitats in the high Elburz in search of Caspian Snowcock, Radde’s Accentor and Red-fronted Serin.

En route to the northeastern Iran we will pass along the Caspian coast, Caspian Sea, where we will enjoy seeing Black-headed Penduline Tits at a reed-fringed lake. Further to the east, in the Elburz Mountains once more, we will be looking for Pied and Finsch’s Wheatears, the beautiful White-throated Robin, the diminutive Plain Leaf Warbler and Asian Crimson-winged Finch.

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. 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 (or Onager), along with many other desert species including Macqueen’s Bustard, Crowned and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pallid Scops Owl, Asian Desert Warbler, Red-tailed (or Persian) Wheatear, Steppe Grey Shrike, Pale Rockfinch, Desert Finch and Grey-necked Bunting.

During the optional pre-tour extension we will visit the northern region of Persian Baluchistan in the Zahedan region, our prime targets will be the near-endemic Sistan (or Afghan) Scrub Sparrow and the eastern form of the Mourning Wheatear, which is now often split as Eastern or Persian Mourning Wheatear.

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.

Iran Cultural Options: It is straightforward for us to arrange a cultural extension with local guide services to anywhere in Iran, including Isfahan and Persepolis, either before or after the tour. This is a far less expensive option for participants than offering a cultural extension as part of our 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 (showing a fair amount of hair is nowadays acceptable), 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 two nights in simple but very hiospitable and charismatic village ‘homestay’ accommodation. Road transport is by minibus or 4x4 cars and roads are mostly very 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.

Prices are provisional

Tour Price: £3890, €4430, $5100 Tehran/Tehran. Single Room Supplement: £360, €410, $472. Deposit: £500, €600, $650.

Northern Baluchistan Extension: £590, €670, $770. Single Room Supplement: £60, €69, $79. Deposit: £50, €60, $70.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

Also includes these flights: Tehran-Zahedan or Tehran-Bandar Abbas, Bandar Abbas-Ahvaz, Ahvaz-Tehran.

Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.150.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

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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