23rd April - 7th May 2024

Leader: Rob Hutchinson

Iran, for so long off the birding radar for political reasons is now accessible and welcoming visitors. Finely positioned on the edge of the Middle-east and Central and South Asia, a variety of habitats mean that over 300 species breed in the country, with a vast number migrating through from Africa to the Palearctic.
Though the number of new species for the well-travelled are few, there are a number of real megas, including the enigimatic, endemic Pleske's Ground Jay and near-endemic Caspian Tit and such restricted-range species as Sistan (Afghan) Scrub Sparrow (only found here and Afghanistan!), Sind Woodpecker, Basra Reed Warbler, Afghan and Iraq Babblers, Caspian Snowcock, Black-headed Penduline-tit, Plain Leaf Warbler, Hypocolius, Caspian Snowcock, and a variety of wheatears including Hume's, Persian and Finsch's. We will also be looking at including Omani Owl, here seemingly far more likely than in Oman, along with Brown Fish Owl, of the same race that occurs through to Turkey.

Day 1:
Arrivals into Tehran International Airport. Night in Tehran.

Day 2:
Early morning flight to the far eastern Baluchestan province, straddling the Afghan border. During the afternoon we visit an area of marshland where we found a breeding colony of Sistan (Afghan) Scrub Sparrow, a distinct taxon from Dead Sea Sparrow, a split which has been published in a peer-reviewed journal but not yet widely adopted! Almost its whole range is inside Afghanistan except for this tiny outpost that we discovered on our survey to the area. In additon, White-tailed Lapwing, Sykes's Warbler and Spotted Sandgrouse can be found there. Historically the incredibly little-known nigricans Black-headed Penduline-tit also occurred here but hasn't been seen for many years - in fact, only a handful of birders have even visited this vast area of wetland so there is plenty of room for exploration and interesting discoveries. As migration should be in full swing, this wetland can be a haven for migrants dropping down in this vast arid area.

Day 3:
Returning to the wetlands for Sistan Scrub Sparrow, followed by birding the flat, stoney desert of the area gives us chances of a variety of different species including Spotted Sandgrouse, Eastern Mourning Wheatear and Hume's heatear as we head south.

Day 4:
Visiting the mountains of Southern Kerman province holds a variety of breeding birds including Hume's Wheatear, Red-fronted Serin, Syrian Woodpecker, Hume's Whitethroat, Plain Leaf Warbler and even an outside chance of the distinct and little-known plumbea Western Rock Nuthatch, along with the much more numerous Eastern Rock Nuthatch. Eventually, after a long drive, we reach Minab. Night in Minab.

Day 5:
In the small pockets of vegetation east of Minab we search for one of the world's least-known woodpeckers; Sind Woodpecker, here at perhaps its most accessible site. Our first Afghan Babblers are also possible, as is Pale Crag Martin, along with species familiar to those that have visited India; White-eared Bulbul, Red-wattled Lapwing, Spotted Owlet, Purple Sunbird, Indian Silverbill and Indian Roller. Night in Minab.

Day 6:
This morning we are likely to be birding around Bandar Abbas, situated on the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. Depending on the tide, we can take a look at the shoreline for White-cheeked and Saunder's Terns and even a chance of Sooty Gull, Sand Lark and Crab-plover before heading east. A visit to a rocky outcrop is required to search for the scarce Hume's Wheatear, Long-billed Pipit, Streaked Scrub-warbler, Striolated Bunting, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, See-see Partridge and Upcher's Wabler if we haven't seen these already. In the afternoon we fly to Ahwaz in he province of Khuzestan, in southwest Iran close to the Iraqi border. Night in Ahwaz.

Days 7-8:
An exciting couple days visiting pockets of the once vast Mesopotamian marshes. The marshes are home to a large number of breeding and migrant birds, and our main targets here include both Iraq and Afghan Babblers, Dead Sea Sparrow and the scarce Basra Reed Warbler, the latter should have returned to one of its few known breeding grounds by this time. The wooded fringes are home to Menetries's Warbler and 'Mesopotamian Crow', a pied-like race of Carrion/Hooded Crow that is restricted to this region. Other species in the area include Black Francolin, White-tailed Lapwing, Eurasian Thick-knee, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Ménétries’s Warbler, Spanish Sparrow and Black- inged Kite. The area can also be filled with migrants if we are fortunate. In the heat of the day we hope to visit Ziggurat of Choqazanbil, a 13th century BC pyramid of the Elamite dynasty. In the afternoon we either revisit the marshes or head to an area of woodland and scrub at one of the few known breeding sites for Hypocolius, and at dusk, Egyptian Nightjar floats along the track. It's also worth noting this area is still full of European Turtle Doves you would never realize the plight the species is in if you only visited this area!
We will also be visiting an area to search for both Omani Owl and Brown Fish Owl - the latter species the same race as that found in Turkey, and quite distinct from Indian and Southeast Asian birds. Nights in Ahwaz.

Day 9:
We have another day outside of Ahwaz, targeting any missing species. Visiting the wood-lined rivers gives us another chance of Hypocolius, africana Common Nightingale, Menetries's Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (and a chance of migrant Sykes's), 'Mesopotamian Crow' and Afghan Babbler. We will even go in search of Omani Owl, several sightings of which have been made in the Ahwaz region. We then return to Ahwaz to fly up to Tehran, in time for a short drive into the Elburz Mountains for the night.

Day 10:
Driving towards Kelardasht, a distinct European flavour kicks in; Whinchat, Ortolan Bunting, European Bee-eater, Common Swift, Black-headed and Corn Buntings, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Eurasian Greenfinch, European Chaffinch should all appear, with Eurasian Quail calling from the surrounding barley fields. If we arrive early to Kelardasht we may have time to head to the Oak forest for an initial search for Caspian Tit. Night in Kelardasht.

Day 11:
Heading to the high-altitude meadows and slopes above Kelardasht, our prime targets are Caspian Snowcock, Radde's Accentor, Red-fronted Serin and even a chance of Eurasian Crimson-winged Finch. In the afternoon we head into the Oak forests to search for the near-endemic Caspian Tit, found only in the North Iranian and eastern Azerbaijan forests. A whole array of common European birds are also present here; Eurasian Robin, Common Rosefinch, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Common Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Blue, Coal, Long-tailed and Great Tits and even Hawfinch. The open slope above the forest here also gives us a chance of Finsch's Wheatear. Night in Elbourz Mountains.

Day 12:
In the morning we visit a small area of marshland (unfortunately set aside for hunting) home to one of the few known breeding sites of the range-restricted Black-headed Penduline-tit that nests by the trackside, other species here include Moustached Warbler. We then drive down into the extension plains of eastern Iran, and the edge of the Dasht-e-Kavir desert. At some point in the afternoon we enter the Touran Wildlife Refuge, Iran's largest nature reserve, covering 18,000 sqkm. We should arrive in time for some late afternoon birding, and initial exploration of Touran. Touran is home to Iran’s one true endemic; Pleske's Ground Jay, and this is what we will search for immediately. Night in Shahroud.

Day 13:
We have a full day inside Touran Wildlife Refuge, primarily in search of Pleske's Ground Jay but also a whole wealth of other species are possible. Macqueen's Bustard still breeds here, Black-bellied, Crowned and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Bar-tailed Lark, Asian Desert Warbler, Pale Rockfinch, Mongolian Finch and Trumpeter Finch, while in the rocky outcrops Persian Wheatear, Streaked Scrub-warbler (reasonably distinct from birds seen earlier in the south), Grey-necked Bunting and Western and Eastern Rock Nuthatches hide. Mammals are scarce in the area, but we do have a reasonable chance of seeing Asian Wild Ass and Wild Goat. Although the reserve is most famous as the final refuge in Asia of Cheetah, the chances of seeing the species is next to nil! Night in Shahroud.

Day 14:
A days drive back to Tehran. Depending on our success inside Touran, we either return for a mornings birding, or head off early to spend some time in the eastern Elburz Mountains with a chance of White-throated Robin, Plain Leaf Warbler, Finsch's Wheatear, Trumpeter Finch and Grey-necked Bunting. Night in Tehran.

Day 15:
Departures from Tehran International Airport. For those wanting to further their cultural experience of Iran, a visit to Isfahan would be possible either pre- or post-tour. Contact us for further details of this two night extension.

Tour details

Cost: £ 4,435 or $ 5,500

Deposit: £ 500 or $ 700

Single room supplement:
£ 400 or $ 496

Maximum group size: 8

Tour cost includes: all accommodation, main meals, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, entrance fees, drinking water, tips to local drivers and guides, and guide fees.

Tour cost excludes: International flights and departure taxes, visa, travel insurance, drinks, tips to tour guides, and other items of a personal nature.

Accommodation: comfortable twin-bed, and single rooms, all with private facilities except for Touran National Park where rooms are simple and shared without private facilities.

Walking difficulty: generally easy throughout, with a lot of time under the sun, and scanning. At least three days spent above 2,000m, but no higher than 2,900m.

Expected number of species: 240-280 species.

Number of endemics of range-restricted species: A single endemic, Pleske's Ground-jay, with a handful of species difficult elsewhere, including Omani Owl.

Map of the tour

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