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This area in south-eastern Azerbaijan is a true mecca for nature enthusiasts.
Gizil Aghaj has a mixed landscape of wetlands, reedbeds, sandy beaches and shallow lagoons. It is home to millions of birds mainly from October to May, and the avian show constantly changes throughout the year. Winter is great for the sheer volumes of waterbirds, whereas species diversity is best in autumn and spring. Numerous species also breed here.
While a nature reserve was first established here in 1929, the national park was only set up in 2018 and is currently Azerbaijan’s largest. The site was included in the Ramsar List of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in 1975. Some excellent birdwatching points are actually located to the south of the park along the road leading across the lagoon to the peninsula where the park is located. The area is huge, partly inaccessible and as such a bit difficult to appreciate during a single visit. But spending a day of birdwatching between the road leading up to the park and the visitor centre is a very rich experience. A day in October or April/May can reveal over a hundred different species!
Among the birds you can encounter are Citrine Wagtail, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Pallid Harrier, Steppe Eagle, Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Red-necked Phalarope, Isabelline Shrike, Black Francolin, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Menetries's Warbler, Common Teal, Pygmy Cormorant, Dalmatian Pelican, Pallas's Gull, Lesser White-fronted Goose, White-headed Duck, Greater Flamingo, Red-breasted Goose, Little Bustard, White-tailed Eagle, Merlin, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit and Black-necked Grebe.
Located 260km south of Baku, this nearly 100,000 hectare huge protected area by the Caspian Sea consisting of forest and wetlands is one of the top birding sites in Azerbaijan. Gizil Aghaj is a key resting and refuelling spot for seabirds migrating along the western coast of the Caspian, as well as a wintering ground for birds breeding in Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia.
When to visit: November-March for the huge numbers of wildfowl and some rare wintering species from Central Asia; April/May and September-October for a greater variety of resting waders, terns, passerines and passing raptors; July-August has a hot climate but also tens of thousands of waders in the shallow lagoons. Overall, good birdwatching is guaranteed from September until May
The capital of south-eastern Azerbaijan, Lankaran, is a great place to get acquainted with the southern flavours of national cuisine as well as learn about Azerbaijani tea-growing. The city is also historic, as you’ll discover at the Lankaran Historical and Ethnographic Museum, housed in an elegant avant-garde mansion with an interesting story to tell. Elsewhere, in Masalli the Istisu sanatorium is set around a therapeutic hot spring on the Velvelechay river, and is reached via a scenic road leading deep into the Talish Mountains.
Sleeping: Lankaran city has a good selection of hotels and guest houses to suit all budgets located in the city centre, by the sea or nearer the mountains. Masalli Hotel is a comfortable option very close to Gizil Aghaj NP.
Eating: The south-eastern corner of Azerbaijan is renowned for its local cuisine. Be sure to try lavangi roast chicken or fish stuffed with a walnut and plum paste and pumpkin pilaf. There are some excellent garden restaurants lining country roads throughout the region, while Lankaran city has many eateries serving local and international cuisine. The region is also the centre of tea and citrus fruit growing in Azerbaijan.