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A Report from

Iran 28 September to 7 October 2003,

Rients Niks

Simons Stevinweg 19
3911 CE  Rhenen

From 27 September to 7 October I visited Iran to discuss collaboration between Wageningen University and agricultural research institutes in Iran. The programme was quite full, and I could not travel much, so there was little opportunity for bird watching. However, since there are not many bird reports available for this destination, I decided to make a short report of the few birds that I saw.


I arrived a few minutes before midnight of the 27th, at Mehr Abad Airport, Teheran. I was met by a delegate of the agricultural research organisation, and transferred to Karaj, about 35 km west of Teheran. There I stayed at a campus of the research institute SPII. This campus hosts several guesthouses, institutes and small living houses, leaving a lot of room for park vegetation. Especially the many trees, mainly a kind of plane-tree, are conspicuous.

I stayed mainly at the campus. Working visits to Teheran did not result in interesting bird observations. I made one trip to Zanjan, about 300 km west of Karaj. There I was shown around the province (the Ghavazangh picknick area just north of Zanjan-city,  Sultaniye and the caves of Kataleh Khour near Garmab).

Thursday and Friday are weekend days. I used the Thursday to go up the (bare) mountains north of Teheran. There is a telecabin from Teheran-Velenjak. Friday I visited some parks with my hosts and their relatives.

On the final day I chose the Sarhad Abad quarter of Karaj for a walk. This is in the outskirts of Karaj, near the Karaj river bed, which hardly contains water this time of the year.


There are no or hardly any cars available for rent. Traffic is extremely crowded and disorganised, so driving by yourself is not recommended anyhow. Taxis are the common means of transportation. Most taxis are without any sign or colour to discriminate them from private cars. Taxi drivers rarely speak a European language. Knowing some Farsi is extremely helpful. Renting a taxi for a whole day is about the same price as renting a car in Europe for one day.

Between cities there are railways, bus and domestic airline services. Transportation is very inexpensive.

Cultural aspects

As Iran is officially an Islamic Republic, there are strict rules that should be respected. Female visitors should cover their hair and arms and legs, and wear loose garments. Male visitors may wear sandals and short sleeves, but no sleeveless shirts, nor short pants, not even when temperatures are very high. During Ramazan no eating, drinking or smoking in public are permitted. Of course drinking alcohol in public is prohibited.

Iranians are very friendly and extremely hospitable people, but also respect if you like to go out alone to do some bird watching. In the streets not many people speak European languages.

Values and prices

The currency in Iran is the Riaal. Coins are of hardly any value, and the largest bank notes are 100.000 riaal, which is about 1 Euro. So, for shopping one would need more banknotes than fit in the average wallet or purse. Credit cards are of no use, there are no cash dispensers. US$ traveller cheques are not accepted, not even in the main bank in Teheran. Consequently one should bring all money cash (in Euro or US$) into the country, and hope that it is sufficient. Western money can be changed in the bank, or Iranians can help to find a (probably illegal) money changer. Prices are very low to western standards. Travelling by common bus from Teheran to Isfahan (about 400 km) is only about 2 €. A complete warm meal in a restaurant about 3 €, taxi fares in the city 0,5 € (shared taxi) to about 2 € (individual taxi) for an about 20 min distance.


I found the part of Iran that I visited (Teheran, Karaj, Zanjan) very barren, dry and stark: steppe-like. The south-side of the Elbourz mountain  range which runs west-east north to Zanjan and Teheran is devoid of trees as well. Only the campus, some city parks and some living quarters (e.g. near the Karaj river) are relatively green. There were very few birds. The most common and visible birds are the Hooded Crows, Rooks and House-sparrows. In total I saw only 32 species, five of them were lifers to me, and several I had seen only once before.

Weather conditions

The predominant weather was sunny, little wind and I estimate maximum temperature was about 22 – 26 °C. Only on Friday it was overcast with a few drops of rain.

List of all 32 bird species that were noticed:

1.  Common Buzzard  (Buteo buteo)  Buizerd
30-9-2003 one bird circling between Zanjan and Sultaniye, with Aquila arend (from running car).

2.  Eagle species (Aquila spec.). Interacting with the buzzard. Was very dark brown-black, without any white markings. May have been Steppe Eagle.

3.  Common Kestrel  (Falco tinnunculus)  Torenvalk
30-9-2003 some individual birds along roads in Zanjan province. May have been Lesser Kestrels. Always from running car, so no details seen.
3-9-2003 one bird above palace garden in Teheran.

4.  Red-footed Falcon  (Falco vespertinus)  Roodpootvalk
6-10-2003 one male flying-by during walk in  Sarhad Abad quarter of Karaj. Hobby-like silhouette, all-grey, steady flight.

5. Feral Pigeon  (Columba livia)  Stadsduif
Common, but not abundant.

6.  Wood Pigeon  (Columba palumbus)  Houtduif
6-10-2003 party of 9 birds flying over during walk in  Sarhad Abad quarter of Karaj.

7.  Collared Dove  (Streptopelia decaocto)  Turkse Tortel
29-9-2003 one bird at campus of Vocational Agricultural School in Karaj (AREO). Maybe some overlooked, since I did not really focus on doves.

8.  Laughing Dove  (Streptopelia senegalensis)  Palmtortel
30-9-2003 to 6-10-2003 relatively common city and park bird in Karaj and Teheran.

9.  Rose-ringed Parakeet  (Psittacula krameri)  Halsbandparkiet
6-10-2003 noisy party flying over during walk in Sarhad Abad quarter of Karaj.

10. Little Owl  (Athene noctua)  Steenuil
1-10-2003 “barking” call heard near parking lot of Kataleh Khour caves (Garmab), ~ 75 km SW of Zanjan.

11. Syrian Woodpecker  (Dendrocopos syriacus)  Syrische Bonte Specht
6-10-2003 one possible bird during walk in  Sarhad Abad quarter of Karaj. In bare top of poplar. Head pattern hidden behind stem, but pinkish undertail coverts and white shoulder patch were seen. I cannot completely rule out Great Spotted, but that species has stronger red undertail, and may be replaced by Syrian in cultivated and inhabited areas.

12. Crested Lark  (Galerida cristata)  Kuifleeuwerik
30-9-2003 one bird on fields near Karaj

13. Grey Wagtail  (Motacilla cinerea)  Grote Gele Kwikstaart
2-10-2003 some in centre of Teheran (Mirdamad Boulevard), near small stream. Were assembling together with White Wagtail apparently in order to go to roost, about 17:30.

14. White Wagtail  (Motacilla alba)  Witte Kwikstaart
29-9-2003 and 2-20-2003, 3-10-2003. In Karaj and Teheran. Like West-European subspecies in summer, but white throat, and with all-white greater and medium coverts forming conspicuous white wing panel.
2-20-2003 At least hundred assembling near Mirdamad Boulevard (17:30). See above species.

15. White-eared Bulbul  (Pycnonotus leucotis)  Witoorbuulbuul
30-9-2003 one bird at the SPII campus in Karaj, foraging in plane-tree. Silent.

16. Red-tailed Wheatear  (Oenanthe xanthoprymna)  Roodstaarttapuit
2-10-2003 rather common around station 5 of Tochal telekabin, Teheran. Subspecies chrysopygia. Beautiful silver-grey basic colour (reminiscent of Blackstart), on head also some brownish wash. Clear brown edges to tertials. Tail red and black, as in Bluethroat. Perches on elevated rocks, and hops to catch some insect. Pumps tail after alighting, but does not spread the tail.

17. Finsch's Wheatear  (Oenanthe finchii)  Finsch' Tapuit
1-10-2003 a pair at the picknick place Ghavazangh (North of Zanjan). Male alighted on utility wire, but flew off immediately, showing its cream back. Presumable female seen near that place, being grey and rather featureless.

18. Blue Rock Thrush  (Monticola solitarius)  Blauwe Rotslijster
1-10-2003 at the picknick place Ghavazangh (North of Zanjan). Presumable young male with bluish colour, and finely barred breast and belly.

19. Green Warbler  (Phylloscopus  nitidus)  Groene Fitis
30-9-2003 one bird at the SPII campus in Karaj, in shrubs and plane-trees, foraging. Clear one-and-a-half yellow wingbar, yellow supercilium, greenish upperparts and yellow underparts. Dark legs.
6-10-2003 one bird during walk in  Sarhad Abad quarter of Karaj.

20. Red-breasted Flycatcher  (Ficedula parva)  Kleine Vliegenvanger
30-9-2003 one bird at the SPII campus, Karaj; shoed its white-black tail beautifully. Cream coloured underparts seem to rule out the less likely F. albicilla.
6-10-2003 at least 4 birds during walk in Sarhad Abad quarter of Karaj. Produced some weak Wren-like or Long-tailed tit-like “trrrrrrrp”. Non of the birds showed orange throat.

21. Great Tit  (Parus major)  Koolmees
30-9-2003 some birds at SPII campus, Karaj;
6-10-2003 some birds during walk in Sarhad Abad quarter of Karaj.

22. Western Rock Nuthatch  (Sitta neumayer)  Rotsklever
1-10-2003 ~ 4 pairs on mountain north of Zanjan (Ghavazangh). Gave themselves away by their noisy call: a rapid "tepie-tepie-tepie-tepie". Looked more “cute” than the next species, with finer movements.
1-10-2003 bird at parking lot of Kataleh Khour caves (Garmab), ~ 75 km SW of Zanjan. On utility wire.
2-10-2003 one pair near telekabin Tochal, station 5, Teheran.

23. Eastern Rock Nuthatch  (Sitta tephronota)  Grote Rotsklever
1-10-2003 ~ one or two pairs on mountain N of Zanjan (Ghavazangh). At foot of the mountain, where construction works took place. Loud metallic call: “Tuup tuup tuup tuup”, increasing and decreasing in speed and volume. Very pronounced eye-stripe, especially behind the eye. Clearly different from the above species, which was much less robust, and with much more narrow eyestripe. Behaviour very robust and strong and active.

24. Magpie  (Pica pica)  Ekster
27-9-2003 to 6-10-2003 almost daily in parks and outskirts. Whitish rump. Tail looked relatively longer than of West-European Magpies.

25. Alpine Chough  (Pyrrhocorax graculus)  Alpenkauw
2-10-2003 calling bird flying over at telekabin Tochal, station 5, Teheran.

26. Rook  (Corvus frugilegus)  Roek
28-9-2003 to  6-10-2003 Next to Hooded Crow and House Sparrow  the most common bird around Teheran and Karaj. Appeared to be less social than in Europe, since solitary birds occurred as well. Less in urban areas than Hooded Crow, but occurred in parks, and abundant on countryside.

27. Hooded Crow  (Corvus corone)  Bonte Kraai
28-9-2003 to  6-10-2003 by far the most common and visible bird species in and around Teheran and Karaj. Especially in parks and urban area, but also in outskirts.

28. Raven  (Corvus corax)  Raaf
2-10-2003 one pair at telekabin Tochal, station 5, Teheran.

29. Starling  (Sturnus vulgaris)  Spreeuw
30-9-2003 Not common.  Only seen ~ 75 km east of Zanjan (party of ~ 15 birds along highway). In Zanjan at dusk large flocks flying over the city on their way to roost.

30. House Sparrow  (Passer domesticus)  Huismus
28-9-2003 to 6-10-2003 common in Teheran, Karaj and Zanjan.

31. Tree Sparrow  (Passer montanus)  Ringmus
6-10-2003 two birds in plane-tree, in Sarhad Abad quarter of Karaj.

32. Red-fronted Serin  (Serinus pusillus)  Roodvoorhoofdkanarie
2-10-2003 large flock flying around at station 5 of telekabin Tochal, Teheran. Two stayed (one adult, the other immature), and foraged on seeds on the ground. They could be approached rather closely.


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