Birding Hotspot Besh Barmaq
One of Eurasia's great flyways funnels migratory birds between the Azerbaijani shore of the Caspian Sea and the steep crag of Besh Barmag. This year an international team of ornithologists spent three months counting them.
Ruddy Shelducks, Image: Elvin Məmmədsoy
Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Mark Elliott.
Heading north out of Azerbaijan’s ever-expanding capital, Baku, you drive along a strip of relatively flat coastline with hilly undulations slowly rising to the west. These become suddenly more pronounced at Besh Barmaq, an outcrop of rock rising abruptly through a steep grassy hill ridge.
The name means ‘five fingers,’ though seen from further north, it’s more of a giant thumb jutting forth from the steep hillside. The phallic form has given the summit a superstitious folk reputation as a place where those seeking improved fertility might find miraculous assistance in their pregnancy prayers.
The coastal contours are important for migrating birds, too, creating a flyway through which many species pass en route from their Siberian summers to warmer over-wintering areas further south. And for their return each spring.
This year, starting on September 1, a dedicated group of international ornithologists assembled in the shadow of Besh Barmaq to undertake one of the most comprehensive counts of this mighty migration ever attempted.