Category Archives: Travel

Destination Spotlight: Armenia

Located in the mountainous Caucasus region bordering Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iran, Armenia has everything you may want in an exotic trip: history, culture, food, and birds. And this September, you can join Mass Audubon naturalist Amber Carr on a 15-day adventure. Here, a snapshot of what you could experience:

Rich History

Armenia has an ancient and complex history. Among the earliest Christian civilizations, it’s rich with historic and religious sites including Khor Virap Monastery (a pilgrimage site near Mount Ararat) and a dormant volcano just across the border in Turkey.

Among the sites you will see is Selim Caravanserai. Built in 1332 by Prince Chesar Orbelian to accommodate travelers between China and Europe, it’s one of the few artifacts left from the Silk Road.

Birds!

Bearded Vulture © Francesco Veronesi

Armenia’s country list includes 349 species of birds. Armenia lies on the main migration route between the Northern and Southern hemisphere, with species flying from as far away as South Africa.

So many of the great birding spots are near historic sites that date as far back as the 8th century BC: you’re likely see raptors near Geghard Monastery (a UNESCO world heritage site) and various species of larks near the Selim Caravanserai. Highlights include: Pied Avocet, Squacco Heron, Red-crested Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Bearded Reedling, Long-legged Buzzard, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, and Bearded Vulture (aka Lammergeier).

A Varied and Stunning Landscape

© Clay Gilliland

Visit a semi-desert gorge occupied by a colony of Eurasian Griffons; a 500 year old juniper woodland that is home to birds such as Sombre Tit and Fire-fronted Serin; a spectacular canyon of the Azat River where cliffs are formed by basalt columns and called the “Symphony of Stones;” and drive to the highest elevations to see Alpine Accentor and Cinereous Vulture.

Food & Drink

Every day you will taste the delicious fruits grown in Armenia, including grapes, figs, pomegranates, apricots, and apples, as well as vegetables, nuts, and locally produced honey.

A variety of meat dishes as well as breads such as lavash (a thin flatbread) will fill your dinner table. Plus see how Armenian Brandy (the favorite drink of Winston Churchill) is made. You will also learn how Armenian wine is made in Areni, where the tradition dates back 6,100 years.

Adventure!

On her last visit to Armenia, Mass Audubon Council Member and frequent traveler Roxanne Etmekjian recalls one excursion that was so awe-inspiring that it was added to our tour’s itinerary. Waking up pre-dawn, you will head up the alpine mountain of Gndasar in a 4X4 to look for the elusive Caspian Snowcock in the early morning light.

View the full itinerary or contact Mass Audubon’s Travel Team to learn more.

Take 5: Central Colombia Birding Tour

A paradise for birders, Colombia has the highest bird species count of any country in the world, with well over 1,900 species. Mass Audubon’s Bertrand Chair of Ornithology Joan Walsh and ornithologist, author, and artist David Sibley recently led 11 travelers on a 12-day Mass Audubon Natural History Travel adventure through the mountains and rainforests of Central Colombia, where they saw a total of 400 species.

Enjoy a few photos from the trip and see where we’re headed next.


Crimson-rumped Toucanet
A lake in the Central Andes, near the Los Nevados National Park.
Masked Trogon
Chestnut-napped Antpitta eating out of guide David Sibley’s hand.
Spectacled Owl

Siberia’s Forgotten Coast: A Trip of a Lifetime

Siberia’s eastern coastline is one of the most remote and least visited regions of the globe. Dominated by the volcanoes of Kamchatka in the south, the fjords of the former Koryak region, and the rich estuarine areas and tundra of Chukotka, this region is heavily regulated and virtually impossible for the independent traveler. 

But it’s not impossible for us. In June, Mass Audubon’s Natural History Tours is heading to this remote region for what is going to be a trip of a lifetime. Need a reason to join us? Here are five.

Remarkable Landscapes

Explore habitats with little to no other human presence accompanied by scientists from BirdLife International and Birds Russia.

© A Fergus

© A Fergus

Amazing Birds

Visit a breeding population of the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper, look for red-faced cormorants; horned puffins; parakeet, crested, and whiskered auklets on the Commander Islands for (just a few of the more than 180 bird species seen here); and hike on the uninhabited Karaginskiy Island looking for bluethroats and pallas’ reed buntings.

Sspoon-billed sandpiper © Lisle Gwynn

Sspoon-billed sandpiper © Lisle Gwynn

Magnificent Marine Mammals

Cruise the Zhupanova River by Zodiac, home to the magnificent Steller’s sea eagle, largha seal, walrus, and more. And travel over the Kuril-Kamchatka Trench, where you can see orcas; dall’s and harbor porpoises; and fin, minke, sperm, humpback, beaked, bowhead, and blue whales.

© Meghan Kelly

© Meghan Kelly

Wildlife Encounters on Land

Marvel at the huge Kamchatka brown bears, red fox, and mountain sheep in the Koryaksky Reserve.

etan-kamchatka-brown-bear-640

© E Tan

Aquatic Adventures

Kayak along the towering, forested fjords of the Chukotka coast, which enables you to approach wildlife with minimum disruption.

© Katya Ovsyanikova

© Katya Ovsyanikova

Check out the itinerary to learn more >

Take 5: Terrific Travel Photos

We want to see your vacation photos! No, really. This year our Photo Contest includes a new category: Travel. If you’ve taken a Mass Audubon-led trip in the last five years, domestic or international, you can enter your photos. Here are five amazing images from this category so farwhy not add yours to the mix?

Striped kingfisher, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania © James Timmons

Striped kingfisher, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania © James Timmons

Zebras migrating at end of day, Serengeti National Park © Barbara Centola

Zebras migrating at end of day, Serengeti National Park © Barbara Centola

Young spotted hyenas, Maasai Mara, Kenya © James Timmons

Young spotted hyenas, Maasai Mara, Kenya © James Timmons

Atlantic puffin, Machias Seal Island, Maine © Carol Pike

Atlantic puffin, Machias Seal Island, Maine © Carol Pike

Atta leafcutter ant warrior, Vinales, Cuba © Peter Hollinger

Atta leafcutter ant warrior, Vinales, Cuba © Peter Hollinger

Find out more about our 2015 Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest!

Just Back: Patagonia

Patagonia Trip copyright Carol PasseraIn January 2013, 14 travelers joined Mass Audubon ornithologist Wayne Petersen for our Patagonia birding trip in southern Argentina and Chile.

Over the course of 14 days, we saw the towering spires of the Andes mountains as a backdrop to a soaring Andean condor; emerald waters of the Laguna Sucia with huge Magellanic woodpeckers (South America’s largest woodpecker species); and hanging glaciers with torrent ducks diving in the rushing river water.

The new Ice Museum in Calafate, Argentina was particularly amazing and as was the stunningly blue ice on the face of the Moreno Glacier calving right before our eyes.

Other fantastic sightings included:

  • The endemic Magellanic plover (whose estimated world population is thought to be less than 1,500) unobtrusively working the water’s edge in Calafate.
  • Hundreds (thousands?) of juvenile and molting adult Magellanic penguins dozing near their desert nest burrows at Punta Tombo. Our local guide, Carol Mackie de Passera, lived here for many years, raising her children while banding hundreds of penguins for Wildlife Conservation International.
  • The humorous spectacle of gangs of road-running lesser rheas racing across the Patagonian steppe.
  • The irritatingly close (yet totally invisible!) squeaks of a rare austral rail calling practically at our feet.
  • And the sight of a rare huemul doe nursing her fawn on a distant Patagonian hillside.

See some great shots from the trip in our photo slideshow and check out some of our other trips we have planned for the future.

Photo © Carol Passera