Armenia is a land-locked Christian country in the southern Caucasus with a rich and ancient cultural heritage. Located between the Black and Caspian Seas, bordered by Turkey, Georgia, Iran and Azerbaijan, and with a mountainous terrain rising to over 4,000 metres, it is hardly surprising that Armenia makes a superb holiday destination for the natural history enthusiast in the early summer. Further, it is safe, friendly, warm and dry in summer with almost no biting insects, and offers fabulous food and spectacular scenery. Above all, it is fantastic for butterflies — this small country, the size of Wales, supports more than 230 species, amongst them a highly sought-after selection of Caucasian specialities as well as many European and Asiatic species at their range limits. A wealth of other wildlife is also not to be overlooked. Dragonflies, day-flying moths, and such avian specialities as Upcher’s and Greenish Warblers, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Radde’s Accentor, Whitethroated Robin and Lammergeier should be among the highlights of this exciting new Naturetrek tour.
We begin, and end, in the historic capital of Yerevan, but we will also stay in small villages and rural towns, experiencing Armenian life and hospitality, and enjoying the country’s varied landscapes. In particular, we will search for butterflies in Armenia’s semi-deserts, flower-rich steppes, ancient forests, steep mountain gorges and alpine meadows grazed by livestock that are tended by nomadic tentdwelling Kurdish shepherds. Each habitat supports a distinct butterfly community, and seeing 80 species or more is a possibility over the course of our week.
From Yerevan we will first make an excursion into the nearby steppe and semi-desert habitats around Hatsavan and Gaghadir, searching for Persian Skipper, Southern Swallowtail, Dawn Clouded Yellow, Persian Fritillary, the fritillary Melitaea trivia caucasi and the hairstreak Satyrium ledereri. Water courses in this arid environment can be real magnets for butterflies, where thousands of ‘mudpuddling’ blue and white butterflies may gather. At nearby Gharni we will visit the gorge where spectacular basalt columns have been carved out by the Goght River. This is another rich butterfly habitat and supports Marbled Skipper, Short-tailed Blue, Esper’s Marbled White, and both Jerusalem and Caucasian Lesser Spotted Fritillaries.
Leaving Yerevan we will travel north to Dilijan, a spa town in the Tavush Province of Armenia surrounded by lush forests. In one, the Acharkut Beech Forest, which contains a number of flower-rich meadows, we will look for Large Blue, Dryad, Great Banded Grayling, Scotch Argus, Northern Brown Argus and the hairstreak Satyrium abdominal, and along the forest’s rides and glades we will seek out Southern White Admiral, Eastern Wood White, Hungarian Glider and the beautiful emperor butterfly Thaleropis ionia. Then we will drive west through some stunning mountain scenery and pass through several unique and little-changed wooden Russian villages, established from the late 18th century onwards when sectarian ‘Molokan’ Christians left Russia. At a mountain pass near Janjour we will search the rocky slopes and sheltered grassy woodland edges for Mountain Alcon Blue, Turquoise Blue, Purple-shot Copper, Damon Blue, Gavarnie Blue, Azerbaijan Brown Argus, the Brown Argus Aricia alos, Kurdish Copper, the fritillary Mellicta caucasogenita, False Heath Fritillary, Yellow-banded Skipper, Olive Skipper and the Grayling Pseudochazara benoyi. We will then travel to Gyumri, the capital city of Shirak Province in Northern Armenia which is famed for its old Armenian architecture. Montane butterflies will be our focus the following day, as we visit Armenia’s highest mountain, Mount Aragats. Here, amongst its sub-alpine meadows and rocky slopes, we will look for the skipper Pyrgus jupei, Apollo, Mountain Apollo, the clouded yellow Colias chlorocoma, the Scarce Copper subspecies armeniaca, the high altitude white Pieris bowdeni and Nickerl’s Fritillary amongst many other species.
Lastly we will head, via Yerevan, into eastern Armenia. Here we will explore the semi-desert, moist meadows, rocky slopes and extensive Juniper and oak forests of the Khosrov Forest State Reserve in search of such species as Pogges Skipper, the skipper Eogenes alcides, the green hairstreak Callophrys suaveola, the blues Lysandra corydoniu and Polyommatus surakovi, Oriental Meadow Brown and Amasian Satyr. Then, following an overnight stay in the pretty village of Yeghegnadzor, we will conclude our holiday with a visit to the colourful montane hay meadows around Gnishik where Chelmos Blue, Agri Blue, the blue Polyommatus paulae and the brown Satyrus effendi occur, before visiting the beautiful gorge at Noravank, known for its towering brick-red cliffs and spectacularly situated 13th century monastery — a fine way in which to end a holiday to an ancient land with so many attractions.