The Mystery ofAzhdahak

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Animals adapted to alpine areas are a hardy species that can withstand a harsh climate with late springs, short summers and a habitat with only sparse vegetation.

The avian fauna of the Geghama Mountain Range includes around 250 species that make 70 percent of all Armenia's birds. All birds can be divided into the following groups by the nature of their appearance and habitat: residents, visitors, breeding, wintering and vagrants. The latter group reflects changes in the fauna structure depending on the season. In winter fauna consists of indigenous and wintering birds from northern regions. At the beginning of spring birds from more southern regions appear again on their return to breed. At the same time the wintering birds leave and day after day the fauna increases, reaching the greatest diversity between the end of spring and the beginning of summer with the new generation of birds hatching out.


High rocky slopes are the place of choice for birds of prey for nesting, birds such as the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Imperial eagle (aquila heliaca), Egyptian Vulture (neophron percnopterus), Cinereous Vulture (aegypius monachus), Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) and the Bearded Vulture (gypaetus barbatus), about which there were disputes on what species it belonged to. It is now classed as a vulture, but not the type we would of as a vulture. The last Bearded Vulture in Europe was in the Swiss Alps. By 1886 they had all been annihilated. The nest of the Bearded Vulture is usually located in remote valleys of high, rocky crevices or in caves. These powerful birds of prey are of great interest because of their huge wingspan, which can exceed 2 meters. The Cinereous Vulture typically builds its nest 2.25 meters in diameter made from among densely spread juniper branches. The Imperial Eagle is not as skillful in nest building, and it often appears that the nest is so crooked that would be easily blown away by a strong wind. Yet on such occasions the she-eagle will be seen keeping her eggs warm, sitting quiet on that thick yet crooked scaffold.

Like all avian scavengers these birds scan territory by soaring to impressive heights. Each of them eats the different parts of carrion in their own unique way. The Cinerous Vulture will tear up muscles with its beak, while the Griffon Vulture will go head first into the abdomen of the carrion to pull out the entrails. The Egyptian Vulture feeds on all parts of the carrion, while the Bearded Vulture prefers the muscular parts and extremities of the carrion. The excrement of the Bearded Vulture is pure calcium and this is because the Bearded vulture is the only animal that feeds almost exclusively on bone (70-90%). These birds have to fly large distances yet will always return to breed in the area where they were born.

Baby birds

hese birds operate on a strong survival instinct, struggling every time for each piece of carrion. Often they stay hungry for 30 to 40 days. If they find a considerable quantity of carrion they gorge as much as they can. However they sometimes have to vomit parts out again to overcome body weight to fly again. The number of these birds nesting is not large, only one or two. It is because they are on the verge of extinction, all being listed in the Red Book.

In Geghama Mountain Range can also be found the Lesser Kestrel (falco naumanni), Eurasian Kestrel (falco tinnunculus) and Saker Falcon (falco cherrug). Flying high they can spot small prey such as the Field Mouse (migrotus arvalis), then swoop down with speed and dexterity to catch it on the ground. They will also hunt other rodents, such as the Forest Dormouse (dryomys nitedula), and shrews, such as the Caucasian white-toothed shrew (cricidura gueldenstaedti). Smaller birds of prey such as the Hobby (falco subbuteo), unlike other falcons, hunts mid-air. They hunt for prey such as Dragonflies and Swallows, catching them with their claws and eating mid-flight. They choose to nest in trees, using old crow nests.

A typical alpine ground nester is the Caspian Snowcock (tetraogallus caspius), it is also listed in the Red Book. Its large size, highly developed breast and limb muscles, allow these birds to endure severe frosts, easily climb up steep scree slopes and swiftly maneuver around boulders even on cliffs. When these birds fly their take-off is labored, beating their wings fast. They prefer to glide down slopes. Their strong vocalization allows distant communication in these windswept areas. The call to alarm by the Snowcock will also cause wild ibex (capra aegagrus) to flee in panic.

Throughout the Geghama Mountain Region it is possible to find the Cuckoo (cuculus canorus) which makes its presence known with dry and sharp calls, from which the English name "Cuckoo" derives. The Cuckoo is a parasitical bird; it does not build a nest but lays in the nests of other small birds. Always its egg will hatch before the host bird's own eggs, the baby Cuckoo instinctively pushes out the host bird's eggs out of the nest.

Also in the region can be found the Alpine Chough (pyrrhocorax graculus), Red-billed Chough (pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), Yellow-Legged Gull (larus cachinnans), Crimson-Winged Finch (rhodopechys sanguinea), Chukar (alectoris chukar), Common Partridge (perdix perdix), Grey-Necked Bunting (emberiza buchanani), Water Pipit (anthus spinoletta), Scops Owl (otus scops), Alpine Accentor (prunella collaris) and Radde's Accentor (prunella ocularis). The Eagle Owl (bubo bubo) and Little Owl (athene noctua) will sit motionlessly on the eaves of rocks. Their eyesight exceeds by five times human eyesight and allows them to see as well in the night as in the day. However they always active at night and can notice a common mouse at a distance of 500-600 meters away before swooping onto it mid-flight.

The Crested Lark (galerida cristata), the Lesser Short-toed Lark (calandrella rufescens) and the Shore Lark (eremophila alpestris) nest in open areas of land and so as a precaution sing their songs far away from their nests in order not to give the location away to predators.

The Pale Rock Sparrow (carpospiza brachydactyla) transforms its songs to mimic the sound of cicadas, attracting the Dragonflies to its nest and making the feeding of their young easier.

Almost wild horses

Flock of sheep

Almost wild horses

Wolves inhabit many areas where their prey can be found, such as mountains, plains, alpine meadows, pastures or rocky slopes. They usually hunt in packs with a rigid hierarchy. They will only attack alone if they are sure of escape. They prefer to hunt at night though sometimes in the afternoon. Sheep are a common prey for them.

The Brown Bear (ursus arctos) footprints can often found on the snow covered slopes of this region. The prints are very wide, deep and five-fingered. The weight of a full grown bear is 190 kg up to 300kg. In March the female gives birth to an average of two cubs. The Brown Bear is more often active from twilight and night, but sometimes also in the daytime. Usually they avoid encountering people. However a bear surprised, with prey, wounded or guarding cubs, may attack.

Hot Bear traces...

Hot Bear traces...

Hot Bear traces...

Close to the Khosrov Forest reserve also live Leopard (pantera pardus) and Lynx (felis lynx). The Lynx always yields to the Leopard in a confrontation yet its resourcefulness surpasses the Leopard. It prefers to attack the victim by pouncing on it from a tree or rock. The Fox, like most other animals, always spots a person long before they spot them.

When walking in the Geghama Mountains, you will certainly be seen by the animals, but if you have no good eye of a skilled hunter you will have difficulty spotting them. A careful eye however would detect the wild animals escaping on the slopes.

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In writing this paper, use was made of excerpts from the "Handbook of Birds of Armenia", by Martin S. Adamyan, Daniel Klem, Jr.