Eco-tourism in Iran: Essential Tips for Birdwatching Enthusiasts
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Birdwatching is a recreational and scientific activity that has attracted considerable attention from nature enthusiasts due to its abundant attractions. In dictionaries, birdwatching is a recreational activity for observing and studying wild birds (scarce species) in open and natural environments. Today, this pastime is one of the world’s most popular and profitable branches of ecotourism. Birds inhabit various settings, including wetlands, plains, mountains, lakes, forests, grasslands, and cities.
Birdwatching is a relatively new and growing branch in the tourism and ecotourism industry and is considered a responsible, educational, and calming pastime. A birdwatcher is an enthusiastic individual who embarks on a journey to explore nature and slenderness and observe and observe and examine migratory and native bird species. Respect for nature, environmental conservation, and respecting birds’ privacy are among the most essential principles of birdwatching. Adhering to these principles brings the pleasure of observing the beautiful and mysterious world of these unique creatures to the birdwatcher.
The term “birdwatching” was first used in 1901 AD by a person named “Edmund Selous” in a book titled “Birdwatching.” This term quickly spread worldwide. From the beginning of the 2000s, ecotourism activities and its related sub-branches (such as birdwatching) gained popularity in Iran and found many enthusiasts.
Birds are beautiful, captivating, and lively creatures, some of which migrate for their survival. Bird migration allows wildlife enthusiasts to observe non-native species in their locality. Many of these migrants are rare and endangered.
Wetlands and perennial and seasonal lakes are safe habitats for various animals. These aquatic areas play a significant role in stabilizing the climate and reducing regional dust storms. Hosting thousands of native and migratory aquatic and semi-aquatic birds is one of the essential functions of wetlands.
Iran hosts five to seven million birds out of the 50 billion worldwide during different seasons every year. Most migrants choose wetlands for temporary residence, rest, and breeding. Many ecotourism enthusiasts and birdwatchers from various parts of Iran and the world travel to these quick and permanent habitats during migration seasons to enjoy the magnificence and beauty of birds in peace and tranquility.
- Location: Approximately 10 kilometers southwest of Sisakht, at the entrance of Anbari, near the Bijan pass.
- Lake Area: About 0.5 hectares
- Lake Depth: Approximately 15 meters
- Best Time for Birdwatching: Summer
Kuh Gol (Mountain Lake) is one of the peaks in the Dena mountainous region near Sisakht. The Lake Kuh Gol in Sisakht is a pristine and rare natural attraction within the Zagros mountain range, near the foothills and close to Kuh Gol’s peak. The lake is fuller from early winter to late spring due to rainfall and the melting of upstream snow. The size and depth of the lake vary depending on the annual rain and seasons.
In the month of Ordibehesht (roughly corresponding to May), the lake showcases its utmost beauty amidst a lush, flower-filled meadow. The formation of Kuh Gol Lake has provided suitable conditions for various plant and animal species to thrive. Vegetation such as mountain mushrooms, Ferulago (Chavil in Persian), chamomile, mountain mint, Rivas, Prangos (Jashir in Persian), and mountain pennyroyal grow around the lake. During the summer, the lake hosts a variety of migratory birds like ducks, green-headed ducks, terns, storks, owlets, coots, northern lapwings, and more. The surroundings of Kuh Gol Lake are an excellent spot for resting, birdwatching, and camping. Due to the presence of park rangers, the area is entirely secure.
To reach Lake Kuh Gol, one must first travel to Yasuj in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province and then head to Sisakht. Sisakht is located 35 kilometers northwest of Yasuj. The beautiful natural attraction of Kuh Gol Lake lies 10 kilometers southeast of Sisakht. Access to this site is possible via Cheshme Mishi Road, followed by the Kuh Gol route. From the last point where you can park your vehicle, there’s a roughly 30-minute hike and climb to the lake. Part of the route is steep but incredibly picturesque.
Near the pristine Lake Sisakht, there aren’t many tourist facilities. The lake water is generally excellent; however, it’s suitable for swimming on sunny days. It’s essential to bring drinking water, extra clothing, warm clothes, and a sun hat. Camping is possible in the beautiful nature of the Kuh Gol region and around the lake. Moreover, tourists can stay at the Dal Dena recreational hotel, Yas eco-lodge, or city suites in Sisakht.
- A protected area listed in the International Ramsar Convention wetlands list.
- Address: Lahijan County, 27 kilometers east of Kiashahr, Amir Kalayeh village.
- Area: 1,230 hectares.
- Depth: 1.85 meters.
- Best birdwatching time: Autumn and Winter.
Amir Kalayeh International Lagoon is located in Gilan province and is one of the coastal lagoons of the Caspian Sea and an international wetland in Iran. This lagoon, formerly known as “Shaleh Kal,” is located in the Shirju-Posht district, near the village of Amir Kalayeh and 36 kilometers northeast of Lahijan city. The Amir Kalayeh Lagoon was added to the international Ramsar Convention wetlands list in 1975. This lagoon is a habitat for numerous wild animals and aquatic species protected by the country’s environmental organization.
Throughout the year, Amir Kalayeh Lagoon welcomes tourists. Activities include boating, walking, fishing, picnicking, and bird watching. Typically, tourists choose early May to mid-August for a visit. Various local wildlife and birds are present throughout the year, but if you aim to watch migratory birds, you should visit the area in the second half of the year and explore it by boat.
Despite its proximity to the sea, Amir Kalayeh Lagoon has fresh water, an ecological feature contributing to its high biodiversity. The presence of over 130 bird species makes it one of the birdwatching destinations in Iran. Birds such as the Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, large and small Cormorants, Ash-colored Herons, Big Egret, Greylag Goose, and varieties of ducks including the Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, and Tufted Duck, Water Rail, Coots, Moorhen, Western Swamphen, Northern Lapwing, White-tailed Lapwing, Common and small Snipe, Caspian Gull, Black-headed Gull, Western Marsh Harrier, White-tailed Eagle, and Greater Spotted Eagle inhabit the Amir Kalayeh Lagoon.
White and pink water lilies, sea pistachios, swamp tulips, forget-me-nots, and lens-shaped water plants grow in the lagoon. This wetland and its surroundings are habitats for fish such as the wild fishbowl, carp, ray fish, silverfish, wild pond fish, red-finned fish, thorny fish traveler, needlefish, marbled cowfish, various turtles, snakes, lizards, otters, water martens, and wildcats.
The coastal road passes north of Amir Kalayeh Lagoon, and tourists can reach the lagoon from the east or west through this road. Safe beaches near Amir Kalayeh, such as the Chef Coastal Park, are suitable for camping and staying overnight. Additionally, tourists can choose the “Star of the Sea” and “Dreamy Reality” hotels for accommodation.
- Listed in the international Ramsar Convention wetlands list, protected area, biosphere reserve, registered in the global wetlands system.
- Address: Eastern end of the Chabahar to Gwadar road, near the Pakistan border.
- Area: Approximately 29,500 hectares.
- Best birdwatching time: Autumn and Winter.
The International Wetland of Gwadar Bay is located at the southeasternmost point of Sistan and Baluchestan province, 100 kilometers from the city of Chabahar and north of the Gwadar port (Gwadar Bay). The Khorbahou wetlands and Gwadar Bay were registered in the International Ramsar Convention wetlands list 1999. It is considered one of the birdwatching destinations in the country. This marine-coastal wetland is adjacent to the Gulf of Oman and close to the border of Iran with Pakistan, and it is a habitat for mangrove forests.
During the autumn and winter seasons, Gwadar Bay Wetland hosts approximately 40 species of aquatic and semi-aquatic migratory birds, such as cormorants, pelicans, terns, sea swallows, waders, etc. To better observe birds in this area, navigating by boat into the heart of the wetland and through the forest is recommended. Wearing boots will help you get closer to the birds’ gathering spots and capture unique images.
Access to Gwadar Bay and its wetland is possible through the coastal road 98 (Gwadar road). This road bends towards Gwadar Bay and ends in a cul-de-sac. The Gwadar road passes by the Martian mountains of Chabahar (miniatures), the pink wetland of Lipar, and the beautiful tourist village of Beris. Nature exploration and birdwatching in Gwadar Bay are easy to moderate regarding trip difficulty and require walking on flat paths.
A visitor and birdwatching center exists in the Gwadar Bay wetland, offering educational and welfare services to tourists. The center has birdwatching tools, a coffee shop, and accommodation units. During a trip to Gwadar wetland, there’s an opportunity to camp and set up tents near the Gwadar port beach. Moreover, the ecotourism lodges “Azj” and “Hayat” are located not far from the Gwadar Bay wetland and are suitable accommodation options.
- Protected area, First terrestrial-marine national park
- Address: 5 kilometers northwest of Kiashahr
- Size: Approximately 3,260 hectares
- Best time for birdwatching: Autumn and Winter seasons
Boujagh National Park (Boujagh Lagoon) is located in Gilan province, in the Astaneh Ashrafiyeh district, one kilometer from the southwest coasts of the Caspian Sea. Due to its unique ecological conditions and diverse flora and fauna, this lagoon is considered a protected area in the country. It has been registered as the first terrestrial-marine national park on the national list. Boujagh National Park covers an area of 160 hectares of freshwater lagoon. Kiashahr’s wooden bridge passes through the lagoon and its marshes, reaching the Caspian Sea shore. Approximately 230 species of birds such as Oak Pochard, Swan Goose, Phalarope, Yellow-legged Goose, Little White-fronted Goose, Mountain Plover, Duck, Flamingo, Heron, Fish Eagle, various types of eagles, Partridge, Bustard, Francolin, Hawk, Sea Eagle, Pelican, and Pied Kingfisher have been observed in Boujagh Park; some of these birds are rare and endangered. During the Autumn and Winter seasons, the lagoon hosts migratory birds from Northern Russia and Siberia. The park is equipped with unique cameras for birdwatching.
More than 50 species of fish and the Caspian Seal (the only mammal of the Caspian Sea) are also residents of the Boujagh Lagoon. Tourists can take a boat into the middle of the lagoon to closely observe the aquatic life and birds. The growth of sea pistachio and blue water lilies on the lagoon enhances its beauty. The roads “Hasan Roud to Zibakenar” and “Lasht Nesha to Zibakenar” are the best routes to access Boujagh National Park. Tourists are advised to park their vehicles in the parking lot and walk to the lagoon. Boujagh National Park has limited facilities to preserve its pristine and safe environment. For accommodation, tourists can use the rental villas and suites in the towns of Zibakenar and Kiashahr.
- Protected Area
- Address: 40 kilometers northwest of Kermanshah city, Hashilan village
- Area: Approximately 450 hectares
- Best time for birdwatching: Autumn and Winter seasons
“Hashilan” in the local dialect means “House of Snakes.” Hashilan Lagoon is 26 kilometers northwest of Kermanshah, in the Elahiyar Khani district. The lagoon spans over the flatlands and vast plains at the foothills of the Khorin and Veys mountains. The Hashilan Lagoon has about 110 large and small islands, which get submerged during the rainy seasons.
The diversity of flora and fauna has made Hashilan Lagoon a favorite destination among nature enthusiasts. Storks and pelicans are the permanent residents of this lagoon. Additionally, during the Autumn and Winter seasons, various birds such as the Mallard, Grey Goose, Teal, Flamingo, and Pelican descend upon the Hashilan Lagoon to spend the winter.
The best route to access the Hashilan Lagoon is the Kermanshah-Sanandaj road and the Qazanchi intersection to Paveh (Ravansar road). This route leads to the Amirabad Road and Hashilan Lagoon. Tourists should park their vehicles in the “Khoshinan Ali” village and walk the remaining distance to the lagoon. Due to the presence of nocturnal animals, camping and staying overnight around the Hashilan Lagoon can be dangerous. Tourists can opt for accommodations like the “Rostami Guest House” at the beginning of the Ravansar road.
- Address: 15 kilometers east of Chabahar city, Ramin village
- Area: Approximately 10 hectares
- Best time for birdwatching: Autumn and Winter seasons
Chabahar’s Lipar Lagoon is one of the unique attractions of Iran, located in the south of Sistan and Baluchestan, 20 kilometers east of Chabahar city. The lagoon nestles in a rocky canyon overlooking the Ja mountain, a short distance from the Oman Sea (Makran coasts of Chabahar). Due to the presence of bacteria and plant plankton, the water of the Lipar Lagoon has turned pink and is considered one of the saltiest water bodies in Iran.
Shrubs like Gaz, Hara, and Chesh have grown around and within this pink lagoon. This picturesque water body hosts native and migratory birds throughout the year, including Terns, Flamingos, Herons, Pelicans, Peafowls, Storks, Black-winged Stilts, Teals, and Steppe Eagles. The year’s second half is considered the best time for birdwatching in Lipar Lagoon.
The coastal and asphalted road 98 (Chabahar to Gwadar) runs through the Lipar Lagoon, making access easy. Ramin village is located near the Lipar Lagoon. The accommodations “Bagh Yosef” and “Mahkan” in this village are suitable accommodation options. Additionally, the shores of Lipar Lagoon and the safe beaches of the Oman Sea (near the lagoon) are ideal for camping and overnight stays.
- Wildlife Sanctuary, Listed in the National Natural Heritage and the International Ramsar Convention
- Address: Western outskirts of Marivan city
- Area: Approximately 900 hectares
- Depth: Around three meters
- Best time for birdwatching: Late summer to early winter
Zaribar Lake, or Zaribar in Kurdish, is one of the largest freshwater lakes in western Iran and a renowned tourist attraction of Marivan. This spectacular lake, covering about 900 hectares and with an approximate depth of three meters, is nestled amidst the forested area of the Zagros Mountains (oak forests). It is recognized as a wildlife sanctuary—springs from the lake bed, and seasonal rainfall supplies its water. The lake’s expanse and depth have made it popular for recreational activities like fishing, boating, and water skiing. It has been registered on the National Natural Heritage list and the International Ramsar Convention.
Zaribar Lake is an ecological unit and a unique aquatic ecosystem with diverse plant and animal species. Every year, from late summer to early winter, the wetland welcomes numerous migratory aquatic, semi-aquatic, and non-aquatic birds, including the White Sea Swallow, Oak Duck, Glossy Ibis, Stork, Grey Herons, Terns, Spotted Cuckoos, and Elegant Terns. The birdwatching site at Zaribar Lake provides a haven for migrant birds to winter and breed. The birds’ circle of fear is relatively small here, allowing tourists to observe their behaviors closely.
The Sanandaj-Marivan road is the best route to access the Zaribar freshwater wetland. Tourists should travel three kilometers west from Marivan (towards Baneh) to reach the entrance of Zaribar Lake. The lake offers satisfactory tourism and recreational facilities. Behzisti Tourist Villas, Marivan Tourist Hotel, and Zaribar Hotel are among the accommodation options around Zaribar Lake.
- The largest urban lake in Iran
- Address: Ardabil city, Daneshgah street
- Area: Approximately 180 hectares
- Depth: Around 10 meters
- Best time for birdwatching: Autumn and winter seasons
Shorabil Lake is a natural attraction in northwest Iran, located in Ardabil province. Recognized as the most significant urban lake and one of the oldest aquatic areas in Iran, its accessibility and diverse recreational and welfare facilities have turned it into one of the most popular leisure spots in Ardabil. Historically, the water of this wetland was highly saline, but its salinity has been reduced recently.
Every year, during autumn and winter, thousands of migratory birds journey from the cold regions of Siberia to the warmer southern areas in the Shorabil wetland. Some of these birds remain in Ardabil until spring, while others, after resting and feeding, continue their route toward the warmer coastal areas of the Caspian Sea. Herons, ducks, quails, and snipes are among the indigenous birds of Shorabil Lake. Various species, including swans, geese, terns, pelicans, sandpipers, waterhens, black-necked ducks, flamingos, silver and black-headed gulls, Balaban, turbans, green-headed ducks, ibises, Siberian cranes, and small white-fronted geese can be seen at the lake during the latter half of the year.
Shorabil Lake is located in the southwest of Ardabil city. Tourists can reach the lake via the Kowsar, Daneshgah, Milad, and Barzgar highways. The pedestrian path around Shorabil Lake is one of the longest health roads in the country—the parks and gardens surrounding the lake offer suitable spots for camping and setting up tents. Shorabil, Saray, and Darya hotels are the closest accommodation units to Shorabil Lake.
- Wildlife Sanctuary, Biosphere Reserve, Listed in the Ramsar Convention
- Address: Behshahr City, Southeastern Caspian Sea
- Area: Approximately 70,000 hectares
- Best birdwatching time: From early September to early January
Miankaleh Wetland, also known as “Between Castle,” is located on the southeastern shores of the Caspian Sea, north of Behshahr city, and within a narrow peninsula called Miankaleh. The wetland borders the Caspian Sea to the north, Gorgan Bay to the south, Zaghmarz to the west, and Ashuradeh Island to the east. The distance from Miankaleh Wetland to the center of Sari City is about 58 kilometers, and to Behshahr city center is about 13 kilometers. The “Four Seasons Sea” road leads to the Miankaleh Wetland, making access easier. However, tourists use boats to reach the central parts of the wetland.
The Miankaleh Wildlife Sanctuary, together with the wetlands of Lapooi Zaghmarz, Shir Khan Lapoo, and Palanganeh, collectively cover an area of 100,000 hectares and have been registered in the Ramsar Convention due to meeting the required criteria. The unique ecosystem, unparalleled nature, pristine landscapes, distinctive vegetation, and the presence of numerous animal species are reasons why this area attracts tourists, environmentalists, wildlife enthusiasts, and birdwatchers. Various birds are permanent residents of the Miankaleh Wetland. However, during the migration season (from early September to early January), bird density peaks due to its moderate climate. During this period, Miankaleh hosts more than 60% of the birds from Russia and Northern Siberia.
To visit the Miankaleh Wetland, tourists must obtain a Behshahr Environmental Protection Agency permit. Various predatory, terrestrial, and aquatic birds inhabit this wetland. Miankaleh is also recognized as a safe habitat for different Caspian Sea fish species, such as carp, mullet, whitefish, and sturgeon, which are used for breeding and spawning.
Considering the vastness of the Miankaleh Wetland, the quality and characteristics of the water vary in different parts. The water becomes saltier from west to east. Other birds choose other parts of the wetland based on the salinity of the water. Birds like the large white heron, little egret, gray heron, and ducks inhabit the westernmost part of the wetland (freshwater). In contrast, terns, large pelicans, seagulls, and cormorants choose the easternmost part for wintering.
Around the Miankaleh Wetland and on the Zaghmarz coast, there are suitable places for camping and tenting. Sometimes, fishermen rent out their huts to tourists. Local accommodations such as “Behshahr Shakliyeh” and “Koomah Hut” are the closest to the wetland and are ready to provide tourist services. Accommodation centers in Behshahr, like “Ashraf Hotel” and “Abbas Abad Hotel & Restaurant,” are other accommodation options around the Miankaleh Wetland.
- Registered in the International Ramsar Convention
- Address: Fereydunkenar County, south of the Fereydunkenar passage
- Area: Approximately 5,427 hectares
- Depth: Approximately two meters
- Best birdwatching time: Autumn and Winter seasons
The wetlands of Fereydunkenar, Azbaran, and Sorkhrood are collectively known as Fereydunkenar Wetland. These areas were registered in 2001 as significant artificial wetlands under the International Ramsar Convention. These wetland clusters are located in the southwestern, southern, and southeastern areas of Fereydunkenar. They are bordered to the west by the Sorkhrood to Amol road, to the east by the Ejakesar road, and to the south by the dedicated gas road.
Many of the Fereydunkenar Wetland is cultivated with rice from spring to mid-summer. After the rice harvest, residents flood the lands, converting them into wetland areas. Such wetlands are also referred to as seasonal habitats. The average water depth in these areas is about one meter. Every year, during the autumn and winter seasons, thousands of migratory birds land in Fereydunkenar Wetland. Due to the private nature of the lands, monitoring and protecting the bird sanctuary in this wetland is challenging. Unfortunately, the profitable market for hunting migratory birds severely threatens the existence of these precious and rare species.
Some of the permanent and migratory inhabitants of Fereydunkenar Wetland include the Black-headed Gull, Large Sandpiper, Peafowl, Moorhen, Red-throated Loon, Green-winged Teal, White-browed Crake, Swan, Duck, Mallard, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Crow, Screaming Eagle, Heron, Pelican, Osprey, and Siberian Crane. Access to the Fereydunkenar Wetland is possible via gas roads, the Amol to Fereydunkenar road, Ejakesar, Sorkhrood, and local dirt roads. Tourists wishing to observe the migratory birds should wear waterproof clothing and boots.
Towns such as Fereydunkenar, Sorkhrood, Daryakenar, Ejakesar, and the village of Azbaran are located near the Fereydunkenar Wetland. Tourists can opt for suites and rental rooms in these areas for accommodation. In the tourist-friendly town of Fereydunkenar, multiple accommodations are available, including the “Milad” hotel and the “Kish Mehr” hotel.
- No-Hunting Zone
- Address: 15 kilometers northeast of Arak, near the villages of Rahzan, Deh Namak, and Tarmazd
- Area: Approximately 25,000 hectares
- Depth: Approximately one meter
- Best birdwatching time: Autumn and Spring seasons
Miqan Wetland is located in the Central province, 15 kilometers northeast of Arak, five kilometers southeast of Davoodabad, and between the Zagros mountain range and the central mountains of Iran. Miqan Wetland is approximately 1,655 meters above sea level, and during the dry seasons, it is known as the Miqan Desert.
Miqan Wetland is a seasonal saline lake in a hollow desert region. In the surrounding areas of the wetland, one can spot salt-tolerant shrubs and small trees. The mild winters have turned Miqan Wetland into a suitable habitat for wintering migratory birds from cold regions (over 12,000 individuals). On their journey from the cold northern areas of Russia and Siberia to the warm southern regions and Africa, these birds temporarily reside in Miqan Wetland during the autumn and spring seasons.
Cranes, ducks, flamingos, and black-tailed godwits are among the migratory birds of Miqan Wetland. This wetland is listed as a no-hunting zone in the Central province. With the construction of a desert watchtower in the swamp’s heart, the area’s security has been ensured, and better conditions have been provided for tourists. Arak airport is located south of the swamp, near the Miqan salt lake. The northern bypass highway of Arak and the Miqan Wetland Road are the best routes to access this valuable natural attraction. An eco-camp in the village of Tarmazd (west of the wetland) and a camp on the wetland’s edge are accommodation options.
- Registered on the Ramsar Convention International List, Wildlife Sanctuary, Protected Area
- Address: Bandar Anzali City
- Area: Approximately 19,485 hectares
- Depth: About 1.5 meters
- Best time to visit: Autumn and Winter seasons
The Anzali Wetland stretches from the west to the south of Bandar Anzali. This vast coastal wetland and valuable ecosystem is one of the wetlands registered in the Ramsar Convention. The Anzali Wetland is divided into four main sections: central, western (Large Wetland), eastern, and Siyah Kashim. The water from this wetland drains into the Caspian Sea through the Ghazian channel.
From a salinity perspective, Anzali Wetland falls into the brackish and freshwater category. Due to its high environmental value, it has been designated as a wildlife sanctuary and a protected area. Unfortunately, threats such as sedimentation, fires, and consecutive droughts endanger the life of the Anzali Wetland.
Anzali Wetland is a habitat for numerous native animal species, a breeding ground for aquatic creatures, and a safe habitat for migratory birds from the Siberian region. Plants like reeds, bulrushes, water lilies, ceratophyllum, tule and blue arrow, blue flag, and azolla grow in this wetland. Blue water lilies floating on the Anzali Wetland’s surface are among this natural treasure’s visual attractions. Birds like the imperial eagle, teal, coot, seagull, little cormorant, gray pelican, small white-fronted goose, white-tailed sea eagle, and black-tailed godwit are among the native and migratory birds of Anzali Wetland. Numerous birdwatching tours travel to Anzali Wetland in the autumn and winter to observe these migratory birds.
The Rasht-Anzali road is one of the best routes to access Anzali Wetland. Taking a boat ride in the wetland can be a memorable experience. The wooden deck on the water’s edge in the southern part of the wetland is a great spot to enjoy the area’s nature. The Ashpla Forest Park near the swamp is beautiful for camping and overnight stays. Numerous suites and various hotels such as “Sefid Kenar Anzali,” “Parnian,” and “Sepid Kenar Matin” are located a short distance from the wetland, making them suitable accommodation options for a trip to Anzali Wetland.
- Address: Dasht-e Azadegan county, 100 kilometers west of Ahvaz city, on the border of Iran and Iraq.
- Area: Approximately 120,000 hectares.
- Depth: About five meters.
- Best birdwatching season: Autumn and Winter.
Hawr al-Azim, or Huwaizah Marsh, is the largest shared wetland between Iran and Iraq. Only about one-third of this wetland lies within Iranian territory. It is formed at the end of the Karun River, in the border region of Dasht-e Azadegan. The Karun River and its tributaries provide the water supply for this marsh. The microclimate of Hawr al-Azim plays a significant role in the livelihood and economy of the local people (fishing, livestock, agriculture) and in reducing and controlling dust storms. Regrettably, in recent years, challenges such as drought, lack of rainfall, mismanagement, overfishing, and water rights disputes have severely threatened the life of this vital wetland.
Numerous plants, such as reeds, Jegan, reed mace, and water hyacinth, grow in the Hawr al-Azim. This marsh is home to animals like turtles, otters, wild boars, water dogs, bats, and fish such as silver carp, catfish, sheatfish, roach, and grass carp. Migratory birds like the gray goose, teals, and marsh harrier choose Hawr al-Azim for their winter stay. Several birdwatching tours are organized in the autumn and winter to observe the migratory birds of this region.
Access to Hawr al-Azim is possible via the Tabar-to-Shatt al-Arab road and the oil company road. Hawr al-Azim was a central war zone, and unexploded ordnances remain. Therefore, tourists are advised to be guided by a local expert. Camping is possible in the natural surroundings of the marsh, and tourists can also opt to stay in accommodations in Susangerd, such as “Mozif Hussein Al-Jasim” and “Qasr Hotel.”
- It is registered in the Ramsar International Convention and UNESCO, a wildlife sanctuary.
- Address: 50 kilometers northeast of Abadan, Shadegan city.
- Area: Approximately 400,000 hectares.
- Best time to visit: Autumn and Winter.
The Shadegan International Wetland is located in Khuzestan province, 40 kilometers from Ahvaz County. Shadegan, Khormusi, and Khor al-Amaya are collectively recognized as the Shadegan Wetland. This wetland connects the Jarrahi River to the Persian Gulf. The northern part of the wetland has fresh water, while the central and southern parts contain brackish and salty waters. This vastness and diversity of ecosystems make the Shadegan Wetland an ideal habitat for various plant and animal species.
Shadegan provides a suitable base to attract migratory birds from Northern Europe, Canada, and Siberia. These birds arrive in Shadegan in the autumn, turning it into one of the prime birdwatching sites in the country’s southwest. Mallards, black-headed gulls, herons, coots, gray herons, sea swallows, pelicans, white-tailed sea eagles, and imperial eagles are among the resident and migratory birds of the Shadegan Wetland. Autumn and winter are the best birdwatching seasons in Shadegan.
Unfortunately, irresponsible behaviors and negligence regarding the vital aquatic habitats have placed the unique Shadegan Wetland on the Montreux Record (a list of endangered wetlands). Access to Shadegan Wetland is possible via the Ahvaz-Abadan highway in the west and the Abadan-Mahshahr road south of the swamp. The Shadegan-Darakhwin road also runs through the swamp. Tourists can camp on the safe outskirts of the swamp or use accommodations in Shadegan city like the “Abu Walid” guesthouse and “Salah Rabihaoui” residence.
- Tourist Showcase Area
- Address: Astara city, along the Rasht to Astara road.
- Area: Approximately 138 hectares.
- Best birdwatching time: Autumn and Winter.
Estil Wetland, locally known as ‘Hetsel’ (meaning water reservoir), is situated southwest of the Caspian Sea and northwest of Gilan province. In 2005, it was introduced as a Tourist Showcase Area. Estil’s freshwater wetland sits 13 meters below sea level; however, the wetland’s size varies throughout the year. Seasonal rainfall and springs at the wetland’s bed are its water sources.
Hunting is prohibited in Estil Wetland. Various plant and animal species are permanent or temporary residents of Estil Lake in Astara. Trees called Tuska, on the eastern side of the wetland, have roots in the water and are continually moving, making them one of the wonders of Estil Wetland (often referred to as the Wetland of Floating Trees).
In the autumn, the beautiful waters of Estil become host to thousands of migratory birds from Central Europe and cold regions in the north, like Siberia. Birds such as the red-nosed shelduck, pelican, egret, coot, white duck, heron, and teal choose Estil Wetland as a station, resting place, and egg-laying location during their winter migration. Birds that breed in the wetland remain there all winter. Autumn and winter are the best times for bird-watching in Estil Wetland.
To reach Estil Wetland, take the Rasht to Astara Road (Shahid Rajaei Street). There are several exits and roundabouts for access to the wetland belt before and after the Astara-Talesh police checkpoint. This belt goes around the wetland. There are suitable welfare and tourist facilities such as pavilions, shops, accommodations, and recreational equipment around the swamp. Espinas Hotel, Estil Astara Residence, and Negin Hotel are accommodations near Estil Wetland. Estil Wetland Park (Abbas Abad) on the eastern shores of the wetland is an ideal place for camping and staying overnight. Additionally, the wooden pier of this park offers an excellent view of the wetland’s natural beauty for tourists.
- Listed in the Ramsar International Convention.
- Address: Boroujen county, Gandoman town.
- Area: Approximately 980 hectares.
- Depth: About 0.2 meters.
- Best birdwatching time: Autumn and Winter.
Gandoman Wetland is a seasonal lake located about four kilometers southwest of the historical town of Gandoman. Hosein Abad and Katak-e Sofla are two villages near this wetland. This valuable water area is on the list of top birdwatching sites in Iran and is registered in the Ramsar Convention. Gandoman International Wetland is situated 2,214 meters above sea level.
Gandoman Wetland is located in a cold region. Birds such as storks, shelducks, wheatland finches, and noisy marsh sparrows are among the permanent residents of this valuable water area. Furthermore, every year in autumn and winter, thousands of migratory birds from Central Asia and cold northern regions like Siberia migrate to Gandoman Wetland. If the weather conditions are favorable and the wetland’s surface doesn’t freeze, these birds stay in the area until the end of winter.
Shahid Motahhari Street (Hosein Abad road) in the west and another route in the south of Gandoman town lead to Gandoman Wetland. Accessing this wetland does not require walking. Ecotourism accommodations named “Ava-ye Talab” (Sound of the Wetland) and “Koomeh Kelaar” are ready to provide services to tourists in the north of the wetland.
- Listed in the Ramsar Convention Wetlands, Protected Area, No Hunting Zone.
- Address: Bostanabad County, on the edge of the Zanjan to Tabriz freeway, before Yousef Abad.
- Area: Approximately 200 hectares.
- Depth: About two meters.
- Best birdwatching time: Late Spring and Summer.
Quri Gol Wetland is located in the northwest of the country at an elevation of 1,890 meters above open waters and 30 kilometers southeast of Tabriz. Surface waters from melting snow, seasonal rainfall, and wetland floor springs are the water sources for Quri Gol Wetland.
Quri Gol is in a cold region and often freezes in winter, leading birds to abandon it. Throughout the year, about 90 species of native and migratory birds inhabit Quri Gol Wetland. Many birds, such as oak ducks and white-headed and black-necked grebes, settle in Quri Gol Wetland for nesting and summering. Khordad month (May-June) is the best time to observe the nesting birds of this wetland.
Species such as the large and small bittern, white pelican, lapwing, little egret, great white egret, various herons including yellow, night, gray, and purple, coot, cormorant, white stork, teal, pochard, goldeneye, various ducks including green-headed, white-headed, white-browed teal, sandpiper, black coot, marsh harrier, wheatland sparrow, crane, lapwing, golden eagle, buzzards, kite, red-beaked shoveler, wood sandpiper, black-headed gull, dark storm-petrel, short-toed lark, swallow, and yellow wagtail are among the native and migratory birds of Quri Gol Wetland.
Easy access to Quri Gol Wetland has made it one of the well-known birdwatching sites in the country. The wetland is located on the edge of the Zanjan to Tabriz freeway (before the Yousef Abad exit). Tourists can drive up close to the lake. Quri Gol Park, on the edge of the wetland, is ideal for camping and overnight stays. Tabriz Hotels, such as “Pars” and “Sadra,” are the closest accommodation options to Quri Gol Wetland.
- Protected Area, No Hunting Zone, Wildlife Refuge
- Address: 13 kilometers southwest of the city of Bonab, Ghara Gheshlagh village
- Area: Approximately 40,000 hectares
- Best Time for Birdwatching: October and December (Based on Gregorian calendar dates corresponding to the Persian months Mehr and Esfand)
Ghara Gheshlagh Wetland is located on the southern coast of Lake Urmia, on the outskirts of the Bonab district, and borders the two provinces of Azerbaijan. It’s famously known as the bride of the northwestern wetlands of the country. The swamp is situated at an altitude of 1,270 meters above sea level. The climate of this region is semi-arid and cold. For this reason, Ghara Gheshlagh experiences long winters and moderate summers.
Around 153 different bird species, permanently or seasonally, reside in Ghara Gheshlagh. In the latter half of the year, the wetland hosts migratory birds from northern Siberia. These birds stay there for several days while migrating to warmer southern regions. Typically, late October (around two weeks) marks the peak presence of these migratory birds in this beautiful wetland. This pattern repeats in December when the migratory birds return to their original habitats. In spring and summer, many birds breed in Ghara Gheshlagh. The mallard, white-fronted goose, desert lark, bustard, swan, heron, black stork, marsh harrier, various sea sparrows, and teal are among this wetland’s permanent and migratory inhabitants.
Access to Ghara Gheshlagh village is possible through the Bonab to Malekan road. The Chapghalu (Bonab to Naghadeh) road is to the left of this route. The Haj Masiab exit leads to Ghara Gheshlagh village. The wetland is about four kilometers southwest of the town, and its path is unpaved. Due to the vastness of the area and some parts being marshy, it’s essential to have a guide familiar with the wetland’s territory. One needs professional equipment to venture deeper into the swamp to observe the birds more accurately and closely.
There’s the possibility of camping on the safe outskirts of Ghara Gheshlagh. Some villagers rent out their rooms to tourists. Hotels in the city of Bonab, like the Laleh Hotel, are other accommodation options near Ghara Gheshlagh Wetland.
- Listed in the International Ramsar Convention, Wildlife Refuge
- Address: 15 kilometers southwest of Zabol
- Best Time for Birdwatching: Spring season
The Hamoun Lake is located in the southwestern part of Zabol. Hamoun-e Saberi and Hamoun-e Hirmand were registered under a single title in the International Ramsar Convention in 1975 (based on the Gregorian calendar corresponding to the Persian year 1354). The Hamoun wetland or lake is of the inland type and was once one of Iran’s largest and most water-rich lakes. Today, various issues, including the construction of the “Kajaki Dam” and “Kamankhan Dam” on the Hirmand River and the failure of the Afghan government to provide the lake’s water rights (according to an agreement in 1972 between the two countries), have led to the drying of the Hamoun wetland. Only during the rainy seasons and spring, a limited portion of the swamp fills with water, where one can witness the presence of migratory birds such as pelicans and flamingos.
The Zahedan-Nehbandan-Birjand road lies to the east, the Zabol-Nehbandan road to the north, and road 99 to the east of Hamoun Lake provide access routes. Due to the extensive drying of a large part of the lake, you’ll need to cover a significant distance by vehicle on a plain and dirt path. Using a GPS and having locals familiar with the area on the trip is crucial. With proper safety precautions, camping around the lake is possible. Renting rooms in villages around the lake and hotels in Zabol, such as the Laleh Hotel, are other accommodation options for this trip.
- Protected Area, No-Hunting Zone, Listed in the International Ramsar Convention
- Address: 30 kilometers north of Aqqala city
- Area: About 2,500 hectares
- Depth: About two meters
- Best Time for Birdwatching: Autumn and Winter seasons
The wetlands of Alagol, Almagol, and Ajigol, located in the north of Golestan Province and southeast of the Caspian Sea, are registered under one title in the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands. Alagol is the largest water body in Golestan Province and is of the inland type. It is located on the flat lands of the Turkmen Desert, about 60 kilometers northwest of Gonbad-e Kavus county.
The Atrak border river and the natural drainage of the streams are the sources of water supply for the Alagol wetland. The extent of this wetland varies in different years based on precipitation levels, but it has never dried up. Plants such as reeds, tamarisk, and gaz shrubs grow around the wetland, and its surface is typically covered with green algae. During the migration season, Alagol hosts various bird species, including ducks, flamingos, sea swallows, terns, geese, coots, waders, pelicans, cormorants, and stilts.
The Haft Asia Highway (the road from Aqqala to Incheh Borun) passes to the west of the Algol wetland, providing easy access. “Toghli Khoran Park” and “Damagheh Abi Namejoo” in the west and southwest of the swamp are suitable places for camping and staying overnight. Rental rooms in the villages around Alagol wetland and hotels in Gonbad-e Kavus are other accommodation options for this trip.
- Address: 20 kilometers southeast of Varzaneh
- Area: About 5,000 hectares
- Depth: About 0.5 meters
- Best Time for Birdwatching: Late winter and spring seasons
Gavkhouni Wetland is located 167 kilometers southeast of the center of Isfahan city, a destination where the Zayandeh River eventually flows into. The lack of water rights provisioning in recent years has endangered the life of this wetland, pushing it to the brink of destruction. A large portion of Gavkhouni Wetland is situated in Isfahan Province, while a smaller section lies in Yazd Province. The wetland’s elevation is 1,477 meters above sea level.
Birds such as cormorants, the imperial eagle, marsh harriers, little bittern, mallards, northern pintails, Siberian cranes, flamingos, and yellow-billed teal are native and migratory inhabitants of the Gavkhouni Wetland. The road from Harand to Varzaneh and Gavkhouni is one of the best access routes to this valuable wetland or marshland. Camping is possible around the marsh; traditional lodging units like Negar, Sepanta, Grandmother, and others in Varzaneh city are other accommodation options for a trip to Gavkhouni Wetland.
- Registered in the Ramsar Convention list, Protected Area, Wildlife Sanctuary
- Address: Miandoab County, 30 kilometers north of Mahabad
- Area: About 907 hectares
- Depth: About 0.5 meters
- Best Time for Birdwatching: Autumn and spring seasons
Kani Barzan Wetland, located east of Miandoab City, has been introduced by the National Nature Tourism Committee (due to its biodiversity) as Iran’s first birdwatching site. This wetland, at an elevation of 1,275 meters above sea level, is situated north of the river basins of Mahabad Chay and Simineh Rud and northeast of Qareh Dagh village. The birdwatching site is based in the east of the wetland. Facilities in this specialized wetland section include a birdwatching tower and specialized cameras for bird observation.
Kani Barzan Wetland is one of the essential habitats for native and migratory waterfowl and wading birds, including teal, flamingos, grey geese, pelicans, various mallards, herons, crested grebes, phalaropes, big bitterns, red and little necked grebes, pochards, cormorants, coots, various sandpipers, Armenian and black-headed gulls, terns, white-headed ducks, and white-tailed lapwings. Every year, over 2,000 migrant birds can be found in this wetland, with some species only staying for a few days.
Kani Barzan is a significant habitat in northwest Iran for the breeding and wintering migratory birds. Many of these birds, in the spring season and on their return journey from southern regions, rest, feed, and breed in the Kani Barzan Wetland. The sounds of newly hatched chicks emerging from their eggs amid the wetland’s reeds in the spring are among this area’s attractions.
One can take the road from Miandoab to Mahabad to reach the Kani Barzan Wetland. On this road, before the Mahabad Industrial Town, exit from the right (Darlek – Miandoab – Urmia road). Continue towards the villages of Haji Khosh, Gich Abad, and Qareh Dagh. The route to the wetland is located north of the Qareh Dagh village. Camping in the safe areas around Kani Barzan Wetland and renting rooms in the towns along the route are accommodation options for this trip.
- Protected Area
- Address: Central District of Qeshm County, Gozin village
- Best Time for Birdwatching: Autumn, winter, and spring seasons
The country’s first floating birdwatching tower and floating village have been inaugurated in the Hara Biosphere Reserve area in Gozin village. This innovative tourism project attracts domestic and international nature enthusiasts and ornithologists. The facility includes two floating suites, a support float, an auxiliary boat, and a cafe among this birdwatching tower’s specialized and welfare sections.
Bird species observable from the floating birdwatching tower in Gozin village include coastal plovers in two colors, white and grey waders, crab-plovers, gulls, shorebirds, marsh harriers, sandpipers, fish eagles, black-tailed godwits with white eyebrows, and Indian thick-knees. These birds either inhabit the Hara forests or settle in the region while migrating from Southern and Eastern Africa towards Eurasia and Siberia (for rejuvenation and feeding). Some species also choose Qeshm Island for wintering.
Gozin village is approximately seven kilometers away (about 11 minutes of driving) from the Deiristan Qeshm International Airport. The floating birdwatching site is situated among the lagoons between the islands of the Hara forests, near the recreational pier of Gozin village. There are 164 floats at this pier ready to serve tourists. Local accommodations like Cloudneck, Mirza, Gorzin Garden Museum, Magh, and Safa Abad are among the lodging options around the Qeshm floating birdwatching tower.
There are various suitable bird habitats in and around Tehran, and enthusiasts can take short, one-day trips to observe and enjoy these beautiful creatures. Niavaran Park in Zone 1, Ghanbarabad Wetland in Rey County, mountainous areas in the north, and the hills and pastures in the east, north, and northwest of Tehran are among the capital’s birdwatching sites.
1- City Park Birdwatching Site
- Address: Zone 12, Khayam Street, Tehran City Park
- Operating Hours: Daily from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM
- Best Time for Birdwatching: Autumn and spring seasons
City Park is located in the central part of Tehran. The City Park Birdwatching Site, located in the northeastern part of the park and amidst the hustle and bustle of Tehran, provides a suitable place for birds. This site serves as a permanent and temporary habitat for various bird species. A group of migratory birds rests in this park twice a year during their journeys through Tehran.
The City Park Birdwatching Site is equipped with binoculars and telescopes, and experts are present to guide enthusiasts. The Goldfinch, Syrian Woodpecker (commonly known as the garden woodpecker), Black-headed Bunting, Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Myna, and Thrush are among the permanent residents of this birdwatching site. Imam Khomeini (intersection of Tehran Metro Lines 1 and 2) and Hassan Abad (Line 2 of Tehran Metro) are the closest metro stations to the City Park.
2- Chitgar Lake (Persian Gulf Lake)
- Address: Shahid Kharrazi Freeway, Persian Gulf Martyrs Lake Exit
- Best Time for Birdwatching: Autumn and spring seasons
Chitgar Lake, located in Zone 22 of Tehran Municipality, is the largest artificial lake in Iran. There are opportunities to observe various birds across this expanse of water. Approximately 84 species of migratory birds rest and rejuvenate in Chitgar Lake during their migration journeys for short periods. The early morning hours are the best time for birdwatching at this lake. The Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Pelican, Common Teal, Little Teal, Common Cuckoo, Moorhen, Swallow, Kingfisher, Bee-eater, Green-headed Duck, Hoopoe, Garden Woodpecker, Grey-headed Swallow, Mountain Sparrow, House Sparrow, Nightjar, Cattle Egret, and Little Egret are just a few of the observed birds at Persian Gulf Lake. Access to this lake is possible via the Chitgar Metro Station, Shahid Kharrazi Highway, and Shahid Hamedani Freeway.
3- Eshqabad Wetland
- Address: Tehran-Varamin Freeway, after Ghaleh Now, Eshqabad Village
Eshqabad is an artificial and seasonal wetland located near the village of the same name in the southeastern part of Tehran. This wetland is situated on the migration path of birds and serves as a suitable habitat for their temporary stay. Every migration season, groups of birdwatchers travel to this wetland. The Tehran-Varamin Freeway runs east of the Eshqabad Wetland and is considered the best route for access. The last two kilometers of the path is unpaved.
Iran is located on the main migration route of thousands of birds. These birds enter the country from the north, northwest, and northeast and exit from the south and southwest of Iran. Apart from the places above, other areas in the country are recognized as birdwatching sites. Lake Arjen and Parishan Wetland in Fars Province were essential habitats for indigenous and migratory birds in the country’s southwest. These valuable water bodies have dried up entirely in recent years for various natural and human-related reasons. The desiccation of Lake Arjen and Parishan has turned them into dustbowls, posing a severe threat to the region.
The wetlands of Solduz and Norouzlou in the south of Lake Urmia, Harra forests of Minab in Hormozgan, Helleh in Bushehr, Jazmourian at the border of Sistan and Baluchestan and Kerman, Almagol and Aji Gol in Golestan, Choghakhor in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Mereh Wetland in Qom Province, wetlands of Naqdeh County, Salehiye Wetland in Alborz Province, and Lake Bakhtegan in Fars Province are also among the birdwatching destinations of the country.
Regrettably, consecutive human and managerial errors, irresponsible and selfish behaviors of some locals and tourists, and recent droughts threaten the life of these wetlands. The continued existence and revitalization of these valuable water bodies require foresight on a grand scale and the collective effort of environmental enthusiasts.