Georgia - 24th April - 4th May 2013

Published by Peter Williams (peterwilliams23 AT

Participants: Peter Williams, Ken Chamberlain, Martin Pearce, Giorgi Rajebashvili (Ecotours)


We are three British birdwatchers in our 60s who visited Kazbegi, Chachuna and the Javakheti Plain near the Armenian/Turkey border. We were guided by Giorgi Rajebashvili from Ecotours, Georgia ( and would give him and his organisation a top billing for an excellent 10 days top quality birding experience. Giorgi also came with his own 4-wheel drive vehicle and the skills necessary to make the most of it - a requirement for all travel outside Tbilisi and absolutely essential for most of the places we went to. We originally booked to fly direct to Tbilisi with British Airways but they cancelled all flights from end March so we then transferred to Ukrainian Airlines via Kiev - this was a longer flight but had the advantages of being cheaper and arriving at midnight rather than the early hours arrivals of all other airlines. The flights were all fine (indeed one flight left 15 minutes before the scheduled time). The only issue we faced was queuing for transfer tickets at Kiev (not so bad with hindsight) but that should now have been remedied by Ukrainian Airlines' transfer to its own terminal. Georgia is a fascinating country and well worth a visit, not only for the birds and landscapes but also for the changes the country is going through as it embraces the changes in its post Soviet life. Whilst road travel is always a challenge we found mobile telephone signal and broadband excellent even in the most remote spots.

Day 1 - 24th April

After a short overnight stay in a hotel in Tbilisi we were on the road to the Caucasus and Kazbegi - a number of stops on the way yielded Peregine, Caucasian Chiffchaff, Raven, Griffon Vulture, Booted Eagle and both Choughs, Purple Herons flying north, as were some 100 Steppe Buzzards. Crossing the mountain pass on the military highway was decidedly dodgy - all lorries had been stopped but the road was breaking up badly, incredibly pot-holed, and non-existent for significant stretches(lots of lying snow/drifts/ice/fog/below freezing temperatures). The snow that was now falling didn't help but Giorgi was able to sail through while giving a running commentary on famous Georgian road disasters! The classic mountain scenery was also stunning. Arriving in Kazbegi we dropped our stuff at the University Field Studies Centre (satisfyingly high up on the east side of the valley - making the walk for Snowcock very manageable) and in increasing snow we were straight out to the valley bottom rubbish tip, not pretty but that's where the buckthorn bushes are, which are liked by Guldenstadt's Redstart (4) and Great Rosefinch (40). We also enjoyed the incongruous sight of a Roller in the increasingly heavy snow.

Day 2 - 25th April

150mm of overnight snow continued until lunchtime with temperatures down to -7 degrees when conditions began to ease. But these are the conditions which are excellent for the Caucasian endemics as they then come closer to the valley bottom. The weather brought large numbers of Ring Ouzel into the Study centre grounds and a short pre-breakfast walk uphill gave views of Short eared Owl, Rock Bunting, Imperial Eagle, Lammergeier, Caucasian Black Grouse, Montagu's Harrier and Red Footed Falcon. Caucasian Snowcock was heard but not seen. After breakfast we were back to the tip where there were substantial numbers of both Guldenstadt Redstart(20+) and Great Rosefinch (60+) and continuing movements of birds northwards including Steppe Buzzards, Honey Buzzards, Monatgu's Harrier, Marsh Harrier and Booted Eagle. In the afternoon we drove further up the eastern side of the valley to a small church, where we were able to add Wrynecks and see the continuing passage of Steppe and Honey Buzzard, and ended with another trip to the tip where we added Red Footed Falcon and another Booted Eagle.

Day 3 - 26th April

A sunny pre-breakfast walk looking at the eastern slopes of the valley finally brought views of Caucasian Snowcock (incredibly well camouflaged on the snowy slopes) and we eventually saw 4 and also caught up with Horned Lark and White Winged Snowfinch - a number of Caucasian Tur were also seen. After breakfast a drive north towards the Russian border along the Tergi Gorge gave Red Backed Shrike and Common Sandpiper but not the Wallcreeper we'd hoped for. We then headed south to Sno Gorge (Snostkali) where we saw Water Pipit, Tawny Pipit (6), Yellow Wagtail, Black Headed Yellow Wagtail, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Nightingale, Rufous Tailed Rock Thrush and Twite. After lunch we drove (as far as the snow allowed) towards the famous Kazbegi Church which is high up over the west side of the valley, and then walked up - the weather was now warming and this had encouraged the passage of birds of prey so we spent the rest of the afternoon counting raptors which included Golden Eagle, Steppe Eagle (10), Booted Eagle (3), Black Kite (25) - including one Eastern Variant, Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier (2), Steppe Buzzard (50), Honey Buzzard (50), Levant Sparrowhawk (1), European Sparrowhawk (10), Peregrine and Hobby.

Day 4 - 27th April

This was a transfer day to Chachuna and involved several stops to enjoy the Caucasus cloaked in snow and to marvel at the optimism of the traffic (Trabants and Ladas with lots of bits hanging off or on their roofs) along the Military Highway (although lorries were still stopped and were in a kilometre long queue on both sides). At Kobi we caught up with Red Fronted Serin, and at the second stop we caught up with 2 Wallcreepers and then at a further stop by one of the tunnels we also saw Red Throated Pipit, Twite, Water Pipit and White winged snow Finch. By the time we got to Dedophlis Tskaro in the east of the country there were hundreds of swifts and it felt like summer (25+). Leaving the town we were off road for an hour and a half to get to the farmstead at Dali Reservoir and on the way picked up Monatgu's Harrier, Corn Bunting, Crested Lark, Sykes Wagtail, Calandra Lark, Isabelline Wheatear, Ortolan Bunting, Roller, Bee-eater, Lesser Grey Shrike, Black Eared Wheatear and Turtle Dove. Dali Reservoir was originally constructed by the Russians and is now used for fishing and provides a wonderful peaceful oasis in this semi arid area on the border with Azerbaijan. The accommodation was simple but the food was plentiful, good and fresh.

Day 5 - 28th April

A pre-breakfast walk along the dam wall produced Black Eared Wheatear, Hoopoe, Tree Sparrow, Chuckar, Ruddy Shelduck, Red Backed Shrike, Gull-billed Tern, Red-necked Grebe, Little Grebe, White-winged Tern, Steppe Buzzard, Nightingale, Cuckoo, Grasshopper Warbler, Great Reed Warbler and Black Francolin. A Jackal and assorted tortoises were also seen. After breakfast it became clear that there had been a 'fall' with many Lesser-grey Shrikes Woodchat Shrikes, Isabelline Wheatears and Ortolan Buntings. We spent the morning along the north-east shore of the reservoir and caught up with Imperial Eagle, Spanish Sparrow, Whinchat, Woodchat Shrike, Lesser Whitethroat, Sparrowhawk, Menetries Warbler, Armenian Gull and Demoiselle Crane. A lunchtime siesta (we were up for it, but the birds weren't) led to a late afternoon/evening trip which was successful in producing excellent views of Saker Falcon, Black-headed Bunting and enormous numbers of Rollers.

Day 6 - 29th April

The pre-breakfast walk to the dam wall added several Golden Oriole, Purple Heron, and a possible brief sighting of a Finsch's Wheatear (which flew far away - just as the book says). After breakfast we visited the buffer zone between Azerbaijan and Georgia and, after the checkpoint formalities (a bit unsettling!), were driving around the startling landscape of the semi arid area with deeply incised riverbeds favoured by Rollers. We added Greater Short-toed Lark, Black Vulture and Bimaculated Lark (the find of the morning). The temperatures were again up to 30 degrees so another siesta beckoned. In the late afternoon we decided to check out the Finsch's Wheatear spot and eventually the bird reappeared and could be definitely confirmed as a splendid male, and with Giorgi's excellent photos, we were able to see the white tips to the tail feathers.

Day 7 - 30th April

The pre-breakfast walk was a dash today as we were transferring, but still this added Little Ringed Plover, Great Egret and a Black Stork. The journey back to Dedophlis Tskaro across Steppe country was splendid and produced Egyptian Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture, Imperial Eagle, Hobby, Montagu's Harrier, Roller, Hoopoe, Alpine Swift, Tawny Pipit, Black-headed Bunting and Rock Sparrow. A short diversion to a lake with reedy fringes produced Great Reed Warbler, Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Phalarope, Marsh and Montagu's Harriers and a Quail was heard. Our next stops were at Kapatadze and Shakhave Lakes where, despite the presence of an illegal hunter, we were able to add Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Greenshank and our first Pygmy Cormorant. We now headed towards the Davit Gareji Monastery but stopped for lunch just short of the site and looking north over a stunning geological landscape where we saw Bee-eater, Redstart, Nightingale, Red-breasted Flycatcher and a female Semi-collared Flycatcher - again the identification clinched with Giorgi's excellent photos. We spent some time walking around the monastery grounds and the stunning setting on the border with Azerbaijan we added further sightings of Red-breasted Flycatchers, Redstart and Caucasian Chiffchaff. At Jakdari Reservoir we added Great White Egret, Common Cranes, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Armenian Gull, White-winged Tern and Gull-billed Tern. Our final stop was an incongruous 10 minutes on the edge of the industrial (and well-named) town of Rustavi. As we pulled up to look at some Cattle Egrets we saw a flock of Demoiselle Cranes - an excellent end to a good day.

Day 8 - 1st May

After an overnight stop in Tbilisi we headed to Akhaltsikhe. An early stop for Giorgi to reply to a text revealed a Krupers Nuthatch next to the car. We then slowly climbed onto the high plateau towards the Armenian border with some stunning scenery, the curious sight of an international terminal on the putative Istanbul to Beijing railway, a great variety of villages of Russian, Armenian, Greek and Georgian origins all surrounded by the Lower Caucasus mountains still with snow on the tops and a whistling cold wind. Various stops at the lakes produced White Stork, 1 Arctic Tern, Common Tern, Red Necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Garganey, Hen Harrier, Little Ringed Plover. After lunching at a road-side cafe on the outskirts of Ninotsminda we headed south-westward to visit Madatapa Lake. This large body of water sits high on the plateau with rolling hills sweeping down to its shoreline, here we added White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican 1, a Citrine Wagtail, Montagu's Harrier, Purple Heron, Red-necked Grebe, Black-winged Stilt and White-winged Tern. At a slightly smaller lake to the south-west of Ninotsminda called Khanchali Lake, we added Great Cormorant, Night Heron, Redshank and Wood Sandpiper. After lunch and at Gogasheni Lake we added White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican and a Citrine Wagtail. We then drove to Akhaltsikhe down the large limestone gorge of the Kura Valley. A Scops Owl in the grounds of the hotel was a nice late addition to the day.

Day 9 - 2nd May

We headed for the Cave City of Vardzia which was a wonderful setting to see both Western and Eastern Rock Nuthatch, along with numerous Alpine Swifts, Crag Martins and Blue Rock Thrush, Red-fronted Serin, Rock Sparrow and Egyptian Vulture. Following a splendid fresh trout lunch by the river (with Cettis Warbler nearby) we worked hard on the local Wheatears which became more complicated the more we looked - at the end of the day Giorgi's photos demonstrated that none were Pied or Finsch's but all were Black-eared! The sight of a Golden Eagle flying right next to the car was some compensation.
Day 10 - 3rd May The morning was spent at the Khanchali and Madatapa Lakes on the high plateau. The alpine pastures were full of flowers and the lakes had large numbers of White-winged Terns, Armenian Gulls, Common Cranes, White Stork, Great Egret, White Pelicans, Garganey (50+), with Red Necked Grebes, 1 Black-necked Grebe, 2 Glossy Ibis, a number of Night Heron, Purple Herons, Many Marsh Harrier, 3 Montagu's Harrier, Whinchat, Tawny Pipits, 3 Citrine Wagtail and several feldegg (Black-headed) Yellow Wagtail. Then back to Tbilisi for an early morning departure following a fabulous birding break.

Species Lists

English Name, Latin Name, Number of days seen

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena 3
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 1
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus 2
White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus 2
Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus 1
Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 1
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 2
Great Egret Casmerodius albus 4
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 7
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 5
White Stork Ciconia ciconia 2
Black Stork Ciconia nigra 1
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus 1
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 5
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 3
Gadwall Anas strepera 2
Shoveler Anas clypeata 1
Teal Anas crecca 1
Garganey Anas querquedula 2
Common Pochard Athya ferina 1
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina 1
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 2
Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus 1
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus 7
Cinerous Vulture Aegypius monachus 3
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus 4
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 2
Imperial Eagle Aquila Heliaca 4
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis 2
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennata 3
Black Kite Milvus migrans 2
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus 7
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 3
Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus 7
Steppe Buzzard Buteo buteo vulpinus 10
Honey Buzzard Pernis apivornus 2
Sparrowhawk Accipter nisus 5
Levant Sparrowhawk Accipter brevipes 1
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 8
Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus 2
Hobby Falco subbuteo 3
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus 3
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 1
Caucasian Grouse Lyrurus mlokosiewiczi 2
Caucasian Snowcock Tetraogallus caucasicus 1
Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus 1
Chukar Alectoris chukar 2
Common Quail Cotumix coturnix 1
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Common Coot Fulica atra 4
Common Crane Grus grus 3
Demoiselle Crane Grus virgo 2
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 2
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 3
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 1
Ruff Philomachus pugnax 1
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 2
Redshank Tringa totanus 1
Greenshank Tringa nebularia 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 6
Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus 1
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 3
Armenian Gull Larus armenicus 6
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 1
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus 4
Stock Dove Columba oenas 1
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus 5
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 6
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus 6
Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus 1
Eurasian Scops Owl Otus scops 1
Common Swift Apus apus 7
Alpine Swift Apus melba 3
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
European Roller Coracias garrulus 5
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops 8
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster 7
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 5
Wryneck Jynx torquilla 2
Common Skylark Alauda arvensis 3
Crested Lark Galerida cristata 5
Woodlark Lullula arborea 2
Greater short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla 1
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra 4
Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculata 1
Horned (Shore) Lark Eremophila alpestris 1
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 4
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 2
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 9
House Martin Delichon urbicum 8
Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris 6
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta 5
Meadow PipitAnthus pratensis 5
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis 1
Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 10
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava 5
Syke's Wagtail Motacilla flava beema 2
Black-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava feldeg 2
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola 2
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea 2
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes 3
Dipper Cinclus cinclus 5
Dunnock Prunella modularis 3
Robin Erithacus rubecula 3
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos 5
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus 10
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros 8
Guldenstadt's Redstart Phoenicurus erythogastrus 3
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra 5
European Stonechat Saxicola torquatus 2
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 8
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 4
Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica 5
Finsch's Wheatear Oenanthe finschii 1
Semi-collared Flycatcher Ficedula semitorquarta 1
Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva 1
Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius 1
Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush Monticola saxatilis 3
Song Thrush Turdus philemolos 2
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus 4
Common Blackbird Turdus merula 9
Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus 4
Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia 1
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti 3
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus 3
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus 2
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 8
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 8
Caucasian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus lorenzii 4
Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix 3
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla 6
Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca 4
Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis 3
Menetries Warbler Sylvia mystacea 1
Great Tit Parus major 10
Coal Tit Periparus ater 6
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus 6
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus 2
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea 1
Krupers Nuthatch Sitta krueperi 1
Western Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer 1
Eastern Rock Nuthatch Sitta tephronota 1
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria 1
Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus 3
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio 8
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator 4
Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor 5
Jay Garrulus glandarius 9
Magpie Pica pica 8
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax 5
Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus 3
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 7
Rook Corvus frugilegus 3
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 10
Common Raven Corvus corax 10
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris 7
House Sparrow Passer domesticus 10
Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolenis 3
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 3
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia 2
White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis 2
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 7
Red-fronted Serin Serinus pusillus 2
Greenfinch Chloris chloris 3
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 10
Twite Carduelis flavirostris 2
Linnet Carduelis cannabina 7
Great Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilla 3
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra 6
Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana 4
Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala 5
(Western) Rock Bunting Emberiza cia 6

Total number of species seen 181