Georgia and Armenia 14th to 27th of July 2006
Before the trip
We had been planning a trip to Caucasus for a long time, but we had had problems because of we couldn’t find enough information about birding in the area (there aren’t enough tripstories available in internet) but also local travel agencies had been far too expensive. First we thought to go Azerbaijan, but travel agencies there were totally unable to organize anything cheap. When we were in British Bird Fair in autumn 2005 we met Georgian Ramaz Gokhelashvili, who was easy to believe that he really could help us to organize a trip to Georgia. Ramaz gave us a book about birding places in Georgia and we also read all the tripstories we found in internet and we noticed that Georgia and Armenia would be a perfect combination for a birdtrip.
The next thing we had to do was to find a contact from Armenia. Surprisingly someone was telling about a good travel agency in Eurobirdnet, and when I contacted him everything seemed to be perfect! But soon our Catalan friend Oriol Clarabuch managed to get contact with an Armenian birder Vasil Ananian who told he had never heard about the person that was going to be our guide. Luckily I knew (thanks to Sandgrouse magazine) the only places for a couple of species in Armenia and I realized that even thought our guide has told us we could see these species we weren’t going to those places! We had only month to our trip and we had already bought the flying tickets when we fired our guide!
We had now found out that Vasil was the person, who had been a guide in all trips that had tripstories in internet. So he was our only hope. He knew already that he couldn’t be our guide but he told us to contact to Zhanna Galian, who had been organizing the trips he had guided. After all we managed to organize the second best and cheapest choice for us – we got a driver who had been a driver for all Vasils groups! So he knew all the birding places! At least now we had a better possibility to find the birds as we knew we were going to right places!
Everything seemed to be ok! In Georgia the visa is not needed and we found out that the visa to Armenia would be easy to buy (30$) from the border. In Georgia Ramaz had organized a mountaineer guide with a 4-wheel drive, who’d come to pick us up from the airport, would guide us for 5 days in Caucasus and Lesser Caucasus and then drive us to Armenian border. He would also have 2 tents, mattresses and a gascooker for the mountain days.
In Armenia there would be a driver waiting for us and also a translator, because the driver wouldn’t speak English. In Armenia we’d do birdwathing almost around the whole country staying mostly Yerevan, but during 4 days trip also in other places. 2 last days were supposed to spend with Vasil Ananian and ring some birds. But there was a possibility that Vasil wouldn’t be able to join us so we had anyway the driver and the translator booked. We could do something else if Vasil couldn’t come.
The returning flight would be from Tbilisi so on the border there would be someone to pick us up and drive to the airport.
The story begins
On the 13th of July I could end my work early and after the midday we started our way to Kirkkonummi, where we were at my parents at 4 p.m. We ate and after a couple of hours my father drove us to Helsinki-Vantaa airport. Our Air Baltic plane was a little bit late but finally at 8.45 p.m. our small plane left to Riga. An hour later we landed to modern but small airport of Riga. Sun was setting down but we had our flight to the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi quite soon. We left 11.35 p.m. – again a bit late.
On the 14th of July we landed to Tbilisi at 3.45 a.m. (+ 1 hour to Finnish time) and after we had found our luggage we managed to find our old friends from Catalonia Oriol Clarabuch and Toni Alonso! They had had their flight from Barcelona via Munich and they had arrived only a half an hour earlier. Soon we met also our mountaineer guide Giorgi Rajebashvili and we packed our luggage into a Pajero 4-wheel drive and started our way to Kazbegi!
In the beginning we were just driving towards north and at the early morning all the bird observations were just regular: Wrens were singing, Goldfinches flying around, Blackbirds were crossing the road quickly, Swifts were screaming on the sky and so on. We made the first stop when it was necessary to get to the bushes and not only because of the birds. From the rocky hill forests we heard a Green Woodpecker, somewhere higher on the top of the hill were Chuckars calling, Robins and Green Warblers were singing and Nuthatches calling, also a Rock Bunting was found.
On the second stop we heard a Black Woodpecker and saw Coal Tits, a Common Buzzard and so on. The third stop was made by Giorgi to the yard of a beautiful old Ananuri fortress. A huge flock of Swifts were flying, again we heard a Green Woodpecker, Black Redstart was jumping on the shadow of the fortress and Blackcaps were hiding in the bushes. Behind the Ananuri there was a beautifully light blue man-made lake but the only bird there was a Grey Heron which was standing on the beach.
The road started to get higher and much worse. But we had noticed that even the mainroads in Georgia were in bad condition. Many new birds were seen when we got higher: Red-backed Shrikes were everywhere, Hoopoes, Wheatears, Rooks and so on. Song of Green Warbler was already very familiar. We stopped a couple of times to look at the views – Common Rosefinches (kubanensis) were surprisingly common and still singing all the time, 2 young Menetries’s Warblers in a bush together with some Stonechats were a big surprise on this altitude, a Red-billed Chough and a flock of Alpine Swifts were flying over us.
From the car we saw the first couple of Red-fronted Serins, but they left before we managed to get closer. But we managed to photograph an Alpine Accentor on the next stop. Then the next stop was made to a strange place where minerals had made to bedrock pale. It was like frozen! Maybe that’s why there were a couple of Snow Finches. 3 of us managed to digiscope and Hanna to (digi)photograph them.
We arrived at the village of Kazbegi at 11 a.m. and we were really tired. We had 2 rooms from Yago Kazaligashvilis guesthouse, and after eating we went to sleep. We had been travelling the whole night and morning.
We slept until 3 p.m. and then we were first just watching the views from the balcony, the views were incredible! The Mt. Kazbegi had snow on the top and around it we could find soaring Griffon Vultures, Common Buzzards and a Kestrel. In the garden was a Redstart singing.
In the afternoon we had to go to do some birding so Giorgi drove to a very green bushy area nearby. A Corn Crake and a Quail were calling on the field, Grey Wagtails were on the ditches, a Cuckoo flew over us, Mistle Thrushes were calling from the mountain forest and the bushes held many Green Warblers, Common Rosefinches, a couple of Mountain Chiffchaffs and Marsh Warblers and also an Icterine Warbler.
We still drove as north as it was possible to go to the border of Russia (North Ossetia). Nothing interesting was found, but we visited our first border – plenty of borders were to come later during the trip.
To Mount Kazbegi
On the 15th of July the alarms woke us up at 5 a.m. but when we got out we were shocked – it was raining! Luckily the weather turned better and the rain stopped at 6.30 so we were started to drive up to Tsimda Sameba church that situated 2170 meters high on the slope of Mount Kazbegi.
At 7 a.m. we were near the church and we continued to climb higher towards the top of Mt. Kazbegi. Mountains were still in the clouds and a fog and it was still raining for a while but we had lots of clothes in our backbags so we didn’t care. We all had heavy bagbacks with sleeping bags, warm clothes, food and lots of drinks but Giorgi had the heaviest with 2 tents and a gascooker and so on – but he was an expert. Of course 3 of us had also telescopes and digiscoping equipments and Hanna had her big camera. Even though Giorgi was an expert mountaineer, he had forgotten his good boots to Tbilibi, the reason was that he had only 4 days earlier arrived from 4 months trip to U.S. and he had heard about the guiding only 2 days before we arrived!
In the beginning the climbing was very easy – much easier than we had thought. Slopes were grassy and there was a good track leading towards the top. The track was easier to walk because of the grass was now slippery. There were all the time lots of birds around, much more than we had used to see as high on the mountains: Water Pipit was really common, Mountain Chiffchaffs and Green Warblers were singing on the bushes, Wheatears were jumping on the rocks and Linnets were flying over us. Soon we found the first family of Ring Ouzels (amicorum). Also Twites (brevirostris – Turkish Twite) were found. First they were just flying over us but soon we found many young Twites begging for food from their parents so we got some good pictures too. Red-fronted Serins were again just flying quickly. All the birds gave us more power to climb higher – we wanted to see more.
Climbing became harder when we started to get close to 3000 meters. The air was very thin so we had to stop just to breathe many times. But in the same time birding started to get more and more interesting. Alpine Choughs were calling on the sky, Dunnocks were singing on the last bushes and Water Pipits were still everywhere. Now we were happy it was cloudy and some little rains were more than welcome because of we couldn’t have been able to climb this easily in a very hot weather. Giorgi was hurrying up because he thought that it would be good to get up and put the tent ready before we are all wet.
After almost 4 hours of climbing we reached the first top from where we had only 15 minutes walk to our tenting place which was on a grassy place a little bit lower on 2950 meters. We had planned to rest a little on the top but Toni noticed a beautiful male Great Rosefinch. The bird was very shy so it disappeared quickly but we all managed to see it well. And we forgot to rest.
So the last walk to our tenting place was easy. It started to rain again but we managed to see a couple of Great Rosefinches more. Soon we had the tents up and water, that Giorgi brought somewhere pretty far, boiling. Giorgi had really showed us he was exactly that kind of a guide we needed. He wasn’t that good on identifying birds but he really was at home in mountains! He had also been working with some mountain birds so he did know where to find some species for example Caucasian Black Grouses. And which was the most important thing – he was really good company!
Our tenting place was amazing! In front of us was 5134 meters high top of Mt Kazbegi, but still there were some clouds in front of the highest top. On the other side of canyon, that was between us and the top, was a big glacier which came down to 2900 meters. The grassy area where we were was full of different kind of flowers and lots of birds: a flock of Shore Larks (penicillata) was feeding close to our tent, Alpine Accentors were singing all around us and flying from rock to rock, Twites were flying around and Water Pipits were still everywhere.
After a short lunch break we heard the first Caucasian Snowcocks which were calling behind the closest tops, which were still inside a fog. Soon we heard and saw more Great Rosefinches too. Because of the weather was getting better we decided to walk higher. We left the luggage to the tents and took just scopes, cameras and drinks with us. We hadn’t walked long when we found the first Güldenstädt’s Redstarts! Two families were found from a rocky area and we managed to get really good views and also some hundreds of photograph of these really beautiful birds! It was interesting to notice that young males already had a white patch on the wings. Also local Black Redstarts were found in the same place. In the same time the last clouds moved away and the top of Mt. Kazbegi finally came visible. We were really having a great time! Perfect!
After one hour photographing the Redstarts, the mountain and the glacier we realized how tired we were. So we walked back to our tents at 5.30 p.m. to rest, eat, talk and finally when it started to rain again to sleep.
The 16th of July. The night was very windy and rainy but when we woke up at 5 a.m. it was nice to notice that there were almost no clouds and wind had stopped. But it was cold – only 9 degrees! Another tent was completely silent and because also birds seemed to be still quiet we decided to stay inside the tent and rest a little bit more and have some breakfast. Finally at 6 a.m. we had to get up because of a Great Rosefinch landed to a rock just 7 meters from our tent and started to sing! Unfortunately it left before Hanna had her camera ready.
A couple of hours we were birding near our tents but all the birds were the same as in the evening: Shore Larks, Twites, Great Rosefinches, Güldenstädt’s Redstarts, Alpine Accentors but Caucasian Snowcocks were silent! So when the sun had dried our tents we packed everything and started to walk back down. On the highest place we saw a Great Rosefinch again and also heard a couple of Snowcocks calling behind the closest tops, but we couldn’t find any even though we tried to scope the rocky mountainsides carefully.
We walked some hundreds of meters down where the rhododendron bushes started and there we started to try to find Caucasian Black Grouses. We walked through all the bushes we found and all rocky areas near them but couldn’t find any grouses. Giorgi and I were walking most and we did find something else: a Wallcreeper was a lifer for me and Hanna! This amazing bird was seen several times in flight while it was moving higher and higher between the rocks. Also gorgeous Lammergeier flew pretty close to us, several calling Red-billed Choughs and flocks of Red-fronted Serins were seen too. But anyway we were disappointed not to find any Caucasian Black Grouses, but we had known that this species could be really difficult in this time of year!
But we had to give up because of we had to still walk a long way down to the church. We still walked some extra kilometres because of we checked some more rhododendrons on the way down but we had no luck. Walking was now extremely hard because of the heat! Sun was burning and at least we had some problems with Toni, Hanna and Oriol hadn’t got any problems. I think I had been running too much in rhododendrons.
Finally we managed to get down to the church which was absolutely full of people! All the locals and for sure many from other places too had climbed to the church to celebrate the day of love! All the time there were more and more people coming by feet, by horses or by car. There were even some normal cars which I didn’t understood how it was possible! Our Pajero was already waiting for us and despite of all the people coming up we managed to get down to the village in 30 minutes. We got again some local food and then went to rest.
After a couple of hours sleeping we went first to the pineforest nearby to try to find a Kruper’s Nuthatch but we saw only some Tree Pipits ans a Rock Thrush. Then we continued to the same bushy area we had visited before. We put a mistnet up and a cd-player to attract Mountain Chiffchaffs. Oriol had promised to take measurements and handpictures of this species for a paper on identification of the Chiffchaff complex. First bird in the net was a Blue Tit but soon we had a Green Warbler, a Mountain Chiffchaff and a Marsh Warbler in the same time! Later we got another Mountain Chiffchaff.
At 8.45 p.m. we were back in our guesthouse and we ate again, had a shower, packed all our luggage and went to sleep!
Through the Georgia
On the 17th of July we woke up once again at 5 a.m. but the breakfast took some time so we left an hour later. We drove through the pineforest to the valley where Giorgi had heard many snowcocks and seen many grouses at spring, but we had no luck even though we really tried to scope all the possible places. Great Rosefinches were singing so we found a place where this species is possible to find without walking at all. Meadow Pipits and Red-fronted Serins were easy to photograph when they were sitting on a fences, but – no Caucasian Black Grouse from Kazbegi.
Soon we started our long drive through the country to Lesser Caucasus mountains. First 30 kilometres we drove again in the mountains and saw all the same birds as when we arrived: Snow Finches, Red-fronted Serins and so on, but nothing new. Now the weather was very hot and Pajeros backseat was really bad to sit!
We continued driving fast and the only tripticks were Skylark, Crested Lark, Crag Martin, Tree Sparrow, Honey Buzzard and Booted Eagle. When we turned to the mainroad between Tbilisi and Kutaisi there were quite a lot of traffic. Landscape here was more flat and there were lots of fields. The weather was hot and sunny so it wasn’t a surprise that we started to see some raptors. We found some Lesser Spotted Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards and an Eastern Imperial Eagle – Toni got 3 lifers in a couple of minutes! Also 2 Turtle Doves and some Bee-eaters were making our tripticklist longer.
When we got out of the mainroad, and had seen the first Armenian Gull of the trip, we started to feel hungry. Tony was probably still satisfied because of his 4th lifer of the day, but anyway we had lunch in an idyllic restaurant along the road. After the lunch we continued driving and soon the landscape changed to mountainous pine and spruceforests. Soon we arrived at Borjomi nationalpark where we stopped again. Giorgi had asked his friends where we could find a Kruper’s Nuthatch and soon we parked to a parking place of one public park that was absolutely full of people! We almost gave up but then we heard a singing Kruper’s Nuthatch even though we were still sitting in a car! We jumped out as fast as possible but we only heard this bird a couple of times more before it disappeared. We tried for some time to play cd and attract the bird to came back but soon there were too many people looking at what we were doing so we had to give up. But it’s good we heard it! We don’t have to see a species to get a lifer, for us Finns hearing the bird is as good.
We tried to find Kruper’s Nuthatches in some other places in the national park and visited really good looking forests but we found only some Goldcrests and a Goshawk.
At 5 p.m. we were finally in the city of Akhaltsikhe (“New Castle”) where we had two rooms in a really nice guesthouse. We were relaxing in our room when we heard a call of a woodpecker outside and soon we saw a Syrian Woodpecker flying in front of our balcony. 2 hours later we went to have a really good dinner in a local restaurant (5 different kind of meat, fried potatoes, vegetables and bread was about 20€ for all five of us.) About 9.30 p.m. we were ready to go to sleep.
It rains in Zekari
The 18th of July. We woke up at 4 a.m. and a half an hour later we were on our way to Zekari – Lesser Caucasus. It was raining and even flaming but we managed to see 2 Nightjars and a Scops Owl from the car. Giorgi was driving quite fast even though the roads were again really bad! The first 30 kilometres were still ok but when the road started to climb up to the mountains the road was extremely bad! And in a map it was told to be a mainroad! In Finland that would be marked as a ditch!
At 6.30 a.m. we thought that we had reached the place where we could try to find Caspian Snowcocks, but after 1 kilometer walking Giorgi realized we were in a wrong place. We haven’t driven high enough yet. Anyway the forests underneath us were productive: we heard a Black Woodpecker and a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling, Common Crossbills and Bullfinches were flying around and the views were beautiful.
When we were walking back to the car it started to rain and soon a thick fog surrounded us. Anyway we tried to keep on going higher but very soon Giorgi realized we were on a wrong road! When we finally found the right road (so called main road) it was raining so hard that we had to give up and drive lower because of we were afraid of the road could wash out behind us.
After an hour of waiting the rain stopped, so we drove back to the place we had been and continued by feet. Now we could finally see the highest top which was the place for the snowcocks. It was hardly visible behind the clouds. But while we were walking the fog covered again everything and we had no idea how far the cliffs were or where we were. When we had walked about 3 kilometres, Giorgi thought that we had reached the place where we could try to find Caspian Snowcocks.
We found some birds even though the fog was so thick that we could see only some meters: Whinchats, a Garden Warbler, Red-fronted Serins and Alpine Choughs but Caspian Snowcocks were quiet and it was impossible to go to try to find Caucasian Black Grouses because of we couldn’t see anything – not even rhododendrons.
So we were just waiting for the weather getting better or snowcocks to call. We were all in pretty bad mood because of we had been driving whole last day only to reach this place and this was the only day here. After a long waiting I got frustrated and decided to go to walk to the slippery bushes to find at least something. Hanna came with me and Giorgi decided to have a look around to make sure we were in a right place. It was still so foggy that we couldn’t see the mountain which was supposed to be very close to us! We had walked maybe 50 meters, just behind one cliff when we heard a Caspian Snowcock calling somewhere quite far! We shout the Catalans to come quickly, but the bird stopped calling! Next 2 hours we were waiting for the snowcock to call again but it never did even though the weather was a little bit better.
But then the rain started again and very hard. Also the fog became so thick that it was impossible to see anything. So we had to start walking back to the car because of the road was getting very wet and muddy. So after all we couldn’t even try to find the Caucasian Black Grouse from the rhododendrons.
Lower in the forest the rain stopped again so we stopped several times to try to find some forestbirds, but nothing interesting was found – some Rock Buntings. Down in the valley we found some Dippers from the river and before Akhaltsikhe we had a short stop in the middle of a big field where we saw 2 Stock Doves and a huge flock of Jackdaws. Finally we were in our guesthouse at 6 p.m. We had had really unlucky day!
On the 19th of July we were sleeping until 6 a.m. and a half an hour later we were ready to continue our journey. Our first stop was made to the river in the centre of Akhaltsikhe where Oriol and Toni had been walking last evening. They had seen some tripticks and also now we heard a Kingfisher, a Common Sandpiper and saw a Hobby and several Olivaceous Warblers. But we had a long drive to Armenia border and we had to drive to the easternmost border crossing place because of the roads to the closer place weren’t drivable.
We stopped again in Borjomi but we couldn’t find a Kruper’s Nuthatch. Now there were almost no people in the park so we used the cd-player in many places but we could find only some Nuthatches, Coal Tits, a Marsh Tit, Treecreepers and so on.
From the mainroad we saw again some Lesser Spotte Eagles but we had no time to stop. We had to be on the border in the afternoon at 3 o’clock. A Middle Spotted Woodpecker was crossing the road somewhere but we didn’t stop before Giorgi turned to the lake Dzendar. We had been driving so fast that we had time to check this lake.
Giorgi drove along a small track and also on a field and soon we noticed that the bushes around us were full of birds. We stopped and saw many Lesser Grey Shrikes and Black-headed Buntings on the top of the bushes and Golden Oriole families were calling in the trees. We got some really good pictures. But soon we had to continue to the lake to see if there could be more birds and there were: Armenian Gulls, some Ruddy Shelducks, Green Sandpipers, Crested Larks and some Isabelline Wheatears were found right away, Black-winged Stilts were flying around us, Little Stints, Wood Sandpipers and a couple of Greenshanks were found from the shore and 3 Pochards were swimming on the lake. Over the marshes there was a Marsh Harrier soaring and Kingfishers were flying over the lake. A Great Reed Warbler came to the nearest bush and a big flock of Wood Pigeons and smaller flock of Starlings were also seen. Very nice, but soon we had to continue to the border!
We reached the border crossing place about 3 p.m. and everything was easy (we got the visa easily once we had paid 30$) so we were soon in Armenia. It was easy to notice that we were going south, it was really getting hot! When we had walked to Armenia we realized our driver and translator weren’t there even though they had called to Giorgi that they should have already been there some time ago. Finally at 3.40 a green local type of minibus arrived and we met our driver Artur Asryan, who didn’t speak English (but hopefully knew the birding places) and translator 21-years old Artak Galayan.
We left directly to drive towards Yerevan and our driver told (Artak translated) that there were no birding places on the way. Anyway we started to keep Armenia list and some of the first species were Red-backed Shrike, Golden Oriole, Lesser Grey Shrike, Bee-eater, Hoopoe, Common Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Jay, Stonechat, Collared Dove, Turtle Dove and even Blue-cheeked Bee-eater!
After an hour driving we stopped to a viewplace to eat something that Artur and Artak had with them. We Finns weren’t able eat cold meat so we didn’t touch them but the “lavash” bread and cheese were good.
We stopped again when we were on the highest place on the mountains and saw some Red-fronted Serins, Dippers (caucasicus), Grey Wagtails and Common Rosefinches, but soon we had to keep on going – we had still a long way and our car wasn’t very good with uphills.
Finally we arrived at Yerevan and after some shopping we parked in front of a high building. We went by an elevator to 7th floor where we had two rooms in Artur’s brother’s apartment. Food was already on the table and it was really good! But after eating we had hoped to go to sleep but Artur decided to do all the business first. Even though everything should have been organized with Zhanna by email we had to do everything again! It took several hours so my watch was already 00.30. a.m. but when I checked the time from the wall I understood it was even 1 hour more! In Armenia they had a summer time which they didn’t have in Georgia! (Nothing was told in any tripreports or Lonely Planet book!) But now we realized that our guides had been almost 2 hours late on the border, so we were little worried… Well, finally we had done the business and we told to Artur and Artak that we’d like to leave very early on the next morning because of we knew the next day would be one of the most interesting days of our trip! We wanted to leave at 6 a.m.
Armash fishponds are full of birds
On 20th of July we woke up at 5.30 a.m. and managed to leave at 6 a.m. Even though Artur had told, with help of Artak, that it wasn’t possible to get in to privat Armash fishpond area before 8 o’clock, we had decided to get as close to the place as possible. On the way we got also explain why our guides had been late on the border – they had had some problems to get us a permit to get in to the Armash fishponds. And that was sure the best reason to forgive them – it was so important to get in this place! We knew this could be the most interesting birding place of the whole trip.
Before the fishponds the views were changing radically: dry halfdesert ended and first there were lots of fields but later just big reedbeds and some water pools. Turkish border was only a couple of hundreds of meters from the road and further there was Mt. Ararat which is the highest mountain of the Turkey (5165 meters). We stopped to one bridge from where were good views over the reedbeds and fields. There were amazing numbers of birds: Pygmy Cormorants were flying to all directions, White Storks were standing on the fields, Glossy Ibises were flying around, Purple Heron flew over the reeds and Savi’s Warbler was singing in the middle of insects that had very similar, but not that strong, voice. In the bushes in front of us there were a family of Ménétries’s Warblers and a Rufous Bushchat was fighting with them. Moustached Warbler was singing on the reeds and the wires were full of Bee-eater. Many flocks of Starlings were flying and in some flocks there were Rosy Starlings. It was difficult to decide where to watch because of there were birds everywhere! And we weren’t yet on Armash fishponds!
After buying something to drink and seeing a Syrian Woodpecker we reached the fishponds at 8 o’clock when it was possible to get in. Fishponds were a big complex of pools so we were a little bit worried because of we had no idea what to do – how to handle the place? And then Artur just stopped and told us that now we were on the place where all the groups of Vasil started to walk. Artur had just been a driver for the groups and he did know the birding places, but now we realized that was all he could do. He had no idea about how to find the birds and what birds to find.
So we just started to walk to that direction where we saw the first pools and then we planned to continue as far as it was necessary. The first pools were full of Coots, Little Grebes, Ferruginous Ducks, Red-crested Pochards, Great Crested Grebes, Gadwalls, Moorhens and so on. Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns were calling and flying around and also all wires were full of terns. Little Bitterns were flying over the reeds and landing back inside the reedbed soon, Marsh Harriers were soaring and Purple Herons, Cattle Egrets, Little Egrets, Great White Egrets and Night Herons were seen too. Soon we saw a warbler landing to the reeds in front of us and luckily it was a Paddyfield Warbler! The first project species was found! While we were watching the wp-tick warbler another warbler was found from the same place and it was identified as a Moustached Warbler.
And the next pool was as good: We found the first female White-headed Ducks and Marbled Teals, reeds were full of Bearded Tits, Great Reed Warblers and Reed Warblers. Lesser Grey Shrikes, Ménétries’s Warblers and Rufous Bushchats were also really nice to watch. Soon the pools started to be dryer and there were not many birds so we decided to walk back to the car because of we had no idea how many places we had still to go in the area. But now we tried to solve out what was the plan for the place so Artak was busy to ask more information from Artur. Soon we drove only a couple of hundreds of meters and Artur told that now we were on the another place where the groups have used to walk.
Fishpools had still the same species, some Marbled Teals more but on the right side of us was a dry semideserted area with some dryer pools and the birds were totally different. Greater Short-toed Larks and Turkmenistan Short-toed Larks were running between the low plants, Collared Pratincoles, Avocets and Black-winged Stilts were flying around us. Kentish Plovers and Lesser Ringed Plovers were running on the waterline with Common Sandpipers, Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints and some Ruffs. Some Black-headed Gulls passed us but also here the only common gull was an Armenian Gull. Some Little Terns were also seen, an Osprey was carrying a fish and on the left side of us on the pools there was an albino Little Grebe swimming and diving. Also a strange duck was digiscoped but we haven’t identified it yet – it could have been a hybrid between a Marbled Teal and a Mallard or something like that.)
The weather was getting very hot and the temperature had rose up to 37 degrees, but we kept on going. With scopes we could see that about 2 kilometres from us there was a sandy dyne that was full of nests of both bee-eaters. So we decided to walk until the dyne to get some pictures of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. After some walking we finally found what we had been looking for – a White-tailed Lapwing youngster was standing just some 30 meters from us on the dry mud. We managed to get a couple of pictures before it flew around us and landed further. We had been expecting the species to be found but we had thought that it could have been easier – there should be 15 pairs breeding in the area! Probably the breeding season was over so the birds were somewhere else. We saw only this and soon another young bird. Later we saw still some Rollers, a Stone Curlew, a Short-toed Eagle, a couple of Penduline Tits, a Woodchat Shrike and some Reed Buntings (caspia).
After all we had to turn back before the dyne because of there were several too wide ditches between us and the Bee-eater nests. So we had to walk back to the car. Even though the sun was burning very hot we were happy – we had seen all the important species that we had known to be possible to find!
And more lifers
It was only a mid-day so we had still another very important place to go, Vedi. Vedi was even more important place for wp-ticks and lifers than Armash. After less than an hour driving we turned to a small sandroad, which led us to a dry valley. Already from the car we saw the first couple of Finsch’s Wheatears and some Isabelline Wheatears, but we wanted to go directly to the main place. The main place had steep cliffs on both sides and a small stream was going down on the road. The spring was in front of us inside the bedrock. This was a drinking place for several wp-rarities – the most important species was a Mongolian Trumpeter Finch. This was the only place to see this species in Armenia.
Lots of Crested Larks were flying around and calling weirdly. Many Crested Larks were also running on the road and drinking. Several flocks of Rock Sparrows were found, and soon we got a lifer when the first Grey-necked Bunting was found. The bunting came to the cliff but soon it flew down to the road to drink. Soon we found also a couple of Eastern Rock Nuthatches that were flying around and calling very actively. The excitement rose to the next level when some Trumpeter Finches landed to the rocks where they were really difficult to locate. We were checking them really carefully but they were all just normal Trumpeter Finches – males, females and young birds. But we got a lifer again a little bit lower along the valley when we found a Pale Rock Sparrow from the flock of Rock Sparrows that were in a shadow. But somehow Toni was late when the bird left with some Rock Sparrows and a couple of Black-headed Buntings. From the bushes nearby we found several Upcher’s Warblers which were also lifers for Toni and Oriol.
When we were again watching the cliffs near the spring, Oriol found a passerine perching on the cliff. We got it to our scopes but first we had no idea what we were watching: the bird was clearly a trumpeter finch but smaller-billed and paler-billed and a little bit streakier from the breast. I started to digiscope it but then it landed down to the spring so we couldn’t see it. We shouted to Hanna and Toni to come and look at the bird and started to walk closer to see it again. Soon the bird was flying and we could see big white patches on the tail and 2 clear wingbars – there it was – a young Mongolian Trumpeter Finch! While we were celebrating we realized Toni wasn’t there, we hadn’t realized he had gone earlier to get something from the car and he hadn’t heard our calls! Shit!
So we were waiting for the Mongolian Trumpeter Finch to come back but even though we tried for several hours it never came again. The weather was really hot and all the other birds were coming to drink: Eastern Rock Nuthatches, Blue Rock Thrushes, a couple of Tawny Pipits, Rock Sparrows, a couple of Finsch’s Wheatears and of course many Trumpeter Finches. Also some Chuckars were calling on the top of the cliffs and a Long-legged Buzzard was soaring on the sky. Finally at 6 p.m. we gave up – we were already really tired. But we were sure we would come again. When we were leaving and driving in the end of the valley we saw a pale bird on a rock – a Pale Rock Finch! We all were smiling again, when Toni got this lifer he had missed earlier. Also a Golden Eagle was flying over the valley so an amazing day had got a good end.
After an hour driving we finally arrived at our apartment and after a shower and lunch it was good to go to sleep at 9.45 p.m. The day had really been great, I had got 7 wp-ticks.
Lake Sevan and many mountains on the way to south
On the 21st of July we woke up at 6.30 a.m. and after the breakfast we packed almost all our luggage to the car because of we were leaving for a 4 days trip to southern parts of Armenia. But first we started to drive north to Lake Sevan. Our trip almost ended before it had really started because of there was something wrong with our car. Luckily Artur managed to fix the problem and we could keep on going.
After a couple of hours driving we stopped to Sevan city to get some more money. Surprisingly the bank couldn’t give us any, neither with the Visa nor by changing dollars or euros! What a bank! Luckily we managed to change some money with the help of some locals on the street. A bigger surprise was that one of the men was Artur’s wife’s brother.
The first birding stop was made on the coast of Lake Sevan that is a big lake 1900 meters high. This is the lake that has most of the Armenian Gulls of the World. So on the first stop we saw many Armenian Gulls but also a couple of Caspian Gull type of gulls. A Ruddy Shelduck was flying far on the lake, a Little Ringed Plover was running on the shoreline, Coots and Great Crested Grebes were swimming, a couple of Mountain Chiffchaffs, at least one Chiffchaff (was calling – hiiit, whatever race?) and some Penduline Tits were found on the forests and Black-headed Yellow Wagtails from the bushes. Again we weren’t sure which birds could be found on this place but the smell of dead fish that came from the shore (which was full of dead fish), hard wind and that there weren’t really interesting birds made us to leave pretty soon. The next place was the place where was the biggest colony of Armenian Gulls of the World. So we were photographing gulls as long as was needed. Some Ruddy Shelducks were feeding on the shore but nothing else was found.
We continued to Lake Lick, which we had never heard. It hadn’t been mentioned in any tripreport, so we had no idea what to find. Anyway the place looked good – there was a small lake surrounded by fields and some small forests and many good looking bushes. So we decided to walk around and try to find something.
From the lake we found some Pochards and Tufted Ducks, a flock of 8 Garganeys were flying around the lake but they never landed, 5 Grey Herons were flushed from the shore, a Penduline Tit was found from the reedbed; but nothing really interesting was found. We also walked through the bushes but only Common Rosefinches, a Marsh Warbler, Golden Orioles, Common Whitethroats and many Red-backed Shrikes were found. The forest was even quieter: a Treecreeper and some Mountain Chiffchaffs only. While Hanna was photographing Sand Martins on their big colony a Goshawk flew over us. Soon we were ready to continue our long way.
Soon the road climbed up to the mountains again. Highlands were full of Skylarks, Wheatears and so on, but even though we tried quite a lot we couldn’t find anything better. I started to have bad stomach-problems so the others got some extra stops in good lark-biotopes. So Oriol and Toni managed to see an Asian Crimson-winged Finch flying, also some Shore Larks were found. When we continued all the buzzards were now Long-legged Buzzards. On Selim Pass we stopped again, like all the groups had done before us, but there weren’t that many birds – some Whinchats, a Black Redstart, a Blue Rock Thrush, an Ortolan Bunting and a Peregrine Falcon. But those groups that had been there on spring had seen more.
Lower we managed to find a couple of Finsch’s Wheatears and Syrian Woodpeckers, but finally at 8 p.m. we arrived at Yeghenaghor where we had rooms from a nice guesthouse Gayane. We had a great lunch and 10.30 p.m. we were ready to go to sleep.
And more south
The22nd of July. The breakfast was at 7 a.m. and soon we were in the car and driving south again. The first stop was made when Artur told that we were in a place for some bird. The place looked like a rock nuthatch and that’s what it was: right away we heard calls of both rock nuthatches and when we had first found 5 to 6 Eastern Rock Nuthatches we finally found 2 Western Rock Nuthatches too. All the nuthatches were flying high on the cliff and from rock to rock very fast. We also found a couple of rock nuthatches nests that were only a couple of meters from each others. The size of the holes told that the neighbours were probably different species but we saw one Eastern Rock Nuthatch and one Western Rock Nuthatch having a good look into another of the nests. Probably the nests were already empty but these birds were just checking them. On the same place Oriol and I saw a male White-throated Robin briefly but the bird and the bush where it disappeared were very high and far on another side of 2 big rivers, so we couldn’t get closer.
The next stop was made to a man-made lake in Goraik. Many Long-legged Buzzards and Lesser Kestrels were seen and we found also a building where the Lesser Kestrels were breeding. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to go to photograph these birds because of the building was surrounded by fences. A Cormorant was perching on a rock on the shore of the lake and some Armenian Gulls were flying but nothing else was found. Artur told that in spring the lake was always full of ducks.
The next stops were made because of raptors that were soaring above the road: Long-legged Buzzards were common but some Lesser Spotted Eagles, a couple of Short-toed Eagles and higher on the mountains also 6 Egyptian Vultures were seen. Between Sisian and Goris we made a stop to a historical place where was a local “Stonehenge” that had been build during the stoneage – many rocks that had a hole on the top of them and some star or planet could be seen through each holes on exact time of the year. In this place we saw also 2 Lammergeiers and 2 Griffon Vultures but also 2 Western Rock Nuthatches.
When we were having a break and eating some bread, cheese and fruits we heard some Blackcaps singing and saw some more vultures soaring above the rubbish tip of Goris. Later we had a short stop to a small forest where Green Warblers were singing. A Spotted Flycather and some Long-tailed Tits were also found as a tripticks.
After driving a long time following the borderline of Azerbaijan we finally arrived at Kapan. At 6 p.m. we parked to our hotel which was some kilometres south from the city. The hotel Gandzasar was on the side of a forested hill, and it normally was a private resort of a mining company. We were warmly welcomed and got the keys to our rooms but the locks were really complicated! The numbers in our keys and the room numbers weren’t the same. And sometimes the locks were easy to open and sometimes not. The rooms were ok, but the toilets weren’t working – there was just water going through.
After a couple of hours rest we went to have a lunch to a restaurant nearby. It was already dark when we came back to our hotel. Quite near the hotel in the forest there was a Tawny Owl calling.
To Megri and the border of Iran
The 23rd of July. Again we had an important day. The reason why we had been driving south had been to get to Megri which is on the border of Iran. So we woke up 5 a.m. because of we had still a couple of hours drive to Megri. I was feeling really sick! It was very hard to sit in a car when we drove again up and down over a couple of mountains. When we finally were driving down from the last mountain and the landscape was getting green I had to get out of the car and do a little walk to the bushes on the riverside. When I started to feel a little bit better I realized there was a Semi-collared Flycatcher on the next bush! All the others were sitting in a car so I had to whistle very hard that they understood I had really something interesting. Oriol and Hanna were almost running so they managed to see the flycatcher but Toni missed it – the bird flew inside the bush and somehow it disappeared and wasn’t found again.
At 7 a.m. we arrived at Megri. We met a local man who came with us because of without him we couldn’t have been able to go to the border area where our target birds were. I think he came also to watch that we wouldn’t do anything stupid on the border area and that somebody wouldn’t do something for us. Soon we parked after him to a dry valley and Artak translated that this was the place to find a “small chicken”.
When we had got instructions which way to go and where it wasn’t aloud to go, we started to walk up to the valley. Soon we heard some Western Rock Nuthatches and Chuckars and saw the first Blue Rock Nuthatches. And soon we found the first Persian Wheatears! While we were trying to photograph the wheatears we heard a Spotted Crake-like call somewhere up from the top of the mountains – a See-see Partridge!
Even though the morning was still early we realized that we could never walk to the See-see Partridge that had been calling – the mountain was too steep and the bird was too high, we should try to find another one. At least I was in too bad condition to climb very high.
We were walking in the valley for a couple of hours more and we found several Persian Wheatears, some Eastern Orphean Warblers and Eastern Black-eared Wheatears, a Short-toed Eagle was eating a snake, but again we just heard a See-see Partridge a couple of times – again very high from the top of the mountains.
About at 11 a.m. we changed to the next place which was a tree that Artur told was a nesting tree of some bird. We guessed the bird must be a Levant Sparrowhawk but we couldn’t find any birds. The breeding season was already gone but luckily we managed to find the family of Levant Sparrowhawks about a kilometer from the right place. I saw also briefly a strange bird flying across the road, it was probably a Black Francolin, but I didn’t see it well enough.
Then we continued to the next dry valley, but now also Toni had became sick. So we just had a short walk in the valley and saw a Chuckar with its chicks, some Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and a couple of Lesser Whitethroats. We were really burning and drying it was so hot and we were really sick with Toni, so we decided to start to drive back to Kapan.
We made several stops in the beginning because of we tried to find a Sombre Tit, but we had no luck. But Toni found a Semi-collared Flycatcher which was really good because of he had missed the first one. We were joking that the best biotope for the Semi-collared Flycatcher seemed to be that bush where you were going because of the stomach flu.
The weather was getting extremely hot so Artur advised us to leave before it would be too hard to climb up the uphills for his car. And he was once again right, Artak had to pour cold water to the cooler that was boiling several times. Luckily we managed to get back to our hotel but now also Oriol had became sick. We were all so tired that we just went to sleep while Artur and Artak left to have lunch to the restaurant.
After 3 hours sleeping we drove to Kapan to try to find a place where we could eat something light. But all the restaurants had some kind of parties or then they were offering just barbeque. So we drove back to our hotel to sleep – I think I couldn’t have eaten anything anyway.
Long way back to Yerevan
On the 24th of July we slept long. Well I woke up an hour earlier at 6.30 a.m. and had a short walk on the forests around the hotel. Green Warblers were everywhere but otherwise it was very quiet: some Nuthatches, Chaffinches and Tree Pipits. Hanna saw a Semi-collared Flycatcher from the balcony.
An hour later we started our very long way back to Yerevan. Oriol and Toni were already feeling better but I was still sick and we were all extremely hungry! We saw again quite a few raptors on the way but we stopped only if they were close enough to photograph.
Finally at 1.45 p.m. we stopped to eat to a quite horrible restaurant which had nothing else to offer than barbeque – but we were too hungry so we had to order. Of course chicken, sheep and pork barbeques with fried potatoes were really good but too heavy for us.
After the lunch we all were in a better mood and we continued following the Nakhichevan (an exclave autonomous republic that belongs to Azerbaijan) border to Vedi. We spent 3 extremely hot hours in Vedi suffering the heat and dehydration. Of course we saw many interesting birds like Eastern Rock Nuthatches, Grey-necked Buntings, Finsch’s Wheatears, Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and about 20 Trumpeter Finches but no Mongolian Trumpeter Finch. The only triptick for the day was a Little Owl that we saw when we had just started to drive to Yerevan.
When we were finally at our apartment, nobody was hungry but we ate something to be polite. Soon we were all ready to go to sleep. We had had a long and hard day!
To Mount Aragats
On the 25th of July we woke up late and because of the breakfast was also late we managed to leave only at 8 a.m. We started to climb by car up to Mt. Aragats only an hour later so we really afraid to be late! Artak had told us it would be cold up on the mountains, but it was easy to notice that the day would be really hot – so we really were late.
Artur drove higher and higher and we had no idea where we were going and what was the right biotope for birding because of it looked like a good biotope everywhere. Finally Artur stopped and Artak translated that we were on the main birding place.
The area had lots of low junipers and those had lots of birds: right away we found several families of White-throated Robins, many Ortolan Buntings, Wood Larks, some Bluethroats and Tree Pipits. White-throated Robins were really beautiful but almost all were females or young birds. Only a couple of mails were seen briefly. Soon we started to walk between and through the junipers because of our target bird was a Radde’s Accentor and usually Dunnock-kind of birds are not easy to find if they aren’t singing and now it was probably too late. The first Radde’s Accentor was found by Hanna who was walking along her own patches like usual – so we couldn’t find it anymore when we reached the place. The second was found by Toni but again the bird disappeared. Finally I heard a short birdsong from the juniper that I didn’t identify. I told the others to come and soon a Radde’s Accentor came visible to the top of the juniper and we could see it well!
A couple of hours more we walked in the junipers but nothing new were found. We were a little bit disappointed because of we had came so late, birds might have been singing in early morning. And when the bird is singing its not only easier to locate but also to photograph. Anyway we decided to put up the mistnet and try to catch a White-throated Robin to get measurements of this species. Oriol and Toni put the cd-player to attract the species. After 30 minutes there were just several White-throated Robins close to the net but not in it. Then we decided to try to push the birds to the net. Hanna was on the one side of the net and I was on the another side and tried to push birds to the net and after 5 minutes we had 5 White-throated Robins in our hands – one adult female and 4 young birds!
We found also a couple of Radde’s Accentors from the bushes near the mistnet so we tried to catch those too. We had only Dunnock on our cd so we played it. Surprisingly soon there were a couple of Radde’s Accentors close to our mistnet, but we didn’t catch them. 2 Asian Crimson-winged Finches were seen again flying very fast and later one more from the car when we were driving a little bit higher.
We drove as high as it was possible to drive by Arturs car – we had thought to get even higher to see some mountain species as Armenia-ticks, but this place where we went wasn’t high enough. Only a big female Peregrine Falcon was seen. It was good we had been in Georgia where we had already seen these species – otherwise we would have missed them. Normally the groups had a 4-wheel drive arranged for the mountain days.
While we were driving down we saw the same species as when we had come: Ring Ouzels, Rock Thrushes and a Booted Eagle but even though we stopped several times in good biotopes we couldn’t find the bird that Toni and Oriol desperately wanted to see – a Barred Warbler.
We were almost down when Artur’s phone rang – it was Vasil Ananian, that real birdguide we had tried to contact for entire visit to ask some advices of which places were for which birds… But we had tried to contact him also because of we had planned to do some ringing with him on the next 2 days. Now Vasil told that he couldn’t make it because of he had to keep on fieldworking in Kapan mountains. (We knew beforehand that it might be possible that he couldn’t join us.) Even though the line was really bad Oriol managed to ask Vasil about the places where to try to find a Barred Warbler and also a place for a Bimaculated Lark which was also still missing. And luckily both birds were possible to find in Aragats.
So we turned back to the mountains and drove just some kilometres further than the place where we had been the whole morning. There was a valley with many wild rosebushes. This was the place to try to find Barred Warblers. Vasil had even told they should be easy! Well I was quite sure a Barred Warbler can’t be easy if it isn’t singing, so it wasn’t a surprice that it took some time to locate one. But when we found a Barred Warbler we found several. They were again, like always, with Red-backed Shrikes! Also a male White-throated Robin was seen.
Next we drove again down and then turned to a different road that was leading to Yerevan. There were several places to try to find a Bimaculated Lark, but Vasil had told that the species is really early migrant so it might be migrating already. So we walked for 2 hours around different kind of meadows and fields but saw only Skylarks, Wood Larks, Corn Buntings and Tawny Pipits.
Finally we gave up and continued to drive to Yerevan. Surprisingly we saw on the way the first flocks of Rosy Starlings all flying to same direction. We had been wondering where these birds were because we had thought them to be common. In Yerevan we still saw a couple of Laughing Doves from the car. And at the apartment we had again a great lunch before went to sleep.
Once again – Vedi
The26th of July. Even though the plans had changed because of Vasil wasn’t able to join us, it wasn’t difficult to find something to do. We still needed to get the Mongolian Trumpeter Finch for Toni. We woke up early and were driving towards Vedi already at 6 a.m. It was the first time we were going to Vedi at good birding time. We saw the same Little Owl again but in Vedi there weren’t as many birds as we had expected. Actually there were much less birds than on our previous visits. More than 3 hours we tried to see the Mongolian Trumpeter Finch – we were really just standing still and waiting for it to come to its favourite place where we had seen in with Oriol and Hanna and where also Vasil had said it uses to come to drink. But we saw only all the other species we had seen before and the number of individuals were smaller. But we were lucky to see a flock of 16 Bimaculated Larks that flew a couple of times around the valley, landed shortly and then disappeared. These birds were really migrating!
A Little bit too late we put up the mistnet to catch an Upcher’s Warbler. Anyway we managed to catch 2 Upcher’s Warblers and an Eastern Orphean Warbler. Earlier we might have caught also Grey-necked Buntings and Eastern Rock Nuthatches? I must say I don’t really like disturbing birds and catch them without ringing, but this time Oriol and Toni had really reasons to catch all these species we caught.
So the Vedi was this time a disappointment because the Mongolian Trumpeter Finch wasn’t found. When the temperature was 33 degrees we gave up and decided to drive back to Yerevan. We visited a tourist information centre and bought the books Birds of Armenia (which is really good) and soon we were resting in our rooms.
We slept until the evening and then we had a really good parties – it was our last day but also a 18th birthday of Arturs oldest son. So we ate a lot and drank Armenian cognac, wine and vodka. Artak drank like a bigger man and there was a time we had to survive without a translator – but we didn’t care. Toni was speaking Catalan and Artur Armenian but they both understood each others well enough! Soon Artak was back and we celebrated late until the midnight. Then we birders were too tired and we really had to go to sleep.
Back to home
On the 27th of July about at 7 a.m. we started our way towards Georgian border. We had planned to stop near the Lake Sevan to some forests to find a Chiffchaff. Some people had asked Oriol to catch not only a Mountain Chiffchaff but also a Chiffchaff and take measurements of it because it wasn’t known were the local Chiffchaffs an own race or not. And Vasil had told some places where we could possibly find Chiffchaffs. So we stopped many times but couldn’t find any – they had stopped singing and were really difficult to find. So we gave up pretty easily and because of that we were on the border far too early at 3.50 p.m. On the way the only observations had been a Sparrowhawk and a Hawfinch – both tripticks.
We crossed the border easily but it was really hot again! There was no place to go to shadow. So I who had been really sick for many days, started to feel really bad. Luckily Giorgi arrived early and we started our way to Tbilisi with all windows open.
We had lunch on a really good local restaurant in Tbilisi (I was just drinking several litres) and then we went to Giorgis friends apartment. This friend wasn’t there but his girlfriend was and she didn’t speak English at all. Well only Oriol and Toni were staying there one night, we were leaving back to Finland already at night.
At 10 p.m. we said goodbyes to Oriol and Toni and continued to Giorgis temporary place (he was just looking for a new apartment because of he had just arrived from U.S.) and we managed to sleep 2 hours before Giorgi drove us to the airport at 2 a.m.
At the airport we still talked for an hour with Giorgi who was waiting for his friend to arrive from Germany by our plane. Our flight to Riga left at 4.30 a.m. once again a little bit late. We landed to Latvia at 7.10 a.m. (already Finnish time). There we had to run to our plane to Helsinki which left only 15 minutes later! Finally at 8.45 we landed to Helsinki. Luckily our luggages had also managed to change the plane and soon we were on our way to Kirkkonummi to my parents.
Meanwhile in Georgia Oriol and Toni were going to do some ringing to some lake with another Giorgis friend. So Giorgi had really saved our last days because of nothing else had been arranged than the drive to the airport! Thanks again Giorgi! Everything had gone perfect!
Together in Georgia and Armenia we observed 213 birdspecies, which was a good number this time of year when most of the birds were already quiet and autumn migration hadn’t yet started. We also hadn’t got a real birdguide helping us to find the targetbirds, we had the second best choise for us but I am quite sure it isn’t enough for most of the birders!
In Georgia we observed 124 species and in Armenia 186. Only real targetbird we missed was a Caucasian Black Grouse and from Catalans list we missed a Sombre Tit too. We got both 19 lifers and 21 wp-ticks. Oriol got 19 wp-ticks and Toni got 38!
We managed to stay easily in our budget which was 2000€ per person – I think we were closer to 1500€. Of course the most expensive part were the flying tickets (about 500€ person), guiding and car in Georgia weren’t cheap either (altogether 1400€), guiding in Armenia was cheaper but the biggest reason was that we were now having a driver and a translator – not real guides. Overnight with a breakfast and a lunch was everywhere about 20€ per person.
The trip was really superb, even though beforehand we were really worried about the level of guiding. But after all everything went pretty well. But for sure everything would have been many times easier with real birdguides. We really advise all the groups that travel to these countries to have a real guide! For sure Ramaz can organize a guide to Georgia and for sure Giorgi is a perfect guide to mountain, but in Armenia for birdwatching visits Zhanna Galian (Armenian Ecotourism Association) or Vasil Ananian (Ornithologist) should be contacted.
We felt that both countries were really safe, usually locals just let us be. Of course in Armenia on the borderline with Azerbaijan we saw some marks from the wars they have had. Some villages near the road were bombed only 20 years ago and still there were at least one mined area along the road but it was well fenced. Conflict areas in Georgia were far from the places we were.
Thanks to Oriol and Toni for their good company! I am sure we all can guarantee that Georgia and Armenia are good birding destinations, but I really think the right way to do birding trip to these countries is to do the trip in spring or early summer and with a birdguide. The birds are for sure much easier to find then!