Jewels of Caucasus 1st to 9th of July 2013 – Birding trip to Georgia

I fell in love with mountain views of Caucasus 2006 when I visited the region first time. Now I have been there already 5 times, but still every trip produces new experiences. This year I guided a group of eight bird and nature lovers. We visited Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountains, Jevakheti volcanic plateau and watched birds around Tbilisi.

Our tour timing had been chosen so that there was also other things to see than birds. Mountain meadows were in full bloom, there were plenty of butterflies and dragonflies and birds had fledglings. In hottest low land areas grass was however already yellow and birds had flocked around ponds and lakes.

Tour diary

1.7. Flights Helsinki-Kiev-Tbilisi

We arrived to Tbilisi late in the evening, just to found out that ours and 20 other passengers luggage had been forgot to Kiev. Staff told that next flight carrying our stuff would arrive in 20 hours… We decided to stay next day in Tbilisi region and pick our luggage from airport when flight was coming.

2.7. Around Tbilisi

After breakfast we headed towards Lake Lisi. This shallow lake has reed beds around it, vast grassy meadows and pine plantations. Due to windy weather lake seemed quite empty and only grebes were seen. Forests had lots of Golden Orioles and Lesser Grey Shrikes. We found also Mediterranean Tortoise, Seltopusik and couple of small Natrix snakes. A Short-toed Eagle, Common buzzards and Marsh Harriers played in stormy wind.

We decided to search for calmer place in a valley behind village Tsodoreti. Forested valley had beautiful stream, lots of butterflies, frogs and also passerines like Green Warblers and Blackcaps.

Afternoon was spent in older parts of Tbilisi. Best observation was 50 Armenian Gulls that were patrolling over the river. Near Baths we saw Laughing Doves and Water Pipits.

We picked up our luggage at six and drove to Stepantsminda where we arrived at 11 pm. Road was being fixed and that’s why it was in horrible shape! Our hotel was university research station where 2 other birding groups were already staying.

3.7.- 4.7. Kazbegi

During the next days we spend time in the gorges and mountain slopes. Our planned tent night up in Kazbegi slopes did not work out because very moist air was coming from Black Sea. Mornings were nice and clear but before midday sky was cloudy and rain started. A week earlier air would have been much drier.

Trip to sea-bucktorn area near village and other trip to Tsuro Gorge were productive. We observed for example one Bearded and many Griffon Vultures, 3 Peregrines, a Golden Eagle pair, 7 Alpine Swifts, lots of Water Pipits, 15 Rock Thrushes, 8 Green Warblers, 30 Mountain Chiffchaffs and 20 Red-fronted Serins. Besides birds we saw lots of different kinds of flowering plants.

Our main trip was climb to higher slopes of Kazbegi. We started climbing before sunrise. Highest peaks were behind clouds, and we climbed along trail in good conditions. Alpine meadows were very beautiful with pink, yellow, blue and red flowers. Best observations were 6 Great Rose finches, 2 Güldenstädt’s Redstarts, 3 Caucasian Snowcoks and lots of other mountain birds. Snowcokcs responded well to mimicking whistling we made. Most numerous bird species was Water Pipit that we estimated being seen 140.

Clouds surrounded us during our lunch stop and we started to walk back. Faster part of group managed to walk down in front of rain clouds, but another part of the group, me included, were forced to descend in rain.

Mountain meadows were in full bloom.

5.7. From Greater to Lesser Caucasus Mountains

During sunrise we tried to see Caucasian Black-grouse and hear more snowcocks and rosefinches without luck. After breakfast we started to drive towards our next destination in Lesser Caucasus. On the way we stopped in many birding spots. Bearded Vulture passed by and there were lots of Alpine and Red-billed Choughs. Breeding place of Snow Finches had been destroyed in road work so they were not present.

Near Lesser Caucasus large storm front filled the sky. Heavy rain and thunder forced us to drive without stops all the way to Akhaltsikhe.

6.7. Lesser Caucasus Akhaltsikhe-Abastumani-Zekari Pass (2182m) and back

Lesser Caucasus is lower and more forested than Greater Caucasus. There are tens of tree and bush species and lots of flowering plant. Many brightly colored species are now more familiar as garden plants. Road was in poor condition after heavy rains. Our four wheel drive Jeep just managed the worst places. Still conditions were better than 2006 when road resembled small river with rapids.

We stopped in few places for listening birds until we met three scientists that had photographed Caspian Snowcock from close range. When we reached treeless meadows and rocky mountain tops we decided to split group in half. Each group would search one side of the mountain with telescopes. After one hour another team radioed, that they had 3 Caspian Snowcocks. We drove to another group that kindly had birds ready at their telescope views. Other observed species were for example Green Warbler, Mountain Chiffchaff and Red-fronted Serin.

During our picnic lunch clouds surrounded us. We decided to descend back to forests. We wanted to walk few kilometres down the road. After couple of kilometres we could hear odd sound from pine tree. Source of the sound was Kruper’s Nuthatch that climbed under the branches. From next tree we could hear two more individuals. Coal Tit, Common Crossbills, Robin and Redstart were common forest birds.

7.7. Jevakheti plateau

Jevakheti plateau is a large volcanic area that lies in 2000 metres from the sea level. There are several 3000 metres high volcanic cones that can be seen in the horizon. This plateau is mostly grassland with many lakes. We visited Khozapini (Kartsakhi), Khanchali and Burnasheni Lakes.

From the lakes we found Armenian Gulls, lots of ducks and other waterfowl, several species of herons and tens of white storks. Most numerous species was a Coot that we saw several thousands. In distant shore lines we could see flocks of waders but due to distance we could not identify them all. All together we saw 160 White and Dalmatian Pelicans. Most numerous raptor species were Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier. There were also a Short-toed Eagle, Lesser-spotted Eagles, Montagu’s Harrier and Long-legged Buzzards.

Rarest sight was however a President of Georgia, who drove past us on his way to new border crossing.

8.7. David Gareji

South-eastern part of Georgia is drier steppe area. From main road there is 50 km to David Gareji monastery (and only road signs in the start and just before monastery). We stopped on the way in most bird-rich areas. Couple of shallow lakes produced lots of Great Reed Warblers, Moorhens and some waders. In village of Udano is a breeding colony of Rosy Starlings. These birds breed together and they even fly in groups to collect insects for their fledglings.

Roadside earth piles were occupied by Eastern Black-eared, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears. In monastery area we scanned with our scopes bushy area that had lots of birds looking for shadow. We managed to see a Common Nightingale, 2 Eastern Orphean Warblers, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and lots of Lesser Whitethroats. Climb until Azerbaijan border did not produce many new species since temperature rose up to +35°C during our stay.

After picnic we drove along the border towards Jandara lake. On the way we saw Rollers, Bee-eaters, Booted Eagle and Egyptian Vulture. Heat haze made it difficult to see far to the lake, but there was a Syrian Woodpecker in nearest tree plantation.

9.7. Flights back to Finland

Everyone else managed to have lifers or WP-ticks. I managed to get new species to my Georgian bird list and now I have 213 species.

Downloadable trip bird observation list