"Great Rosefinch..bird of the trip! Rose-Ann, Reading UK, May 2014
Join us on this, our second tour to the stunningly beautiful country of Georgia. Journey north over the Jvari Pass for a breathtaking visit to the High Caucasus mountains, where the birds complement the impossibly beautiful landscape. Majestic Golden Eagles and magnificent Lammergeiers soar across the snow-covered peaks. Wallcreepers busily build their nests amongst the rocks and crevices, whilst the calls of both Chough and Alpine Chough echo off the canyon walls.
In contrast, the Kakheti region of south-east Georgia is a land of rolling steppe and dry savannah. The birds and landscapes here are similar to those found in Anatolia and specialist species include Rufous Bushchats, Menetriesís Warblers and Isabelline Wheatears. Home to an abundance of raptors, at times the sky is filled with Eastern Imperial Eagles, Black Vultures, Sakers, Long-legged Buzzards, Levant Sparrowhawks and Lesser Kestrels.
Our flight will take us to the countryís capital, Tbilisi. Since the dramatic Rose Revolution, a decade ago, Tbilisi has blossomed into an attractive, vibrant and cosmopolitan city. We will stay overnight in a comfortable city centre hotel before embarking on our eight day tour.
After breakfast we will travel into the high Caucasus mountains, breaking the journey with some birding at the Szhinvali Reservoir. The verdant beech woods in the valley here are home to Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers. Both Semi-collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers should be on territory. Persian Squirrels are also found in the forest.
Higher up, just before the pass, is an interesting monument erected in Soviet times. It stands atop a sheer cliff which is a nesting site for Wallcreeper, Ring Ouzel and Black Redstart. Alpine Choughs pose on the railings and we shall be on the look out for the imposing Lammergeier, as well as enjoying some simply stunning mountain scenery. As we continue over the pass we will check the roadside for Water Pipit, Snow Finch and the strikingly pale Caucasian Shore Lark.
Late in the afternoon we will reach Stepantsminda. This quaint village nestles in the valley bottom, beneath the imposing snow covered Mount Kazbegi. We have a four night stay which gives us time to explore the valley and surrounding mountains. In the early morning we take a stroll at the base of the steep slopes. The eerie curlew-like calls of Caucasian Snowcock will soon become familiar to us as they call from high up amongst the rocky crags. Occasionally a pair will wander out in full view. The localised Caucasian Black Grouse is also found here. They prefer grassy slopes adjacent to patches of dwarf rhododendrons. At times several males can be seen doing their fluttering displays, particularly if a female deigns to wander into their lekking territory.
Later in the day we shall explore the corries and abandoned farmsteads higher up the valley. Here we will find Rock Thrush, Alpine Accentor, Black Redstart, Red-fronted Serin and Twite. If the weather is clear we should witness the passage of migrating flocks of Steppe Buzzards, which are often joined by Black Kites, harriers and accipiters.
On day four we take a short drive uphill to the famous landmark sat on the ridge above Stepantsminda. The Tsminda Sameba is a 14th Century church which has become a symbol of the nation. With fierce determination it clings to its lofty isolated perch, defying the elements and the rigours of time. We will look for the scarce inhabitants of the rocky mountainside. Two sought after species breed in this beautiful and remote landscape, the Guldenstadt's Redstart and Great Rosefinch. Both can be difficult to find, but poor overnight weather may push them down to within our reach.
The woodland below Tsminda Sameba holds singing Green Warblers and Mountain Chiffchaffs. The surrounding meadows harbour many Common Rosefinches whose simple whistled song carries far in the clear mountain air. Barred Warblers and Corncrakes breed in meadows in the valley bottom.
CHACHUNA AND THE IORI VALLEY
After four days in the mountains we will head south-east to the Kakheti region. After passing Tbilisi, the landscape gradually changes from vineyards and orchards to rolling plains, sandstones cliffs and buttes. Our destination is the Chachuna Nature Reserve in the Iori Uplands.
The birdlife here is very diverse. Long-legged Buzzards and Montaguís Harriers hunt over open fields. Vivid blue Rollers and colonies of multi-coloured Bee-eaters occupy the sandy cliffs of the dry river beds. Lesser Grey and Woodchat Shrikes are common in the roadside scrub, whilst Isabelline Wheatears chat and scold. Calandra Larks display over the cereal fields and Black-headed Buntings seemingly occupy every weedy corner. As the landscape becomes more arid Black-eared Wheatears and Short-toed Larks appear. In the heat of the day huge Black Vultures and Griffon Vultures soar on the thermals. Tight flocks of migrating Rose-coloured Starlings flash their pink hues as they speed by.
We have a three night stay at some lovely tourist bungalows alongside the Dali Reservoir, which was built in the Soviet era. Luckily the proposed irrigation project did not come to fruition and the area still retains the delicate balance of habitats which makes the birdwatching so interesting.
The reservoir is home to small numbers of Ruddy Shelduck and the occasional Pygmy Cormorant. Migrant herons drop in on their way through, as do flocks of terns and waders. A colony of Lesser Kestrels occupy the deserted pump houses on the dam wall, whilst the striking Levant Sparrowhawk displays over the adjacent riparian woodland. Other breeding raptors here include Saker Falcon and Eastern Imperial Eagle - we should have an opportunity to study both species near their nest sites. Black Francolins call from the scrubby areas, whilst Rufous Bushchats sing from prominent perches. Menetriesís and Eastern Orphean Warbler are very common. The rocky bluffs hold Chukar, Rock Nuthatch, Rock Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush.
On our return to Tbilisi we will have another opportunity to birdwatch the transition areas between dry steppe and areas under cultivation. The species we will be looking for include Spanish Sparrow and Ortolan Bunting. Our journey will take us through the wine growing region of Signagi. Georgia is famous for its wine and claims to be the home of viticulture. Archaeologists have traced back the production of wine in the region to 6,000BC. The Georgian method of wine making utilises clay pots or kvevris in which the grape juice is fermented.
The landscape has a Mediterranean feel, with low lying scrub-covered hills and swathes of wildflowers. It also happens to be the site of one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. Chukars call from the arid rocky slopes. Crag Martins and Blue Rock Thrushes are common. Small wooded gullies hold singing Green Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatchers and Nightingales. On the way we will stop at a small steppe lake to look for passage waders such as Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint and Red-necked Phalarope. White-winged Black Terns are sometimes seen in their hundreds. Great Reed Warblers shout out their raucous songs from the reedbeds. This is also a regular site for Armenian Gull.
Back in the capital we will be treated to a typical Georgian banquet washed down with local wines and traditional beers. The following morning we will head back to the airport in good time for our flight home.
CLIMATE AND PACE
In the mountains if it often clear but chilly, although rain is a possibility. In contrast, the south is normally warm and dry. Breakfast will be taken at 8am on most mornings, allowing time for short pre-breakfast walks. At Stepantsminda we will depart at 6am on one morning, in order to be out early to see the snowcock. Full days will be spent in the field and basic fitness is all that is required. At Stepantsminda there will be some uphill walking which we will manage according to the abilities of the group. Transport will be provided to take the group to the higher valleys and vantage points to reduce the need for any strenuous walking.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full board accommodation is provided with one night at the Hotel Kopala in Tbilisi, four nights at Hotel Stepantsminda in Kazbegi, three nights at the Chachuna Reserve and the final night back at the Hotel Kopala in Tbilisi. The hotel in Tbilisi is a lovely traditional Georgian hotel and the restaurant offers a panoramic view of the city. At Chachuna we stay in bungalows which provide simple clean accommodation with comfortable beds and hot showers. All rooms have en suite facilities. During the day we will take a picnic lunch or eat in a cafe.
PRICE INCLUDES Ö..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and a local guide, full board accommodation (starting with breakfast on the 28th and ending with dinner on the 5th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini coach, reserve entrance fees, international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance, personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry, snacks and drinks in airports. Please note: UK citizens no longer require a visa to enter Georgia.
Return flights from London Gatwick (via Istanbul) to Tbilisi using the scheduled services of Turkish Airlines. Outbound flights depart early afternoon, return flight arrives back early afternoon. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are available on this tour. See booking form for details.
Three pairs of magnificent Lammergeiers are resident in the valley at Kazbegi.
Caucasian Snowcock are busy calling and displaying in early spring.
Flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings on migration at Chachuna.
Plump Caucasian Grouse flutter on the hillside to attract the furtive greyhens.
The attractive Menetries's Warbler is a common summer visitor in the south.
Mount Kazbegi stands proud above Stepantsminda.
A nesting place for Wallcreepers below the Cross Pass along the old Georgian Military Road
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