Our second trip to the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia was another success in that we saw all the speciality species included this striking male Caucasian Greater Rosefinch.
The bird was one of several seen in the meadows above our hotel during our three day stay. Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Grouse, Guldenstadt's Redstart, Shore Larks of the race pencillata and many Caucasian Water Pipits as well as Lammergeiers, Wallcreepers, Alpine and Red-billed Choughs were all seen close by.
May 5th: In early May we made our maiden tour to Georgia, somewhere we had been planning to visit for some time. John went there on a visit in 2013 and finally we ran our first tour this year. Departing from various parts of the UK the group arrived in the Georgian capital in the evening.
May 6th: After breakfast the group departed south east from Tbilisi heading for the Chachuna Protected Area. A roadside stop produced a few migrating raptors including two Lesser Spotted Eagles, 2 Booted Eagles, Short toed Eagle, a party of Honey Buzzards and a Steppe Buzzard. Lunch was taken at a small restaurant in the town of Dedoplistskaro. It was a several course affair consisting of various Georgian delicacies, delicious! A Scarce Swallowtail flew past and a feature of the day was the large number of Painted Lady butterflies on the move as well as hundreds of Rose coloured Starlings. Amongst the first birds seen at Chachuna included displaying Calandra Larks and Isabelline Wheatears.
May 7th: A pre-breakfast walk to the dam produced a large flock of migrating Ruff and both Black and White-winged Black Terns. After breakfast good views of Lesser Kestrel were had in addition to Honey Buzzard and both Black and Griffon Vultures. The most common birds were shrikes mainly Woodchats but also a few Lesser Greys, an area of steppe held several singing Lesser Short-toed Larks and a pair of Stone Curlews. Many Rollers and Beeeaters all demanded attention. As the day drew to a close a singing male Black Francolin was seen whilst a Golden Jackal crossed the path ahead.
May 8th: A rather smart male Pied Wheatear sang from a nearby rooftop whilst all around there were singing Nightingales, Cuckoos and a Golden Oriole. A flock of 200 Rosy Starlings left their overnight roost joining the thousands of others which were streaming west. An adult Baltic Gull was a surprise find on the virtually empty reservoir until a flock of 60 White-winged Black Terns dropped in. Around the lodge were a pair of Barred Warblers, singing Menetries’s Warbler, Common Rosefinch and several Red backed Shrikes.
On the steady journey back to Tbilisi they visited an occupied Imperial Eagle nest, this one situated on an ancient electricity pylon. An immature Saker Falcon flew past close by as did an elegant immature male Montagu’s Harrier. In one small weedy field some migrant Red–throated Pipits were located and no less than eight neat Ortolan Buntings. Black headed Buntings were the most abundant songsters amongst the arable fields.
May 9th: Once again out of the city and this time the group ventured north on the old Georgian Military Highway. Here thousands of sheep and cattle were on the move, all in the middle of the road whilst the cars took to the verges and pavements. This all appeared rather crazy but quaint at the same time. In roadside beech woods a pair of Semi-collared Flycatchers and two singing Green Warblers were found. Woodpeckers included a vocal pair of Black Woodpeckers. The Common Redstarts here show very distinctive white wing flashes, they are also known as Ehrenberg’s Redstart.
After lunch it all went nuts as Lammergeiers flew past at close range and Wallcreepers crept across the base of a sheer rock face whilst Alpine Choughs soared above. On the mountain pass flocks of Red-fronted Serins fed amongst the melting snow alongside Twite and Caucasian Water Pipits.
May 10th: The pre-breakfast walk was very rewarding with six lekking Caucasian Grouse on the hillside above. The haunting calls of the distant Caucasian Snowcock echoed around the rock faces. To cap it all a pair of Caucasian Rosefinches landed close by and fed on flowerheads in the meadows. There were singing Common Rosefinches all around and Red backed Shrike was one of the commonest birds on the slopes.
In the nearby valley above the hamlet of Kobi birding amongst the ruined farmhouses and ornamental graveyards produced many great birds. These included Golden Eagles, hepatic phase Cuckoos, Marsh Warblers, Ortolan Buntings and Lesser Grey Shrikes.
May 11th: Early morning above Kazbegi a pair of snowcock were watched them for over an hour high up on the rocky tops. Corncrakes had recently arrived and they called raucously and even fought amongst the nettle beds. Another Lammergeier was seen, this one from the hotel balcony. Others were seen further down the valley in the Dariali Gorge. Raptors slipped past almost unnoticed in the low cloud that hung over the gorge. Steppe Eagle, Harriers, Steppe and Honey Buzzards, all journeying northwards despite the poor weather.
May 12th: The final morning in Kazbegi produced a party of four Caucasian Rosefinches. A beautiful male fed on flower heads alongside three females in the same meadow as before. High up on the Cross Pass a Caucasian Shore Lark was found amongst the Water Pipits feeding by the melting snowfields. A flock of 80+ Red-fronted or Fire-fronted Serins was another highlight of the day.
May 13th: A full day trip was made from Tbilisi to visit the restored historic monastery of Davit Gareja . On the way Lesser Grey Shrikes, Barred Warblers, Golden Orioles and NIghtingales were in the roadside vineyards. On the steppe heavy showers of rain had grounded many migrants including several Green Warblers, Marsh Warblers, Thrush Nightingale and the first Red-breasted Flycatcher. The reedbeds surrounding a rapidly evaporating steppe lake held Paddyfield Warblers and an Eastern Reed Warbler.
May 14th: A final days birding around the capital was rewarding with another pair of Imperial Eagles and migrating Honey Buzzards seen well.
The Friendship Monument at the Dvari Pass
click here for details of our next tour to this destination