Join us on this, our fourth tour to the stunningly beautiful country of Georgia. Journey north over the Jvari Pass for a breathtaking visit to the Greater Caucasus, where the birds complement the impossibly beautiful mountain 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 Red-billed and Alpine Chough echo off the canyon walls. High mountain specialists include Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Black Grouse, Guldenstadt's Redstart, Caucasian Great Rosefinch and Mountain Chiffchaff.
In contrast, the Kakheti region to the south-east of Tbilisi 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 Bushchat, Pied Wheatear and Isabelline Wheatear. It is home to an abundance of Hoopoes, Bee-eaters, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Golden Orioles and Black-headed Buntings.
We usually record over twenty species of raptor during this tour. Several pairs of Eastern Imperial Eagles breed in areas we will explore, along with Saker, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard and Levant Sparrowhawk.
Our flight will take us to the country’s capital, Tbilisi. Since the dramatic Rose Revolution, now over 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 tour.
The following morning we will journey north along the old Georgian Military Highway towards the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The impressive 17th Century church at Aranuri sits within a fortress alongside the Zhinvali Reservoir. The verdant beech woods in the valley here are home to Black and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Both Semi-collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers should be back on territory. The Persian Squirrel is also resident here.
Higher up the valley, just before the 2395m Jvari Pass, stands the impressive Friendship Monument, erected in Soviet times. It stands atop a sheer cliff which has nesting Wallcreeper, Ring Ouzel and Black Redstart. Alpine Choughs pose on the monument railings and we shall be on the lookout too for Alpine Accentor. As well as being a place to wonder at the stupendous scenery it is also a great spot to watch for the similarly magnificent Lammergeier. As we continue over the pass we will check the roadside for Caucasian Water Pipit, Snow Finch and the strikingly pale Caucasian Horned 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 appears in 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.
A short but bumpy drive will take us up to a famous landmark sitting on the ridge above Stepantsminda. The Tsminda Sameba is a 14th Century church which has become a symbol for 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 much sought after species breed in this beautiful and remote landscape, the smart Guldenstadt's Redstart and raspberry-pink Caucasian Great Rosefinch. Both spend the winter amongst stands of buckthorn on the valley bottom, and we will be hoping to find them here before they move higher into the adjacent mountains.
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.
We will then return to Tbilisi, where we will spend the final two nights. From here we will visit Davit Gareji. This is one of the most spectacular sites in Georgia, which is both a historical and wildlife attraction.
The landscape has a Mediterranean feel, with low lying scrub-covered hills and reams 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. A small wooded gulley holds 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.
Flocks of migrating Rose-coloured Starlings sometimes cover the plains surrounding the village of Udabno. Roadside copses hold many migrants amongst which we have found Thrush Nightingale, Rufous Bushchat, Ortolan, Mountain Chiffchaff and Golden Oriole on previous visits.
On our last evening we will be treated to a typical Georgian banquet washed down with local wines and traditional beers. 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 following morning we will head back to the airport in good time for our flight home.
CLIMATE AND PACE
In the mountains it is 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, Tbilisi, four nights at the Hotel Kazbegi, and the final two nights back at the Hotel Kopala, Tbilisi. The hotel in Tbilisi is a lovely traditional Georgian hotel and the restaurant offers a panoramic view of the city. At Kazbegi we stay in the Alpine Institute which provides simple clean accommodation with comfortable beds and hot showers. All rooms have en suite facilities.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and a local guide, full board accommodation (starting with breakfast on 28th and ending with dinner on 3rd), 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 flight from most UK airports to Tbilisi (via Amsterdam and Kiev) using the scheduled services of KLM. Outbound flights depart early morning, return flight arrives back early afternoon.
Three pairs of magnificent Lammergeiers are resident in the valley at Kazbegi.
Caucasian Snowcock are busy calling and displaying in early spring.
Plump Caucasian Grouse flutter on the hillside to attract the furtive greyhens.
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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