When Gordon Shaw mentioned he was organising a birding trip to Georgia in the Caucasus I was immediately keen to go. He had apparently met the manager of Ecotours at the Rutland Birdfair last year and thought they seemed a well organised team that knew what they were doing. I have never visited the Caucasus. This is the area between Europe and Asia and there were a few outstanding species that I wanted to see, especially Caucasian Snowcock and Caucasian Grouse, so I agreed to join the team. We chose the dates, booked Ecotours, Gordon held a preparatory meeting, we discussed logistics, I booked our flights (Turkish Airlines from Heathrow via Istanbul took the shortest time, the only disadvantage being that we would arrive in Tbilisii at 3am). Three of the group, myself, Dave and Chris preferred to arrive a day early enabling a nights sleep in a hotel before we set off, so I booked hotel rooms for the three of us. We sorted out a checklist, managed a small amount of research and then on the start days we set off.
THURSDAY 2ND MAY - LONDON HEATHROW TO TBILISI
Chris, Dave and I met at the check-in area at Terminal Two a couple of hours before the flight, checked our bags in, strolled through security, then had plenty of time for a coffee before we embarked. The flight was somewhat late leaving which meant that when we arrived at the fabulous brand new airport in Istanbul we only had about 15 minutes to get to the next gate for our connecting flight, no time to admire the splendour at all. We made a mad dash right across the terminal to our gate and just managed to make it before they closed the gate. Both flights were uneventful and we finally arrived at Tbilisi at about 3am the next morning. We found a taxi driver who drove ‘like a bat out of hell’ to our booked accommodation at the Sharden Villa Hotel in central Tbilisi. The staff were waiting for us even though it was 4.30am, sorted out our very nice ‘three star’ rooms (£98 through booking.com) and we were asleep in no time at all.
Overnight: (from 4.30am anyway) - Sharden Villa Hotel, Tbilisi
FRIDAY 3RD MAY - TBILISI
After sleeping in late Dave, Chris and I met in the breakfast room on the roof of the hotel. This looked out over the city and gave excellent views of the old fort on the top of the hill. Breakfast was very good - juice, some fruit, cold meat and cheese, yoghurt, breads, cakes, tea, coffee. We then walked out and up the hill to the Botanic Gardens, our first stop. The gardens were well kept, consisting of several areas of different habitat with a river running through the centre and we soon picked up our first interesting species, a White-throated Dipper and the only Laughing Doves for the trip. We wandered around for a good couple of hours, then sat and had a cup of coffee in a small family run cafe. We were also tempted into several slices of a large pizza type snack called ‘Khatchapuri’ stuffed with cottage cheese - we had seen other people eating this and had decided to order one and I have to say it was utterly delicious. We then started up the steps to the fort. There were a number of tourists about but not so many as to be annoying and all very well behaved. The fort was in ruins but we walked along the edge of the walls - no health and safety rules here - some people were having their photos taken hanging off the edges!! Then it was time for a beer, so we wandered back down to the town. Tbilisi, the old town is a very pleasant place, with some beautiful old buildings, lots of bars and restaurants and we quickly found one to our taste, so much so that after a couple of beers we decided to book a table there for the evening. We had an hour or so in our rooms then met again for dinner. The food was delicious, we tried some Georgian dishes and were very impressed. Then for me it was an early night as we were being picked up at 4.30am the next morning by the rest of the team.
Overnight: (until 4.30am anyway) - Sharden Villa Hotel
DAY 1 - SATURDAY 4TH MAY - TBILISI TO KAZBEGI
Dave, Chris and I were in the foyer with our luggage in good time for the arrival of Gordon, Simon and Bill at 4.40am, straight from the airport in a large newish 4x4 Mitsubishi van with sliding doors on either side and with seating for eight people (including the jump seat). This was driven by Nika, a strapping young Georgian, more of a strong silent type than we guessed and who was our guide for the next nine days. He hoisted our cases up onto the top of the van, we all jumped in and set off, initially to a Georgian restaurant for breakfast, then we headed off north towards the magnificent mountains of the Greater Caucasus. It was a 150km drive to these mountains but we stopped several times, once to walk through an area of scrub adjacent to some cliffs where we had a few species including Green Warbler, Common Rosefinch and startled a Nightjar which hurtled off into the distance. Several hours later we stopped for lunch and had a huge meal including Georgian dumplings which were delicious. As we drove higher into the mountains we started to see snow at the edges of the road, which got deeper until there were drifts of five feet or so on either side in places. Several tunnels had been built through the mountain where there was a threat of landslides and we did hear several landslides a few days later. It started to snow. We saw that there were a lot of migrant birds feeding up in the snow - Horned Lark, Northern Wheaters by the dozen, Water Pipits everywhere. There was nowhere really to park up but it was freezing and we weren’t dressed for the weather so we drove on, reaching our accommodation at the Ilia State University Alpine Ecology Institute in Stepantsminda, the local town in Kasbegi, about mid afternoon. As we were unpacking the van we heard Mountain (Caucasian) Chiffchaff (ss. lorenzi) singing in a tree in the garden and Simon picked it out amongst the branches, also a Spotted Flycatcher there.
We were shown to our rooms, I was given a three bed dormitory room with underfloor heating in the en-suite bathroom up on the second floor, just under the roof. The room was huge and very warm, just perfect. We then drove to an area close by where they were quarrying and within minutes we had our first Guldenstadt’s Redstarts, Ortolan Bunting, Red-throated Pipit then LESSER GREY SHRIKE, (BOLD is a lifer for me). Back at our ‘hotel’ we had a Fire-fronted Serin and a Red-breasted Flycatcher in the garden. We then set out - and here my directions become somewhat obscure - to an area of wet meadow/swamp down the valley where we had many birds including beautiful views of GREAT ROSEFINCH, Red-backed Shrike and Yellow Wagtail (ss.feldegg). We crossed a river and headed up a valley. Suddenly a 4x4 shot past us, the men got out and then started randomly shooting their rifles into the sky. We thought they were drunk, which was a little concerning, but happily they ignored us. We identified a Golden Eagle with a nest on the cliff, hopefully unseen by the men. We drove further on to a rather unkempt hamlet where we had loads of birds in the fields there, a flock of Twite, Whinchat in double figures, Northern Wheatears, Black-headed Yellow Wagtails etc, mostly migrants stranded in the bad weather. We drove on to an area where there were several horses that were looking totally miserable in the near freezing weather which was deteriorating by the minute and now sleeting. We identified our first Steppe Buzzard, a sub-species of our Common Buzzard (much more rusty coloured). The sky had darkened and it started to snow, huge flakes floating down on us obscuring everything, so we drove back to the hotel for dinner. The meal can be described as very nourishing and typical of most meals we consumed in Georgia - soup followed by tomato, cucumber and onion salad, various cold processed meats, loads of bread and often the cheese-filled pseudo pizza called ‘khatchatori’, followed by a mixed hot vegetable tureen, a hot meat casserole and then cake and instant coffee or tea.
Overnight: Ilia State University Institute.
DAY 2 - SUNDAY 5TH MAY - KAZBEGI
Simon was up before anyone and from the veranda had already scoped a pair of CAUCASIAN GROUSE that were standing out in clear view on the mountain closest to our hotel. High fives everyone. Nika then drove us a short distance up the road to the left of the grouse on the mountain and launched the 4x4 onto the muddy track, we skidded up about a 100m, parked, then walked the last 200m to an open area covered in snow. We set up our scopes and within minutes Nika had found a pair of CAUCASIAN SNOWCOCK one sitting on a rock, the other down in the snow but showing its contrasting dark body against the white. A great start to the day and the trip actually, my two main target birds seen on Day 2!! High fives all round again!! He then showed us a pair of Tahr in the scope, the wild goats endemic to the area. We skidded back down onto the road, drove a half a mile, then parked and walked to where we could get closer views of the grouse, en route picking up a beautiful Fire-fronted Serin, Great Rosefinch again and several stunning male Ring Ouzels. We also watched a Red Fox (not as rufous as ours, more grey) making its way across the glacier in the distance. Back for breakfast, porridge or muesli and ‘fresh from the cow’ yoghurt and cheese, also processed meats, omelette, toast and home made plum jam, tea and instant coffee.
After breakfast (Wood Warbler in the garden), we drove out of the village, turned left onto the main road and headed out back towards the pass of yesterday to a small village with a cliff overhanging some of the houses. Nika was looking for Wallcreeper but no luck here although we picked up Red-billed Chough and a small flock of Mealy Redpolls, a lifer for Nika. We then drove back and turned off onto another track which meandered across a wide valley. The weather was warmer today, the snow on the ground was fast melting and there were not nearly as many migrant birds feeding frantically on the ground. Eventually a cliff appeared on the left and after a few minutes Nika heard a Wallcreeper and then we spotted it and all had excellent views as it flew from cliff to cliff. A second one appeared from across the river. We then drove back to Stepantsminda, parked up on the main road and entered the town children’s park/playground where we plumped out our increasing trip list with Long-tailed Tit and Treecreeper.
We set off after lunch in the opposite direction towards the Russian border along a road that clung to the cliff, but before I could get nervous about the steep drop on the right we turned off up a track to the left just before a bridge over the river. We parked up and spent some time watching raptors including Lammergier, Griffon Vulture and Steppe Buzzard that were circling around above the tall snow covered mountains that surrounded us. It was a beautiful spot, standing as we were in the sunshine with everything clear and pristine. We had parked up by an upland pond with a small stand of reeds but we did not find any warblers when we circled it. After several hours we got back into the van and drove back to the town, past our accommodation and up on the road to the ‘grouse path’. There was nothing much new, but we did hear the dull roar of several landslides and saw the snow on the glacier slowly sliding down the mountain. A fox was being chased by a determined hound, round and round and up and down the mountain, however the fox got away eventually, they both must have been utterly exhausted.
Overnight: Ilia State University Institute.
DAY 3 - MONDAY 6TH MAY - KAZBEGI
First thing this morning we headed to the mountain road up from the hotel to try again for the Caucasian Snowcocks which we saw with even better views and also the pair of Caucasian Grouse which had been lekking earlier, seen from our hotel veranda. A Lesser Kestrel flew past. Back to the hotel for breakfast then out again this time to the monastery on the other side of the valley. There were quite a few tourists here taking selfies, but we ignored them as best we could and looked skywards. The raptor migration was brisk, with over 100 Griffon Vultures passing through, 300+ Steppe Buzzards, at least 50 European Honey Buzzards, as well as three LEVANT SPARROWHAWKS, one Steppe Eagle a Booted Eagle and our first flock of 20+ Yellow-billed Choughs. All excellent. We then left this wonderful high mountain-top monastery and drove to the other end of the spectrum, to the local rubbish dump, where we added Black Kite. Back for lunch.
After lunch we drove to an area of scrub near the village of Sno and after a bit of a chase through the scrub we managed to get good views of Barred Warbler, a bird we had heard earlier at the dump but did not see. We walked off the road and into a swampy area absolutely inundated with large croaking frogs, so many that it was difficult not to tread on them. Here we put up a snipe, presumably a Common, and then a Purple Heron. We continued on in the van, turning right over a bridge and up a steep valley. This road was built right on the edge of the ravine above a tributary, now a rushing torrent and gradually increased in height so that there was a huge drop by the time we reached the small hamlet of Juta. We drove through and on for several miles until we could see a military installation in the distance close to the Russian border. Two lone Georgian soldiers were sitting out under the shadow of the mountain, so we waved to them and surprisingly they waved back, what a lonely life. We watched more raptors migrating past, mostly Honey Buzzards, but we also saw a pair of Golden Eagles and several sparrowhawks. Nika then bounded up the road because Dave had seen some tracks and he returned to show us a photo of Wolf tracks, three animals!
Overnight: Ilia State University Institute.
DAY 4 TUESDAY 7TH MAY - KAZBEGI TO CHACHUNA - 300kms
We were leaving Kazbegi today, so after breakfast we packed up and set off, back over the pass where this time in the clear skies there was hardly a bird on the ground, the migrants had passed through. We stopped at a tourist monument (2395m), a huge tall mosaic wall with a view down into the valley below. Here we had Alpine Swift actually flying level with us, also Alpine Accentor. We then drove for several hours passing through the outskirts of Tbilisi and kept going southwards, stopping at a stand of forest which was Nika’s sight for SEMI-COLLARED FLYCATCHER and we finally managed a quick glimpse of a female after scrambling down a steep hillside and standing for a half an hour or so. We stopped for lunch then continued to travel south through the wine growing region and on for several hours finally taking a break at a village with a shop, wonder of wonders! I walked in and spotted two bananas for sale on the counter and immediately purchased one, also a can of iced black coffee from the cooler. Delicious. The countryside had started to look very poor, we passed through near derelict villages, empty houses and shells of buildings which had been stripped by the Russians when they left twenty years ago - window frames, guttering and pipes, anything of value had been taken away. It was a sad sight. Where had all the Georgians gone, we hardly saw a child or a young person, just old, bent over peasants. We were now nearing the border with Armenia and not long after we turned right into the Chachuna Nature Reserve part of a region called the Iora Upland (200-800m). This is an area of “savanna-like landscapes, arid woodlands, and semi deserts….and is noted for one of the largest communities of breeding birds in the Caucasus” (Ecotours).
We drove into the national park and onto rough roads but in fact hardly noticed the discomfort as the plains were hopping with birds of all species. Bee-eaters, European Rollers, an assortment of larks, a colony of Spanish Sparrows, Woodchat Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Hoopoes, Little Owl and Black-headed Buntings etc. It was 17 kilometres to our accommodation and a very exciting drive. We finally reached a set of seven nature reserve cottages, three were still derelict but the other four had been refurbished to a good standard. The six of us were given an entire cottage with three bedrooms, all en suite and with a lovely veranda where a family of Barn Swallows had built a nest. The parents were swooping in, constantly urged on by loud chirps from the chicks. It was a pleasant place to stay, surrounded by re-wilding fields and with the water of the Dali Reservoir sparkling in the distance. Dinner was served in one of the cottages in a dining room which was set for about twenty people. There were other birding groups here, including the three Dutchmen we had met earlier that day at the flycatcher site. They were led by another of Ecotours guides, a man named Jimi (for short - unpronounceable name). Dinner was huge, a bowl of soup with large fatty pieces of lamb floating around in it, followed by dishes of cooked vegetables, boiled potatoes, salad, bread, a casserole of meat, pieces of roasted chicken, all very nourishing if a trifle uninspiring. Red apples (past their sell-by date and soft), were served as a dessert but fruit was scarce and we were glad of them. Lastly a plate of biscuits, then tea and instant coffee. How on earth they brought the ingredients into the park and produced this food was a mystery. The electricity came from a generator and was turned off at 10pm, but the showers were still hot, mine anyway.
Overnight: Chachuna Nature Reserve Cottages
DAY 5 - WEDNESDAY 8TH MAY - CHACHUNA
After breakfast we set off downhill to the Dali Reservoir, parked and headed into the scrub below the reservoir wall. It was very birdy and within minutes we had heard a Black Francolin call and managed to track it down, eventually getting excellent views as it stood rasping out its call firstly on a grassy mound and then on the top of a post! Nightingales were singing everywhere. In the distance we could see a pair of White-tailed Eagles sitting on a nest. The bird species were adding up, EASTERN ORPHEAN WARBLER, Menetries’s Warbler, Syrian Woodpecker, Kingfisher, Golden Oriole, Long-legged Buzzard etc. At about 10am we had exhausted the species in this area so we drove across the reservoir wall, turned right onto another dusty track and headed out into the arid plains. As we drove along we were constantly putting up Isabelline Wheaters, several species of lark and wagtails etc. At a stop near a ravine we identified Black-eared and Pied Wheatears and a nest of a Western Rock Nuthatch built into the side of the rock. We drove back for lunch then returned there when it was cooler in the afternoon.
There was some confusion with the identification of a FINSCH’S WHEATEAR but once Nika had decided that it was not a hybrid we were all happy, Simon included. We also identified CALANDRA LARK, Greater and Lesser Short-toed Lark and Horned Lark and saw several queer looking Agami Lizards. We drove on across the plains spotting Red Fox several times in the distance, then up a rise to a hot springs to see the bubbling mud, actually rather underwhelming when one has seen the hot springs in New Zealand. We continued driving through sheep country passing flocks of filthy looking sheep accompanied by peasant herders with their huge-headed sheep dogs that protected the sheep from the wolves. A few distant buildings for the sheep to sleep in at night were in a poor state, patched together with anything available, which was not very much. We drove gradually higher and finally arrived at the edge of a vast area of ravines. It was a beautiful afternoon, the sun shining down on us and we felt we were on top of the world. A myriad of wildflowers waved in unison with the grass. Nika started identifying the raptors, Short-toed Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Griffon Vulture and then several of our group walked a short distance further along the cliff to see a family of Black (Cinereous) Vultures on a nest with a chick. Once there we put up a pair of Chukar Partridge. It was a long drive back to the cottages for supper, but I had reached that state of overwhelming relaxation that birding holidays give you and so enjoyed the timelessness of the journey.
Overnight: Chachuna Nature Reserve Cottages.
DAY 6 - THURSDAY 9TH MAY - CHACHUNA to VARDZIA - 180kms
Today was a long day of travelling. We headed out of the Chachuna Nature Reserve passing lots of species already identified, but finally seeing several Rock Sparrows. We stopped at a monastery perched on a cliff and scoped an Eagle Owl nest, then took a short detour to a small lake where we had a lone Black-winged Stilt. We drove on past the village with the shop, taking a short detour to see a Black Stork on a nest. Several hours later we finally stopping at a roadside restaurant near the town of Borjomi and had lunch in a treehouse set up for tourists in a roadside park and had a delicious lunch. It was a long day but we eventually arrived at the tourist village of Vardzia, where the spectacular 12th century Christian monastery is set into the the cliffs along the river, a vast complex of small caves dug out of the rock by hand. We passed by, heading to our tourist hotel called Valodia’s Cottages a few miles further on. The hotel, surrounded by a field of vegetables and a large poly tunnel was situated on the banks of the fast flowing river which was carrying massive amounts of melt water down from the mountains. There were several buildings and we scored the newest one at the end, nice sized en-suite rooms, mine with a balcony overlooking the river.
Overnight: A tourist hotel called Valodia’s Cottages in Upper Vardzia.
DAY 7 - FRIDAY 10TH MAY - VARDZIA
First thing this morning we drove further on a short distance to the edge of the river bank, which from such close proximity really was a raging torrent. There were a few islands in the middle of the river and here we found a dozen or so ARMENIAN GULLS. They were very interesting, quite easy to identify with their rounded heads and bright yellow feet, quite different in structure to other large gulls. Then we drove back to a small lake in Vardzia where we had a few new species, including Garganay, Water Rail, Moustached Warbler and Black-crowned Night Heron.
After breakfast we drove to the Vardzia Caves, parked in the tourist car park and headed up the slope. We had several Rock Buntings en route and then Nika pointed out an EASTERN ROCK NUTHATCH nest. The parents were in and out of the nest as we watched - huge bill and heavy eye stripe, brilliant views. Several of us continued up the steep slope the others chose to stay at a rest stop. We passed a Blue Rock Thrush sitting, you guessed it, on a rock. Black Redstarts had nested in one of the first caves, also Crag Martins were flying in and out of several caves higher up. An ancient church inside one of the larger caves was walled in at one end by a man-made structure. Inside it was beautifully painted with various faded ancient murals including Christ on the Cross. We spent an hour or so walking right across the entire complex on paths in front of most of the caves, gazing inside in fascination. We then exited down through an ancient tunnel and out at the bottom and met the others back at the carpark. We set off again & drove along the river to an area of open re-wilded fields to look for Semi-collared Flycatcher, but no luck.
Back to the hotel for lunch, then we set out on a road which wound its way up the side of the mountain for 3000m (a sign indicated this). We were expecting to get to the top of a mountain but when we did reach the ‘summit’ we drove out onto a huge plateau, flat meadows as far as the eye could see - except for an area of pines in the distance. We drove towards this, parked and walked in, but nothing new for the list, we could not even rustle up a Goldcrest. We returned to the car and Nika drove off-road across the grassy plain, wildflowers swaying in the breeze, ending up near the edge of the plateau, turning and driving along the edge, which made some of us a trifle nervous. However it was a beautiful area and we felt very carefree driving across this vast open space, putting larks and wheatears up as we passed by. We managed Skylark and Tawny Pipit for the list before driving back down the steep road and on to Vardzia stopping off at the same small lake where we spotted a LITTLE CRAKE that suddenly appeared in a gap between the stands of reeds. No sign of the Moustached Warbler we had seen earlier that day though.
Overnight: Valodia’s Cottages, Upper Vardzia.
DAY 8 - SATURDAY 11TH MAY - JAVAKHETI PLATEAU and NINE LAKES - not too far from Vardzia.
We set off and drove for about an hour reaching a pretty dire town called Ninotsminda with many derelict houses and then on past the shells of huge gaping buildings and out towards the Turkish/Armenian border to the first lake in an area of mountain grasslands. Here we had Black and White Storks, Red-necked Grebe, White-winged Black Tern, Common Crane (ss. archibaldi), Glossy Ibis and various waders and duck species. We drove to the second lake, then the third adding Purple Heron. The fourth lake held a flock of Great White Pelicans, with several Dalmation Pelicans mixed in. At lake five we added Eurasian Bittern, saw more cranes and pelicans and at least 20 White Storks. Lake six at 1900m by the Turkish border was edged with a huge area of reed beds and produced Great Reed Warblers and umpteen Sedge Warblers, I should think at least 200! We drove on, stopping to watch a very close Lesser Spotted Eagle sitting in a field. At lake seven and eight only about 38 kms from the Armenian border we added several duck species and a Whiskered Tern found by Simon amongst the White-winged Terns there. The last lake held a lone Spoonbill amongst the cranes and storks. It was now late afternoon so we headed back through an unimaginably hideous hamlet, where ancient bent over peasants toiled in the fields planting seeds by hand. Their houses were held together with anything available and many had earthen sod roofs, the whole effect was of dire, grey poverty. Where were all the young Georgian people and children, certainly not toiling in the Georgian countryside that’s for sure.
It was our last night together as a group, so we celebrated with several bottles of delicious Georgian red wine.
Overnight: Valodia’s Cottages, Upper Vardzia
DAY 9 - SUNDAY 12TH MAY - VARDZIA TO TBILISI - via the Southern road running parallel to the Armenian border.
We packed up, had breakfast and then drove out via Ninotsminda and then eastwards, crossing vast plains, driving all day through the open countryside, through several villages, many miles of roadworks and finally over the mountains. We stopped once to try for Kruper’s Nuthatch, but unfortunately it was a Sunday, the locals were having a drag racing festival adjacent to the section of relevant forest so we gave up and continued on to Tbilisi. We had some spare time before we needed to get to the airport, so Nika took us to the same restaurant that we had visited when we left Tbilisi the week before. Our last meal together was an excellent one. We presented Nika with a written note of thanks and a generous tip from all of us. He then dropped us off at the airport with a quick goodbye and drove away.
We checked in, purchased our export strength gin, flew to Istanbul, transferred across to our flight to the UK without any hitches and arrived on time at Heathrow that same evening.
It had been a very successful trip, especially for me, as I had seen 12 new birds, some of which I was not necessarily expecting. We saw a total of 198 species for the trip and apart from a couple of species that we either missed or just weren’t there we saw most of the target species. The ‘dipped list’ is small - Sociable Plover, Bimaculated Lark, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Red-tailed Wheatear, Radde’s Accentor and Crimson-winged Finch, but one never gets everything on a birding trip and we were very happy that we had seen the most important species.
I personally would thoroughly recommend Nika our guide. As I mentioned, a strong silent type of Georgian. He had enormous energy, was tireless, knew all his birds and if he wasn’t exactly sure of a species, would refer to the field guide and his inner knowledge before giving a definitive identification. He knew where to find most species including many nesting sites and most importantly, never gave up. At various stages on the trip he would touch base with the other Ecotours guides to get the latest information. He was quiet and respectful in his management of our group, and although sometimes it was not always clear what his plans were, I found that if I questioned him regularly he always had a plan of action and knew exactly where he was taking us and for which species. All in all, a great success.
Svensson et al. Collins Bird Guide, 2nd Edition Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe (Harper Collins 2009)
Williams, Peter. Report: Georgia 24th April - 4th May 2013 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
OUR GUIDE: Nika Kerdikoshvili
Director: Giorgi Rajebashvili
Tel: +995 599 261156
1. Great crested Grebe – a single only at the Dali Reservoir, Chachuna but common in the lakes near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
2. Red-necked Grebe – up to 30 pairs on the lakes south of Vardzia, many on nests.
3. Little Grebe – singles on the lakes south of Vardzia.
4. Great White Pelican – circa 200 seen on several of the lakes south of Vardzia.
5. Dalmation Pelican – about 20 seen amongst the White Pelicans on two of the lakes south of Vardzia.
6. Great Cormorant – small numbers – lakes south of Vardzia.
7. Grey Heron – a single at the Dali Reservoir at Chachuna, also a few at the lakes south of Vardzia.
8. Purple Heron – a single bird in a flooded area at Kazbegi, also several at the lakes south of Vardzia.
9. Great White Egret - a single at Chachuna and at least five in the lakes south of Vardzia.
10. Little Egret – two at Chachuna, fairly common at the lakes south of Vardzia.
11. Cattle Egret – a single at Chachuna and several in the Vardzia lake area
12. Black-crowned Night Heron – a single at Kazbegi, one on the small lake at Vardzia and about 20 on one day in the lakes south of Vardzia
13. Little Bittern – at least two (and one dead) in a small lake at Vardzia
14. Great Bittern – heard at least two in the lakes south of Vardzia
15. Eurasian Spoonbill – a single in a lake south of Vardzia.
16. Glossy Ibis – a flock of circa 40 overhead and at least ten on a lake south of Vardzia
17. White Stork – common on the lakes south of Vardzia
18. Black Stork – two on a nest en route from Chachuna to Vardzia, also two on a lake south of Vardzia
19. Ruddy Shelduck - several on Chachuna plains on two days, also at least 40 at the lakes south of Vardzia.
20. Mallard - up to 20 at the lakes south of Vardzia.
21. Gadwall - at least eight at the lakes south of Vardzia.
22. Common Teal - up to 10 at the lakes south of Vardzia.
23. Garganey - two at the small pond at Vardzia, also at least 16 at the lakes south of Vardzia
24. Northern Pintail - common in small numbers at several of the lakes south of Vardzia.
25. Northern Shoveler - at least 10 at the lakes south of Vardzia.
26. Tufted Duck - at least 30 seen at the lakes south of Vardzia.
27. Common Pochard - at least 30 seen at the lakes south of Vardzia.
28. White-tailed Eagle - two at the reservoir at Chachuna on a nest.
29. Black Kite - several in Tbilisi, one at Kazbegi and up to 10 at Chachuna.
30. Short-toed (Snake) Eagle - a single bird at Chachuna.
31. LEVANT SPARROWHAWK - up to three at Kazbegi, then two at the pass en route out of Kazbegi.
32. Eurasian Sparrowhawk - several each day on three days in Kazbegi.
33. Steppe Buzzard (ss. vulpinus) - common, at least one seen every day around Kazbegi & at least 18 and then 300 seen migrating through the pass at Kazbegi.
34. Long-legged Buzzard - up to four seen on two days at Chachuna, several seen en route to Vardzia and another seen at Vardzia.
35. European Honey Buzzard - at least 50 seen migrating over the pass at Kazbegi and one the next day there.
36. Booted Eagle - one at Kazbegi, also one en route to Vardzia.
37. Imperial Eagle - up to four seen on two days at Chachuna.
38. Lesser Spotted Eagle - a single seen en route, also one seen sitting on the ground in a field near Vardzia.
39. Steppe Eagle - a single at Kazbegi.
40. Golden Eagle - up to three seen on three days at Kazbegi.
41. Egyptian Vulture - two above the ravines at Chachuna, also several on two days above some ravines near Vardzia.
42. Lammergier - at least three seen on two days in Kazbegi.
43. Eurasian Black (Cinereous) Vulture - at least six, including a pair on a nest with chicks, seen at Chachuna.
44. Eurasian Griffon Vulture - up to 10 on two days at Kazbegi, also several at Chachuna and one near Vardzia.
45. Western Marsh Harrier - two at Chachuna, but over 100 at the area of lakes south of Vardzia, several pairs with nests.
46. Montagu’s Harrier - a single bird seen by one of the group was probably this species, en route to Vardzia.
47. Peregrine Falcon - singles daily at Kazbegi, also singles on two days near Vardzia.
48. Lesser Kestrel - two at Kazbegi and two at Chachuna.
49. Common Kestrel - several on six days in all areas.
50. CAUCASIAN GROUSE - a pair on two days and up to five the next two days at Vardzia, on the snowy mountain nearest our accommodation, could be seen from the veranda of our accommodation.
51. CAUCASIAN SNOWCOCK - five on one day and two on the second day at Kazbegi, seen on a mountain side close to our accommodation.
52. Chukar - four flushed on the plateau at Chachuna.
53. Common Quail - we heard several on a stop just leaving Chachuna, Nika walked into the field but they didn’t flush. Also heard in grass at the lakes south of Vardzia.
54. Black Francolin - at least three in the scrub below the reservoir in Chachuna, very good views for some of us.
55. Common Crane (ss. archibaldi) - at least ten seen around various lakes south of Vardzia.
56. Water Rail - several heard at the small lake at Vardzia.
57. LITTLE CRAKE - a single male seen in the open at the small lake at Vardzia, also heard there the next day.
58. Common Moorhen - up to three seen in the small lake at Vardzia, also seen on several of the lakes near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
59. Common Coot - common on several the lakes south of Vardzia.
60. Black-winged Stilt - a single bird seen at the lake near the entrance to the Chachuna NP.
61. Common Ringed Plover - at least five along the rivers at Kazbegi, also two on a lake near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
62. Grey Plover - a single bird in the grass adjacent to a lake near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
63. Northern Lapwing - just three seen on the shores of a lake near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
64. Little Stint - four seen on a lake shore near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
65. Wood Sandpiper - four seen in a lake near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
66. Green Sandpiper - a single bird in a pool at Chachuna.
67. Common Sandpiper - several seen on three days along the rivers at Kazbegi, a single at Chachuna and up to four in lakes near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
68. Ruff - at least 100 seen around the lakes near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
69. Black-tailed Godwit - at least 30 on the shores of several lakes near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
70. Common Snipe - a snipe flushed from a ditch in Kazbegi was probably this species.
71. Common Black-headed Gull - at least six in a river by our hotel at Vardzia.
72. ARMENIAN GULL - at least 10 roosting on the river by our hotel in Vardzia, several seen flying past us and also at the lakes near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
73. Yellow-legged Gull - one roosting on the river by our hotel and one on a lake near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
74. Common Tern - one en route back from Vardzia to Tbilisi.
75. White-winged (Black) Tern - at least 20 seen flying around above a lake near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
76. Whiskered Tern - one amongst the other terns at a lake near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
77. Rock Dove - seen every day in small numbers.
78. Stock Dove - two in Chachuna.
79. Common Wood Pigeon - singles in Tbilisi plus a flock of at least 18 at Chachuna.
80. Eurasian Turtle Dove - two at a lunch stop en route from Chachuna to Vardzia.
81. Laughing Dove - five in Tbilisi.
82. Eurasian Collared Dove - several at Kazbegi and also at Chachuna.
83. Common Cuckoo - common in small numbers, several seen or heard every day in all areas.
84. Eurasian Eagle Owl - a pair on a nest with two chicks, on a mountain next to a monastery, en route out of Chachuna.
85. Eurasian Scops Owl - heard on two nights at our accommodation at Chachuna.
86. Little Owl - up to three seen each day sitting near small ravines at Chachuna.
87. Eurasian Nightjar - one flushed from a scrubby roadside area en route to Kazbegi from Tbilisi.
88. Common Swift - small numbers seen on six days, more common in the Vardzia area.
89. Alpine Swift - a single at the pass near Kazbegi, also at least 12 seen up over the ridges at Chachuna.
90. European Bee-Eater - common in Chachuna, seen in several breeding colonies with up to 50 in each.
91. European Roller - a single en route to Kazbegi - up to six on three days in Chachuna.
92. Common Kingfisher - a single in Chachuna.
93. Eurasian Hoopoe - singles on six days in all areas, including at least 10 en route to Vardzia from Chachuna.
94. Eurasian Green Woodpecker - heard and several seen in Chachuna.
95. Syrian Woodpecker - two at Chachuna and a probable heard from the hotel balcony in Vardzia.
96. Great Spotted Woodpecker - one at Chachuna, also two at Vardzia.
97. Horned (Shore) Lark - at least 200 in slushy fields in Kazbegi on migration, also at least ten on three other days there.
98. Lesser Short-toed Lark - at least 20 counted in one area at Chachuna, too numerous to count on other days.
99. Greater Short-toed Lark - at least four in one area at Chachuna, not counted on other days there.
100. CALANDRA LARK - at least 50 on one day in Chachuna, also seen on the other two days but too numerous to count - we put them up driving through the grasslands.
101. Wood Lark - two on a hill en route to Vardzia, also several seen there.
102. Eurasian Skylark - at least five seen or heard on two days in Vardzia.
103. Crested Lark - common on the grasslands of Chachuna.
104. Barn Swallow - common everywhere, several nests seen, including a nest with chicks on the veranda of our house in Chachuna.
105. Crag Martin - common, seen on most days, also at Vardzia nesting in the caves there.
106. Northern House Martin - fairly common, breeding in the cliffs at the pass out of Kazbegi, also in Chachuna and Vardzia.
107. Tree Pipit - two in Kazbegi and a single at a roadside stop en route to Vardzia.
108. Meadow Pipit - several on two days in Vardzia.
109. Red-throated Pipit - several migrants birds on three days in Kazbegi, also a single at one of the lakes near Vardzia.
110. Water Pipit - at least 400 migrant birds seen on two days, less seen on the third day at Kazbegi, all brought down by the weather and feeding in slushy fields.
111. Tawny Pipit - several seen up on the plateau above Vardzia.
112. White Wagtail (ss. alba) - fairly common in small numbers everywhere on all days.
113. Grey Wagtail - singles on most days.
114. Yellow Wagtail (ss. feldegg) - several nearly every day in all areas.
115. LESSER GREY SHRIKE - singles at Kazbegi, also singles on two days at Chachuna.
116. Woodchat Shrike - five, 10 and at least eight on three days in Chachuna.
117. Red-backed Shrike - singles and twos on seven days in all areas with at least six on the last day at Vardzia.
118. Dunnock - up to five on three days in Kazbegi, also two at Chachuna.
119. Alpine Accentor - two at the pass, which was a tourist stop out of Kazbegi.
120. Eurasian Reed Warbler - heard on two days at the small lake near Vardzia but never seen.
121. Great Reed Warbler - at least five heard and several seen at a large reed bed at one of the lakes near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
122. Moustached Warbler - two seen in the reeds at the small lake south of Vardzia.
123. Sedge Warbler - at least 100, some seen displaying but mostly heard in the huge reed bed along the edge of the lake near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
124. Cetti’s Warbler - heard at Chachuna, also several seen and heard at the small lake at Vardzia
125. (Greater) Whitethroat - at least three on two days in Kazbegi.
126. Lesser Whitethroat - singles at Chachuna and Vardzia.
127. Garden Warbler - several at Chachuna.
128. Barred Warbler - two at Kazbegi ,they showed well, eventually.
129. Blackcap - at least five at Kazbegi on two days, also several at Chachuna and Vardzia.
130. EASTERN ORPHEAN WARBLER - a single bird at Chachuna in scrub below the reservoir showed well.
131. Menetries’s Warbler - at least four at Chacuna in scrub below the reservoir and another the next day.
132. Willow Warbler - singles and two or three on four days in Kazbegi.
133. Chiffchaff - (ss. tristis) - a single at a roadside stop en route to Kazbegi.
133. Caucasian Mountain Chiffchaff - (Ph. sindianus lorenzi) - several seen at close range every day in a tree outside our accommodation at Kazbegi. Has a brown cap. Song is like a drunken Chiffchaff - ‘chiff chaff, chiffy chaffy chaffyy’
134. Wood Warbler - a singe bird in the same tree as above on one day only, in the garden at Kazbegi.
135. Green Warbler - a single bird seen in a small park in Kazbegi.
136. Spotted Flycatcher - several at Kazbegi and also several at Chachuna.
137. Red-breasted Flycatcher - common in Kazbegi, up to eight seen on three days.
138. SEMI-COLLARED FLYCATCHER - not an easy lifer, in spite of visiting several of Nika’s stakeout areas, we eventually only saw a female and then only for a few seconds - en route to Chachuna .
139. Common Stonechat - up to four on two days at Kazbegi, also several in the Vardzia area.
140. Whinchat - common in all areas as a migrant passing through, seen on six days, with up to ten at Kazbegi and also Vardzia on one day.
141. Blue Rock Thrush - a male at Chachuna and another male at the Vardzia Caves.
142. Rufous-tailed (Common) Rock Thrush - common on migration at Kazbegi with at least 30 on one day, in snow before the weather cleared.
143. Northern Wheatear - seen in fields around Kazbegi in tens with at least 100 on one day, in snow before the weather cleared and they could continue their migration.
144. Isabelline Wheatear - at least 50 on one day on the plains of Chachuna and at least ten the next day there.
145. Black-eared Wheatear - at least four birds on one day at Chachuna, and several pairs at Vardzia.
146. Pied Wheatear - at least one male at Chachuna.
147. FINSCH’S WHEATEAR - two beautiful males at Chachuna.
148. Black Redstart - common in Kazbegi on the snowy days with at least ten on one day. also up to four seen in Vardzia.
149. Common Redstart - up to five on four days in Kazbegi.
150. Guldenstadt’s Redstart - at least ten seen on one day in a quarry area near Kazbegi and several the next day on a hill close to our accommodation there.
151. European Robin - two in the garden at Chachuna, also two at Vardzia.
152. Common Nightingale - heard and several seen each day at Chachuna, also en route at a lunch stop.
153. Eurasian Blackbird - fairly common, seen every day at every site.
154. Ring Ouzel - seen on migration in the snowy weather at Kazbegi, at least 20 on one day, less the next two days when the weather had improved and they had continued their journey.
155. Song Thrush - two at Kazbegi in the garden of our accommodation.
156. Mistle Thrush - singles seen on six days in all areas.
157. Long-tailed Tit - pairs seen on six days, in Tbilisi, Kazbegi and Chachuna.
158. Eurasian Penduline Tit - two and a nest at Chachuna.
159. Coal Tit - singles at Chachuna and in a pine forest up on the Javakheti Plateau near Vardzia.
160. Great Tit - small numbers seen every day, eight in Kazbegi on one day.
161. Blue Tit - mostly singles and pairs seen every day.
162. Eurasian Nuthatch - a pair at a lunch stop out of Chachuna, also heard on another day en route.
163. EASTERN ROCK NUTHATCH - a pair seen on a nest at the Vardzia Caves.
164. Western Rock Nuthatch - two pairs on nests in gorges at Chachuna.
165. Wallcreeper - a pair seen on a cliff out of Kazbegi.
166. Eurasian Treecreeper - a single in the local park in Kazbegi.
167. Winter Wren - singles heard and seen daily at Kazbegi.
168. White-throated Dipper - one in the Botanic Gardens in Tbilisi, also several on rivers in Kazbegi on four days and two in Vardzia.
169. Corn Bunting - common on the plains of the Javakheti Plateau out of Vardzia, also up to ten around the lakes near Turkish border.
170. Rock Bunting - singles on the pass to Kazbegi on two days, also at least five on two days at the Vardzia Caves.
171. Black-headed Bunting - up to ten on three days in Chachuna.
172. Ortolan Bunting - a single in Vardzia, also singles on two days at Chachuna and two on the Javakheti Plateau out of Vardzia.
173. Brambling - a single in the garden of our accommodation at Kazbegi.
174. Chaffinch - singles and pairs on six days in Kazbegi and Vardzia.
175. European Goldfinch - single, pairs and up to five seen on seven days in all areas.
176. European Greenfinch - several seen or heard on four days.
177. Twite - flocks of at least 20 seen in Kazbegi on two days, also four in Chachuna.
178. Eurasian Linnet - singles and one flock of at least eight seen on five days in all areas.
179. Eurasian Bullfinch - pairs and up to four seen every day at Kazbegi.
180. Red (Fire) fronted Serin - seen in twos and threes in our garden at the Research Centre and nearby in Kazbegi on three days.
181. Mealy Redpoll (ss. flammea) - 12 seen in a village out from Kazbegi (a lifer for Nika).
182. Common Rosefinch - singles and pairs seen in Kazbegi, Chachuna and one heard in Vardzia.
183. GREAT ROSEFINCH - up to seven seen on three days in Kazbegi.
184. Spanish Sparrow - a colony of 30+ birds seen on route in and out of Chachuna NP.
185. Tree Sparrow - common around our accommodation in Chachuna, also seen in Vardzia on three days.
186. House Sparrow - seen in Tbilisi, also in a town en route to Chachuna.
187. Rock Sparrow - one en route out of Chachuna NP, also several at the Vardzia caves.
188. Common Starling - common in flocks at Chachuna and Vardzia.
189. Rose-coloured Starling - seen in flocks of at least 40 on three days in Chachuna, also one adult near a lake near the Turkish border south of Vardzia.
190. Eurasian Golden Oriole - Heard in Chachuna on two days but never seen.
191. Eurasian Jay - up to four seen on seven days in all areas.
192. Black-billed Magpie - fairly common, seen in twos and threes in all areas and at least ten on one day in Chachuna.
193. Red-billed Chough - at least 10 in a flock and two at the pass around Kazbegi.
194. Yellow-billed Chough - at least 20 at the pass near Kazbegi and two the next day.
195. Common Raven - common in Kazbegi, with up to at least twenty on two days, also seen in small numbers in Chachuna and Vardzia.
196. Rook - up to eight in Kazbegi on two days.
197. Hooded Crow - seen every day in all areas in small numbers.
198. Eurasian Jackdaw - small numbers in Kazbegi and in Vardzia.
CHECKLIST OF THE MAMMALS ETC SEEN IN GEORGIA - 3rd - 12th MAY 2019
Tahr - a pair of these wild goats seen on two days when we were scoping the Caucasian Snowcock at the top of the road close to our accommodation at Kazbegi. They were keeping out of the cold by standing in a small cave/hollow in the rocks.
Red Fox - one seen on the mountain when scoping the Caucasian Grouse, then the next day possibly the same fox being chased by a dog for over half an hour (it got away finally). Several also seen on the Chachuna plains and one on the plains of the Javekheti Plateau near Vardzia.
Wolf Tracks - of four animals seen near Juta village in the Kazbegi area, also more tracks up on the Javakheti Plateau near Vardzia. The huge headed dogs protecting the sheep had the top half of their ears chopped off so that the wolves cannot get hold - so wolves must be pretty common.
Caucasian Agami Lizard - several seen mainly at Chachuna, also several seen at the Vardzia Caves.