Day 1: Mon 17 April 2023 – London - Tbilisi
We depart London, flying overnight arriving in Tbilisi early on Tuesday morning.
Day 2: Tue 18 April – Anuanuri Forest and Terek River Valley
Upon arrival, and after time to freshen up, we meet our local guide and drive north towards the Greater Caucasus Mountains. Our first birding will be at nearby Ananuri Forest, (approximately an hour from the airport) where mixed woodland beside the Zhinvali Reservoir will be buzzing with birdsong. The morning chorus from Nightingale, Redstart, Tree Pipit and a range of warblers will be a great start, while Semi-collared and Red-breasted Flycatcher, and newly arrived Green Warbler are key targets here. Continuing as the former military road winds more steeply into the hills to Gudauri, we expect our first upland specialists, including Alpine and Red-billed Chough, Ring Ouzel, Black Redstart and Alpine Accentor before reaching Stepantsminda by the afternoon.
Once settled into our comfortable hotel, we have some time to explore the surroundings of the town and adjacent Terek River Valley. Here, vegetation dominated by dense Sea Buckthorn is the favoured habitat of Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Great Rosefinch. These are two key targets of the mountainous Kazbegi region, easier to encounter at this time of year when they occur at lower altitudes and in small concentrations before relocating to higher ground to breed. Shore Lark, Rock Bunting, Water and Red-throated Pipit, (Caucasian) Twite, Barred Warbler and a few raptors may also be encountered before the day is out and we return to our hotel in Stepantsminda where we stay for three nights.
Days 3 and 4: Wed 19 and Thur 20 April – Kazbegi Region
We enjoy two full days in the mountains, allowing us more opportunities to find and appreciate some key birding targets. On one day we head out pre-breakfast to Kuro Gorge, arriving as the sun rises over the Caucasus range hoping for a memorable encounter with two specialists of the region. Here, endemic Caucasian Snowcock will be at their most vocal in the early morning, which can often prove essential in finding them. Caucasian Black Grouse is the other target, always at their most active early in the morning, when they may be found displaying on the rhododendron covered slopes.
We also visit Trusso, and later the same day Daraiali Monastery on the border with Russia, among some of the most spectacular mountain landscapes in all of Georgia. While bird species in the mountains are more limited than other habitats, many are special, with Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Red-fronted Serin and stunning Wallcreeper offering unforgettable splashes of colour. On the lookout for raptors, Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture, Golden and Eastern Imperial Eagle and ‘Steppe’ Buzzard are all possible and we search for shy Mountain (Caucasian) Chiffchaff too. We visit Gergeti, to explore vibrant meadows for endemic flowers and should also encounter East Caucasian Tur, a mountain dwelling goat native to the region.
Day 5: Fri 21 April - Stepantsminda to Sighnaghi
After some final birding around Stepantsminda, we drive east stopping at Cross Pass, the highest viewpoint at Gudauri. One of the best-known areas for White-winged Snowfinch, which can be hard to find. We may see other species including Shorelark, Alpine Accentor and raptors. Returning to lower altitudes, we have options to revisit Ananuri, or instead the rich woodland at Bodorna for forest dwellers with Black Woodpecker, Red-backed Shrike, Woodlark, Dipper and Ortolan in mind. Our longest driving day, we aim to reach our hotel at Sighnaghi by mid-afternoon to rest before being invited to a traditional Georgian wine tasting to celebrate our mountain achievements. Overnight Sighnaghi for three nights.
Day 6: Sat 22 April - Taribana Plains and Chachuna Reserve
The famed Chachuna Reserve and Mta Dali Dam are our destinations today, where farmland and wide-open plains are home to an astonishing number and variety of species. We seek Rock Sparrow, Isabelline, Black-eared, Finsch's and Pied Wheatear, Black-headed Bunting, Red-backed, Lesser Grey and Woodchat Shrike, Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Lark, Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Roller and Rose-coloured Starling. Hunting raptors will be plentiful and perhaps include Honey Buzzard, Short-toed, Booted, Spotted and Lesser, Steppe, White-tailed and Eastern Imperial Eagle, Pallid and Montagu’s Harrier and Lesser Kestrel. We visit Mta Dali Dam, an artificial reservoir located at the base of the Iori River which acts as a supporting pool for the larger Mingechevir Water Reservoir. In a real birding paradise, and just one step away from Azerbaijan, the habitats here are attractive to semi-desert species including Black Francolin, Menetries's Warbler and more.
Day 7: Sun 23 April - Vashlovani National Park
With one of the richest biodiversities in the whole of Georgia and the Caucasus region, Vashlovani National Park offers a great variety of new habitats and some new birds. We plan to spend a significant part of the day at Pantishara Gorge, where we have good chances of seeing Chukar, Blue Rock Thrush, Western Rock Nuthatch and several species of warbler, including Eastern Olivaceous and Eastern Orphean.
Later, we drive to Eagle Canyon, one of the best and most attractive raptor viewpoints in eastern Georgia. With tremendous views over the Alazani River Valley it is well named, hosting breeding Eastern Imperial, Spotted and Lesser Spotted, Steppe, Booted and Short-toed Eagle, as well as Peregrine, Griffon and Egyptian Vulture. Other expected raptors include Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Steppe, Long-legged and Rough-legged Buzzard, Pallid and Montagu’s Harrier, and Black Stork and many passerines are also present in this area – a great afternoon watching the skies!
Day 8: Mon 24 April - David Gareji Monastery
Today we visit the David Gareji Monastery, an area consisting of Mediterranean-type arid land and multi-coloured clay hills covered with shrub and steppe-like vegetation. David Gareji itself is a Monastery complex built by Christian Monks in the 5th Century, which alongside being one of the most interesting sites in Georgia is also great for wildlife. Native Egyptian, Black and Griffon Vulture and Eastern Imperial Eagle are main attractions, and habitats surrounding the complex hold Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Sparrow, Calandra Lark, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Western Rock Nuthatch, Rock Bunting, Menetries’s and Eastern Orphean Warbler, Common and Siberian Stonechat and Rose-coloured Starling. Much of the day will be spent exploring the site, before we head towards Tbilisi where we stay for the next two nights.
Day 9: Tue 25 April - Krüper's Wood, Krtsanisi Woodland Park and Jandari Lake
Resident Krüper's Nuthatch is very much the morning’s target, and we visit an area of mixed invasive and native pine woodland known to our guides to try and see them. Later, at Krtsanisi Woodland Park we search for woodpeckers, including Great, Middle and Lesser Spotted, Syrian, Green and Black and we may also see Golden Oriole, Hawfinch, Green Warbler and possibly Scops Owl.
Relocating to Jandari Lake, this attractive waterbody southeast of Tbilisi is surrounded by an extensive steppe landscape divided between Georgia and Azerbaijan. This is an important site for both migratory and nesting wetland species. At this time of a year we are likely to see Pygmy Cormorant, Dalmatian Pelican, Black-necked Grebe, Gull-billed, Black, White-winged and Whiskered Tern, raptors, crakes, herons, egrets and gulls, including Armenian and Slender-billed, with an outside chance of Demoiselle Crane or Citrine Wagtail too. An afternoon at Jandari will certainly provide the perfect end to this memorable tour!
Day 10: Wed 26 April – Departure
After breakfast, we travel to the airport for our flight back to the UK where our tour ends.