GEORGIA - SPRING BIRDING IN THE CAUCASUS MOUNTAINS
Tuesday 7th - Thursday 16th May 2019
Tuesday 7th May 2019
Our group met bright and early at Gatwick ready for a long day of travelling which began with a very efficient check in and baggage drop. Unfortunately our flight was delayed for around one hour which was not great considering our onward flight connection.
We eventually got underway with a good flight to Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul, Turkey and once off the plane, we were whisked away by airport staff to our next flight which was ready to board.
Just under two hours later, we touched down in Tbilisi and our baggage was amongst the first out.
We met up with guide and good friend Dobry plus drivers Georgi and Koba, who loaded up our gear and made a start on the long drive to the Caucasus Mountains for the first part of our tour.
Although dark it soon became apparent as we climbed the Jarvari pass that there was plenty of snow around and under three hours later we arrived at the hotel, checked in and headed straight to bed for some well deserved rest!
Wednesday 8th May 2019
We awoke to find lovely blue skies and the most magnificent views overlooking the mountains and we met at 9.00am for breakfast. Some of the group were keen to get out before breakfast and two male CAUCASIAN BLACK GROUSE displayed on the hillside. Around our lovely hotel we found both COMMON & BLACK REDSTARTS, WHITE WAGTAIL, NORTHERN WHEATEARS, STEPPE BUZZARD, COMMON SWIFT, BARN SWALLOW and COMMON HOUSE MARTIN.
Breakfast was fabulous and very welcome with so much choice that we didn’t go hungry!
Afterwards we headed to the town of Stepantsminda where we took a bumpy track above the village. WATER PIPITS of the race coutelli were very numerous and a COMMON CUCKOO showed briefly before disappearing from view. Also elusive were a pair of RED-FRONTED SERINS that flitted about on the meadow before they also disappeared from view.
Moving position higher up the slope we could hear the ‘Curlew-like’ calls of CAUCASIAN SNOWCOCK but despite a very good search, we couldn’t see them!
A good find was a small herd of EAST CAUCASIAN TUR that fed distantly on the hillside before we got distracted by a male RING OUZEL that perched up on a rock.
A pair of GOLDEN EAGLES displayed over the snowy crags and were joined briefly by a LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD which was good to see.
The morning just slipped away so we headed to our next site on the other side of the river.
We were dropped off and it was lovely to explore the vegetated slopes where we eventually caught up with several singing male MOUNTAIN CHIFFCHAFFS as they flitted around in the birches and juniper.
A GRIFFON VULTURE drifted overhead and over the ridge were EURASIAN CRAG MARTINS, ALPINE SWIFT and a STEPPE BUZZARD getting constantly harassed by the local NORTHERN RAVENS.
Close to the bottom a stunning male RED-BACKED SHRIKE was found, followed by another male and a female with a singing LESSER WHITETHROAT and WHINCHAT nearby. WATER PIPITS were ever present in a varying degree of plumage from winter right through to summer.
Once at the carpark we headed off for some sustenance (although we probably didn’t need any!) at a nearby restaurant where it was good to have a rest.
After a good lunch another site was visited which had a proven track record for migrants in the past and with the forecast rain not expected until late afternoon, it was worth a shot.
A stunning male COMMON ROCK THRUSH perched up nicely whilst a GREY WAGTAIL foraged with the resident WHITE WAGTAILS.
There was plenty to keep us amused for several hours with ROCK BUNTING, BLACK REDSTARTS of the race ochrurus, more COMMON ROCK THRUSHES, RED-BACKED SHRIKE, EUROPEAN STONECHAT and a stunning EUROPEAN ROLLER that perched beautifully on power lines much to the delight of the group.
With dark clouds rolling in it was time to head back to the buses and we made it just in time before the first spots of rain fell.
After a busy day we headed to base for a hot shower and some rest before meeting for our evening meal.
Thursday 9th May 2019
Overnight we were treated to a lightning and thunder show with pretty torrential rain most of the early hours. This somewhat scuppered our plans of a 6.00am start to look for Caucasian Snowcock!
We played it by ear and eventually it stopped, so we were off and over to Stepantsminda where we headed up the steep slopes in the vans.
It was pretty chilly when we got out and soon we could hear at least three CAUCASIAN SNOWCOCK but seeing them was a different matter. Despite a thorough search, we failed to connect and the now falling rain didn’t help.
There was some compensation with at least 4 CAUCASIAN BLACK GROUSE that were lekking on a nearby hillside which was lovely to see.
With rain falling we headed back to the hotel for breakfast, which was delicious and really set us up for the day. Afterwards we arranged to meet by the vans a little later.
This plan went awry when a male PIED WHEATEAR was seen at the back of the hotel, giving lovely views as it flitted about on the rocks. A couple of SPOTTED FLYCATCHERS were seen plus COMMON CHIFFCHAFFS in the scrub.
Eventually we headed off and only got a few yards when in a roadside tree sat a stunning ROSE-COLOURED STARLING. It just perched and was undoubtedly a migrant grounded by the heavy rain.
Across the road were up to six RED-BACKED SHRIKES plus two very skulky BARRED WARBLERS and a couple of COMMON WHITETHROATS. A COMMON NIGHTINGALE perched in full view in a birch tree before flying over the road and into scrub where it was again elusive but most got a glimpse or two. A small party of EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARDS were also moving through the area after roosting overnight.
With the weather brightening we decided to head up to Gergeti Trinity Church and take a hike up onto the high ground. After getting supplies from town, we drove up the hill only to get distracted by a superb adult LAMMERGEIER that drifted back and forth along the cliff face before moving off.
Luckily the bird came back as we took a track up the slopes and good views were enjoyed again.
The track was pretty steep and along the gully were a LESSER GREY SHRIKE plus male WHINCHAT perched on scrub, whilst a male RING OUZEL sang constantly from the opposite hillside.
With the going getting tough, some of the group decided not to walk further, whilst the rest puffed and panted their way to the ridge above, where fantastic views of the area were enjoyed whilst having a well deserved rest.
Unfortunately it was quiet bird-wise although a flock of around 100 EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS flew over, plus more EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARDS and three CAMBERWELL BEAUTY BUTTERFLIES.
Dobry explored further up the slopes but again with no luck so we began the walk down which was a little tough on the knees and feet!
Once down it was good to have a rest before checking out a couple of local rivers which produced singing MOUNTAIN CHIFFCHAFFS, BLACK REDSTARTS, GREY WAGTAILS, STEPPE BUZZARD, COMMON SANDPIPER and an immature EGYPTIAN VULTURE amongst a flock of GRIFFON VULTURES.
Exhausted, we headed back to our hotel for a well deserved shower and cold beer before our evening meal.
Friday 10th May 2019
Once again our early morning plans were disrupted by heavy rain so we headed back to our rooms and met for breakfast at 08.00am.
By the time we were ready to leave the rain had virtually stopped so we ventured up the valley towards the village of Juta. Along the way were several RED-BACKED & a single LESSER GREY SHRIKE on roadside bushes and flying over the rocky crags was a cracking adult GOLDEN EAGLE.
WHITE-THROATED DIPPERS zipped about the fast flowing streams and in the small hamlet nearby were two EURASIAN HOOPOES, COMMON SANDPIPER and several GREY WAGTAILS.
The road up to the village was clear of snow so the minibus headed to the top, whilst some of the group decided to walk up.
Several singing TREE PIPITS were seen on the way up plus a kettle of STEPPE BUZZARDS and a single EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK.
Once at the top we explored the area and were treated to excellent views of two adult LAMMERGEIER that circled the hillside right in front of us. A tatty-looking GOLDEN EAGLE flew over and in the valley were at least two COMMON CUCKOO Including a rufous phase bird.
WATER PIPITS sang from hillsides and a few MISTLE THRUSH were at the top of the snowy ridge, whilst across the valley we found three BLACK KITES plus a brief PEREGRINE FALCON.
With time getting on we moved down to the bottom of the valley and headed back to the hotel for a comfort stop, before driving to Stepantsminda. Here we tried our luck at the hydro-electric plant, though the melt water coming off the hillside was too fast and deep to cross safely, so we aborted mission and moved off to the Amali Valley where we could have lunch.
Lunch was rather nice but a little blowy at times with a cold wind buffeting through the valley. Once replenished and rested, we took a stroll up the rocky slopes noting a lovely PIED WHEATEAR plus a cracking male COMMON ROCK THRUSH.
Several RED-BACKED SHRIKES were perched atop junipers and overhead, a few EUROPEAN GRIFFON VULTURES drifted over.
We spent time scanning the hillsides which paid dividends with two EURASIAN JAYS of the local race seen feeding on the hillside plus several RED-FRONTED SERINS, RING OUZELS and a lovely pair of ORTOLAN BUNTINGS feeding quietly on the grassy slopes.
Unfortunately there was no sign of our main targets so with a little time left at the end of the day, we tried one more site.
On arrival there were five birders, one of them having just seen a Güldenstädt’s Redstart on the rocky slopes, but try as we might we couldn’t see it! Several BLACK REDSTARTS and a male COMMON REDSTART were seen plus some lovely RING OUZELS and then in a bit of twisted fate, low cloud rolled in and we couldn’t see the slope!
Admitting defeat we returned to the hotel for a quick change in time for our evening meal which was very welcome after a hard day in the field.
Saturday 11th May 2019
Most of the group met at 6.00am for one last try for the snowcock and redstart and on arrival, we found several singing male COMMON ROSEFINCHES on the wooded slopes plus the usual RING OUZELS and MOUNTAIN CHIFFCHAFFS.
Four male CAUCASIAN BLACK GROUSE displayed on the hillsides and gave reasonable scope views as they strutted around the hillside.
Our main focus was on the snowcock and with several birds calling, we knew we had a chance, but where were they? After what seemed like an age, the shout went up when one of the group located a couple of birds high on the ridge, but only a few got on them before they flew off!
Luckily another bird was found and although distant in the binoculars, it was pretty good in the scope especially when zoomed to 75x.
Whilst watching this bird another two birds flew past and disappeared in the gullies of the mighty peaks. Delighted to have connected with this sought after species, we concentrated on looking for Guldenstadts Redstart but to no avail.
We did however find a male RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER that flitted around a small birch and showed for most of the group.
We stood enjoying the birds and scenery when a Dunnock-like song emanated from the scrub and one of the group got a glimpse of a green-looking phylloscopus warbler. It moved to another area of bushes and the song also moved. Checking the Collins Bird App and on further research it proved to be a singing GREEN WARBLER!
Time ran out and we drove back to the hotel where we all tucked into a hearty breakfast.
Afterwards we loaded up the vans to drive to the river valley nearby, where we took a long walk along the river and saw a fine LAMMERGEIER plus BARRED WARBLER, COMMON ROSEFINCHES, EURASIAN BLACKCAP, MOUNTAIN CHIFFCHAFF and COMMON ROCK THRUSH.
Three BLACK KITES circled the ridge and amongst a flock of YELLOW-BILLED CHOUGH several of the group spotted a small party of EURASIAN SPARROWHAWKS.
Once again there was no sign of any redstarts so we admitted defeat and drove to Stepantsminda for a well-deserved drink in a cafe.
Afterwards we tried one more site but again there was no sign so we moved on to a restaurant where we had a meal of epic proportions!
The afternoon was spent visiting a couple more sites where highlights included a lovely flock of TWITE of the local race brevirostris plus EUROPEAN ROLLER and lots of GREEN TOADS.
Heading towards Tbilisi we drove through the magnificent Jvari Pass which reached 7815 feet and alongside the road, were a small group of HORNED LARK that showed briefly before flying off.
One last stop was made at the Georgian-Russian Friendship Monument which gave stunning panoramic views of the area and was pretty good for birds too.
Highlights included a stunning LAMMERGEIER drifting past at eye level plus feeding ALPINE SWIFTS, RED-BILLED CHOUGH and at least three ALPINE ACCENTORS that fed on the grassy slopes.
We made a stop for snacks and facilities and continued on, reaching Tbilisi around 10.00pm where we said goodbye to driver Koba who unfortunately had family issues. His brother Bagori would join us the following day. After checking in to our hotel, some enjoyed a beverage after the long day.
Sunday 12th May 2019
After breakfast we once again loaded up and headed towards the Azerbaijan border. Making a stop to pick up lunch supplies and for a comfort break, we found the first LAUGHING DOVES of the tour plus a steady procession of EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARDS and single GRIFFON VULTURE. Several members of the group were lucky to see a LEVANT SPARROWHAWK circle overhead.
Our first main birding site was the superb Jandara Lake which was like a millpond. On our approach we saw EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS, CORN BUNTINGS, HOODED CROW plus CRESTED LARK and EURASIAN MAGPIE.
Once at the lake we took a stroll along the track which was simply alive with birds! From dazzling flocks of ROSE-COLOURED STARLINGS to EUROPEAN ROLLER, LESSER GREY SHRIKES, EASTERN BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR, BLACK-HEADED BUNTING, COMMON CUCKOO, EURASIAN HOOPOE, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW and ISABELLINE WHEATEARS.
The reed-fringed lake held PURPLE HERON, GLOSSY IBIS, GREAT EGRET, WHISKERED & BLACK TERNS, ARMENIAN GULLS, COMMON TERN, GREAT CRESTED GREBE and a lone DALMATIAN PELICAN.
Apart from birds the open grasslands were alive with insects including CLOUDED YELLOW, SMALL HEATH, LITTLE TIGER BLUE and thousands of PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLIES.
There were a lucky few who managed to see EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLE plus SYRIAN WOODPECKER in an area of poplars close to the track.
It was then back to the van where we tucked in to a delightful picnic lunch under the shade of a large tree, whilst the air was alive with the chattering of ROSE-COLOURED STARLINGS.
We then headed off and didn’t get far when a stonking EGYPTIAN VULTURE was spotted beside the road along with an entourage of HOODED CROWS.
Around 50 minutes later we were awoken from a post-lunch nap by a mixed flock of both COLLARED & BLACK-WINGED PRATINCOLES hawking over the fields with a good number of COMMON SWIFTS.
With the sun beating down we made a comfort stop and most of us couldn’t resist an ice cream!
The drive took us through the rolling wine region where scenery was magnificent and the mighty Caucasus were a constant reminder in the distance.
We stopped off to collect permits for the National Park and the next stop was a very important one, as we stocked up on alcohol and the shop keeper could probably retire on the amount spent!
Whilst birding outside the shop we saw a EURASIAN HOBBY and several PALLID SWIFTS overhead while BARRED WARBLER rattled from the bushes and a COMMON NIGHTINGALE remained unseen.
Entering the rolling plains there seemed to be either a CORN BUNTING or BLACK-HEADED BUNTING singing from every bush and EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS & CALANDRA LARKS were all around.
A lone RUDDY SHELDUCK was seen in a nearby field and a pair of WOODCHAT SHRIKES disturbed a female SYRIAN WOODPECKER which showed well in a Caucasian Wingnut bush.
After what seemed an age we arrived at our hotel and after checking in, had time for a brief shower before meeting for our evening meal which was delicious.
After the bird list we were treated to a lightning show whilst a EURASIAN SCOP’S OWL serenaded us.
Monday 13th May 2019
After a good nights sleep we met for a pre-breakfast walk with tales of calling EUROPEAN NIGHTJAR and EURASIAN SCOP’S OWL during the night.
We didn’t go too far but the main highlight was a pair of nesting EASTERN IMPERIAL EAGLES on a pylon which gave lovely scope views. Other species of note were SAND MARTIN, RED-RUMPED SWALLOW, CRESTED LARK, EASTERN BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR, BLACK-HEADED BUNTING, SPOTTED FLYCATCHER, WOODCHAT SHRIKE and EURASIAN TREE SPARROW whilst EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLES sang.
On the track was a dead LEVANT BLUNT-NOSED VIPER which we took photographs of at close range, but we didn’t see another a few feet behind which was alive and looked like a cow pat!! Luckily the weather was cold so it was quite torpid but it was still a close shave!
After yet another hearty breakfast which was interrupted by three CINEREOUS VULTURES gliding over, we wandered toward the reservoir but didn’t get far when a female MONTAGU’S HARRIER drifted over and there were thousands of PAINTED LADY butterflies on the bushes.
COMMON NIGHTINGALES sang from the trees and a male BLACK FRANCOLIN could be heard singing.
A cracking adult WHITE-TAILED EAGLE flew over carrying a large fish and was harried by CASPIAN GULLS and HOODED CROWS. It was great to witness this majestic bird sitting on the hill whilst the HOODED CROWS pulled its tail.
On a small reed-fringed pool a PYGMY CORMORANT was seen and gave lovely flight views as it headed off. EURASIAN REED WARBLER and PENDULINE TIT were heard from the Riparian Forest.
We reached the sluice and after much scanning the male BLACK FRANCOLIN was expertly picked out singing from the top of a mound and overhead, four EURASIAN HOBBIES chased each other around.
LESSER GREY SHRIKES, EUROPEAN ROLLERS and BLACK-HEADED BUNTINGS were numerous and as we headed down the slope, a couple of EUROPEAN JAYS flew past.
Close to the sluice, a COMMON KINGFISHER zipped by and we managed to locate it in the scopes.
A EUROPEAN GREEN WOODPECKER called and was seen briefly and as we headed up the slope, an unidentified song could be heard. With a bit of detective work, it was thought to be a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin!
We climbed the slope and managed a few glimpses of OLIVACEOUS WARBLER with a EURASIAN WRYNECK calling nearby.
After a bit of a climb up the slope, we were delighted to have excellent views of the RUFOUS-TAILED SCRUB ROBIN as it perched up singing, then it flew down the gulley and fed on the floor with its tail cocked, high much to the amazement of those watching.
Up at the dam whilst we waited for the vans to pick us up, we watched a small colony of LESSER KESTRELS hawking overhead which was a great end to a bird-filled morning.
Georgi and Dobry brought over the lunches and we tucked into a lovely spread which everyone enjoyed.
After a brief facility stop back at the hotel, we carried onward over the ridge towards the southern side of the reservoir where ISABELLINE WHEATEARS were absolutely everywhere, including recently fledged juveniles and an adult LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD, seen briefly before drifting down the ridge.
The track was impassable for one of the vehicles so we all decamped into the other and carried on for around a mile before we had to get out and walk. STOCK DOVES were present in small groups and CALANDRA and CRESTED LARKS were reasonably numerous.
We walked through a EUROPEAN BEE-EATER colony where the birds were seen in beautiful light and photographs were taken. The track meandered down toward the reservoir where water levels were high but we still managed to locate both CASPIAN & ARMENIAN GULLS which were conveniently side by side in flight. A singing male MENETRIES’S WARBLER sang from Tamarisks and we had brief but good views as it perched in the open before slipping off.
At least two EURASIAN PENDULINE TITS were heard and seen in the waterside Willows before it was time to wander back to the van. Just before reaching it we had lovely flight views of a flock of around 200 ROSE-COLOURED STARLINGS, plus fabulous views of a pair of RUFOUS-TAILED BUSH ROBINS that chased each other round and round the bushes, perching now and then.
After a good day we were driven back to the hotel and along the way had better views of the LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD plus a couple of LIBYAN JIRDS were seen coming out of burrows in the flower-rich grassland. Back near the dam a CAUCASIAN ROCK AGAMA basked in the afternoon sunshine.
It was good to get back and have a refreshing shower before meeting for a pre-dinner drink in the garden whilst EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS, COMMON HOUSE MARTINS, COMMON SWIFTS and BARN SWALLOWS flew around us.
Our evening meal was a delight with lots of local ingredients washed down with a local wine made by the family, which took a while to acquire the taste!
After completing the bird-list, we headed to our rooms with the sound of singing SCOPS OWLS echoing around the building.
Tuesday 14th May 2019
A pre-breakfast walk was organised for 07.00am, we took the lower track and once again the usual suspects included EURASIAN HOOPOE, EUROPEAN BEE-EATER, EUROPEAN ROLLER, RED-BACKED SHRIKE and CRESTED LARKS.
After the previous day when we struggled initially to see our first RUFOUS-TAILED BUSH ROBIN, this morning we saw at least five birds which all gave good views.
A very showy OLIVACEOUS WARBLER sat atop of a bush giving the photographers amongst us some great images. Before we turned back at least three CHUKAR were seen on the hillside.
It was back for another good and filling breakfast which included an omelette plus local honey and yoghurt.
Whilst waiting for packed lunches to be made, we wandered up the hill where EASTERN IMPERIAL EAGLES were seen both on a telegraph pole and on the nest with at least one chick visible.
A MENETRIES’S WARBLER showed and called incredibly briefly before we walked back to the vans.
We drove east and after a kilometre we stopped to admire two SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLES plus an EGYPTIAN VULTURE overhead, also a pair of both GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK and WOODCHAT SHRIKE.
Further along we stopped to check an area of steppe which was a lark-fest with GREATER SHORT-TOED, CALANDRA and at least one LESSER SHORT-TOED LARK which was good to compare with GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK.
It was back into the van but we had to get back out quickly when an immature GOLDEN EAGLE flew past giving tremendous views as it circled, before being harassed by a NORTHERN RAVEN.
We then drove towards the Chachuna Reserve and along the way saw a female ORTOLAN BUNTING plus a flock of around 70 ROSY STARLINGS feeding around the feet of cattle. A LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD perched on a telegraph pole before flying off.
Taking a circuitous route across country we reached the National Park office and spent time overlooking an area of Riparian woodland. EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLE, EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE and EUROPEAN ROLLER were all seen whilst a male BLACK FRANCOLIN hidden in scrub stubbornly refused to show.
Slightly showier was a male MENETRIES’S WARBLER that gave us the runaround before perching up several times and giving everyone some good sightings.
We then had lunch under the shade of the trees, it was delicious and would keep us satisfied for a few hours.
With sun beating down a walk was taken along the edge of the river, it was alive with the vibrant song of COMMON NIGHTINGALE. Some retreated to find shade whilst others continued onwards.
Eventually they reach a sheltered spot and connected with a pair of EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLE and then a stunning male LEVANT SPARROWHAWK came out of the trees, circling in front and overhead where all the diagnostic features could be observed.
Another pair of EURASIAN GOLDEN ORIOLES flew into the large trees and several lucky members of the group had brief glimpses of a WOOD WARBLER.
It was good to get back to the van for refreshments before visiting our last site of the day, the vast cliffs to the north and it didn’t take long to find our main target, WESTERN ROCK NUTHATCH. Two adults were seen feeding a fully grown juvenile and the nest which was joy to observe.
A couple of EASTERN BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR were seen plus two CAUCASIAN ROCK AGAMA and a pair of LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD.
It was good to return to base for a hot shower and a cold beverage which was enjoyed in the garden.
Our last meal in Chachuna was delicious and went down very well indeed.
Wednesday 15th May 2019
Overnight the SCOPS OWL continued to sing as did a EUROPEAN NIGHTJAR that was heard churring.
Our pre-breakfast stop took us along the northern edge of the reservoir where a RUFOUS-TAILED BUSH ROBIN sang from a bare bush. On the reservoir a pair of TUFTED DUCK were a nice surprise although a little distant.
The sheer numbers of PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLIES were staggering with literally tens of thousands seen on the Tamarisk bushes.
We returned a little earlier for breakfast which was delicious before loading up the vans once again.
After saying goodbye to our hosts we made our way through the National Park noting WOODCHAT & LESSER GREY SHRIKES, GREATER SHORT-TOED LARKS and a superb pale morph BOOTED EAGLE.
Four EUROPEAN GRIFFON & two EGYPTIAN VULTURES circled on the morning thermals and as we entered the agricultural section of the park, we began to see CORN BUNTINGS, CALANDRA LARKS and RED-BACKED SHRIKE. Thistles were festooned with PAINTED LADIES and a PALE CLOUDED YELLOW was seen briefly.
After a brief stop at the National Park information centre and the supermarket for lunch supplies, we headed to Eagle Gorge where we spent around an hour enjoying the scenery and birding.
On arrival several RED-BACKED SHRIKE territories were seen plus singing CIRL BUNTING, COMMON NIGHTINGALE and GREAT TIT were noted. Over the ridge a pair of PEREGRINE FALCON circled and on rocky crags were a pair of BLUE ROCK THRUSH, the male glowing petrol blue in the morning sun.
It wasn’t long before an adult LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE flew into view and drifted right over us, then another soon appeared. A EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARD flew across the gorge and treated us to an amazing wing clapping courtship display and on the ridgeline a male ORTOLAN BUNTING was very obliging as it sang from a rose bush giving us good scope views.
With news from a German group about a Black Stork nest over the ridge, most of us headed uphill whilst a few stayed and birded the lower areas. Luckily four adult BLACK STORKS flew up the gorge for all to see, before circling and drifting off and those at the top also saw two adults and a juvenile in the nest.
The walk back to the vans produced singing WOODLARK plus WOODCHAT SHRIKE and SHORT-TOED SNAKE EAGLE.
Time was getting on so we began our drive to Udabno. We stopped on the way for an alfresco lunch and went on to an area of freshwater amongst the rolling hills. Unfortunately the area was being planted with trees and water levels were low, but despite this we found five summer plumaged LITTLE STINTS plus a pair of RUDDY SHELDUCK.
A stop was made in Udabno to choose food at a restaurant for our evening meal over a cold beer or green tea whilst being serenaded by the local children on guitar and drums.
We then took the 30 minute drive to the fabulous Davit Gareja Monastery and along the way the first bus had brief views of ROCK SPARROW bathing at a small pool. Further on three male ORTOLAN BUNTINGS sang from rocky outcrops or bushes keeping the photographers entertained.
A male BLUE ROCK THRUSH perched up nicely and nearby a single ROCK SPARROW sat on a dead twig, whilst overhead we found CINEREOUS VULTURE, EGYPTIAN VULTURES and COMMON KESTREL.
There was plenty to see outside the monastery including EURASIAN BLACKCAP, COMMON NIGHTINGALE, EASTERN ORPHEAN WARBLER, EUROPEAN BEE-EATER and lots of COMMON STARLINGS, their feathers shining beautifully in the sun.
The drive back down to Udabno yielded four CHUKAR PARTRIDGE, EUROPEAN STONECHAT and a grey wolf-shaped rock!
We arrived at the restaurant and it was great to have a cold beer/wine in the evening sunshine. Our evening meal was a selection of dishes which were very well received and the evening concluded with a little local dancing.
Around 90 minutes later we arrived back in Tbilisi at our hotel for the night and after checking in we headed to bed for a good rest.
Thursday 16th May 2019
Breakfast was at 07.00am and soon after, Georgi and Bagori turned up with the vans and loaded them with our luggage. We then headed to the airport seeing COMMON SWIFTS, EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE and EURASIAN GREENFINCH along the way.
After saying goodbye to our excellent drivers, we checked in for our flight and relaxed a little before our flight to Istanbul. The airport in Istanbul had only been open since April and was impressive indeed.
Our connecting flight took off just a little late and we arrived at London Gatwick spot on time.
We all said our goodbyes after a superb tour which had lots of amazing bird and wildlife highlights spent with a great group of customers.