North of Tbilisi, the High Caucasus mountains straddle the border between Europe and Asia, and these include some of the highest peaks on the Continent – five of which rise above 5,000m (16,000ft). Here, the town of Stepantsminda is scenically situated below glacier-clad Mount Kazbeg and this is an excellent base to explore the region and search for four near-mythical birds that occur at the Easternmost edge of the European Continent. Mere mention of their names is enough to get the birding juices flowing Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Grouse, Great Rosefinch and Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Georgia offer an excellent opportunity to see all four. This exciting early Spring tour is also timed to find them before they follow the retreating snow line higher and deeper into the inaccessible mountains.
From our conveniently located hotel, we start early for two of the key targets as it is at this time of day that Caucasian Grouse perform their lek on grassy slopes, whilst Caucasian Snowcocks give their presence away by their haunting, diver-like calls high above. Patches of buckthorn are places to search for crimson male Great Rosefinches and handsome white-capped Güldenstädt’s Redstarts. With three days to explore this fascinating mountain region, we have a great opportunity to see all four of these localised specialities against the fantastic backdrop of Mount Kazbek.
On rockier pastures, Red-fronted Serins hop about the boulders and Mountain Chiffchaffs sing from budding trees. On basalt cliffs, Wallcreepers flutter like oversized butterflies, flashing crimson, black and white wings, while Lammergeier soar high above accompanied by passing raptors. Ring Ouzels of the distinctive form amicorum and Common Redstarts of the samamisicus race (Ehrenberg’s Redstart) are well worth seeing and the mountain cols also act as pathways for migrants heading through the Caucasus range with possibilities including Red-breasted and Semicollared Flycatchers and Red-throated Pipits.
Reluctantly dragging ourselves away from the mountains, we will head for the warm, rolling steppe and hills of the Iori Uplands that lie to the East of Tbilisi and which attract a very different range of species. Here, rainbow coloured Bee-eaters swoop overhead, Rollers flash ultramarine wings, and Ménétries’s and Barred Warblers sing from the bushes. Black Francolin utter their grating calls and there is a wealth of wheatears, with Isabelline, Pied and Eastern Black-eared all possible. Woodchat Shrikes and Eastern Orphean Warblers should be here too along with Rosy Starlings.
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