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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Georgia: The High Caucasus

April 2024
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Great Rosefinches Photo: Paul French

Georgia straddles the borders of Europe and Asia and yet has its own unique character, culture, and ancient history. A land of contrasts, it varies from the cold high mountains of the Greater Caucasus to dry, hot, rocky steppes, where the flora and fauna are more like those of Anatolia and the Middle East.  

There will be much to occupy us on this short tour, but our main purpose will be to see the special birds of the High Caucasus, including Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Black Grouse, Güldenstadt’s Redstart, and Great Rosefinch. By visiting in early spring, we should find all these species at much lower altitudes than later in the year, when long treks are sometimes required to see them. While searching for these birds, we’ll also experience some of the best mountain birding in the Western Palearctic, as we’ll regularly encounter other high-altitude European mountain birds from Lammergeier to Wallcreeper.  

The mountain passes are natural gateways for migrants, and with luck we’ll witness a spectacular passage of raptors as they fly north over the Caucasus Mountains and into Russia. Similarly, passerines funnel through the valleys, so there are always interesting migrants to see and the very real chance of finding something rare and unexpected.  

From the mountains we’ll turn south to an area of arid grassland steppe and striking rocky landscapes to look for a completely different set of birds more reminiscent of the Mediterranean. 

Day 1: The tour begins this morning at Tbilisi airport. After gathering, we’ll drive to the magnificent mountains of the Greater Caucasus, and the town of Stepantsminda, nestled in the Tergi Valley below the impressive peak of Kazbegi mountain. Along the way we’ll stop for anything of interest, especially as we begin to climb up through the foothills, where we might encounter Green Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and perhaps Semi-collared Flycatcher in the oak and beech forest. 

As we drive the spectacular and winding road that leads to the higher passes, we may see our first mountain birds, including tame flocks of Twite, the penicillata race of Shore Lark, Alpine Accentor and White-winged Snowfinch feeding alongside the road. We should also start to see our first raptors, such as Griffon Vulture and the mighty Lammergeier, although the most numerous are likely to be flocks of migrating Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites.

Reaching the town, we’ll check into our new and comfortable hotel. As soon as we arrive, we’ll be able to judge where the snow line is and its effect on birding. If, as is usual, the snow is still well down the mountain slopes, we’ll spend the first afternoon searching bushes close to the village for two superb passerines, Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Great Rosefinch in their only location within the Western Palearctic. Night in Stepantsminda. 

Days 2–3: We have two full days to explore the valley and mountain slopes around Stepantsminda. The very shy Caucasian Black Grouse and Caucasian Snowcock inhabit these slopes; Caucasian Snowcock is usually heard before it is seen, its Curlew-like call echoing around the mountains, a truly evocative sound. With this eerie call to guide us, we should find these large birds relatively easily on the slopes. Careful scanning with telescopes of the high alpine meadows should reveal the dark shapes of Caucasian Black Grouse, some perhaps performing their leaping lekking display. Although this is traditionally a very difficult species to get close to, if the snow line is low and if we use telescopes, we could get good views. We’ll search as well for the enchanting Wallcreeper, which lives on sheer rock faces but can usually be found much lower down. Red-billed and Alpine Choughs will be wheeling overhead, and Ring Ouzel, Water Pipit, Black Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Twite, and flocks of Red-fronted Serin will be feeding on the grassy slopes or among the boulders.    

In addition to these breeding birds, the Tergi Valley is a natural flyway for migrants. The bushes should hold Caucasian Chiffchaffs, their brown caps and white throats setting them apart from the migrant Common Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. Red-throated Pipits will also be passing through, some in smart spring plumage, as are the migrant Bluethroats and Barred Warblers. At this time of year many species are possible, adding an exciting edge to our birding—we could bump into a Wryneck busy feeding on ants or a group of Yellow Wagtails of various races. Small stands of trees could hold anything from Scops Owl to Collared and Semi-Collared Flycatchers. There will also be some mammals to search for, including East Caucasian Taur (an endemic wild goat) and Chamois, and a sighting of Brown Bear or Wolf is also possible.  

We are likely to have one more treat in store. Sandwiched between the Black and Caspian Seas, Georgia is overflown by vast numbers of raptors heading north each spring. There are certain to be some raptors moving at any time, but with the right weather the numbers could increase to hundreds of birds each day. Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites will be the most common, but Montagu’s, Pallid, and Marsh Harriers and the occasional Steppe, Lesser Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagle are all possible. Nights in Stepantsminda. 

Day 4: After a final morning around Stepantsminda, we’ll drive back to Tbilisi, stopping along the way to look for Dippers and Kingfishers at a roadside location and to search the woodlands for Black Woodpecker and the distinctive samamisicus race of Common Redstart. We can also devote time to looking for Semi-collared Flycatcher if this has eluded us thus far. A large reservoir on the edge of Tbilisi should be hold some Armenian Gulls among other possibilities such as White-winged Tern and Black-necked Grebe. Tonight we’ll experience Tbilisi fine dining at a local restauarant, perhaps while watching some traditional dancing and certainly while enjoying some local wine. Night in Tbilisi. 

Days 5–6: Leaving Tbilisi once more, we’ll drive southeast to Chachuna. This dry, almost Mediterranean landscape will be in sharp contrast to the mountains we have previously visited. Chachuna is part of the Iori Upland, a region of low hills cut with many gorges and shallow valleys that dissolve into open plains. This is good country for raptors: Eastern Imperial, Steppe, Lesser Spotted and Booted Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard, Egyptian, Black, and Eurasian Griffon Vultures, Short-toed Eagle, and Saker Falcon are all possible. Chukars scurry over the hills in small coveys, while Black Francolins are more skulking. Hoopoes live here, and we may see European Bee-eaters or gaudy Rollers freshly arrived from Africa, and Crag Martins zipping around the rock faces. 

The wide-open spaces of the grassy steppes are a great place for wildlife, and we’ll be greeted by lots of birds, including Isabelline Wheatear and Crested, Short-toed, and Calandra Larks, and possibly Lesser Short-toed Lark as well. Nearby rocky escarpments are home to Western Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush, Pied and Black-eared Wheatears, Black-headed and Ortolan Buntings, and Spanish and Rock Sparrows. One bird that should be easy to find is Ménétries’s Warbler, as it is a common breeding bird in this area and there should be plenty of singing males on territory at the time of our visit. Eastern Orphean Warbler also breeds here, as do large numbers of Rose-colored Starling, although our visit will be right at the beginning of their arrival. Nights in Chachuna. 

Day 7: Today we’ll return to Tbilisi, stopping at any sights that look promising and will pay particular attention to the open steppe to search for a late wintering Little Bustard or a passage Demoiselle Crane. More expected should be Little Owl, and if we still need it, we can visit a site that has proven excellent for Green Warbler and several other woodland species including Golden Oriole, Hawfinch and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. In the later afternoon we reach the airport where the tour ends. 

Updated: 16 December 2019


  • (2024 Tour Price Not Yet Available)


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Questions? Tour Manager: Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 10 with two leaders. Both leaders will accompany the group irrespective of group size.

We can assist with booking extra nights at our Tbilisi hotel and airport transfers upon request.

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