Georgia: Private Spring Birding and Cultural Tour Report, March 2023

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31 March – 10 April 2023

Georgia: Spring Private Tour

Bearded Vulture is one of many highly prized species in the Greater Caucasus mountains of Georgia (photo Alexander Rukhaia).

Overview


Our 11-day tour of Georgia began on the 31st of March 2023, in the glamourous city of Batumi, and concluded on the 10th of April 2023 in Tbilisi. Our trip around this beautiful country gave us many exciting species, including Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Grouse, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Red-fronted Serin, Great Rosefinch, Citrine Wagtail, Common Crane (Archibaldii subspecies), Bearded Vulture, Alpine Chough, Turkestan Short-toed Lark, Mountain Chiffchaff, Krüper’s Nuthatch, Western Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush, Siberian Stonechat, Isabelline Wheatear, and White-throated Dipper.  A total of 136 bird species were recorded during the tour (three of these were “heard only”), with complete species lists at the end of this report.

I would like to thank Urban, Nancy, Wendy, and Karen for their company during the tour and of course Alex, our Georgian guide, for his excellent knowledge, logistics and planning, from start to finish. Not only did he make the trip a success, but he also ensured I received the correct medical attention when I fell ill and sadly could not finish the tour — for that I will always be grateful.

Georgia: Spring Private Tour

Güldenstädt’s Redstart is one of the star species of Georgia and we enjoyed great views on this tour (photo Alexander Rukhaia).

Detailed Report

Day 1, 31st March 2023. Arrival in Batumi

The first day of our tour would see us arrive in Batumi at 09:40am. From here we met our driver and transferred to our hotel for a short rest after our early start. With the weather from Istanbul following us here we limited our activities to cultural ones in the city, with visits to the Batumi Archaeological Museum and the city’s cathedral. We finished with a traditional Georgian meal at a vineyard outside the city.

Day 2, 1st April 2023. Birding Batumi and Chorokhi River Delta

Today we would explore some great birding locations around the city of Batumi. After breakfast we visited the famous Shuamta raptor watchpoint. Immediately it was obvious that raptors would be migrating north today as large kettles of Common (Steppe) Buzzard and Black Kite began to form over the coast. With these were also a few Lesser Spotted Eagle which stood out in the flocks, even at distance. One surprise species was a group of four Common Crane moving north at distance. Around the watchpoint a Mountain Chiffchaff was heard singing but sadly did not show.

Georgia: Spring Private Tour

Bluethroat was a great addition to our list in the Chorokhi River Delta on the Black Sea coast of Georgia.

After lunch we headed to the south edge of Batumi to the wonderful Chorokhi River Delta. This myriad of ponds, pools, and reedbeds around the Chorokhi River is an incredible migrant trap and many birds were seen here. Standout species included Isabelline Wheatear, Siberian Stonechat, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Bluethroat, Red-crested Pochard, Black-throated Loon (Diver), Hen Harrier, and an early Willow Warbler. The backdrop of the sky above Batumi filled with birds of prey provided a spectacle that few places on earth can match.

After a long day in the field, we returned to Batumi for dinner.  

Day 3, 2nd April 2023. Kutaisi with birding on route

Today we would head north towards the city of Kutaisi, one of the longest-inhabited cities in Europe. En route we would stop at Maltakva beach for some birding. This was a productive stop which gave us Garganey, Greater Scaup, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Kentish Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Slender-billed Gull, and migrating raptors like Western Marsh Harrier and Eurasian Sparrowhawk coming in from the sea.

After a picnic lunch we continued to Kutaisi where we would spend the night. Unfortunately, our Birding Ecotours guide, would be forced to leave the tour due to poor health, despite his best efforts to rejoin the tour in the following days. Fortunately, our fantastic local guide Alex continued the tour and provided the remainder of this trip report. 

Day 4, 3rd April 2023. Borjomi and Akhaltsikhe   

Today we would head south towards the region of Javakheti in southern Georgia. After a long drive through difficult mountain roads, we arrived at Borjomi where we explored the old part of the town and the central park. Birds seen here included Northern Raven, Coal Tit and Eurasian Nuthatch.

As the weather turned, we made a hasty retreat for our hotel in Akhaltsikhe. The poor weather continued, so we ordered a traditional meal at the hotel and enjoyed a bottle of Velvet Scoter wine, produced to support the conservation of this rare duck species in Georgia.  

Day 5, 4th April 2023. Rabati Castle and Vardzia Cave Town

Today would be another day of culture as we visited the beautiful Rabati Castle and Vardzia Cave Monastary. Despite being cultural visits, we also enjoyed some great birds, including Common Whitethroat, Black Redstart, Rock Bunting, Western Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush, Siberian Stonechat, and Red-fronted Serin.

In the evening we stayed at the quaint Valodia’s Cottage, which included great quantities of homemade wine and fabulous food.

Day 6, 5th April 2023. The road to Kazbegi via Khanchali and Bughdasheni Lakes

Today we would be a real adventure as we travelled all the way from Georgia’s southern border with Turkey, to its northern border with Russia. En route we stopped at the managed reserves of Khanchali and Bughdasheni Lakes. These productive birding spots gave us one of the world’s rarest birds, the Trancaucasian subspecies of Common Crane (Grus grus archibaldii). Also seen here were Greylag Goose, Common Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, Armenian Gull, White Stork, Western Marsh Harrier, Black Redstart, and Siberian Stonechat.

The wind was really picking up now, so we decided to continue our journey and after a long day we arrived in the breath-taking mountains of Kazbegi.

Georgia: Spring Private Tour

Siberian Stonechat is a striking bird and was seen regularly throughout the tour (photo Alexander Rukhaia).

Days 7-8, 6th-7th April 2023. The Kuro Gorge and Terek River Valley

For the next two days we explored the mighty Kuro Gorge and Terek River Valley around Stepantsminda. This is the land of some truly special birds and here we were able to enjoy White-throated Dipper, Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Grouse, Golden Eagle, Alpine Accentor, Güldenstadt’s Redstart, Wallcreeper, Bearded Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Black Kite, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Chough, Ring Ouzel, and Great Rosefinch, all amongst stunning scenery.

Our non-birding activities included a visit to the Gergeti Trinity Church, a breath-taking building surrounded by vast mountains, and the Ananuri Fortified Church complex. After two incredible days in the mountains, we headed back towards Tbilisi.

Day 9, 8th April 2023. Jvari Monastery, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, and Koroji Pine Woods   

Today the weather was not on our side and as such we had to make alternative plans. Our day began with some birding at breakfast where we enjoyed great views of Little Egret and Black-crowned Night Heron in a nesting colony near our hotel.

After breakfast we headed to Jvari Monastery near the town of Mtskheta. The weather became even worse as we arrived but despite this, we explored this beautiful building. Our next stop was Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. The weather here was calmer and after a short wait due to the Sunday service we were allowed to explore the cathedral. After a fantastic lunch we headed to Kojori Pine Woods where our number one target, Krüper’s Nuthatch, gave itself up with ease, allowing us to have fantastic views.

Day 10, 9th April 2023. David Gareji Monastery, Kumisi Lake, and Ponichala Forest Park

Our final full day saw us head south to the border with Azerbaijan. This semi-desert environment holds yet another historical wonder, the David Gareji Monastery. This fascinating monastery, hewn from rock, is truly a stunning place to spend time. Before we reached the monastery, we made a spontaneous stop at the KFT winery. By a stroke of luck, we were invited to join a wine tour. After seven different wines, brandy and a shot of chacha we took a more relaxed view on birding for the rest of the day.

Georgia: Spring Private Tour

We enjoyed great views of Isabelline Wheatear while in Georgia.

After finally reaching the monastery, we managed some birding, with Chukar Partridge, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Long-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Skylark, Siberian Stonechat, and Corn Bunting all on the list.

After lunch we visited the equally picturesque Kumisi Lake, south of Tbilisi, for our penultimate birding of the tour. Here we were able to locate species such as Ruddy Shelduck, Black-necked (Eared) Grebe, Black-winged Stilt, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Eurasian Hoopoe, Turkestan Short-toed Lark, Crested Lark, Isabelline Wheatear, and up to 40 Citrine Wagtails.

Our final stop was the Ponichala Forest Park, where Syrian Woodpecker was the main target and we duly added it to our list.

Our final dinner was enjoyed in Tbilisi where we also watched live Georgian dancing and singing.

Day 11, 10th April 2023. Departure from Tbilisi

Today we departed from Tbilisi airport, reflecting on a wonderful tour in this fascinating country.

Bird ListFollowing IOC (12.1)

Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen.

Common NameScientific Name
Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)
Greylag GooseAnser anser
Common ShelduckTadorna tadorna
Ruddy ShelduckTadorna ferruginea
GarganeySpatula querquedula
Northern ShovelerSpatula clypeata
MallardAnas platyrhynchos
Eurasian TealAnas crecca
Red-crested PochardNetta rufina
Common PochardAythya ferina
Tufted DuckAythya fuligula
Greater ScaupAythya marila
Common ScoterMelanitta nigra
Red-breasted MerganserMergus serrator
Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
Caucasian GrouseLyrurus mlokosiewiczi
Caucasian SnowcockTetraogallus caucasicus
Chukar PartridgeAlectoris chukar
Swifts (Apodidae)
Common SwiftApus apus
 
Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
Rock DoveColumba livia
Eurasian Collared DoveStreptopelia decaocto
Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)
Eurasian CootFulica atra
Little CrakeZapornia parva
  
Cranes (Gruidae)
Common CraneGrus grus archibaldii
  
Grebes (Podicipedidae)
Little GrebeTachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested GrebePodiceps cristatus
Black-necked GrebePodiceps nigricollis
  
Oystercatchers (Haematopodidae)
Eurasian OystercatcherHaematopus ostralegus
Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)
Black-winged StiltHimantopus himantopus
Plovers (Charadriidae)
Common Ringed PloverCharadrius hiaticula
Little Ringed PloverCharadrius dubius
Kentish PloverCharadrius alexandrinus
Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
Black-tailed GodwitLimosa limosa
RuffCalidris pugnax
Curlew SandpiperCalidris ferruginea
DunlinCalidris alpina
Common SnipeGallinago gallinago
Common SandpiperActitis hypoleucos
Green SandpiperTringa ochropus
Common RedshankTringa totanus
Marsh SandpiperTringa stagnatilis
Wood SandpiperTringa glareola
Common GreenshankTringa nebularia
Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)
Slender-billed GullChroicocephalus genei
Black-headed GullChroicocephalus ridibundus
Mediterranean GullIchthyaetus melanocephalus
Yellow-legged GullLarus michahellis
Armenian GullLarus armenicus
Sandwich TernThalasseus sandvicensis
Loons (Gaviidae)
Arctic Loon (Black-throated Diver)Gavia arctica
  
Storks (Ciconiidae)
White StorkCiconia ciconia
  
Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)
Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo
Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
Eurasian BitternBotaurus stellaris
Black-crowned Night HeronNycticorax nycticorax
Grey HeronArdea cinerea
Great EgretArdea alba
Little EgretEgretta garzetta
Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
Bearded VultureGypaetus barbatus
Griffon VultureGyps fulvus
Short-toed Snake EagleCircaetus gallicus
Lesser Spotted EagleClanga pomarina
Golden EagleAquila chrysaetos
Eurasian SparrowhawkAccipiter nisus
Northern GoshawkAccipter gentillis
Western Marsh HarrierCircus aeruginosus
Hen HarrierCircus cyaneus
Black KiteMilvus migrans
Long-legged BuzzardButeo rufinus
Common BuzzardButeo buteo
Owls (Strigidae)
Little OwlAthene noctua
  
Hoopoes (Upupidae)
Eurasian HoopoeUpupa epops
  
Woodpeckers (Picidae)
Middle Spotted Woodpecker (H)Dendrocoptes medius
Syrian WoodpeckerDendrocopos syriacus
Black Woodpecker (H)Dryocopus martius
European Green Woodpecker (H)Picus viridis
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
Common KestrelFalco tinnunculus
Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
Eurasian JayGarrulus glandarius
Eurasian MagpiePica pica
Red-billed ChoughPyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Alpine ChoughPyrrhocorax graculus
Western JackdawColoeus monedula
Hooded CrowCorvus cornix
Northern RavenCorvus corax
Tits, Chickadees (Paridae)
Coal TitPeriparus ater
Eurasian Blue TitCyanistes caeruleus
Great TitParus major
Larks (Alaudidae)
Eurasian SkylarkAlauda arvensis
Crested LarkGalerida cristata
Greater Short-toed LarkCalandrella brachydactyla
Turkistan Short-toed LarkAlaudala heinei
  
Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
Barn SwallowHirundo rustica
Common House MartinDelichon urbicum
Bushtits (Aegithalidae)
Long-tailed TitAegithalos caudatus
  
Leaf Warblers & Allies (Phylloscopidae)
Willow WarblerPhylloscopus trochilus
Mountain ChiffchaffPhylloscopus sindianus
Common ChiffchaffPhylloscopus collybita
Sylviid Babblers (Sylviidae)
Common WhitethroatCurruca communis
Nuthatches (Sittidae)
Krüper’s NuthatchSitta krueperi
Western Rock NuthatchSitta neumayer
Eurasian NuthatchSitta europaea
Wallcreeper (Tichodromidae)
WallcreeperTichodroma muraria
  
Treecreepers (Certhiidae)
Eurasian TreecreeperCerthia familiaris
Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)
Common StarlingSturnus vulgaris
Thrushes (Turdidae)
Song ThrushTurdus philomelos
Common BlackbirdTurdus merula
Ring OuzelTurdus torquatus
Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
European RobinErithacus rubecula
BluethroatLuscinia svecica
Black RedstartPhoenicurus ochruros
Güldenstädt’s RedstartPhoenicurus erythrogastrus
Common RedstartPhoenicurus phoenicurus
Blue Rock ThrushMonticola solitarius
WhinchatSaxicola rubetra
European StonechatSaxicola rubicola
Siberian StonechatSaxicola maurus
Northern WheatearOenanthe oenanthe
Isabelline WheatearOenanthe isabellina
Dippers (Cinclidae)
White-throated DipperCinclus cinclus
  
Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
Rock SparrowPetronia petronia
Eurasian Tree SparrowPasser montanus
House SparrowPasser domesticus
  
Accentors (Prunellidae)
Alpine AccentorPrunella collaris
DunnockPrunella modularis
  
Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)
Western Yellow WagtailMotacilla flava
Citrine WagtailMotacilla citreola
Grey WagtailMotacilla cinerea
White WagtailMotacilla alba
Water PipitAnthus spinoletta
  
Finches, Euphonias (Fringillidae)
Common ChaffinchFringilla coelebs
Eurasian BullfinchPyrrhula pyrrhula
Great RosefinchCarpodacus rubicilla
European GreenfinchChloris chloris
Common LinnetLinaria cannabina
European GoldfinchCarduelis carduelis
Red-fronted SerinSerinus pusillus
Buntings (Emberizidae)
Corn BuntingEmberiza calandra
Rock BuntingEmberiza cia
Common Reed BuntingEmberiza schoeniclus
Total seen133
Total heard only3
Total recorded136

Mammal List

The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following IUCN Red List: NT = Near Threatened

Common NameScientific Name
Goat-Antelopes (Caprinae)
Eastern Tur – NTCapra cylindricornis
Total1

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