GEORGIA & ARMENIA – THE CAUCASIAN ENDEMICS
Tour dates: Thursday 11th – Tuesday 23rd May
Tour cost excluding flights: £1,355 per person sharing, £260 single supplement
The target species for this trip are the main breeding birds of the Caucasus. First, we go for the endemics of the Greater Caucasus and other mountain species at Kazbegi, then we briefly explore the steppes of East Georgia, before finally heading down to Armenia for the specialties of the Anatolian plateau, along with a selection of fine wetland birds. Ten days of hardcore birding, and a trip you will not easily forget! By taking part in this trip, you support the BirdLife partners in Armenia (ASPB) and Georgia (SABUKO).
Target species: Caucasian Snowcock, Caspian Snowcock, Caucasian Black Grouse, Imperial Eagle, Bearded, Black and Egyptian Vultures, Pygmy Cormorant, White-headed Duck, White-tailed Lapwing, Terek Sandpiper, Roller, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Bimaculated Lark, Western and Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Wallcreeper, Rose-coloured Starling, Güldenstadt’s Redstart, Rufous-tailed Bush-robin, White-breasted Robin, Blue and Red-tailed Rock Thrush, Raddes’ Accentor, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Ménétries’ Warbler, Upcher’s Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler, Red-fronted Serin, Great Rosefinch, Rock Sparrow, Pale Rock Sparrow, Trumpeter Finch, White-winged Snowfinch, Black-headed Bunting, Grey-necked Bunting.
Price inludes all accommodation with full board, transport, guides and entrance fees. We will stay in basic but clean and comfortable hotels with shared bathroom.
Day 1 – 11th May: Depart UK on a night flight to Tblisi via Istanbul
Day 2 – 12th May: Depart Istanbul, arrive Tblisi
Day 3 – 13th May: Tbilisi to Kazbegi
We drive straight into the Greater Caucasus mountains to the village of Kazbegi, our base for the next three days. Corncrakes are common in the gardens in this village and we hope their calling will not disturb your night rest.
Day 4 – 14th May: Kazbegi valleys
During the first day in Kazbegi, we will explore the valleys, partly walking and partly driving. First, we drive up to the Gergeti church, a good place to observe Caucasian Black Grouse. Here we are likely to see Lammergeier and Griffon Vultures, Caucasian Chiffchaff, Twite, Red-fronted Serin and other local goodies. Bushes down in the valley are often teeming with migrants, while raptor migration can be quite spectacular.
Day 5 – 15th May: Up to the glacier
The next day we leave well before sunrise, and in the light of the full moon we make our way up the mountain. The bus drops us off at an altitude of 2,200m, and from there we walk towards the glacier tip, at 3,000m, where great birding awaits us. Caucasian Snowcocks, Güldenstadt’s Redstarts and Great Rosefinches are not too difficult to find at this time of the year.
Day 6 – 16th May: Birding the way back
We spend the morning birding in the bushes and marshes along the river. On the way back we make a few stops in the spectacular Jvari pass (for White-winged Snowfinch) and at a forest site where we look for green warbler and Semi-collared Flycatcher. Night in Tbilisi.
Day 7 – 17th May: Rock monasteries and Jandari steppe lake
East of Tbilisi, a vast semi-arid landscape starts, with steppes, rocky outcrops, shallow lakes and riverine forest. Our first stop will be Jandari lake, a great stopover site for migratory waterfowl with a good population of Pygmy Cormorants. Several pairs of Imperial Eagle breed near the lake. From there we drive east towards the rock monasteries of Davit Gareji, passing through steppes where huge numbers of Rose-coloured Starling, Tawny Pipit and Calandra Lark breed. We will make a hike around the monasteries where Western Rock Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush and Pied Wheatear breed.
Day 8 – 18th May: Birding the road to Yerevan
The drive to Yerevan is about 5 hours, but takes us through the impressive Debed Canyon. We’ll make a few stops here and there, to enjoy the views and taste khorovats (Armenian shashlyk). Just 50km north of Yerevan, we make a stop at the small mount Ara. Despite its isolation, the small forest on its slope is home to some brown bears. Here we will look out for Bimaculated Lark and White-throated Robin.
Day 9 – 19th May: Aragats all day
Aragats offers an amazing diversity of species, and is conveniently explored via a road that ends at a small lake at 3,200m altitude The mountain deserves an entire day of birding, and we will make stops at different altitude zones. Raddes’ Accentor is a particular target here, together with Crimson-winged Finch. Horned Larks are common in the plains near the lake.
Day 10 – 20th May: Vedi desert gorge
The semi-arid cliffs of Vedi are best explored early in the morning. Our targets here are Grey-necked Bunting, Pale Rock Sparrow, Finsch’s Wheatear, Upcher’s Warbler, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Trumpeter Finch and Rufous-tailed Bushchat. In the afternoon, we’ll make a stop at the spectacular Noravank gorge and monastery, and drive on towards our night roost in Yegheghnadzor.
Day 11 – 21st May: Caspian Snowcock mountains
After an early departure from the hotel, we’ll drive up the Zangezur mountains, to arrive at the Caspian Snowcock site by sunrise. Their characteristic calls can be heard from a long distance, but finding them on the rocky cliffs requires some effort. In this area we may also see Bezoar Goats, and Caucasian Leopards are regularly recorded by camera traps here. After ticking off the snowcocks, we’ll spend the rest of the days birding in these rocky areas, with more chances for goodies like Bimaculated Lark, White-winged Snowfinch, White-throated Robin and Crimson-winged Finch.
Day 12 – 22nd May: Armash Marshes and Persian Wheatear
From Yeghegnadzor it takes about one hour and a half to reach the Armash Marshes. This is one of the best birding sites of the entire Caucasus, and you’ll collect a long list of good species here. Highlights include White-headed Duck, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, White-tailed Lapwing and Ménétries’ Warbler, along with many migrants. In the nearby Oorts Mountains we’ll visit a gorge where a few pairs of Persian Wheatear occur, and where Chukar Partridges are very common.
Day 13 – 23rd May: Departure
After a few celebratory drinks on the last night, we’ll make sure you catch your flight back home! For those who prefer to book a return flight from Tbilisi, transfer will be organized.