Searching For The Big Five In Georgia A Winter Wonderland Part Two

One of the Georgia Big Five, a stunning male Guldenstadt's Redstart oh yes!

As we began to climb higher into the mountains the weather again closed in around us, drizzle, and low cloud, then sleet, then snow! Cars coming the other way, from the north, were covered in snow, oh heck. The snow became heavier and our worst fears were realised, the pass ahead was blocked. We joined the end of a very long line of stationary vehicles and waited, and waited. Black humour on the bus, who would we eat first? How cold would it be up here at night? How long could we survive on the few snacks we had? Oh, wait, the cars ahead are moving! Sure enough we were on our way again all be it very slowly. We couldn’t see much through the snow and low cloud but we guessed we were passing through amazing mountain scenery. We did manage to see a few feral pigeons literally on the side of the road and a single Water Pipit before the road at last began to drop down. Our driver, Gear, did a great job keeping us on the road and out of contact with all the traffic battling the weather through the pass.

At last we got below the clouds and out of the snow; we could see more than ten yards! A flat bottom valley lay ahead, the mountains on either side were still cloaked in cloud and we could see snow even on the lowest slopes, and this was May. We settled in to our lovely hotel, Hotel Sno, but no time for any birding sadly, so dinner.

Next morning we were out at dawn exploring the area around the hotel, it was bone chilling cold and the clouds still hid the mountains but it was dry. Not many birds about but nice views of Ring Ouzels and Eastern Black Redstarts with White Wagtails in the nearby stream. Breakfast was very welcome after our cold start and then we set off in search in those special birds.

A short drive took us to the base of a huge mountain well what we could see of it looked like it might be huge! Here an area of scrub didn’t look very promising and it was still so cold. Warm layers, hats and gloves were pulled on and we set off but didn’t need to walk far. Water Pipits were feeding on the grass in front of us, Ring Ouzels were all around us and Eastern Black Redstart sat up on boulders, this place was way better than first glance suggested. Then there was a Great Rosefinch! OK a female but still a Great Rosefinch one of our hoped for Georgia Big Five, we crept forward for better looks and soon saw a raspberry coloured male, oh my, what a bird! A real mega bird by any standards, these big finches size of small thrush and so red, you have to see one. We were still recovering from this amazing sighting when Andrew spotted a Guldenstadt’s Redstart! Another jaw-dropping beauty, this most beautiful bird was showing off on top of a small bush, two of the Georgia Big Five in just a few minutes this was birding at its very best. More sightings of Great Rosefinches quickly followed and several rather brief views of Red-fronted Serins which seemed to only ever land for a few seconds before flying off again. The cloud was slowly lifting and the sun breaking through in places and we began to see just what a stunningly beautiful place we were enjoying these amazing birds in. The scenery really is breath-taking to match the birds and we were thrilled with our first morning in Kasbegi.

A raspberry finch, the male Great Rosefinch second of the Georgia Big Five.

We drove to another valley, huge mountain walls rising all around us and snow plastering the slopes, it looked for all the world like winter in the Alps not May in Georgia. A massive and equally spectacular Lammergeier, the bone-breaker vulture, soared against the cobalt blue sky, oh what a sight! This massive almost falcon like vulture was close enough to see every feather detail, not a new bird but certainly one of the highlights of this special trip. The Lammergeier was spectacular but not what we had come here for, these huge towering mountains are home to another of the Georgia Big Five, Caucasian Grouse. These very rare birds look rather like our local Black Grouse back home in Wales but they are easy to see compared to their Caucasian cousins. The habitat was vast, how could we possibly find one? Then the “cavalry” arrived! A birding friend of Dachi drove up to us and pointed at the hill to our left, up there then! Even knowing just where to train our Leica telescopes the bird was still tricky to pick out on the scree and grass slope. But it was there, number three of the Georgia Big Five! We watched the distant Caucasian Grouse for some time but it didn’t do much to be honest, a black bird a long way away but a lifer none the less! We were loving our birding in Georgia and now the sky was blue and the mountains clear of cloud we were loving the scenery too!

The weather just got better and better! What a place to see amazing birds.

Still two more of those Georgia Big Five to find, please check back soon for more of our Eastern birding adventures.

Please email us here to arrange your very own Birdwatching Trip…..

We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds with you soon!

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