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

A stunning male Great Rosefinch very high on our most wanted list.

The field guide we use here in the UK is The Collins Bird Guide which covers not only the UK but all of Europe, North Africa and The Middle East, a wonderful book. Flicking through the beautifully illustrated pages we are very lucky indeed to have enjoyed most of the birds shown, however, a few mouth-watering species still elude us and these are always on our minds.

One country, we had never visited before, Georgia in the far east of Europe, south of Russia, held potentially five of these “missing” species. Not just any species either but some real top draw birds, Great Rosefinch, Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian (Black) Grouse, Guldenstadt’s Redstart and Caucasian (Mountain) Chiffchaff all lifers for us. So we began planning a trip and we were very lucky to have the help of “Birding the Caucuses” a local bird guiding company and in particular Alexander Rukhaia who we can recommend very highly! Our emails were answered promptly and all the information we asked for provided and lots of enthusiasm for our forth coming trip, perfect.

We assembled our group of Birdwatching Trips regulars, Glenn, Andrew, Ed and Marilyn and set off to Georgia! Georgian Airlines was an experience but we were looked after well despite the flight being delayed by two hours. We arrived in Tblisi the capital of Georgia to be greeted by cold drizzle and low cloud at dusk, not very welcoming! But our first local guide, Dachi, was there to greet us with big smiles and a very smart mini-coach to whisk us to our first hotel. Staying in the old part of the city it was a lovely hotel and literally a minute’s walk to a wonderful restaurant where we enjoyed the first of many lovely meals.

After a great breakfast, next morning, we all piled into the mini-coach, stopping only to watch a Laughing Dove in the street, and headed into the hills above the city. Sadly the weather was still grim, low could and drizzle which turned to snow as we climbed higher and it was cold, very cold. At the first birding stop it was thick snow and unsurprisingly we failed to see the hoped for Kruper’s Nuthatch, or any birds!

We decided to cut and ran as the weather was so poor and began the long drive north towards Kasbegi in the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The weather did improve, a little, along the way and we were able to see some fantastic raptor migration right overhead! This was more like it, after our slow start due to the snow great to see lots of birds. Steppe Buzzards were moving north in big numbers, hundreds of birds in tight flocks along with many other species of birds of prey. We made numerous stops when we saw particularly big groups of birds moving up the valley that we too were following north. Black Kites, Marsh Harriers, Montagu’s Harriers, Lesser-spotted Eagles, Eurasian Sparrowhawks all moving together a wonderful birding experience to see raptor migration on this scale.

This is May in the mountains of Georgia, not that we saw much of it on this day.

As we began to climb higher into the mountains the weather again closed in around us, drizzle, 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….to be continued! Please check back soon for part two.

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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