Birding in Georgia
This spring I had the pleasure to show 4 birders the beauty of Georgia when guiding for Birding Breaks.
First we visited the always impressive Kazbegi Region to search for the "Caucasian Big Five": Guldenstadt Redstart, Great Rosefinch, Caucasian Chiffchaff, - Snowcock and - Grouse.
On our way up to the mountains we made a quick stop at a known breeding spot for Semi-collared flycatcher, which we found at a slippery slope in its classical habitat.
Driving on to the higher mountains, the deciduous forest soon made way for bare slopes, rocks and some left over snow. At a quick stop near the mandatory cultural stop, known as "The Monument" we looked at some Choughs and Alpine Choughs, when to our surprise we found a party of foraging ruffs. Not exactly a species you expect in high alpine terrain!
However, highlight of the day was a bird we actually did expect here: a Bearded Vulture came flying over so close that we almost could see ourselves mirroring in it's eyes.
After a good night of sleep in the high alpine air, we went early in the morning up the hill to a Little Monastery. We set up our scopes accompanied by the singing Ring-ouzels, Coal Tits, and the impressive courtship songs of snowcocks (resembling Curlew's call) echoing between the mountains.
But then we still have to locate them. We were lucky that more birders joined to scan the mountain-slopes, so it did not take long before we found a male Grouse displaying, and suddenly we saw two Snowcocks giving an elaborate flight show. When they landed between the rocks and snow, it became obvious how well they're camouflaged for this habitat: even when in the center of our scopes, it took several minutes for some to find it.
After breakfast we went on to look for the remaining three target species. The Caucasian Chiffchaff was no problem as it was singing on top of one of the first bushes when we got out of our 4x4. The Great Rosefinches did not show at the spot they were seen the day before, however with a bit of luck and a very good scope we saw a glimpse of a bird which reminded us of a Great Rosefinch at least two kilometres down in the valley on top of a thornbush. Excited we went down to check, and just as we started to doubt, we saw a small flock of the breathtaking Great Rosefinches!
Not yet recovered from the excitement, it even got better when a splendid male of Guldenstadt Redstart showed up. All the Caucasian Big Five before noon!
Next day, we saw chance to scope (probably the same) nice male Caucasian Grouse displaying on the grassy hill from the garden of our bed&breakfast, and listened one last time to the echoing Snowcocks, before we set off for the counting stations of Batumi Raptor Count on the other side of Georgia.
The long drive was alleviated by some stops in the mountain with splendid sights of Wallcreeper, Turkish Twites and another Guldenstadt Redstart, and having lunch near the rock-monastery of Gori, where we sat between the nests of Rock-sparrows, a Hoopoe and a long legged buzzard. Here we saw our first migrating Honey buzzards.
The afternoon was memorable in another aspect: Looking for an Imperial Eagle nest we had a flat tire next to a Cemetery, where a lot of people where for the Commemoration of the Dead. Before we knew it an old man in a distinctive suit was lying under our car changing our tire. What a friendly people!
Our first day on the BRC counting post was beyond all expectations. Before reaching the top of the hill we saw Red-breasted Flycatcher and Green warbler. On the counting post we settled on a nice spot , opposite of the side of the hill I'm so used to for the autumn-migration. Looking at Batumi, we didn't have to wait long for migration to start up, which was SPECTACULAR.
One of the first birds over our heads is a beautiful dark morph Marsh Harrier, soon followed by two hen harriers. These are species we don't see that often during the Autumn count of BRC. Some streams of Honey and steppe Buzzards begin to start and when we find an Imperial Eagle among the first groups of eagles, I already think I'm starting to become crazy. But apparently I'm not, and the migration madness keeps on going all day.
In the end we roughly counted 1600 Honey Buzzards, over 1000 steppe Buzzards, 728 Black kites, 65 Sparrowhawks, 2 Levants Sparrowhawks, 1 Egyptian Vulture(!!), 3 Hen Harriers, 8 Marsh harriers, 1 Short-toed Eagle, 4 Booted Eagles, 4 Imperial Eagles, 4 Greater Spotted Eagles, 26 Lesser Spotted Eagles, 2 Steppe Eagles and 20 Eagle Spec.
Impressive numbers, which ask for more elaborate raptor migration counts in spring!
Our last days we spend by visiting the Chorokhi Delta, which was rather empty because of the good weather and Mitrala National park where it was raining most of the day, but beautiful as ever.
Last day we travelled back to Tiblisi, while on the way we found a pair of Krupers Nuthatch and a resident Dark morph Marsh harrier.
All in all it was another spectacular trip to Georgia and I cannot wait until autumn, when I have the pleasure to visit Georgia again.
About the author
Batumi Raptor Count, or BRC, works to monitor and conserve the 850,000+ birds of prey that migrate every autumn through the Batumi Bottleneck. A young and forward thinking organisation, BRC has been operating from the Black Sea City of Batumi, in the Republic of Georgia, ever since 2008 when it has organised the first raptor-migration count for the region covering the full autumn season. Although originally created as a monitoring program, after realising the scale of the hunting pressures that migratory birds face in the region, BRC's mission has now expanded to that of a conservation and monitoring program. www.batumiraptorcount.org
Text and photos © Folkert de Boer (BRC)