Day 1: Overnight flight from London to Tbilisi.
Day 2: Arriving early in the morning, we head straight to our main destination in Georgia: Kazbegi village in the Terek River valley, where we stay for four nights. Driving along the Georgian Military Highway, the road snakes through a gorge before finally crossing Krestovyy pass at 2379m, dropping down into Kazbegi and eventually into Russia. Birds we will look for en route include Egyptian Vulture, Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Peregrine, the majestic Lammergeier, Horned (Shore) Lark (penicillata race), Common Redstart (samamisicus race), Twite (brevirostris race) and White-winged Snowfinch. Return to the guest house.
Days 3 - 5: These three days will be spent exploring the valleys, gorges and slopes close to Kazbegi, where Caucasian Black Grouse and Caucasian Snowcock can be found against a backdrop of the mighty Caucasian Mountains. Although we won’t be far from the highest peak of the central Caucasus, Mount Kazbek at 5033m, we won’t have to climb that high to see our birds! Wallcreepers live on the sheer rock faces, whilst Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit and Black Redstart can be found on the edges of the snowfields as the snowline retreats upslope with the onset of spring. Flocks of Red-fronted Serins can also be found where the forests meet the meadows.
Two other highly sought-after species breed on the high mountain slopes, but at the time of our visit they can be found much lower down waiting for the snow to retreat: Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Great Rosefinch. This is the only Western Palearctic location for these species. Great Rosefinch in particular is well worth searching out as the isolated population in these mountains may well represent a separate species. In the riverine scrub lining the valley bottoms we should also find Caucasian Chiffchaff (a possible split from Mountain Chiffchaff) and Green Warbler, as well as a variety of migrants, including European Bee-eater, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Red-throated Pipit, Yellow Wagtail and Ortolan Bunting.
There are likely to be raptor movements at any time but, with the right weather, the numbers could increase to hundreds or even thousands of birds each day. European Honey-buzzards are likely to be the commonest, closely followed by Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, Western Marsh-harriers, Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites, along with the occasional Steppe Eagle, Red-footed Falcon and Northern Goshawk. Also possible in the area is East Caucasian Tur. This form of mountain ibex can be seen deftly walking along the most precipitous of ledges. Return to the guest house.
Day 6: Today we leave Kazbegi, drive across Georgia and into Armenia, where we will spend the rest of the tour. After checking into our hotel in Dilijan for a two-night stay, we will spend the late afternoon birding in the forests around the town. Here, Booted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, Black and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers, Red-breasted and Semi-collared Flycatchers, Green Warbler and Common Rosefinch can all be found. Overnight in the guest house.
Day 7: This morning we will have the opportunity to bird on the slopes of Mount Chingilidagh, where Caucasian Black Grouse can be found if we missed them in Georgia. Other possible species include Lammergeier, Water Pipit, Alpine and Radde’s Accentors, Siberian Stonechat (armenica race), Bluethroat (magna race), White-throated Dipper, Twite and Mountain Chiffchaff. In the afternoon we will visit Lake Sevan, situated at nearly 2000m above sea level. This lake holds the largest breeding colony of Armenian Gulls in the world.
The colony was only saved after their breeding island became connected to the shore by falling water levels when dedicated volunteers dug a new channel to prevent foxes and feral animals taking eggs and young. Other birds we may see include Black-necked Grebe and Ruddy Shelduck and, in the adjacent marshes, Cetti’s and Marsh Warblers. Overnight in Dilijan in guest house.
Day 8: Today, we will drive along the western shore of Lake Sevan and across the 2410m Selima Pass in the Vardenis Mountains to Yeghegnadzor for a two-night stay. En route we will look for species like Citrine Wagtail, Black-headed Wagtail and Barred Warbler. Overnight in the guest house.
Day 9: This morning we will make an early start in four-wheel drive vehicles for Mount Gndasar. We first climb through steep, arid rocky slopes before reaching the Alpine meadows with impressive cliffs towering above them. This is the haunt of our primary target, Caspian Snowcock. We will spend most of the day in the area looking for this impressive bird, together with other specialties of the mountains: Wallcreeper, White-winged Snowfinch and Crimson-winged Finch, before returning to Yeghegnadzor for the night.
Day 10: Today we visit the superb Armash Fishponds en route to Yerevan and, given good weather, we will be able to see the biblical snow-capped Mount Ararat in Turkey in the distance. Armash is simply outstanding for wetland species, attracting Pygmy Cormorant, Little Bittern, Purple and Squacco Herons and Black-crowned Night-heron. The reedbeds resound with calls of Caspian and Great Reed Warblers and the colonizing Paddyfield Warbler, whilst open waters have Marbled and Ferruginous Ducks and Red-crested Pochards.
Whiskered, White-winged, Black and Little Terns hawk over the pools for insects, whilst water meadows and muddy areas have nesting Glossy Ibis, Collared and, on occasion, Black-winged Pratincoles, White-tailed Lapwing and Kentish Plover. The pools also regularly attract migrant Terek and Curlew Sandpipers and Red-necked Phalaropes. Armash is surrounded by semi-desert with Tamarisk, Camel’s Thorn and Sagebrush bushes. This unique habitat attracts Eastern Olivaceous, Ménétries’s and Upcher’s Warblers, together with European Rollers, European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. Return to Yerevan. Overnight in the hotel.
Day 11: Our destination today is an arid gorge in the Oorts Mountains. It will be necessary to travel by four-wheel drive but we should be well rewarded with an array of superb species. These include Lammergeier, Chukar, Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin, White-throated Robin, Isabelline, (Eastern) Black-eared and Red-tailed (chrysopygia race) Wheatears, Eastern Orphean and Upcher’s Warblers, Eastern and Western Rock Nuthatches, Pale Rock Sparrow and Rock Bunting. Overnight in the hotel.
Day 12: Today we will visit another arid gorge by four-wheel drive, this time in the Vedi Hills. The difference here is that there is a spring attracting passerines to drink. The two main specialty birds we will be looking for are Mongolian Finch and Grey-necked Bunting, although we may see many of the birds from yesterday again. Other possibilities include Short-toed Snake-eagle, Bimaculated Lark, Finsch’s Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch. Overnight in the hotel.
Day 13: Our final full day will be spent on the slopes of Mount Aragats, where we will have further chances to see many of the species seen earlier on the tour. In the afternoon we will return to Yerevan, where we still have some birding to do in one of the city parks. Amongst the hustle-bustle of city life two more highly sought-after species can be found breeding: Levant Sparrowhawk and Syrian Woodpecker. Overnight in the hotel.
Day 14: Early-morning flight from Yerevan to London arriving late morning.
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