Georgia & Armenia_________________________________________

 

 

Georgia & Armenia 2012

...with Mark Finn

May 14th - 26th

Georgia and Armenia was restored to our birding programme after a short gap. The tour went very well with the majority of birding specialties the Caucasian mountain ranges offer, seen. In Georgia we recorded the scarce Caucasian Snowcock and the near-threatened Caucasian Grouse. Guldenstadt’s Redstart was also seen briefly although Caucasian Rosefinches had already departed to the highest peaks. In addition to these several uncommon birds were seen; Lammergeier, Ring Ouzel, Water Pipit, Fire-fronted Serin, Horned Lark and White-winged Snowfinch. Armenia was again a delight to visit with its varied habitats and friendly people. The forests at Dilijan gave us the chance to study Semi-collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers, Green Warbler and Levant Sparrowhawk. Lake Sevan produced a surprise with a pair of summering Greater Scaup and colonies of Armenian Gulls. The journey south to Meghri added the localised Lesser Kestrel, Persian Nuthatch, White-throated Robin and Sombre Tit. In and around Meghri the group located Caspian Snowcock, Persian and Finsch’s Wheatears, both rock thrushes, Upcher’s Warblers and the first groups of Rosy Starlings. On returning north to Yerevan the highlights were the extensive fishponds at Armash and Vedi Gorge. Uncommon birds here included White-tailed Lapwing, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Paddyfield and Moustached Warblers, and at Vedi, Grey-necked Buntings. High above Yerevan at Mount Aragats the juniper bushes gave us views of the scarce Radde’s Accentor.

My thanks go out to Arthur and his crew for looking after us so well including picnics and driving along some interesting roads. Harut was excellent as our interpreter and guide and indeed a budding birdwatcher.

May 14th/15th: Heathrow, Munich, Tbilisi, Stepantsminda.

Weather: Rather mixed with rain, hail and sunny periods in a northwest wind 6 C/14 C

After leaving various parts of the UK the group joined the flight from Munich to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. The hotel in the old quarter of the city gave us views across the river and towards the castle. At breakfast we observed a migration of European Honey Buzzards, Barn Swallow, Sand Martin, Common and Alpine Swifts. At 0930 hours we started the journey north along the Old Military Highway towards the village of Stepantsminda. At lower altitudes we located Steppe Buzzards, European Bee-eaters and Yellow-billed Choughs. A further stop up the pass allowed Vernon to find a pair of Golden Eagles perched on a rocky crag. In the grassy areas feeding Water Pipit, Black Redstart and Caucasian Chiffchaffs fly-catching from willow scrub. Checked in at Stepantsminda for a late lunch and followed by a walk through the riverside scrub and mountain meadows. The former held White and Grey Wagtails, Willow Warbler, Eurasian Jay, Spotted Flycatcher and Great Tit. In the meadows which are dotted with scrub and camel thorn bushes we found Red-backed Shrike, Barred Warbler, Northern Wheatear and several Ring Ouzels. On the mountainside a Caucasian Grouse showed well even at distance. The surrounding cliffs and ledges added Griffon Vulture, Eurasian Kestrel and Eurasian Crag Martin to the day list.

May 16th: Stepantsminda, Jvari Pass, Truso Valley.

Weather: Generally sunny although cool at high elevations 6 C/18 C

This morning started with a walk into the high mountain habitats at Stepantsminda. Overnight there had been a major influx of Common Rosefinches which appeared in almost every bush and gave their distinctive calls. The slow ascent added Common Cuckoo, singing and displaying Tree Pipit and small groups of Fire-fronted Serins which often perched and sang from the tops of conifers. The group reached a point which allowed a large area to be scanned. The curlew like calls of Caucasian Snowcocks could be heard echoing around the valley. After a lot of scanning and searching I found a male perched on top of a grass mound with the female feeding in grass nearby – great views for all of us. Walked back down the track recording; Northern Wheatear, Water Pipit, and in the conifers Mistle Thrush, Coal Tit and Common Chaffinch. We then walked up again into an area of grasses and slate-littered scree. Corncrakes were calling from dense scrub which appeared unreal when compared with the iris beds of Scotland. Bushes attracted Red-backed Shrikes and Barred Warblers. Another scan produced a Guldenstadt’s Redstart perched on a boulder but it could not be relocated. Back down to the village and a visit to a poplar stand which produced Eurasian Treecreeper and migrant Willow Warbler. Lunch taken when a pair of Lammergeiers were seen hunting over a cliff with Griffon Vultures. In the afternoon we headed back to the Jvari Pass where Water Pipits appeared to be in almost plague proportions. Walking around the area allowed us to see; Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper and White-winged Snowfinches located by Ainslie. We ended the day at a farm used by shepherds in the summer months. The habitat of grassland, stone walls, the odd tree, scree and mountains made it a remarkable place for birds. Excellent views of Lesser Grey Shrike found by Vernon on a barbed wire fence. This was followed by three Whinchats, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Cuckoo (tired and worn out on a wall) and a displaying Golden Eagle high above the cliffs.

May 17th: Stepantsminda, Jvari Pass, Truso Valley.

Weather: Sunny with a cool north wind 6 C/17 C

Today we made a repeat walk into the high mountains above the village. Similar birds to our previous visits with the addition of lekking Caucasian Grouse which included eight males and two females. On the return walk we encountered a pair of Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes perched on fence poles. After breakfast we headed back up the valley and into the Jvari Pass. Birds were lower in numbers with a major clear out of Water Pipits. Vernon located a Horned Lark on the edge of a snow field before it flew up and away. On the fast-flowing streams White-throated Dippers appeared on migration. Back to base for lunch with the hotel grounds attracting Eurasian Crag Martins and a pair of Eurasian Bullfinches. In the afternoon the group visited the old farm at Truso Valley. The birds were very much in the same vain as yesterday. On the higher ground two male Horned Larks were observed in territorial combat. The highlight was Lammergeier hunting at low levels above the small graveyard; simply the most stupendous views ever. Returned to the hotel with a Long-legged Buzzard perched on a road side fencepost.

May 18th: Stepantsminda, Jvari Pass, Tbilisi, Dilijan.

Weather: Sunny with a westerly wind 7 C/25 C

Breakfast taken a little later today as our journey was south to Armenia. Before setting off we checked the nearby gardens where a pair of Eurasian Treecreepers were busy feeding young. At the end of the path a Common Whitethroat was observed singing from a post. Our next birding stop was a visit to an area of camel’s thorn bushes. Marsh Warbler and Corncrake were both heard whilst Red-backed Shrike and Common Rosefinch were seen. As we reached the Jvari Pass a few stops were made recording similar birds to the last few days. A Eurasian Hobby was seen flying fast and northwards. The next stop was a monument from the Soviet era overlooking a huge valley. Lammergeier was observed at close range again and the added bonus of a migrating Egyptian Vulture. The road to Tbilisi was fast and we arrived on time for our scheduled lunch date with my ground agents. At 1400 hours we were on the road south to the Armenian border. The crossing was quick and we met up with my Armenian team. Birds along the border included European Bee-eater, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Eurasian Hoopoe, Common Nightingale, Red-rumped Swallow and a Common Moorhen. As we headed towards Dilijan typical birds of the countryside appeared with regularity; Common Buzzard, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Black-headed, Corn and Ortolan Buntings, Eastern Stonechat and a Common Redstart (eastern form) singing from a telegraph pole in a village. Dilijan was reached where our base for the two nights was in a forested area above the city.

May 19th: Dilidjan.

Weather: Sunny with light westerly winds 27 C

Today was spent in the deciduous woodlands of Dilidjan. We had a walk around the grounds of the Composers House at 0700 hours. Outside our dachas Common Redstart, Blackcap, Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Chaffinch and overhead a pair of Lesser Spotted Eagles. The complex of old houses and trails in a habitat of mature trees attracted Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, European Greenfinch, White Wagtail and Black Redstart. After breakfast we headed to a forested area north of Dilijan. I arranged to be dropped off near the highest point of the road so the group could walk back down. Birding was slow to start with until a Middle Spotted Woodpecker showed briefly on a tree trunk by the road. This sighting started a mini-roll as a pair of Semi-collared Flycatchers showed off by posing on a horizontal dead branch. Shortly afterwards Red-breasted Flycatchers were located sitting quietly next to the track, Overhead we could hear the constant call of European Bee-eaters. In an open area a Levant Sparrowhawk was seen in flight above the forest giving us excellent views. Back to Dilijan for lunch and a return visit to the forest. The afternoon was quieter for birds although Richard located a Tawny Owl perched in a beech tree which allowed close and prolonged views before flying off into the forest. Near the lake a Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen feeding young and another of the same species feeding on the ground an extraordinary sight. A short visit to the river area added White-throated Dipper and Sand Martin to the day list.

May 20th: Dilijan, Lake Sevan, Yeghednadzor via the Salem Pass

Weather: Rather mixed with showers and sunny spells. Northwest wind 27 C

Armenian Gull - Vernon LundyAt 0700 hours we left the houses at Dilijan and went down to the guest house for breakfast. Afterwards we joined the main road to Yerevan which climbed steeply through deciduous forest and onto a grassy plateau. The riverside vegetation attracted Corncrake, Common Rosefinch, Red-backed Shrike and a Long-legged Buzzard. The road dropped down quickly towards the meadows and birch scrub surrounding Lake Sevan. Our first stop was at a degraded marshland habitat with bushes. This was productive for Tree Pipit, Mistle Thrush, Black-headed Wagtail, Sedge and Eurasian Reed Warblers, Common Whitethroat, Zitting Cisticola and a calling Common Quail. Further down the road we stopped at the causeway overlooking Lake Sevan. On the lake Great Crested Grebe, Gadwall, Garganey, Mallard and a surprise find in the form of two Greater Scaup. A marshy area has started to form on one side of the causeway which attracted Glossy Ibis, Black-headed Gull and Little Grebe. Next on the agenda was Gull Island a protected part of Lake Sevan which suffers from local fishing practices. The main island held hundreds of Armenian Gulls, Great Cormorant, Ruddy Shelduck, Black-crowned Night Heron, Squacco Heron, Red-crested Pochard and a fly-by of White-winged Terns. The limestone dotted grasslands attracted Skylark and Northern Wheatear. On the way out, another stop for Pygmy Cormorant, Cattle and Little Egrets, Black-winged Stilt and a Whiskered Tern. We rejoined the main road and stopped at an area of grasses, rocky outcrops and birch and willow scrub. On the rocky areas Long-legged Buzzards searching for prey. Down in the willows Common Whitethroat and a singing Grasshopper Warbler. As we headed towards the Salem Pass the lower grassland habitats attracted Marsh Harrier, European Roller, European Turtle and Collared Doves. The climb up to the pass was largely uneventful apart from singing Skylarks and Corn Buntings. At the summit we found a singing Ortolan Bunting and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes. On the way down to Yeghednadzor we stopped to walk up the old road recording a Golden Eagle perched on a rocky crag – great views. Eastern Black-eared Wheatears were also noted being in song and perched on earth mounds.

May 21st: Yeghednadzor, Zedea, Gormayk, Goris Gorge, Meghri

Weather: Sunny spells 27 C

Rock Petronia - Vernon LundyAfter spending the night with local families we headed south towards the border with Iran. In the village Vernon located a Garden Warbler feeding in fruit trees. A few kilometres south we turned down the road towards Zedea and a habitat of rocks, bushes, and upland fields. This was a wonderful area for birds and the group quickly located Chukar, White-throated Robins, Persian and Rock Nuthatches, Sombre Tit and a singing Woodlark. In the next village a White Stork sitting on a nest, and a pair of Olivaceous Warblers skulking in the undergrowth. The road south to Goris passes through a high mountain grassland and the village of Gormayk. The water meadows here held Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Black-headed and Corn Buntings. An abandoned building attracted the scarce and localised Lesser Kestrel and a male Montagu’s Harrier. Before Goris a hunting Short-toed Eagle, Horned Lark, Whinchat and Rock Petronia the last being seen singing from a concrete bus shelter. Lunch was taken overlooking the impressive Goris Gorge where a Lammergeier cruised by and another Short-toed Eagle showed. On the Meghri road which passes through large tracts of forest, birdlife was rather quiet. Despite this a pair of Egyptian Vultures showed well in a cave.

May 22nd: Meghri

Weather: Overcast with hail showers and sunny spells, southerly wind 18 C

Black-headed Bunting - Vernon LundyWe started the day by walking around the hotel grounds. In a bush a singing Lesser Whitethroat and nearby a hunting Eurasian Sparrowhawk which was bombed by a Lesser Grey Shrike. In the walls of an old factory a pair of Tree Sparrows were nesting. After breakfast we headed towards the Iranian border and then to an old quarry with a path leading into the mountains. Our birding was disrupted by hailstorms and torrential rain. At 0930 we started to walk up the gorge with the lower sections attracting Upcher’s and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers. Black-headed Buntings were singing everywhere from rocks to bushes. Several coveys of Chukar were also noted clambering around the rocky slopes. The sun brought out several Eastern Orphean Warblers singing from the tops of bushes. A Marsh Warbler was also noted having been grounded by the storms. On either side of the track Persian and Rock Nuthatches called from prominent points along with Black-eared and Finsch’s Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting, An Egyptian Vulture flew over on the return walk. Back at the quarry we finally caught up with the rather scarce and localised Persian Wheatear which allowed us excellent views. Back to the hotel for lunch and out again at 1430 hours. Our first birding stop of the afternoon was at the local cemetery which has a habitat of mature trees, gardens and open ground. A pair of Syrian Woodpeckers showed well on a telegraph pole. Near the ruined church a European Roller and a Levant Sparrowhawk. Next on the agenda was another path leading up into the mountains. After obtaining permission and the key we started the walk up the well-vegetated valley. Similar birds to the mornings walk with the addition of Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Crag Martin, Long-tailed Tit and Fire-fronted Serins. We also had the opportunity to study Persian Nuthatch, Upcher’s Warbler and Finsch’s Wheatear at length. At the end of the valley Blue Rock Thrushes were feeding well-grown young and Rock Buntings sang from the tops of small trees.

May 23rd: Meghri

Weather: Overcast and then warm and sunny 7 C/22 C

Today we visited a high mountain area in search of the specialities that Meghri has to offer. Our journey passed through dramatic scenery of deciduous woodlands, cliffs, high mountain pastures and abandoned villages. At the last village overnight rains had made the track treacherous so we had to walk the last few kilometres. The lower meadows had calling Corncrake and Common Quail, bushes attracted Common Whitethroat and Red-backed Shrike. Eventually we reached a vantage point where we could scan the rocky summit. After a little while we had views of the scarce and localised Caspian Snowcock. The group were pleased with this as we started the walk back down to the village. On the outskirts of the village a male Ring Ouzel sang from a boulder. Lunch was consumed by a waterfall. Afterwards a walk down the road produced a singing Green Warbler, Rock Bunting, Eurasian Linnet, Whinchat, Fire-fronted Serin, Woodlark and overhead an adult Golden Eagle and Lammergeier. We ended the day with a visit to the border area. The highlight here was displaying Booted Eagles high above the cliffs.

May 24th: Meghri, Yerevan

Weather: Sunny and warm 24 C

Today we started with the long journey north to Yerevan the capital of Armenia. Before leaving the hotel the first parties of Rosy Starlings were noticed and a Savi’s Warbler was singing from the riverside reeds. Our journey took us through the rather run down towns of Kapan and Goris. A highlight along the route was looking down on a pale phase Booted Eagle. Lunch was taken beyond Goris at an old shepherd’s summer residence. The gardens here held Rock Petronia and Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and the surrounding fields Egyptian Vulture and Long-legged Buzzards. The journey was disrupted south of Yerevan as our van suffered from fuel problems. This enforced stop was luckily opposite a series of cliffs and riverside habitats. Over the cliffs we noted Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Alpine Swift and Raven. On the river a stony island had a pair of nesting Little Ringed Plovers. The valley itself had several pairs of White Storks and a steady stream of European Golden Orioles. The journey to Yerevan passed over some steep mountains and down towards Armash which is famous for its fishponds and views towards Turkey. A short stop added Crested Lark, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Grey Heron and hundreds of Sand Martins.

May 25th: Yerevan, Mount Aragats

Weather: Sunny although cool at higher altitudes 17 C/27 C

The first bird I picked up this morning was a Laughing Dove. I headed towards the hotel where the rest of the group were staying to join them for breakfast. In the park opposite the hotel a pair of Collared Doves another uncommon bird species of the city. At 0800 hours we set off to explore the varied habitats and dramatic scenery of Mount Aragats. The first stop at a farm produced European Bee-eaters perched on telegraph wires along with Lesser Grey Shrikes, Black-headed and Corn Buntings. In the weedy fields and bushes Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Black-eared Wheatear, Eurasian Hoopoe, Crested Lark and a singing Grasshopper Warbler. The road winds upwards and through several villages until it reaches an open area of meadows dotted with rocks and trees. This particular habitat attracted European Honey Buzzard, Eurasian Jay, Black Redstart, Tree Pipit, Common Whitethroat and high numbers of Wood Larks and Ortolan Buntings. Further up the valley another stop in a damp valley with juniper bushes provided us with views of the localised Radde’s Accentor, White-throated Robin, Ring Ouzel, Rock Bunting and Common Rosefinch. Late morning saw the group near an old church and castle overlooking the impressive Mount Ararat in modern day Turkey. A pair of Blue Rock Thrushes was busy feeding young in the castle ruins. Below us in the valley a Golden Eagle flew past being mobbed by a Eurasian Kestrel and House Martins. On the cliffs both species of choughs, Rock Petronia and Rock Bunting were observed. An enjoyable lunch prepared by Arthur’s wife was consumed. After this a walk along the road was good for singing and displaying Barred Warblers. The road towards the summit is poor in places and the winter snow fields had started to recede a little. Careful scanning of the greener and rocky places allowed us to study Water Pipit, Black Redstart, White-winged Snowfinch, Alpine Accentor and several pairs of Horned Larks feeding young. The road had worsened before the summit so we turned round and headed back down. A highlight of the day (and probably the trip) was a Lesser Spotted Eagle sitting on a rock not 20 metres away from us – fantastic views. The journey back to Yerevan added a pair of Tawny Pipits and the typical open-country birds of Armenia.

May 26th: Yerevan, Armash Fishponds, Vedi

Weather: Sunny with afternoon showers 31 C

Grey-necked Bunting - Vernon LundyAt 0700 hours Arthur and Harut picked us up from the centre of Yerevan to visit the bird-rich marshes at Armash. En route White Storks were feeding in the fields and hundreds of swifts and swallows feeding on insects. After gaining permission to enter Armash we made a stop at the ruined barns for European Rollers, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hoopoe, Corn Bunting and roving groups of Rosy Starlings. A stand of reeds gave us great views of singing Great Reed Warblers and brief views of a Little Bittern before it dived into cover. Breakfast today was taken adjacent to one of the main fishponds. Pygmy Cormorant, Ferruginous Duck, Common Pochard, Great Crested Grebe, White-winged, Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns were recorded. The high stands of reeds surrounding the pond attracted Bearded Reedling and European Penduline Tit. After breakfast a walk down the track towards the border area with Turkey. On a drained fishpond we could study Caspian and Armenian Gulls, a single Caspian Tern, Collared and Black-winged Pratincoles and in an area of water a feeding Black-tailed Godwit. Continuing on our walk Grey and Purple Herons and Slender-billed Gulls flew over. In the reeds the group watched Eurasian Reed, Paddyfield and Moustached Warblers and a family of Bearded Reedlings. It was starting to get hot as we returned to the van and made the short journey to another part of Armash. This area is rather neglected and quieter and thus better for birds. The group located Garganey and Red-crested Pochards plus several Eurasian Hobby hunting above us. A bonus came when a pair of White-tailed Lapwings were seen skulking around in a flooded field. On the path in front of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater - Vernon Lundyus another bonus in the form of Rufous-tailed Scrub Robins that were singing and fighting with each other for territorial rights. Very close views of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters perched on reed stems and Little Terns flying to and from their nesting area. At 1300 hours in the heat of the day the group had an enjoyable and extended lunch in the shade of trees at an old restaurant. This special event was much appreciated by all of us and a special thanks to Arthur and his family for providing us with an Armenian lunch. Later in the afternoon we headed inland to the dry and arid areas around the town of Vedi. A walk into the picturesque canyon here added the uncommon Grey-necked Bunting, Isabelline and Finsch’s Wheatears, Persian Nuthatch, Blue Rock Thrush and displaying Bimaculated Larks in their bat-like display. Near the bus we located Egyptian Vulture and Long-legged Buzzard. We returned to Yerevan for our final night in Armenia before departing early the next morning to the UK where the tour concluded.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.


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