27 April–3 May 2015
This exciting tour to the furthest outreaches of the Western Palearctic offers a unique chance to see a number of species at the very edge of their ranges, including White-winged Redstart and Great Rosefinch. Further specialities include Caucasian Black Grouse, Caucasian Snowcock, Mountain (Caucasian) Chiffchaff and Green Warbler, all of which are found in the spectacular Caucasian Mountains, rising to 5642m above the plains.
Day 1 Flight from London to Tbilisi.
Day 2 Early morning arrival followed by a four-hour drive to our main destination: Kazbegi village in the Terek River valley, where we will stay for four nights. The Georgian Military Highway snakes through a gorge before finally crossing Krestovyy pass at 2379m, dropping down into Kazbegi and eventually reaching the Russian border. Birds we will look for en route include Egyptian Vulture, Eurasian Griffon, Lammergeier, Peregrine, Horned Lark penicillata, Common Redstart samamisicus, Twite brevirostris and White-winged Snowfinch.
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 will not be far from the highest peak of the central Caucasus, Mount Kazbek at 5033m, we will not have to climb that high to see the 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 Fire-fronted Serins can be seen 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: White-winged Redstart and Great Rosefinch. This is the only Western Palearctic location for these species. Great Rosefinch in particular is well worth searching for 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 Mountain (Caucasian) Chiffchaff and Green Warbler. Depending on the weather conditions, there may be a variety of migrants including European Bee-eater, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Red-throated Pipit, Western Yellow Wagtail and Ortolan Bunting. There are likely to be raptor movements at any time and, with the right weather, the numbers could increase to hundreds or even thousands of birds each day. European Honey-buzzard will probably be the commonest raptor, closely followed by Montagu's and Pallid Harriers, Western Marsh-harrier, Common (Steppe) Buzzard and Black Kite, 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.
Day 6 After lunch we will leave Kazbegi and drive back over the pass to Tbilisi, birding en-route of course. We may have some time for sightseeing in this famous old city before dinner. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Day 7 Early morning departure back to the airport for our return flight home.
General Information The weather can be highly variable from below freezing with snow to pleasantly warm. The amount of physical effort required is moderate, although it may be necessary to walk up some mountain paths for high altitude species. Visas are required and information will be supplied. The area we will be visiting is entirely safe.
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6 with 2 leaders; maximum group size: 12 with 3 leaders.