Located deep in the Caucasus, our birding tour to Georgia and Armenia is one of the most recent additions to our birding calendar. The end of the line as far as Europe is concerned, Georgia and Armenia stand at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. For centuries both countries stood as Christian bulwarks against the Muslim tide sweeping across Asia Minor, before being dominated by the Mongols, Ottoman Empire, Persia (Iran) and ultimately the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to a rocky independence with military skirmishes and near economic collapse. Fortunately, both Georgia and Armenia are now well on the road to economic stability and prosperity.
Beginning in Tbilisi, we make our way along the Georgian Military Highway. Originally built to facilitate troop movements, it provides an excellent thoroughfare to some of the most spectacular scenery and birding sites on earth. Our first days around Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) offer us the opportunity for some high-altitude birding and some of the Western Palearctic’s most sought-after species including the splendid Caucasian Snowcock (endemic to this single mountain range), Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Great Rosefinch, Caucasian Grouse, the Caucasian (lorenzii) subspecies of Mountain Chiffchaff and Wallcreeper. The higher altitudes also support Bearded Vulture, Ring Ouzel, Red-fronted Serin and Alpine Accentor.
Heading south to Jandari Lake, we should find an isolated population of Pygmy Cormorants and our first Armenian Gulls, and will make a visit to the 6th-century rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery of David Gareja. After a week in Georgia, we move south into Armenia, first stopping at the ancient Haghpat Monastery.
Moving further south we will make a stop at Armash fishponds to search for three rare and elusive species, Marbled and White-headed Ducks, and White-tailed Lapwing, as well as a feast of warblers, before moving into the dry Vedi Hills to target Grey-necked Bunting, Finsch’s Wheatear, Eastern Rock Nuthatch and Desert Finch.
Our next destination on the tour is Meghri, in the deep south of Armenia near the Iranian border. Of prime interest here are the few pairs of Red-tailed Wheatears, a species mostly restricted to Iran and Afghanistan. Using 4×4 vehicles, we shall also ascend a high mountain to search for our second snowcock species of the trip, Caspian Snowcock. Finally, we will visit the sacred Mount Aragats, to the north of Yerevan. Here we shall be on the look-out for Radde’s Accentor, White-throated Robin, Bluethroat and perhaps Asian Crimson-winged Finch before taking in the scenic Amberd Fortress built in the 11th century.
White-headed Duck, Caucasian Grouse, Caucasian Snowcock, Caspian Snowcock, Pygmy Cormorant, Bearded Vulture, Cinereous Vulture, Demoiselle Crane, White-tailed Lapwing, Armenian Gull, Middle Spotted & Syrian Woodpeckers, Woodchat Shrike, Sombre Tit, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Bearded Reedling, Bimaculated & Calandra Larks, Mountain Chiffchaff (Caucasian), Menetries’s Warbler, Krüper’s, Western Rock & Eastern Rock Nuthatches, Wallcreeper, Ring Ouzel, Bluethroat, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Finsch’s & Red-tailed Wheatears, White-winged Snowfinch, Alpine & Radde’s Accentors, Desert Finch, Red-fronted Serin, Grey-necked & Ortolan Buntings.
Caucasian Squirrel, Least Weasel, Altai Vole, East Caucasian Tur
alpine heath, wetlands, marshes, arid scrub, snow line
typically European alpine, rather mixed with patches of rain and sunny periods. Warm at lower elevations to cold or very cold at high elevations or inclement weather
relaxed, some hiking at higher altitudes
Gergeti Trinity Church, Armash Fish Ponds, Mount Kazbek, Jandari Lake, rock monasteries of Davit Gareji, Debed Canyon, Mount Aragats, Amberd Fortress, Mount Ararat, Noravank Gorge and monastery