Georgia

Edge Of Europe

A 9-day, small group birdwatching tour to Georgia

2ND DEPARTURE ADDED FOR APRIL 2021


Among European birds there are a special few that attain near-mythical status, for they occur only at the outermost reaches of the Western Palearctic region. Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Grouse, Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Great Rosefinch are all names to conjure with... and our Georgia birding tour has chances of all four! Now with an improved itinerary and fewer changes of hotel, Limosa’s late-April birdwatching tour to Georgia is timed to coincide with the best week to see them - plus so much more along the way! Join us as we return to bird at the 'edge of Europe', contrasting the spectacularly scenic mountains of the High Caucasus with the rolling Iori plains.

Tour Dates & Prices

Sat 17th April 2021

Sun 25th April 2021

  • Booking Closed

Sat 24th April 2021

Sun 2nd May 2021

  • Booking Closed

Tour Cost: 9 Days from £2295* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £400Single Supp: £160*Group Size: 10Leaders:  Brian Small & local guides
Join the Wait List

* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Georgian bird guide
  • Return flights - from London Heathrow to Tbilisi, with Lufthansa Airlines
  • 7 nights accommodation at hotels in Georgia
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees and permits
  • All tour-based tips (local guides, drivers, hotels) and taxes
  • Map & Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport meals/snacks and other items of a personal nature

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

Please note that Land Only is not an option on this tour (group flight)

Tour Cost: 9 Days from £2295* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £400Single Supp: £160*Group Size: 10Leaders:  Richard Thaxton & local guides
Join the Wait List

* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert English-speaking Georgian bird guide
  • Return flights - from London Heathrow to Tbilisi, with Lufthansa Airlines
  • 7 nights accommodation at hotels in Georgia
  • All main meals - and drinking water provided
  • Minibus transport
  • All excursions, local guides, entry fees and permits
  • All tour-based tips (local guides, drivers, hotels) and taxes
  • Map & Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport meals/snacks and other items of a personal nature

View or Download Tour Info Pack

Notes

Please note that Land Only is not an option on this tour (group flight)

Tour Highlights

  • Birding at the extreme easternmost ‘edge of Europe’ for sought-after Western Palearctic specialities
  • Caucasian Snowcock and Caucasian Grouse in the spectacular High Caucasus Mountains
  • Güldenstädt’s Redstarts and Great Rosefinches to look for on the edge of town
  • Lammergeier, Wallcreeper and Red-fronted Serin in the mountains
  • Mountain Chiffchaff, Ménétries’s, Barred and Green Warblers, Semicollared Flycatcher
  • Demoiselle Crane, Isabelline Wheatear, Rosy Starling and Black-headed Buntings on the steppe
  • Small group tour - maximum of 10 participants
  • Expertly led by Limosa guides (Brian or Richard) and a resident English-speaking Georgian bird guide

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly from London Heathrow overnight to Tbilisi

  • Early morning arrival Tbilisi and north into the Caucasus Mountains for Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Great Rosefinch. Night Stepantsminda

  • Snowcock, grouse and more upland specialities of the High Caucasus. Stepantsminda (2 nts)

  • Early morning birding at Stepantsminda, travel east via Tbilisi Reservoir. Night Signagi

  • Exploring the Iori Uplands for Demoiselle Crane, Ménétries’s Warbler and eastern Mediterranean species. Signagi (2 nts)

  • Birding on our way back to Tbilisi. Night Tbilisi

  • Fly Tbilisi-London Heathrow

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Trip Reports
guldenstadt's redstart georgia caucasus brian small card.jpg
Another star of our spring visit to Georgia and the Caucasus Mountains is the handsome male Güldenstädt's Redstart © Brian Small, Limosa

Following the outstanding success of our 2017 2018 and 2019 tours, we are thrilled to be travelling to Georgia again in April 2020 and 2021! It is such an exciting destination to travel to, with largely unspoilt landscapes and amazing bird life. Additionally, we have tweaked our itinerary so we now have fewer changes of hotel - and thus more time birding in the productive southeast.

North of Tbilisi, at the end of the old Russian highway, lie the High Caucasus mountains that straddle the border between Europe and Asia. Set amidst some of the highest peaks on the continent – five of which rise above 5000m (16,000ft) - lies the town of Stepantsminda, scenically situated below glacier-clad Mount Kazbeg. This developing town is an excellent base from which to explore the region and to search for four near-mythical birds that occur here at the easternmost edge of the continent. Mere mention of their names is enough to get the birding juices flowing: Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Grouse, Great Rosefinch and Güldenstädt’s Redstart. Georgia, now opening up to tourism, gives the best chance to see all four and this exciting early spring tour amidst the rich montane landscapes of the High Caucasus range is timed to catch them before they follow the retreating snow line higher and deeper into the inaccessible mountains.

From our conveniently located hotel, the hills are but a stone’s throw away and we start early for two of the key targets - for it is at this time that jumping Caucasian Grouse perform their lek on grassy slopes, while Caucasian Snowcocks give their presence away by their haunting, diver-like calls high above. Patches of buckthorn are places to search for crimson male Great Rosefinches and handsome white-capped Güldenstädt’s Redstarts. With three days to explore this fascinating mountain region, we have a great opportunity to see all four of these localised specialities against the fantastic backdrop of Mount Kazbek.

Our tour is designed to run over the best week of the year to find the redstart and rosefinch before they return to higher elevations for the summer. Hoping to catch the snowmelt just right, we will find that other high-altitude species have come down from the mountains, too.

On rockier pastures from which they pick on seed heads, Red-fronted Serins hop about the boulders and Mountain Chiffchaffs sing from budding trees. On basalt cliffs, Wallcreepers flutter like outsize butterflies, flashing crimson, black and white wings, while Lammergeier soar high above accompanied by passing raptors. White-winged Ring Ouzels of the distinctive form amicorum and Common Redstarts of the samamisicus race (Ehrenberg’s Redstart) are both smart and well worth catching up with. The mountain cols also act as pathways for migrants heading through the Caucasus into Russia, as passerines such as warblers, Red-breasted and Semicollared Flycatchers, Yellow Wagtails and Red-throated Pipits track north.

Reluctantly dragging ourselves away from the mountains, we return south via Tbilisi - pausing to check the large reservoir there (locally known as the ‘Tbilisi Sea’) for Armenian Gulls and marsh terns - before swinging east to Signagi and a very different environment.

With the snow-capped mountains still visible to the north, the warm, rolling steppe and hills of the Iori Uplands that lie to the east of the capital attract a very different range of species. Elegant, rainbow coloured Bee-eaters 'prruup' and swoop, and chestnut-backed Rollers flash ultramarine blue wings in display, while scratchy Ménétries’s and melodious Barred Warblers sing from the bushes. Black Francolin utter their grating calls and a wealth of wheatears feed on beetles, with Isabelline and smartly dressed Pied and Eastern Black-eared (as well as many hybrids between the two) to look for. Woodchat Shrikes are followed by Eastern Orphean Warblers and Rosy Starlings should just be arriving now to breed.

Amidst a landscape inhabited by Golden Jackals and Wolves (both rarely seen!), where prominent trees act as perches for vultures, the grassland rings to the spring songs of Calandra, Crested and Short-toed Larks and the simple phrase of black, rufous and yellow Black-headed Buntings. Montagu’s Harriers are a common sight as they float across the flowering grasslands and Eastern Imperial Eagles will be nesting. Exploring lines of trees and verdant streambeds we will also hope to come across a surprise migrant or two…

Our April 2021 tours to Georgia will be guides Brian Small (Tour 1) and Richard Thaxton’s (Tour 2) third visit each to ‘the edge of Europe’, with its unspoilt and charismatic landscapes, fine scenery - and some truly wonderful birds. Why not join us this year for the adventure?

mountain chiffchaff 1 georgia 0517 BS.jpg
Mountain Chiffchaff is common in the Caucasus range and can often be heard calling from birches about our hotel © Brian Small, Limosa

Days 1 - 2
FLY LONDON-TBILISI & TRANSFER TO THE CAUCASUS MOUNTAINS
Our spring birdwatching tour to Georgia tour starts with a Lufthansa flight from London to Tbilisi (via Munich). Early morning arrival in Tbilisi on Day 2, where we will be met by our local guide - and our adventure begins!

Heading north towards the magnificent mountains of the Greater Caucasus that loom ever larger in our view as we drive, we will stop along the way for breakfast and also to enjoy anything of interest. As we begin to climb higher, we’ll pause at Ananuri, where migrant birds rest in the foothills cloaked in oak and beech forest. In fine spring weather, vocal Green Warblers, and perhaps singing Red-breasted or Semicollared Flycatchers will be present. Around the monastery, parties of migrant Ortolan Buntings or Whinchats may gather.

Our destination today is the upland town of Stepantsminda, nestled in the Tergi Valley and dominated by the snow-capped peaks of the High Caucasus - notably that of Mount Kazbeg, which at just over 5000m (16,400ft) is one of the highest in Europe.

Following lunch, we arrive at our comfortable hotel, then have our first chance to explore this interesting town. A wealth of birds await as we set out for a local patch of budding buckthorn, hoping to pick up our first superb Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Great Rosefinch! High above, we may well see our first birds of prey spiralling over the mountains. However, it will have been a long day and we will settle to bed early ready for the exciting days ahead. Night Stepantsminda

Days 3 - 4
STEPANTSMINDA & THE CAUCASUS

Rising early we have our first chance before breakfast of two of the ‘star’ birds of the tour: Caucasian Grouse and Caucasian Snowcock. It is important to get out close to dawn as these shy grouse are most active during the first hours of daylight and can soon disappear as the sun rises.

The snowcock sit high above the grassy slopes and we should hear their eerie, diver-like calls echoing about the valley. Caucasian Grouse, a lyre-tailed and all-black relative of the Black Grouse, strut about on lower slopes and are generally easier to see. If we didn't manage to spot one yesterday, we also have a further opportunity to look for Great Rosefinch – the gorgeous males' deep alizarin crimson bodies flecked with white. Hopefully, we will return for breakfast well and truly ‘full’ of birds!

After breakfast, a stroll around town may reward us with more good species – perhaps a variety of migrants or ‘seconds’ of Great Rosefinch and the snow-capped Güldenstädt’s Redstart. This region is the only location within the Western Palearctic that offers a chance of seeing these birds, so we will spend some time checking for them all.

With Stepantsminda as our base for three nights, we can also explore the spectacular and winding roads that lead to the higher passes.

South at the Truso Valley, we should encounter a number of mountain birds, with tame flocks of Twite (of the race brevirostris), Shore Lark (race penicillata) and White-winged Snowfinches (here of the paler race alpicola) feeding beside the road and often giving excellent photographic opportunities.

As we scan the slopes, we should start to see our first raptors, as the likes of Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle and Lammergeier appear above a hill top. Small parties of the stunning, black and 'red-polled' Red-fronted Serin can be found amongst the boulders and crimson-winged Wallcreepers flutter about the sheer rock faces, while schools of Red-billed and Alpine Choughs wheel above. ‘White-winged’ Ring Ouzels of the amicorum race are a sight to behold and other ‘montane specials’ include Alpine Accentor, the abundant Caucasian Water Pipit (race coutellii), Northern Wheatear and Black Redstart.

If conditions are right, this region is a flyway for raptors heading into the vastness of Russia to the north. Northern Goshawk and Steppe Buzzard, plus Steppe Eagle, Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, and the season's first Red-footed Falcons could well be passing through the valleys at this time. Ortolan Buntings, Willow Warblers, Bluethroats and Barred Warblers may also be passing through, while Yellow Wagtails of various races and Arctic-bound Red-throated Pipits can be feeding in grassy fields. Mountain Chiffchaff is common here and often calls from the birches about the hotel! Taking our time exploring the small copses, we will hope to see a fine Semicollared or Red-breasted Flycatcher.

There are a number of interesting mammals in the region, such as East Caucasian Taur and Chamois. If we are incredibly lucky, Eurasian Wolf or Brown Bear are very occasionally seen up here, too. Two further nights Stepantsminda

Day 5
STEPANTSMINDA TO SIGNAGI

This morning we will make the most of our time in the mountains and get out early for one final chance to enjoy the snowcock or grouse.

After breakfast, we may check once more for migrants or try for Alpine Accentor or White-winged Snowfinch as we head over Jvari Pass or stop at the peace monument at Gudauri.

We'll break for coffee or lunch near Ananuri, where the fortress and surrounding trees can hold smart, white-winged samamisicus Common Redstarts – often known as ‘Ehrenburg’s Redstart’ and a potential split. Semicollared Flycatchers, Red-backed Shrikes, Barred Warblers and Ortolan Buntings are among other possible highlights to be found here in spring.

To the northeast of Tbilisi lies a large reservoir (known locally as the ‘Tbilisi Sea’), where non-breeding Armenian Gulls over-summer. We will drop by here after lunch to check them out and hopefully watch migrant terns such as Gull-billed or White-winged flash over the lake.

Continuing east, the landscape changes as we enter a region of open and richly coloured rolling fields, with lines of vines amidst blood-red poppies. The birdlife changes too, and we should soon begin to see Long-legged Buzzards, loud-voiced Nightingales and hundreds of spluttering Corn Buntings.

Arriving to Signagi in the late afternoon, we may have time to explore the area about the hotel - our home for three nights. Night Signagi

Days 6 - 7
IORI UPLANDS & CHACHUNA

The Iori Uplands are a line of hills set amidst Georgia’s rolling grass plains and incised by several gorges. Towns and hotels are few and far between in this far-flung, lightly populated corner of Europe, but at Signagi we are well placed to explore this tucked away land. Birds typical of this region include Green and Barred Warblers, Golden Oriole, Hoopoe, Woodlark, Red-backed Shrike, Nightingale and Rock Sparrow.

From Signagi, we will head southeast and visit the lake near Dedoplistskaro, checking for birds of prey such as Lesser Spotted Eagle and Black Vulture. Perhaps the water’s edge will be adorned by Black-winged Stilts or Ruddy Shelducks, whilst Bee-eaters pass by and Rollers perch on isolated trees. Yet more Corn Buntings chase about and Quails call (invariably unseen!) from the fields.

A little to the north lies Eagle Gorge Natural Monument, where Egyptian Vulture and Black Stork may be breeding. A late afternoon walk here should produce Booted and Lesser Spotted Eagles, or maybe even an Eastern Imperial. The limestone crags, zapped by Alpine Swifts, harbour some superb wildflowers and a few early butterflies.

It's from Signagi we'll also enjoy one long but outstanding day trip to the Chachuna Managed Reserve. The open steppe along the way can produce many great birds and often starts with an exultation of larks, including Calandra, Greater Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed. Rock Sparrows call wheezily and Little Owls should be looked for perched on small stones. Exotic Hoopoes and elegant Demoiselle Cranes may be found amidst the poppy studded hillsides, where Eastern Imperial Eagles breed. As the habitat becomes drier, Isabelline Wheatears and Woodchat Shrikes become increasingly common, the former already feeding well-grown young.

At the Dali Reservoir, specialities such as Black Francolin, Chukar, Ménétries’s Warbler and Eastern Orphean Warbler could well be found in the scrub below the dam. Penduline Tits call from the reeds and pools can hold Kingfisher, while the trees may reveal Green Woodpecker - looking somewhat incongruous out here on the steppe! A small colony of Lesser Kestrels wheels about an old dam building, usually giving fine views.

All the while, Egyptian, Black and Griffon Vultures loaf about and the noisy flocks of incoming Rosy Starlings - newly arrived here from their winter quarters in India - are a joy to watch as they chase after grasshoppers or sing from bushes. Two further nights Signagi

Day 8
RETURN TO TBILISI VIA DAVID GAREJI

With the whole day to travel back west to Tbilisi, we will take our time today, perhaps visiting a breeding spot for Semicollared Flycatchers near Kakheti or investigating the shores of Kopaditze Lake before diverting south to the monastery at David Gareja - another superb area of open steppe and hillside birding, close to the border with Azerbaijan.

Raptors drift above the open landscape and perhaps a Saker Falcon or Pallid Harrier will sail by. Today will also be our last opportunity to spot a party of migrating Demoiselle Cranes, pausing here on their long journey north before they attempt to pass over the high mountains.

The scrubby, rocky slopes beside the monastery at David Gareja could well provide us with our best chance of finding Pied Wheatear amidst the numerous hybrids and Eastern Black-eareds, while Ortolan Buntings sing from the bushes. Blue Rock Thrushes can be found here too, and migrants such as Eastern Orphean Warbler and Lesser Grey Shrike sing as Bee-eaters pass over the fascinating rock formations.

As we arrive back in Tbilisi for our final night, we’ll take our evening meal at a typical Georgian restaurant, where we can sample some local dishes and also enjoy a glass of one (or more!) of the fine wines of which the country is rightly proud.

Retiring early to bed will give a chance for a little sleep prior to our early morning transfer to Tbilisi Airport and flight home. Night Tbilisi

Day 9
FLY TBILISI-LONDON

We check in early this morning for our Lufthansa flight back to London (via Munich), where our spring birdwatching tour to Georgia concludes.

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A Roller perches on roadside bushes en route to Chachuna © Brian Small, Limosa

WHAT TO EXPECT
Our tour to Georgia and the High Caucasus is timed to run in late April and early May, when the mountains are accessible and there is still a good chance of snow lying - which keeps the high mountain specialities at lower elevations for us to find them! Though we have chosen the optimum week to visit, if the weather has been unseasonably warm, please note that Great Rosefinch and Güldenstädt’s Redstart can head higher into the mountains early and so can occasionally be missed.

Birding in the High Caucasus Mountains will require some physical effort, so a reasonable degree of fitness is required for this tour. We will be spending most of our time here at altitudes of around 1900-2200m (6200-7200ft), although, depending on snow conditions at the time of our visit, we may reach 2500-3000m (8200-9800ft).

We shall be birding at lower elevations, around 300-800m (1000-2600ft), in the hills and steppe around Signagi and Dedoplistskaro in the southeast, and the weather there will be warm-hot.

We shall naturally want to make the most of our days at the peak of early morning bird activity, so on this tour please note we will be starting early each day (around 6.00am) with optional early birding, and returning later for a sit-down breakfast (around 8.00am).

With our improved itinerary for 2020 and beyond, this tour involves only three (formerly four) longish drives: Tbilisi north to Stepantsminda on Day 2 (approx. 3 hours); from Stepantsminda south and east to Signagi on Day 5 (ca. 5 hours); and from Signagi back to Tbilisi on Day 8 (approx. 3 hrs) - though on each we shall stop along the way for birding and lunch.

The drive from Signagi to Dedoplistskaro takes about 45 minutes, from where our journey out to the reservoir near Chachuna is slow, over a 30km track - terrific for birding and we will stop regularly - but please note the going here will be rough and bumpy.

We will experience a difference in climate between the two different regions we visit. In the high mountains, the weather in late April is usually cold-cool and changeable, and with the winter snows beginning to melt. Daytime temperatures here typically vary from 5-15°C (41-59F), but drop quickly at night.

The southeastern steppes of the Iori Uplands in late April/early May average rather warmer, with daytime temperatures typically in the range of 13-26°C (55-79F) and periods of sunny skies and more overcast or rainy conditions. It can feel cool here, especially at night.

There is a high chance of some precipitation on this tour (most likely falling as rain, but snow is still possible in the mountains).

BIRDS
150-180 species   

MAMMALS
5-10 species

ACCOMMODATION
7 nights accommodation in Georgia, where we stay in a modern hotel at Tbilisi (for one part-night on our last full day) and in smaller, more simple yet comfortable hotels at Stepantsminda in the Caucasus Mountains (3 nights), and at Signagi (3 nights) in the Iori Uplands of the remote southeast.

MEALS
All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with breakfast on arrival in Georgia on the morning of Day 2 and concluding with dinner in Tbilisi on the evening of Day 8.

Most lunches will be sit-down meals at a local restaurant, with a packed lunch on our day at Chachuna. Continental-style breakfasts. Evening meals at the hotels tend to be simple but filling.

WALKING
Easy to moderate walking on this tour, with some uphill walking inevitable in the mountains – though precisely what we do and where we go is dependent upon weather conditions at the time as well as the snowline.

Wear sturdy waterproof walking shoes or boots with stout corrugated soles for good grip. We will be taking things slowly with plenty of time for breaks.

TRAVEL
We fly with Lufthansa from London Heathrow-Tbilisi (change of planes in Munich). Based on current airline schedules, flights arrive and depart Tbilisi early in the morning.

Ground Transport   Minibus with local driver.

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We often get good views of Wallcreeper - sometimes singing - on the basalt cliffs about the towns of Stepantsminda and Arpa © Brian Small, Limosa

Tour Gallery

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