Georgia, Kazbegi and Lake Jandari, 24th - 29th April 2016 - part IV

Thursday, 28th

Mt Kazbegi in morning light
Nice and calm morning, +3°C with blue skies. Sunrise at 5.59, woke up 5.40 and started birding at 6.00. Lack of imagination or not, we started birding at the very same spot as usually. A few, maybe as many as five Caucasian Snowcocks were calling and two male Caucasian Black Grouses were present. An Eurasian Cuckoo was calling and Choughs and Alpine Choughs flew by. A male Rock Thrush again. I proceeded up towards snow patches again, and soon found a stunning male and 5 female/1st summer male Great Rosefinches feeding there.

Mixture of melting snow and solid rocks

Great Rosefinch, +2cy male

Great Rosefinch, +2cy male
Great Rosefinch, paired with an adult male, so probably +1cy female
An hour later a German birder spotted a female Caucasian Black Grouse a little bit closer on a top of a rock. While watching the Grouse he saw briefly a largish female Restart -specimen plunging down from rocky hill to the buckthorns, and moments later a male Güldenstadt's Redstart followed. Soon we relocated birds and clinched the ID of the female as G-start, too.

A Güldenstadt's Redstart, male

A Güldenstadt's Redstart, male
A Güldenstadtat's Redstart, female
Both birds were skulking in the buckthorns and proved to be tricky for photography. Finally both birds returned back to the mountains by flying up through the nearest gorge in position 42.652642, 44.657981.

There was a flock of at least 19 East Caucasian Turs Capra caucasica cylindricornis climbing on the steepest cliffs
Thick fog is about to cover Stepantsminda

Chaffinch ssp. solomkoi is not different than European birds in plumage, but it has a very prominent call, a bit like our Carelian Chaffinches, but more higher-pitched
We checked the small park in the village, producing a Blackcap and a Red-breasted Flycathcher. A group of Belgian birders recommended us to go to a watching point just north of Gudauri, to find out if there was migration going on or not. On our way we checked a few sites along main road.

In many places the road was still partly blocked by snow, leaving narrow tunnels the way to get through. This tunnel is in position 42.537798, 44.478943.

About 1,5km before reaching Jvari Pass (2395m) in position 42.5147222,44.4622222 we saw a White-throated Dipper ssp. caucasicus, an Alpine Accentor and two Caucasian Twites ssp. brevirostris. 

An Alpine Accentor
Scenery was somehow reminiscent of Finnish Kilpisjärvi scenes, but multiplied by something like ten times!

Nearby an old bridge in position 42.534946, 44.475407 we had a quick stop for Wallcreeper (a known site, and the Belgians had seen one just a few meters away 20 minutes earlier, but we didn't find it).

Habitat for Wallcreeper

Russian tourists with an orginal Soviet -style vehicle
We tried to find migrating raptors in position 42.4977778,44.4469444, with excellent views to the valley, and again in scenery watching point in position 42.493108, 44.453095. There was no real migration, but we still had a male Caucasian Black Grouse, a Griffon Vulture, two superb adult Golden Eagles, a Peregrine, a Black Kite, a Steppe Buzzard and a Long-legged Buzzard, which was probably breeding lower in the valley. Also a flock of Bee-eaters on migration.

Chough was not rare around watching point
Watching point in the background. Definetly not a place to bring kids here, because these nice meadows end in a vertical drop of some hundreds of meters
Hiring an ATV might be fun, but you must concentrate on driving not to dash to the ravine
On way back we had a quick check for the Wallcreeper at the brige, this time with great success! Jari found a male Wallcreeper climbing on a gravel bank just a hundred meters ahead. We had great views and saw the bird in flight too. It really reminds a miniature Hoopoe in flight, just as field guides tell!
A male Wallcreeper
Another record shot of a Wallcreeper
On our way back to the hotel we checked buckthorns and meadows by roadsides. Just south of Stepantsminda, by the bridge to the village Pansheti, in position 42.633113, 44.623059 at 17.40, Jari spotted a male Güldenstadt's Redstart perching on a buckthorn. Once again, it was well hiding in the middle of the bushes, just few meters away.

a male Güldenstadts Redstart
a male Güldenstadt's Redstart, 2cy male based on very worn remiges
Before reaching the hotel we checked buckthorn bushes in position 42.646975, 44.645647. The British group had had 5 male and a female G-start here earlier in the morning, but we had just 7 Whinchats, a Red-Breasted Flycatcher and the usual stuff, like dozens of Water Pipits.

Making a record of observations of the day and planning the next
After dinner we gathered to lobby to plan itinerary for our last day in Georgia. The weather forecast was not very promising, and in case of rain there would be little to do around Stepantsminda. In that case we might drive to Lake Jandari at Azerbaidzan border, just one hour south of Tbilisi, although this was not included in our original plan.

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