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Category: GEORGIA
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STEPHANTSMINDA (KAZBEGI of former USSR)

GEORGIA (N)

42o39´N/44o38´E, alpine meadows and pastures, broadleaf and evergreen forest, scree and snowfields and high jagged peaks, 5033m (Mt Kazbek) 
Late April early May (this visit 30.04.12 to 09.05.12)

 

Birding Site Guide

To get to Stephantsminda (Kazbegi of former USSR) you leave the capital Tbilisi and head N for 200km on the old Russian road over the Krestuvri Pass (2395m). Travelling to and from Tibilisi it is always worth taking stops to check the extensive and seemingly largely pristine broadleaf woodlands for a wide range of species. The more sought after being Green Warbler and Semi-collared Flycatcher. There will be Syrian, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker and Red-breasted Flycatcher and Redstarts and a wide range of familiar species. Around the dam, there can be found Armenian Gull, Dipper and Grey Wagtail. 

 
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Marsh Frog, Georgia 2012 (BPW)

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Reservoir, Georgia 2012 (BPW)


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Typical broad-leaf woodland, Georgia 2012 (BPW)


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Mountains, Georgia 2012 (BPW)


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Mountains, Georgia 2012 (BPW)


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Ski resort, Georgia 2012 (BPW). 


The road is good until you get to the actual pass through the snow fields then the harsh weather and often un-surfaced roads mean 4 wheel drive is an advantage, though vehicles of all types were driven through with care. The many rough narrow tunnels with no road surface protect against avalanches but are the roughest sections. Just before the high point of the pass there is a ski resort, the chairlift and slopes closed in summer, but there are cafes still open for the ever passing vehicles. It is worth stopping here to bird as well, as the edge of the snow fields and boggy pasture can be productive for many Water Pipits, wagtails, Twite, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear. We also saw one Horned Lark and Snow Finch. Above check for migrant raptors (see further down account). 

 
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Towards the pass, Georgia 2012 (BPW)

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The pass, Georgia 2012 (BPW)


Here at Stephantsminda in the Greater Caucasus Mountains (at 1740m in Khokh Range), only around 20km from the Russian border, there are several places to stay, all fairly basic but not bad. Electrics, such as showers work, food is home prepared plentiful and good and the shops are well stocked with a wide range of commodities, including good beers and good and very reasonably priced home produced wines. We sayed at the Ilia Ecological Centre & State University as it was far up the back streets and so closer to the mountain slopes where we wished to be birding early. This place was good, with large rooms, friendly, helpful staff and good food. It was also, like everything in Georgia, reasonably cheap. 

 
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Approach to Stephantsminda, Georgia 2012 (BPW)


There are a few endemic and other sought after species here, and they can be found in the Kazbegi Nature Reserve. The endemics (or very near endemics) are Caucasian Snowcock, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Great Rosefinch. These species in summer are found on all the mountains all around, above the tree line and scree zone in the low sparse vegetation and bare jagged rocks and snow above. They come much lower in winter, into the tree line and around the highest villages. These highest villages then are the base from which to see these species in spring, when most birders come. Spring visits enables both to bag these retreating high altitude species and find some of the Caucasus summer specialities in the woods some way lower down the mountains. It is a fine balancing act though to hit it just right and not miss any of the specialities, but the mountains should be done first.

From Stephantsminda, take any one of the tracks out to the pastures and beyond to the scree slopes. The rocky mountain side by a small chapel is particularly productive. If you are able, get as high as you can, near the top of the scree or higher. Now you need good eyes and a powerful scope and patience! The most problematic species, is the one found highest up earliest in the year. Great Rosefinch live on the permanent snow fields at or very near the tops of the highest mountains, venturing lower in winter and harsh weather but very erratic and mobile. During our stay, the only birders to get reasonably good views were some young birders and guide who took a taxi up to the prominent chapel on the isolated domed hill out of town across the river, from where they walked three hours up and into the snow fields and found a small flock which they watched while stood in deep snow. They then had to get back. It depends how fit and determined you are. We had brief fly by views.

The Snowcock and the Caucasian Black Grouse live on the sparsely vegetated rocks and pasture just below the summits, and though difficult to spot due to distance and camouflage can usually be seen after several hours close scanning and attention to calls. An early start is best for these species as this is when they are most active and vocal.

An alternative mountain to try is the prominent domed mountain across the river towards Mount Kazbek with the Gergeti Trinity Church easily visible on top. It is possible to get a taxi to here and so save some walking. We did not do this area however.

Güldenstädt’s Redstart is thin on the ground and like any scarce mobile passerine can be difficult to pin down. The buckthorn around the scree slopes seems to be favoured, and needs checking everyday, or several times a day. The bushes may seem totally empty, until all of a sudden there one is! Here you will also find Caucasian Chiffchaff with its distinctive song and looks, but beware as other Phylloscopus species may be about including Common Chiffchaff (but mainly lower down) and Willow Warbler. There will be Black Redstart and maybe a few Common Redstart.

There are many other good species to keep your interest up while searching these mountains. There can be few places in the world as easy to see Lammergeyer, with at least 1 or 2 seen daily, in fact the whole valley is good for this species. Likewise the more familiar Golden Eagle and Griffon Vulture, while Peregrines and Kestrels stalk the crags. Other raptors should be looked for on passage, passing high along the mountain ridges in mixed groups of 10 to 50. These could well contain Steppe Buzzard, Honey Buzzard and any of the European harriers. There may also be Black, Egyptian or Lappet-faced Vulture, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Levant Sparrowhawk and Hobby. Other large passage birds could include storks and Common and Demoiselle Crane. 

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View of tallest mountain at Stephantsminda; Mount Kazbek with the Gergeti Trinity Church on domed mountain in front, Georgia 2012 (BPW)

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Stephantsminda, Georgia 2012 (BPW)


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Alpine pasture and mountain tops, Stephantsminda, Georgia 2012 (BPW)


Above the crags look for Alpine Swifts amongst the Common Swift and high migrating European Bee-eater. On the cliff sides look for Blue Rock Thrush, Wallcreeper and Crag Martins. In the seasonal high meadows (the highest pastures behind the village below the scree) there will be an abundance of pipits and wagtails. Most will be Water Pipits and flava wagtails, but there are other pipits such as Tree (not in trees!) occasional Red-throated and less commonly Meadow. Some of the distinctive flava wagtails include Grey-headed, but there are also others. Ring Ouzels and Northern Wheatear are common. Red-fronted Serins are not uncommon, particularly at the edge of conifer plantations, but it may take a while to get decent views and Alpine Accentor may also be found around the scree and pasture.

In the woods and plantations a small variety of common species can be found at low densities. In bolder strewn fields look for shrikes, particularly Lesser Grey and Red-backed and Golden Orioles. We also turned up a Güldenstädt’s Redstart here after a group earlier in the day had a total blank and in fact never saw one all trip. Persistence is the best strategy.

Along the River Thergi valley which the road follows, there are many possibilities, with Common Sandpipers everywhere and Dipper not uncommon. There will be the odd Roller and Hoopoe and small numbers of breeding Corncrakes. Passage birds could include anything from this region.

Species seen

 

  • GEORGIA FULL TRIP LIST
  • ANSERIFORMES: Anatidae
  • Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
  • Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
  • Garganey Anas querquedula
  • Common Pochard Aythya ferina
  • GALLIFORMES: Phasianidae
  • Caucasian Snowcock Tetraogallus caucasicus
  • Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus
  • Common Quail Coturnix coturnix
  • Caucasian Grouse Tetrao mlokosiewiczi Near-threatened
  • PODICIPEDIFORMES: Podicipedidae
  • Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
  • Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
  • PELECANIFORMES: Pelecanidae
  • Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus
  • PELECANIFORMES: Ardeidae
  • Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus
  • Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
  • Little Egret Egretta garzetta
  • ACCIPITRIFORMES: Accipitridae
  • European Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus
  • Black Kite Milvus migrans
  • White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla
  • Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus
  • Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus Endangered
  • Eurasian Griffon Gyps fulvus
  • Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus Near-threatened
  • Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus
  • Eurasian Marsh-Harrier Circus aeruginosus
  • Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
  • Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
  • Levant Sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes
  • Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
  • Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
  • Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
  • Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus
  • Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina
  • Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca Vulnerable
  • Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
  • Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
  • FALCONIFORMES: Falconidae
  • Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni Vulnerable
  • Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
  • Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo
  • Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
  • GRUIFORMES: Rallidae
  • Corn Crake Crex crex Near-threatened
  • Spotted Crake Porzana porzana
  • Eurasian Coot Fulica atra
  • GRUIFORMES: Gruidae
  • Demoiselle Crane Anthropoides virgo
  • CHARADRIIFORMES: Charadriidae
  • Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
  • Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
  • CHARADRIIFORMES: Recurvirostridae
  • Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
  • CHARADRIIFORMES: Scolopacidae
  • Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
  • Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
  • Ruff Philomachus pugnax
  • Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus
  • CHARADRIIFORMES: Laridae
  • Armenian Gull Larus armenicus
  • White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
  • COLUMBIFORMES: Columbidae
  • Rock Pigeon Columba livia
  • Stock Dove Columba oenas
  • Common Wood-Pigeon Columba palumbus
  • European Turtle-Dove Streptopelia turtur
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
  • Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis
  • CUCULIFORMES: Cuculidae
  • Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
  • STRIGIFORMES: Strigidae
  • European Scops-Owl Otus scops
  • Little Owl Athene noctua
  • CAPRIMULGIFORMES: Caprimulgidae
  • Eurasian Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus
  • APODIFORMES: Apodidae
  • Alpine Swift Apus melba
  • Common Swift Apus apus
  • CORACIIFORMES: Alcedinidae
  • Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
  • CORACIIFORMES: Meropidae
  • European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
  • CORACIIFORMES: Coraciidae
  • European Roller Coracias garrulus Near-threatened
  • CORACIIFORMES: Upupidae
  • Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
  • PICIFORMES: Picidae
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major
  • Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
  • PASSERIFORMES: Laniidae
  • Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio
  • Lesser Gray Shrike Lanius minor
  • Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
  • PASSERIFORMES: Oriolidae
  • Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
  • PASSERIFORMES: Corvidae
  • Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
  • Eurasian Magpie Pica pica
  • Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
  • Yellow-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus
  • Eurasian Jackdaw Corvus monedula
  • Rook Corvus frugilegus
  • Hooded Crow Corvus cornix
  • Common Raven Corvus corax
  • PASSERIFORMES: Alaudidae
  • Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra
  • Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
  • Crested Lark Galerida cristata
  • Sky Lark Alauda arvensis
  • Wood Lark Lullula arborea
  • Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris
  • PASSERIFORMES: Hirundinidae
  • Bank Swallow Riparia riparia
  • Eurasian Crag-Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
  • Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
  • Common House-Martin Delichon urbicum
  • PASSERIFORMES: Paridae
  • Coal Tit Periparus ater
  • Great Tit Parus major
  • Eurasian Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
  • PASSERIFORMES: Remizidae
  • Eurasian Penduline-Tit Remiz pendulinus
  • PASSERIFORMES: Aegithalidae
  • Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
  • PASSERIFORMES: Sittidae
  • Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea
  • Rock Nuthatch Sitta neumayer
  • PASSERIFORMES: Tichodromidae
  • Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria
  • PASSERIFORMES: Certhiidae
  • Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris
  • PASSERIFORMES: Troglodytidae
  • Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
  • PASSERIFORMES: Cinclidae
  • White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus
  • PASSERIFORMES: Regulidae
  • Goldcrest Regulus regulus
  • PASSERIFORMES: Phylloscopidae
  • Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
  • Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
  • Mountain Chiffchaff Phylloscopus sindianus
  • Green Warbler Phylloscopus nitidus
  • PASSERIFORMES: Acrocephalidae
  • Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
  • Eurasian Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
  • Great Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
  • PASSERIFORMES: Locustellidae
  • Common Grasshopper-Warbler Locustella naevia
  • PASSERIFORMES: Sylviidae
  • Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
  • Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
  • Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria
  • Eastern Orphean Warbler Sylvia crassirostris
  • Greater Whitethroat Sylvia communis
  • Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
  • Menetries's Warbler Sylvia mystacea
  • PASSERIFORMES: Muscicapidae
  • Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
  • Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin Cercotrichas galactotes
  • European Robin Erithacus rubecula
  • Common Nightingale (Eastern) Luscinia megarhynchos
  • Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva
  • Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
  • White-winged Redstart Phoenicurus erythrogastrus Rare/Accidental
  • Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros & semirufous
  • Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush Monticola saxatilis
  • Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola solitarius
  • Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
  • Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus variegatus
  • Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
  • Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka
  • Eastern Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe melanoleuca
  • Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina
  • PASSERIFORMES: Turdidae
  • Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus
  • Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula
  • Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
  • PASSERIFORMES: Sturnidae
  • Rosy Starling Pastor roseus
  • European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
  • PASSERIFORMES: Prunellidae
  • Dunnock Prunella modularis
  • PASSERIFORMES: Motacillidae
  • Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
  • Yellow-headed Wagtail Motacilla lutea
  • Grey-headed Wagtail Motacilla thunbergi
  • Gray Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
  • White Wagtail Motacilla alba
  • Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris
  • Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis
  • Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
  • Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus
  • Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta
  • PASSERIFORMES: Emberizidae
  • Rock Bunting Emberiza cia
  • Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana
  • Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala
  • Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra
  • PASSERIFORMES: Fringillidae
  • Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
  • Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus
  • Great Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilla
  • European Greenfinch Chloris chloris
  • European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
  • Twite Carduelis flavirostris
  • Eurasian Linnet Carduelis cannabina
  • Fire-fronted Serin Serinus pusillus
  • European Serin Serinus serinus
  • Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
  • PASSERIFORMES: Passeridae
  • House Sparrow Passer domesticus
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
  • Rock Petronia Petronia petronia
  • White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis

 

Other Fauna

MAMMALS East Caucasian Tur Capra cylindricornis is the most likely of the goat family here.

REPTILE & AMPHIBIANS Some species of lizard was seen occasionally even above the tree line. Marsh Frog.

Camberwell Beauty was present in small numbers and several dragonflies species were were seen.

PLANTS An interesting assemblage in the alpine pastures, particularly in the less well grazed and wetter pastures. Many plants, such as the buckthorn we could place to family, but all were a little unfamiliar and would reward the keen amateur with a field guide or an expert. We saw many Pasque Flowers Pulsatilla vulgaris, Asphodel spp. Tofieldia and Gentian spp. Gentianella.

 

Author: BSG. Tour organised and led by Nick Whitehouse and Lance Degnan This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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