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Georgia - 12th > 26th September 2019...

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Old Tuesday 10th September 2019, 07:04   #1
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Georgia - 12th > 26th September 2019...

I am off for a 2nd consecutive visit to this very friendly and welcoming country and have been counting the days since we booked flights 4 months ago.

We fly Luton > Kutaisi with WizzAir and paid £124 return each.
We travel from Birmingham, Digbeth to Luton Airport by National Express at £22 return each. So with our rail fare from Stourbridge it works out at around £150 per person return for all external travel.

We arrive at Kutaisi just after midnight and have booked a Georgian Bus Company coach at 0130 for a 5 hour journey to Tblisi for about £3.50 one way. I will be birding all the time but the first week will be spent with 3 nights in the capital which we haven’t visited before and 3 nights about 100 miles to the East at Signagi - the centre of Georgian Wine production

Tblisi has parks and a large river that runs through it so i will bird pre-breakfast and generally thru the day as we mooch around. At Signagi the hostel is more rural and overlooks hills and a valley so it will be interesting to observe whatever passage is taking place there in addition to movement locally in gardens etc. Georgia has the oldest known Viniculture from 6000BC and there are numerous vineyards to visit which is part of the itinerary

Transport to and from Tblisi will be via local minibus which is about £2 each way. From Tblisi we will be taking the modern bullet train which takes about 5 hours to Batumi. We have 7 nights booked in Batumi Old Quarter at a lovely hostel with a choice of Black Sea or Lesser Caucasus views for £130 with en-suite for 7 nights. Self-catering is available altho there are plenty of eateries and bars locally. Georgia is incredible value for money and works out about 1/3 cheaper than birding in Tarifa, Spain.

The 2nd week will be full on birding with pre-breakfast mooching around the little park areas between the hostel and adjacent to the beach. I plan 3/4 visits up to the Batumi Raptor Count Watchpoint #1 at Sakhalvasho alternating with a 20 minute cable car ride over the city up to the Argo mountain cafe. Here you can get beer, shelter if rain comes and toilets for the bride. Sakhalvasho has resident counters and bird groups coming and going plus Lonesome Doves like me - i can get a taxi to and from or will hopefully take a seat on a minivan run by BRC daily for a nominal charge. At Sakhalvaso little is missed and goodies pointed out but at Argo you ID your own stuff which is a good contrast imo.

We take an old Soviet cattle-class train to return Batumi > Kutaisi at 0.65p for 4 hours

I will update with a daily summary on here and will do a trip overview on returning and hopefully will provide a bit of daily interest for anybody visiting the thread.

Good Birding -

Laurie
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Old Tuesday 10th September 2019, 07:21   #2
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Enjoy the trip Laurie, we’ll be arriving in neighbouring Armenia the same day as your arrival for a 10 day visit, let’s hope not all of those raptors take the Azerbaijan route after passing Georgia, will be interesting to compare notes ( birds and wine ).
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Old Tuesday 10th September 2019, 07:44   #3
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Yes it will be Richard, particularly with any movement at Signagi, i look forward to your reports

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Old Tuesday 10th September 2019, 11:54   #4
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Up until yesterday.....
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Old Wednesday 11th September 2019, 10:21   #5
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Looking forward to this - migration birding in a great setting is hard to beat!

Cheers
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Old Wednesday 11th September 2019, 11:01   #6
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Am expecting a “Right Riveting Read” Laurie.
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Old Wednesday 11th September 2019, 14:05   #7
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………. alternating with a 20 minute cable car ride over the city up to the Argo mountain cafe. ………….
Laurie
We'll be at Batumi from the 25th to the first of October. Thus, I would love to get info in time about the Argo mountain alternative. We'll also go for the river area next to the airport, if we can stand the shooting.
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Old Saturday 14th September 2019, 03:04   #8
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We shall overlap at Batumi.....by a day!

I am looking forward to both Sak and Argo but at Argo you are on your own (or i have been. David Lindo who i think attended the early Sep Festival will have been back up there so there should be info on his Urban Birder blog thingy.

All our travelling meant about 30 hours without sleep so yesterday we had to crash from about 10:00 > 1330. I then spent a couple of hours on the local hill and Olive area but it was quiet as it was the middle of the day and quite hot.

We are in Tblisi until Monday so birding will be adjacent rocky habitat, Botanical Garden, a bit of river and the skies.

Nothing larger than a Peregrine but plenty of Bee Eaters moving along with a mixed association of Hirundines - mainly Swallows with attendant House Martins but also a few Rumpers and the odd Sand. Still lots of fairly low Bee Eaters at last light from one of the outside bar areas

A quiet start but it was Friday 13th

Good birding -

Laurie
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Old Sunday 15th September 2019, 04:56   #9
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Forgot to add yesterday re: the shooting at Chorokhi Delta - there was none i heard last year because it has been banned (altho it was illegal anyway) and Soldiers have been on show to remind anybody considering taking it up again!
The situation shoukd be the same this year and for the foreseeable future - if you do see any miscreants then if possible det a number plate or a photo and take it into or email Batumi Tourism as they are keen on following things up. That is what they told me last year - i sent them an email and photos of flytipped rubble and said they need to do something as it is unsightly and considering Georgia had a purge on littering a few years ago it is at odds.

Yesterday i did 7-10 (doesn’t get light until 7ish) mooching and road walking higher before descending to the far end of the Botanical Gardens and returning with ca15k under my belt. I didn’t have a lot to show for it unfortunately everywhere was quiet but for the constant calling of Bee Eaters until about 11 and again from about 4-7. I did click with a distant female-type Marsh Harrier which the only raptor seen. Other species included Raven and Spotted Flycatcher in addition to local passerines and calling Chiffchaffs. It is much quieter birding here over Tblisi than i expected but hey ho we do other things like the National Museum etc. Caspian and Yellow-legged Gull were noted from a riverside bar as was a very confiding Kingfisher.

A lie in this moring and out at 9 for an hour and a half as i am still lagged from travelling. I will walk high up to the adjacent Tabori Church and sit watching for any movement. I expect today to be a repeat of yesterday the weather is forecast good so there will be things flitting.....hopefully.

Over at Batumi Honeys have dropped into the low hundreds with Black Kites at 10k+ in the middle of their season and a tally of nearly 4k Steppe Buzzards indicates this species has started moving in number. A Juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle was the highlight at Shuamta

Good birding -

Laurie -
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Old Monday 16th September 2019, 03:52   #10
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Another quiet day with 2 hours spent up at the adjacent Tabori Monastery...

Plenty of Bee eaters but virtually no Hirundines although parties appeared in the afternoon. The highlight was a superb Goshawk. I was scanning and turned to face the hillside when the bird flew towards me from some small Pines about 200 metres away. I just watched without binoculars as it glided past about 5 metres away turning to look at me in the process - head to head literally

I shall be glad to move on today for 3 nights at Signagi and see what that has to offer in addition to vineyards and Wine

It rained virtually all day at Batumi yesterday and is forcast wet for a couple more days but changes.....when we arrive Yesterdays count was only a few hundred birds at each station

Good birding -

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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 04:51   #11
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I am now at Signagi ostensbly for a wine tour today and a change of scenery in a much smaller place. I am not a fan of stopping in big cities and although we stopped in the Old Quarter of Tblisi i won’t be in a rush to return as i fnd the faded charm, indoor market and little bars of Kutaisi much more to my liking...

Even here as Signagi there is still Bee Eater movement throughout the day. A nice surprise was a pair of Cuckoos dueting early this morning - i wouldn’t have thought birds would be calling on migration. There are some tantalisingly close wet areas seen from the top of the town but half an our out this morning and they seemed to be no nearer like a mirage. They have some free hostel bikes so if they are deemed roadworthy i might take a stab at them tomorrow if i overcome my phobia of getting a puncture without being able to repair it

We have a 5 hour wine tour in the heart of Georgia’s Khaketi grape region booked today. An interesting itinerary taking in tasting, cultivation and pressing etc along with the only cave storage and a couple of Monasteries if wished. I am not into them personally but the viewpoints should be impressive. The cost is reasonable at 140GEL, about 40 quid, for the 2 of us and a personal driver.
Travel in Georgia is cheap, we took a minibus yesterday for 100 miles from Tblisi>Signagi for 6GEL each - about £1.75p

I will have much more to report birdwise next week when at Batumi.
Yesterday both stations reported a total of 1000+ Marsh Harriers and good numbers of Black Kites although the cut the count short at Shuamta as their hair started standing up due to the electricity in the air with the very real risk of conducting lightning

Good birding -

Laurie -
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Old Tuesday 17th September 2019, 13:11   #12
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We can confirm the Bee eater migration is in full swing down through Armenia too Laurie, often invisible high in the sky even at a 2350m pass today and continuing on into Iran, can also hear Blue-cheeked calling at the moment from our B&B 2kms from the border
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 06:08   #13
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Not over-familiar with BCBE call although ironically the first bird i saw was in Ouzarzate, Morocco, which i picked up on flight call as i thought it sounded BE but ‘not quite right’. It perched and was joined by another to confirm ID.

We visited vineries ystda and ended up 40 miles from the Dagestan border and for 20 quid each in a very comfortable car with the geust house husband as guide was excellent value. We covered in excess of 200km but still nothing large seen. The day ended with an impressive thunderstorm back at Signagi.

Meanwhile back at Batumi things, to me at least, seem much quieter than the same time last year with only the low few thousand birds being logged. Notable is the increase in Eagles particularly Lesser Spotted. I am optimistic for a busy week from Friday onwards. The weather after Thursday looks very changeable but i will arrange my itinerary on a daily basis depending on actual local conditions. I can juggle between Chorokhi Delta, Argo Cafe and Sakhalvasho and will post accordingly. There is also the beach/park, Batumi ‘Bay’ and the Botanical Gardens for migrants and residents such as Kruper’s Nuthatch which would be a newbie.

Good Birding -

Laurie
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 12:58   #14
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Just a couple of hours aound Signagi gardens this morning. In addition to local stuff including Green Woodpecker and Raven i had a handful of active Phylloscopus which looked Chiffchaff types. The call on several was slightly different and several birds were quite Brown without Green tones with one indivdual noticeably Grey. All birds were dark-legged with short PP and several were cocking their tails downward whilst feeding. I presume these are Mountain Chiffchaffs - sindians ssp lorenzi. Stunning weather again ca30c without a cloud the sky remaining uncluttered save for the welcome site of a Steppe Buzzard the continued movement of Bee Eaters lasted from about 9 until 11.

Batumi beckons tomorrow still with changeable conditions forecast over the weekend - my theory is that heavy weather in the Greater Caucasus has displaced birds forcing them to skirt North of the Black Sea via Ukraine and Bulgaria and use the Bosphorus instead?

Good birding -

Laurie -
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 13:09   #15
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The view currently from the bar at Signagi.
The plain below, with numerous wet bits, is tantalisingly close but realistically too far. The river meanders its way into an Azerbaijany lake.
The distant mountains are from left to right - Dagestan, Azerbaijan and Armenia ����
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 13:52   #16
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The view currently from the bar at Signagi.
The plain below, with numerous wet bits, is tantalisingly close but realistically too far. The river meanders its way into an Azerbaijany lake.
The distant mountains are from left to right - Dagestan, Azerbaijan and Armenia ����
You’re high enough from that bedroom window to handglide Laurie! That’s what I would do.
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Old Wednesday 18th September 2019, 14:54   #17
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That’s a bar room not a bedroom mate.

A stonkingly beautiful day here with the last Bee Eaters going over at 18:30 local. Batumi stations picked up to 5 and 4k respectively today with nearly double figures of Pallid and nearly 30 large unidenfied ‘large Eagles’. I noted from last year that a good number of birds overflying Sakhalvasho dropped slightly lower over the Argo Cafe so it could bode well - we shall see.

The new observation building c/w proper, ie not Raiders of the Lost Ark steps, has been constructed with viewing inside and on the terrace as well as sitting on the hill bit. This will help when bad weather comes in and allow continuous observing. A change from the tarpaulin-and-pole affair of last year that did have some sort of toilet shack the year before..........until the first birder (presumably female) answered the call of nature to find a young Brown Bear occupying it

The expression do Bears sh1t in the woods didn't apply as they use the toilet facilites

Laurie
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Old Friday 20th September 2019, 18:23   #18
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Yesterday was a day of travel comprised of.....

Stirring at 5:30.
Minibus from Signagi at 0700.
Train from Tblisi at 10:30.
Arrival at Batumi digs at 4pm.

En-route were...

Wheatear - fem type.
Red-rumped Swallow - 2.
Steppe Buzzard x2.
Booted Eagle x2.

Evening around Batumi yielded late singles of Honey Buzzard and Black Kite.
Of note in the bay were a handful of adult Little Gulls hawking for food.

A couple of Magpies were the first recorded for the trip and whilst on Corvids Jays are very noticeable but as Georgia has 40% woodland cover that should be no surprise but the subspecies in this region ‘atricapilla’ has a distinct blotchy White head.

Today has been an excellent day at Sakhalvasho with probably the Star bird of the Autumn and Georgia’s 4th record following hard on the heels of the 3rd this Spring. The gurus have not yet posted details probably because of either aging it or ascribing it to a subspecies but details of the bird and one or two other large Eagles will be posted in due course and i will detail my day tomorrow

Good Birding -

Laurie -
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Old Saturday 21st September 2019, 05:19   #19
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An excellent first day yesterday (Friday) up at Station #1 Sakhalvasho.

Weather was good with batches of low cloud and hot conditions for most of the day. Contrast that with the previous day which was cloudless and hot which meant the counters only recorded 70 birds by 3 o/c before streams started moving thru.

The new Observatory is in situ as is safe steps and the 750m gravel road is now concrete all the way with a cutting in the road bank to accomodate a dozen or so cars and a turning area for a taxi - i didn’t find that out before being dropped off on the main road so arrived in a perspired state.

I viewed from about 1030-1700 and altho numbers are not in the tens of thousands at this stage it is the quality and variety that counts and the reason why i have come a week or so later this year. The beginning of Sept hosts the Batumi Bird Festival and the last week of the month is ‘Eagle week’ and that is already in full swing

I recorded 19 species of raptor ystda iirc - the counters list differs but believe it or not they do not get everything if the streams are arriving thick and fast and they are situated at ground level whereas lots of visitors are on the new patio which gives a different perspective of passing birds.

I saw no less than 6 species of Eagle:

Greater Spotted, Lesser Spotted, Eastern Imperial, Steppe, Short-toed and Booted. No Eastern Imp is mentioned but a total of 100 ‘large Eagles’ are noted. I stood with 3 German birders who i spoke with last year and they are sh1t hot - they saw 2 Imps and an Egyptian Vulture again a missing spp from the count.

Black Kites and Steppe Buzzards were the most numerous but we had 3 spp of Harrier with 1 each of Monty and Pallid and a dozen or so Marsh. Booteds were predominately ‘dark’ birds in fact ppl were running from one side to the other to photo ‘pale’ birds. I only saw 1 adult Honey Buzzard amongst the steady trickle of juveniles. I saw a single each of Hobby and Peregrine the former being a young bird and many Sparrowhawks unfortunately no Levantines. It is quite an odd sight seeing little Sparrowhawks in amongst giants like Lesser Spotted Eagles

3 White Storks flapped through and a distant flock of 30+ Black Storks disappeared into the low cloud at one stage. This must have bought insects lower because for 15 minutes we were enveloped in Bee Eaters and Hirundines.

Bird of the day and probably of the season was a Black-winged Kite picked up by a local birder. It was kettling with larger birds and split between the Station and the Black Sea. This allowed good views as the 50+ ‘tourists’ converged on the one side of the terrace. This tepresents the 4th record for Georgia afaik following on from the 3rd this Spring at Chorokhi Marshes altho the BRC site states 3rd.
There are some photos which i will link or credit later. The views i obtained makes me think it is an Eastern bird which would be the obvious one as it looked to have dark secondaries to my eyes.

All in all a superb day. Contrast that with heavy rain in Batumi ALL night and set in all day. I might try and pop either to the Botanical Gardens or Chorokhi if it showers. Tomorrow is the Argo Cafe then Monday and Wednesday back at Sak with Tuesday againat Argo. I will post some pictures later today as it is that sort of ‘rainy day’ stuff.....to keep us out of bars until o’clock

Good birding -

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Old Saturday 21st September 2019, 05:34   #20
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Yesterdays Black-winged Kite - the dark secondaries are clearly visible.

These are from BRC’s FaeceBook page and not mine - i do have some and will post accordingly

Laurie -
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Old Saturday 21st September 2019, 12:45   #21
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Adult Lesser Spotted Eagle - one of several dozen I saw yesterday. A lot of birds passed within positive ID range but still about 75 individuals were classed as 'large Eagles'...
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Old Saturday 21st September 2019, 12:54   #22
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Steppe Buzzard - juv i think.

Peak Steppe should be this week with large numbers arriving from further East so days of 50k might be just around the corner particularly following what will be nearly 18 hours of rain as i type.....from a bar!
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Old Saturday 21st September 2019, 13:50   #23
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Steppe Buzzard - juv i think.

Peak Steppe should be this week with large numbers arriving from further East so days of 50k might be just around the corner particularly following what will be nearly 18 hours of rain as i type.....from a bar!
Surely that’s a Honey Buzzard Laurie (only seen one in Armenia all week).
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Old Saturday 21st September 2019, 14:18   #24
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You might be right Richard.

The proportions did not look right to me but the wing-shape probably veers that way. A lot of juv Honeys were dark and there was a lot of variation in the Steppes.

This is the place to learn.....not BF - Sakhalvasho

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Old Saturday 21st September 2019, 17:33   #25
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……..
The proportions did not look right to me but the wing-shape probably veers that way. .........….Laurie -
Also, the tail is too striped for a Steppe Buzzard.

Looking forward to try our skills ourselves beginning 26th. We'll arrive too late on the 25th to do much. So no chance to meet, unfortunately. I very much appreciate your daily updates. I'll not be able to do the same, I'm afraid.
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