Visiting Vardzia (30 km from Aspindza) not only entails sampling a unique piece of Georgian history, but it also means a chance to observe a variety of birdlife.
Sparrows, ravens, and Egyptian vultures nest in the rocks of Vardzia. You can also see the beautiful blue rock thrush and rock emberiza, while the surroundings are the only place in Georgia where you can hear the whistling of tichodroma (or wallcreeper). Birdwatchers have to listen carefully here as the sounds are not easy to distinguish.
Aside from the famous Vardzia, there are many caves in the rocks of the Mtkvari Cave where birds of prey nest. Indeed, you will often see Egyptian vultures, peregrine falcons, common kestrels, and eagles flying here. The caves here are also home to the local “lord of the night,” the horned owl.
While traveling through the Mtkvari River Valley, you will also see colonies of colorful bee-eaters. During the day, the peculiar sounds of the broad-tailed reed coming from the bushes by the Mtkvari River can be heard all around. The most striking sound of the night however, belongs to tiny owls.
In the vicinity of Vardzia, the reed-covered shores of Tsundi Lake are home to small Eurasian bitterns. Many different birds rest on this small lake during their migration periods.
Crucially, in Vardzia and its surroundings, birdwatchers need at least a day to explore, meaning you should stay over at one of the many comfortable hotels and guesthouses in the vicinity of Vardzia Monastery.
Around 103 km from Vardzia, at an altitude of 2,182 meters above sea level, Zekari Pass connects Samtskhe-Javakheti with Imereti. The road leading up to the pass goes through the beautiful forests of Abastumani and Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, where, along with many other birds, the Eurasian nuthatch nests.
A small but stable population of Caspian snowcock, very rare to Georgia, lives around Zekari Pass surroundings as well.