The legend about the founding of Tbilisi involves a pheasant. Wounded by an arrow of the king, it fell into a hot spring burbling up from the ground and was boiled with its feathers. The king then ordered that a city be built in that location and called it Tbilisi (meaning “warm place”). For bird-watchers, this is surely a sign that you’ve come to the right country.
Although bird-watchers may not come specifically to the city for their pursuit, they should be reminded that Syrian woodpeckers live in the parks of Tbilisi, as well as Kruper’s nuthatches, while kestrels make their nests on the roofs of many-storied buildings. Sparrow-hawks also often soar about overhead.
During the migrations of autumn and spring, there are shrikes, red-breasted flycatchers, and white-bellied flycatchers in the middle of Tbilisi. Indeed, during migrations, you can even see blue herons on the edges of lakes. In the reedbeds of Lisi Lake, there are buntings, sedge warblers, coots, and little bitterns. They nest here, because this place is their permanent home. Even paddyfield warblers have been seen in Georgia.
In Tbilisi, a bird-watcher could spend the whole day in Krtsanisi Forest Park, since there is no lack of fresh air or sights to see. Indeed, there are numerous species of woodpecker there, and snipes, magpies, bearded reedlings, ducks, and crakes make their nests by the lake. If you go toward Mtkvari River from the exit of the park, you will see many types of migratory birds during the migration period, including oystercatchers. If you can distinguish birds by their sound, then Krtsanisi Forest Park will certainly sound like a fairytale to you, so much so that no birdwatcher would regret a pit-stop in Tbilisi.
It can no longer be said that winter is an uncomfortable season for bird-watching, since there are a number of places in Georgia where amazing sights await, such as in Kolkheti National Park, at Paliastomi Lake, and the nearby marshes and river, where thousands of water birds spend winter.
The extreme eastern steppes of Georgia are spots of real discovery. Tens of thousands of little bustards, migrating from Central Asia, spend the winter there, with an uncountable number of them in Taribana Valley in February. You will also encounter rough-legged buzzards along the way.
On the three-hour drive from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda, a bird-watcher will be constantly enthralled by the fauna along the Aragvi River Valley.
Falcons and vultures nest in the cliffs, and dippers live on the shores of the river. Moreover, in the forests there are semi-collared flycatchers along with many other types of bird. What sort of bird-watcher could say no to seeing a long-hoped-for lammergeier around Gudauri? Choughs and alpine choughs, kestrels, and eagles also constantly soar through the skies of Gudauri.
Jvari Pass, 2,379 meters above sea level, is another important migration point for birds, especially in April, when you can watch the mass migrations of eagles and other birds of prey. You will also come across horned larks, water pipits, and snow finches on either side of it.
Be especially observant when coming down from the pass, as red-fronted serins nest in the basalt cliffs, while redstarts and great rose finches live in the sea buckthorn bushes. You will also catch sight of mountain chiffchaffs.
Meanwhile, morning in the Caucasus Mountains starts with the whistling of the snowcock, but you will never be able to find them by sound, as this disperses strangely in the mountains. If you do find a snowcock, you will see how it throws its head backwards while whistling. You should hastily make your way to the slopes of Kazbegi if you wish to see the “Caucasian Five” – the snowcock, the Caucasian black grouse, the Caucasian chiffchaff, the rosefinch, and Guldenstadt’s redstart.
During fall, one of the best places for bird-watching in Georgia is along the shores of the Black Sea, and specifically in Ajara. To the north of Batumi is the village of Sakhalvasho, which is one of the most significant places for watching the migration of birds of prey. Here, you can see honey buzzards in the sky every day, since it is the most dominant bird during the migration period. Every fall, more than a million birds of prey fly from the north to the south through the area around Sakhalvasho. The migration starts in the second half of August, reaching its peak in September.
Moreover, short-toed snake eagles, sparrow-hawks, and kites are all commonly spotted here.
The following birds fly along the coast of the Black Sea: pelicans, storks, cranes, and other large birds. Their path heads through Sakhalvasho as well.
Every year from the end of September to the beginning of October, bird-watchers come to Ajara from all over the world. One could say that during this time of year, the sky in that part of Georgia is seen mainly through a camera lens, and for the non-“twitchers” among us, watching the bird-watchers is almost as fun as watching the birds themselves!