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Saturday 14th May:  Back to Tbilisi

(Robin Law)

Primarily a travelling day, but we were up before breakfast birdwatching individually in the woods and trees around Villa Rest, Dilijan.  Notable species observed included Wryneck, Semi-collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers and Black and Middle-spotted Woodpeckers.  We were away by 11am heading for the Georgian border and Tbilisi.

En route, a short pause by the roadside yielded Long-legged Buzzard, Stonechat, Lammergeyer and Lesser Grey Shrike, as well as a number of butterflies, which included a Green-underside Blue. A subsequent pre-lunch stop by a monastery gave Honey Buzzard and Griffon Vulture.  Some of the party followed a narrow mountain path up towards the monastery which wandered through gardens of houses. As we plodded up the narrow trail, a Dahl’s Whip Snake was accidently trodden on and killed. It was taken back to D’Weasel for formal identification! A family in one of the houses was selling honey and invited Helen, Rob and me in for some cake – Helen bought some honey.  The rest of the party stayed close to the bus and looked for insects.  A Spotted Sulphur moth and several Orange Tips were noted, but the butterfly of the trip was a Hungarian Glider, which gave an amazing display as it glided up and down a railway track. The heavens then opened and most took refuge in the bus whilst those up high scampered down the hill.  The rain soon passed and the sun was out again but there was no sign of the glider, which was much to Steve’s disgust and D’Weasel’s amusement – Hungarian glider would have been new to Steve’s list and D’Weasel had now got it on his! An Amenian Rock Lizard was photographed as it rested beside an old hut.

We had a superb lunch at the Aqefilyan hotel in Haghpat and then we looked for further butterflies on the slopes. We watched Caucasian Agamas sunbathing on the rocks, Scarce Swallowtail butterflies flitting around the hillside and another Redstart of the race Samamisicus. A breeding colony of Griffon Vultures on the opposite side of the gorge was scanned and a large chick could be seen in one of the nests.

The border crossing didn’t go without incident as Ernie (lucky) Lucking decided to break from the crowd and sneak over the border on his own leaving his fellow travellers to take his cases full of contraband through customs!  He was gone for some time and we began to wonder whether he had been picked up by the espionage authorities having attempted his single-man crossing incognito!

We eventually found him on the Georgian side of the border when he nonchalantly asked what had kept us!

At the border crossing we saw House Sparrows, Swallows, Goldfinches and a second Hungarian Glider butterfly (Steve missed this one too!). Later, from the bus in Georgia, we saw a flock of around 20 Rose-coloured Starlings.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_3″][et_pb_image admin_label=”Image” src=”https://waveneybirdclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/20160514-33.-Red-breasted-Flycatcher-Armenia-14.05.16.-4-RWeale.jpg” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” animation=”left” sticky=”off” align=”left” force_fullwidth=”off” always_center_on_mobile=”on” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” alt=”Red-breasted Flycatcher” title_text=”Red-breasted Flycatcher”] [/et_pb_image][et_pb_image admin_label=”Image” src=”https://waveneybirdclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/20160514-34.-Hungarian-Glider-14.05.16-Will-Brame.jpg” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” animation=”left” sticky=”off” align=”left” force_fullwidth=”off” always_center_on_mobile=”on” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” alt=”Hungarian Glider butterfly” title_text=”Hungarian Glider butterfly”] [/et_pb_image][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid”]

Red-breasted Flycatcher, R. Weale

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Our overall perception of Armenia is of the mountainous terrain and the profusion of birds and species.  This is largely due to the low population density of three million, so that much of the country seems unaffected by human intervention.  In the UK, the two primary environmental statistics are that 60% of our native wildlife species are in decline and 70% of our land is farmland.  On our way home to Rumburgh we saw that the hedge-free yellow prairies of oilseed rape were being sprayed.  Is there a connection with the fact that this year, our small House Martin colony seems to be just three birds whereas ten left last year and 16 the year before?  We hope Armenia’s wildlife will never suffer similar adversity – John Garbutt.

The distinct difference between birding in Georgia and Armenia, where flocks of thousands of birds were to be seen, was apparent on the journey from Gatwick home, where on close scrutiny the odd Crow was to be observed! – Roger Buxton.

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(Steve Piotrowski)

After months of planning, we boarded our coach to Gatwick for our early-morning flight to Tbilisi, gathering in the team at pick-up points en route.  There was an early hitch as our driver received news that the A12 was closed south of Colchester due to an accident, so we were forced to divert to Cambridge and then onto the M11.  Nevertheless, we arrived at the airport in good time and were suitably refreshed, having consumed our packed breakfasts, which had been prepared by “mission control” or, in other words, Kathy Piotrowski!   Our flight took off on time and we headed for Istanbul where we would transfer to a flight to Tbilisi.

We arrived in Istanbul late afternoon and searched for the first birds of our tour.  We craned our necks to see out of the airport windows and were rewarded with squadrons of Alpine Swifts over the city, some Hooded Crows feeding in the airport gardens and a distinct northerly movement of Grey Herons.

On arrival at Tbilisi, we were greeted by our guides Nika and Jimi and were soon on our bus to the Hotel Eurolux in the city centre.

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(Steve Piotrowski)

This was to be Waveney Bird Club’s eighth foreign tour and undoubtedly our most adventurous yet bearing in mind that we were charting unknown territory and visiting two former Soviet-bloc countries that no one in the party had been to before.  An itinerary was drawn up and put to our ground agents Giorgi Rajebashvili (Ecotours Georgia) and Zhanna Galyan (Armenia) who subsequently organised our transport, accommodation and meals throughout the tour.  Paul Harvey of Shetland Bird Club was recruited to help me lead the trip.  Eric (D’Weasel) Patrick would take on the task of Tour Recorder, a role that he had completed admirably on WBC’s previous seven tours.

In true WBC tradition, names were put in the hat and those drawn would each be responsible for writing one day of this blog.

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