Category Archives: Georgia

Georgia Bird List

Here’s an exciting list of all the birds I saw in the Republic of Georgia between 1 September and 8 October 2015:

Levant sparrowhawkAccipiter brevipes
GoshawkAccipiter gentilis
SparrowhawkAccipiter nisus
KingfisherAlcedo atthis
Red-throated pipitAnthus cervinus
SwiftApus apus
Great egretArdea alba
Grey heronArdea cinerea
Steppe buzzardButeo buteo vulpinus
SanderlingCalidris alba
DunlinCalidris alpina
Kentish ploverCharadrius alexandrinus
Ringed ploverCharadrius hiaticula
Slender-billed gullChroicocephalus genei
Black-headed gullChroicocephalus ridibundus
White storkCiconia ciconia
Black storkCiconia nigra
Marsh harrierCircus aeruginosus
Pallid harrierCircus macrourus
Montagu's harrierCircus pygargus
Lesser spotted eagleClanga pomarina
Stock doveColumba oenas
RollerCoracias garrulus
RavenCorvus corax
Hooded crowCorvus cornix
quailCoturnix coturnix
Blue titCyanistes caeruleus
Little egretEgretta garzetta
RobinErithacus rubecula
Peregrine falconFalco peregrinus
HobbyFalco subbuteo
ChaffinchFringilla coelebs
MoorhenGallinula chloropus
JayGarrulus glandarius
OystercatcherHaematopus ostralegus
Booted eagleHieraaetus pennatus
SwallowHirundo rustica
Little gullHydrocoloeus minutus
Caspian ternHydroprogne caspia
Red-backed shrikeLanius collurio
Yellow-legged gullLarus michahellis
Broad-billed sandpiperLimicola falcinellus
Bee-eaterMerops apiaster
White/pied wagtailMotacilla alba
Yellow wagtailMotacilla flava
Black-crowned night heronNycticorax nycticorax
Black-eared wheatearOenanthe hispanica
WheatearOenanthe oenanthe
Golden orioleOriolus oriolus
Great titParus major
House sparrowPasser domesticus
Honey buzzardPernis apivorus
Crested honey buzzardPernis ptilorhynchus
CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo
Green warblerPhylloscopus nitidus
Willow warblerPhylloscopus trochilus
Krüper's nuthatchSitta krueperi
Common ternSterna hirundo
Sandwich ternSterna sandvicensis
BlackcapSylvia atricapilla
Ruddy shelduckTadorna ferruginea
WrenTroglodytes troglodytes
BlackbirdTurdus merula
63 species!

Batumi Botanical Gardens

Because of logistical reasons involving an angry Georgian lady, my colleague Alice and I had an unexpected day off, so we decided to find the Botanic gardens. Opened in 1912, Batumi’s Botanical Gardens (Georgian, try this for information in English) is one of the highlights of the area. We caught a bus, which included a courtesy charon fruit from the driver, and eventually found our way into the gardens.

The gardens are very impressive, covering 107ha, divided up into several different phytogeographical zones. We were both ready to check out the bamboo plantation – I’ve never been in one – but were tragically stopped by the f*cking mosquitoes, which were possibly tiger mosquitos – I swear I have never had such bad bites, so many or such a bad reaction!

Moving on, we kept bumping into a German birding group, helpfully pointed us at a bird darting high in the trees… a Krüper’s nuthatch (Sitta krueperi)! Also pretty sure we heard a white-backed woodpecker. No pictures due to rubbish camera.

Elsewhere in the gardens, was this lovely little Japanese garden with frogs, toads and koi.

There are also a few graves in the park, including that of the founder and this of Sergei Hinkul, the first head of plant introduction.

There does seem to be a major problem with what looks like an invasive, Ivy-like plant. It has blanketed the cliffs between the gardens and the sea, swallowing up whole trees and buildings. There’s signs of where it’s been cut back from creeping up the trees in the park itself, and I’d guess it must be a threat to the gardens but I can’t find any information about it online.

At the far end of the park, we found a cafe for a lunch of beer and katchipouri. Near to the cafe was an ornamental seafront park, with campsite, and just beyond that a lonely disused rail station looking out at the Black Sea.

An excellent day. However, at the exit of the park was a collection of little cafes and a shooting gallery where the targets were silhouettes of birds-of-prey…


Here in Georgia, I’m working to monitor the illegal hunting of raptors during the Autumn migration. Alongside the men shooting these raptors, are those practicing the much older tradition of Falconry; called the Buzzeri in the local language. They preferentially take Sparrowhawks, and say that they can have one tame in a matter of days – it’s very interesting when compared to the method for taming hawks in the UK; here, for example, they never hood the bird. My Russian/Georgian isn’t good enough to understand the exact details unfortunately, but it is an extremely well respected tradition out here.

(yes yes that’s a peregrine, not a sparrowhawk)

They use a captive shrike, usually (but not always) hooded by sticking leather or shell over the eyes, tied to the end of a stick and waved about behind an upright net.

When the sparrowhawk stoops to take the prey, it’s caught up in the net, carefully removed, wrapped in a handkerchief and placed in the shade for the rest of the day. At the end of the day, the Buzzeri will select the best bird from the day and release the rest.

The sparrowhawks are used to hunt quail in the Spring, and at the end of the season are released, with new birds caught the following Autumn.

So when we are out monitoring hunting rates, there’s often a local Buzzeri nearby, and, Georgian hospitality being a matter of great pride, they’re always keen to share their lunch and a glass of the local firewater, Chacha, with us!

Gonio Fortress

In 2011, while travelling across the border from Turkey to Batumi, we passed a stone fortress on the outskirts of the city. Today I went to have a look at it, Gonio Fortress.

One sweaty Matrushka ride from Batumi later, I paid three Lari entry fee and had a wander. The inside of the 5m walls was almost empty, a flower and tree-lined walk up the centre with a few things of interest dotted about. Unfortunately, the signage is extremely sparse so I didn’t really know what was what. You can hire a guide at the cash desk, but I preferred to save money and make it up as I went along.

There isn’t a huge amount to see. The fort was in use in Roman times, is said to be the burial place of Apsyrtus, King Aet’s son killed by Jason (off of the Argonauts). St Matthew is also thought to be buried here, although Salerno Cathedral in Italy also makes this claim.

Here is his tomb, the holiness of the site obviously preventing me from holding a camera straight.

It was then used by Byzantium and the Ottomans, being in an important defensive coastal location. In 1878 the whole area was passed over to the Russians. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any information about when it fell into disrepair.

A rectangle of 5m tall walls, there are a few excavations ongoing in the central area, but with nothing to stop you wandering through. They look a little haphazard too, especially when compared to the neatness of the excavations I’ve seen ongoing at Hadrian’s Wall.

A Roman Bathhouse that was later converted to the eastern style by the Ottoman occupiers still stands, alongside a small museum. As with the archeological museum in Batumi, which I visited a few days ago, there’s not much to see but what’s there is impressive. I am again amazed by the quality of the glassware from the early centuries AD.

Also I saw this awesome lizard

I think I would recommend a visit if your are a complete antiquity buff; there’s not a huge amount to see or explore but there’s very definitely a historic feel to the place.

Last week’s thundery weather didn’t last and it’s still very hot and humid. I’ve never been so sweaty in my entire life, and every waking moment is spent working out where the nearest bit of shade is. This weather means that there’s still not many birds overhead; they can easily fly high over the mountains so aren’t pushed lower along the coast. This is good as it means they are not targeted by hunters; but bad as we see so very little up at our count station. A Georgian tv crew have been with us all week, filming a nature documentary, a piece for the news, and an ecotourism advert for Georgian telly. It’s been quite fun watching a nature documentary being filmed – the use of tame birds seems a bit sneaky but it was nice to come home from a presentation last night to a floodlit Scops Owl outside the door!

Chorokhi Delta

A day off today, myself and colleague Aurellie went to the Chorokhi Delta, a wetland area where the Chorokhi river meets the Black Sea. A haven for passing migrants, I’d heard great things about it.

OF COURSE it was a baking hot day and we saw very little. An egret, a kingfisher and a black-eared wheatear, with the heat haze making it too difficult to even get a decent ID on any of the thousands of gulls loafing about. Plenty of cows though.

The sun blasting down, I was jealous of the two lads who took a break in their metal detectoring to strip off and go for a swim. We ended up just siestaing under a tree for an hour and heading home.

I did get to see a load of frogs, including these two, if anyone can ID?


Now the weather has finally turned from very hot, very humid to very humid, slightly cooler and frequent thunderstorms with accompanying torrential downpours. This means the birds are funneled low through our valley, making them both a joy to watch but also nail-biting as they are easy targets for the many hunters. It’s truly bitter-sweet as one of nature’s most amazing spectacle – thousands of raptors passing almost at arm’s length – are then quickly followed by rounds of gunfire

Ah. So I had a day off, and took myself to Batumi, the Black Sea Port that is now being pushed as “the Las Vegas” of Georgia, as the city is stuffed with casinos and hotels, waterfront promenades and a gentrified old town. Large parks separate the old town from the sea, making it a pleasant place for a stroll under the thundering sky.

The new construction projects sees a very special mix of old, Soviet and modern, with plenty of public sculpture and encouragements to architects to build things that stand out. The result is pretty odd, but I am glad that they’ve kept the old town and encouraged it to be a bit hipster.

Alphabet tower, celebrating the unique Georgian Alphabet, sadly lies neglected since construction a few years ago

And Batumi’s answer to the London Eye, the Miracle Wheel. Apparently not because it’s a miracle it hasn’t fallen over.

Europe Square (and this picture really does not do it justice!) with a statue of Jason and the Golden Fleece where either Lenin/Stalin once stood, emphasising that Georgia and Georgians see themselves as European.

Not a bad little city, although I did skip the zoo, spending all day watching raptors getting shot, I have no desire to look at depressed monkeys in tiny cages on my day off. To say nothing of the Dolphinarium.

Birds in hand

A group of Dutch researchers visit our survey station at the weekends to do some ringing. This weekend we got a few really nice birds, starting with this tasty looking quail:

A Noisy Nightingale Thrush:

and this very special Green Warbler:

The Green warbler was, until recently, considered a sub-species of the Greenish Warbler, but is now a full species and endemic to the Caucasus Mountains.

It’s great to get to see these birds up close!


Yesterday I had an incredible day with Dietrich, a German expert on feather morphology. We hiked for 8 hours through the humid subtropical forest, looking for remains of birds left by hunters, who pluck and remove head, wings and feet when they find something.

Dietrich was amazing to listen to and learn from, and I learned a heck of a lot about feather morphology! We spotted quite a few interesting things, such as the difference in barring on the undersides of these wings, from two different male honey buzzards. Is it an age thing? Or just individual variation?

And here you can see that the central tail feathers have been bleached by the sun

It’s not just big raptors that are shot, they will also take rollers, bee-eaters and golden oriole


and we found feathers from blackbirds and cuckoos.

The most poignant and incredible moment was when I spotted an injured bird flapping through neck-deep bracken down a steep slope. Dietrich ran after it, and managed to bring it up, a female honey buzzard with a shot wing.

Her gunshot wound:

It was spectacular to see such a magnificent creature up close, but sadly as the local area lacks suitable vets or wildlife rehabilitation facilities, at the end of the day she was carefully and humanely dispatched by Dietrich.

გამარჯობა! Hello from Georgia!

I’ve been in Batumi, in the Ajara autonomous province of Georgia for two weeks now, working with Batumi Raptor Count. It’s absolutely wonderful! I’m staying in a sprawling village in the mountains that overlook the Black Sea port of Batumi and its stunning beaches. The climate is subtropical, the area was rich with citrus and tea plantations during Soviet times.

Around two dozen volunteers of many nationalities are here, mainly counting the raptor migration overhead, which sees over a million birds during the 6 week migration period, as birds from Finland and Russia are funneled between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains on their way south. It is an incredible sight to behold, and I’ve yet to even seen a “big” day where hundreds of thousands of birds pass over head!

My role here is to monitor the hunting; although illegal, the BRC is working to educate the local people to hopefully reduce hunting in the area. They shoot mainly for food, the Honey Buzzard being a tasty favourite I think I will decline. I am also taking over the day-to-day running of the hunting monitoring project when the current co-ordinator heads home later in the month.

So we are up at the monitoring station at dawn, to commence counting at 6:30am, and stay there for about 12 hours. It’s been fairly quiet so far, as I missed the peak Honey Buzzard passage and it will be a little while longer before the big numbers of eagles start to arrive. The weather is a factor too, with high temperatures and clear skies mean fewer birds. During spells of heavy rain apparently the numbers of all sorts of birds are incredible – this and the 35C, high humidity mean I cannot wait for it to start raining! There’s usually at least 5 of us up there, plus ecotourists, and the banter and daft chat and in-jokes help pass the time when it’s quiet. A current favourite is John from Rutland saying “it’s a focking disaster!” which for some reason completely cracks everyone up, to the bemusement of the Brits.

I am staying in a traditional homestay. A wonderful local family – Mehrabi, his wife, daughter, mother and grandmother – put aside a floor of their house and squeeze 10 of us in, cooking all meals for us too. Georgian food is as incredible as ever, although I’m not sure about the plate of chicken gizzards I ate yesterday. In the evenings, we have a beer out overlooking the stunning views, or head to a local cafe – a simple bar with a verandah.

There are a variety of languages spoken in this area, Georgian, Russian and Turkish mostly. I’m trying to improve my Russian, and also my French with some of the French volunteers, and I’m even picking up some Georgian, which is a very difficult language with no relation to any other, to say nothing of the Georgian script!

The local wildlife, as you can probably expect, is pretty spectacular. A few of the other volunteers are also keen moth-ers, so we tend to gather around the light on the veranda at the bar and admire various species rarely seen in the UK. Birdwise, I’ve seen blue tit, blackcap, robin, white wagtail, chaffinch… and an Ortolean Bunting!

As for the big migrants – well:
Honey Buzzard;
Black Kite;
Marsh Harrier;
Montagu’s Harrier;
Booted Eagle;
Levant Sparrowhawk;
Steppe Buzzard;
European Roller;
White Stork;
Pallid Harrier;
Short-toed Eagle;
Lesser Spotted Eagle;
Black Stork;
Greater Spotted Eagle.

Quite impressive! I couldn’t have identified them without the help of the other volunteers, who have phenomenal skills and are just the best bunch of people to hang out with. Half a million birds have passed already since mid-August, and you can follow the progress of the raptor count here – the numbers of birds are updated every 4 hours during the day.


In September, I am due to start work in the Republic of Georgia as a volunteer co-ordinator of the Batumi Raptor Count, in Batumi, a lovely city on the Black Sea Coast near the border with Turkey. I have visited Georgia before, in 2011, and found the people, scenery and food absolutely brilliant, so I am really excited to be returning!

Signaki, in the West of Georgia

They speak Georgian in Georgia (obviously) which looks like this:
მე ვერ წავიკითხე ეს, რომ აღარაფერი ვთქვათ საუბრობს

I do like learning different alphabets, but so far all I’ve ever properly learnt was Cyrillic and Greek; both of which, with Latin alphabet, have loads in common – the “pi” sound is π in Greek and п in Cyrillic, for instance.

Oddly, for someone who went to a urban state comprehensive, I learnt Russian at school. I don’t know why our school taught Russian alongside German and French. Perhaps because Newcastle City Council was run by left-wing commies wanting a youth ready for the inevitable revolution?

Despite lovely Mrs Ivkin’s best efforts and a fascinating school trip to Russia in the mid-90s, I wasn’t very good at learning Russian and only got a D-grade at GCSE. But one thing that did stick with me was the technique we were taught to learn the alphabet, and to learn the alphabet before learning any of the language. It makes things a hell of a lot easier in the long run. In 2004, when I worked in Greece for 6 months, while my colleagues thought I was wasting time, I spent a lot of effort learning the Greek script first.

Cue a few months later, lost in the mountains somewhere near the border with Bulgaria, my colleagues angrily try to work out which town we are in, and completely ignore me as I point out the name on the sign, which they are trying to find on a map, actually just reads “TOWN HALL”

ho ho ho.

I think if given enough time, I could learn the Georgian script, but with only 6 weeks to go, I’m not confident I could start from scratch and pick up enough of the language to get by.. but I already have a tiny bit of GCSE grade D Russian, which is widely spoken across Georgia.

So, armed with The New Penguin Russian Course and the Memrise flashcard-type app on my phone to brush up my Cyrillic, and I am pleasantly surprised at how much I can remember, and how enjoyable I am finding it. And Russian is slightly more useful than Greek!

As for the beautiful Georgian script – there’s a memrise app for that.

And you have NO IDEA how excited I am at the promise of eating ხაჭაპური once more.