June 11th : A new experience in this trip was planned for the day: a trip to the mountain on horses, which would allow us to climb the slopes faster. We rode for an hour or so before our first stop. From there, we could already hear the strange curlew-like song of the Caucasian Snowcock. We managed to see 3 of them on ridges very far on the other side of the valley. Closer to us, raptors were patrolling: 2 Lammergeiers, 1 Golden Eagle, a few Griffon Vultures. Red-billed Choughs were common and noisy and Yellow-billed Chough a lot scarcer. We also found an Alpine Accentor. A second stop at the summit of a slope covered by small trees allowed us to hear and see two typical species of the Caucasus: the Caucasian Chiffchaff and the Green Warbler. At least 2 of each were singing. Serge and I decided to leave the horses at this place with Pavel and started to climb in the direction of a rocky slope just recently uncovered by the melting of the snow and situated at the base of a cliff. This area looked perfect for finding the high mountain passerines of the Caucasus. And it was. We quickly found a male and two females Great Rosefinch in the boulders. What a fantastic bird! Further up, 3 Snowfinches flew over and a few Ring Ouzels were feeding here and there. Near the top of this slope, Serge also sighted a Wallcreeper.
June 12th, 2010: Today, we explored the same areas as the day before, this time without horses. Several walks around the village didn’t bring any new species. We were in particular trying to find the Caucasian Black Grouse, but we were too late in the season, the lek was not used anymore, and finding one of them was now just pure luck. This time, we didn’t succeed.
June 13th, 2010: Having failed to find Güldenstädt´s Redstart, we decided to drive to the next valley, where our guide had seen them earlier in the season. The village where we were going, was just on the other side of the summit on which we had seen our first Snowcocks two days before, but it took almost 3 hours to get there on a tricky and very impressive road up this new valley. The whole landscape was very impressive in fact and, quite unexpectedly quite different from our high mountains. The width of the valley especially, was reminding us more of Himalaya (or at least of what we´d seen of Himalaya in documentaries). The scenic mountain village is built on a “hill” on the top of this valley, at an elevation of 2500 m. Almost an island in the mountains. It is not hard to understand why people settled there, since it is almost impossible to launch an attack on it.
We were however not interested in the conquest of this place, so we peacefully drove through it and drove up the mountain as far as our Lada Niva could take us (and even a bit further). And then, it was each of us against the slope, in the hope of reaching as close to the 3700 m summit as possible. We passed by the camp of shepherds, who had arrived there a few days before after completing the transhumance, and continued in direction of the summit at our pace.
June 15th, 2010: Early morning, there was time to review the checklist just before heading for departures.
Benoît Paepegaey, France