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The mighty snow-capped peaks of theCaucasus Mountains sweep from theBlack Sea to the Caspian Sea formingan imposing natural frontier between thevastness of the Russian Federation to thenorth and the Republic of Georgia which,prior to independence in 1991, was also amember state of the former Soviet Union.Winter snows and fierce winds make thehigher elevations of these mountains aninhospitable and barren environment butmany of the specialised birds frequentingthese Caucasus summits during thesummer months survive the winter seasonby retreating to the lower slopes whereconditions are less severe. With the onset of spring, the increasing warmth of the sungradually melts the snow cover to releasethe high pastures and crags from their icywinter blanket and allow these denizens toreturn. During this transition period, thenorth Georgian village of Kazbegi hasacquired a reputation as being the perfectlocation from which to see many highlyprized Palearctic rarities before they ascend higher into the mountains and thisexciting new tour is timed to coincide withthis short interval when most of the desired species can be readily found close to the village.Our tour begins in the Georgian capital,Tbilisi, but we quickly leave the city behindand head north through an impressively wildlandscape towards the mountains where wewill stay for four nights in Kazbegi. Thevillage lies in a valley at an altitude of 1,800metres and even in early May snow flurriesare a daily possibility, although the trend isinexorably towards the warmth of summer.With three full days at our disposal we will have ample time in which to search for ourprincipal objectives on these mountainslopes. In the scrubby areas on the outskirtsof the village we may expect to find plumpGreat Rosefinches and stunningGüldenstadt's Redstarts, the latter the largestand arguably the most beautiful of a genusnoted for attractive plumages. CaucasianSnowcock betray their presence with curlew-like calls from the rocky crags above thevillage but, to complete a quartet of mouth-watering Palearctic rarities, we may have toexplore further afield to discover anotherlarge bird with a Caucasian prefix, theCaucasian Black Grouse. These rare grouseare perhaps more demonstrative and easierto locate earlier in the spring but there areseveral favoured areas in the vicinity wherewe should be rewarded with views of thehandsome black males and their moresombrely plumaged females. Birdwatching atKazbegi does, however, offer so much morethan just these four celebrities and, duringour stay, we can expect to see a fineselection of species in these magnificentmountains. Lammergeier, Red-billed Chough,Rock Thrush, Wallcreeper, Alpine Accentor,Mountain Chiffchaff, Snowfinch, Red-frontedSerin and Twite all breed here, whilst thevagaries of migration are certain to result in aconstantly changing mixture of north-boundtravellers which could include such speciesas Red-throated Pipit, Thrush Nightingale,White-throated Robin, Red-breastedFlycatcher and Golden Oriole. Just a fewweeks later, unlocking the avian treasures ofthe High Caucasus would require a greatdeal more effort, but thanks to the window ofopportunity in May we should be able toenjoy all this superlative birdwatching withrelative ease.Returning to Tbilisi for a further three nightswe will discover some other very differentfacets of Georgia as we undertake dailyexcursions from the city to visit the semi-desert steppe around the monastery ofDavid Gareja and the Iori Valley. Here too,migration should be in full flood and one ofthe joys each day will be the eclectic mix ofbirds we'll encounter, ranging from eaglesand harriers soaring overhead to colourfulBee-eaters, Rollers and shrikes. The rollinggrasslands are populated by Calandra Larksand Isabelline Wheatears, bushes maycontain Barred Warblers resplendent insummer plumage, whilst other species toanticipate include Common Crane, WesternRock Nuthatch, Rose-coloured Starling, PiedWheatear and Black-headed Bunting. Theregion also boasts a number of fine lakesand marshes which, shimmering in thespring sunshine, will divert our attention fromthe steppe with such attractions as PygmyCormorant, White-tailed Eagle, variousherons, Whiskered and White-winged BlackTerns, and Great Reed and PaddyfieldWarblers among the wealth of birds nestingor feeding in these wetlands. An absorbingtwo days of birding will be in prospect but,before returning to London, there will also bean opportunity to take a look around Tbilisi,a historic capital city endowed with manysplendid churches and cathedrals. Georgiais a delightful country, full of surprises, andis certain to become a popular Naturetrekdestination in the years to come.Birds of Georgia's Steppes & Caucasus MountainsA 10-day birdwatching tour in search of the special montane species of the high Caucasus Mountains and the lowland birds of central Georgia's distinctive steppe habitats. Friday 3rd May - Sunday 12th May Cost: £2,495Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Tbilisi.Day 2/5 Exploration from Kazbegi.Day 6/9Exploration of DavidGareja and Iori Valleyfrom Tbilisi.Day 10Fly London.AccommodationSimple hotel at Kazbegi; standardtourist hotel in Tbilisi. All rooms haveprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Easy/moderate birdwatchingwalks.FocusPrimarily birds; some other wildlife.LeaderChris Kehoe, plus local guides.Single room supplement£195.Web quick search: GEO01220Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryTURKEYARMENIAAZERBAIJANRUSSIAGEORGIATBILISIKAZBEK MOUNTAINSKAZBEGIDAVID GAREJAIORI VALLEYMount KazbegiGüldenstadt'sRedstartGreat Rosefinch

The Indian state of Assam holds aspecial attraction for Asia enthusiastsand we are no exception, which iswhy we are pleased to offer, for the firsttime, a holiday visiting all three of thisstate's most famous national parks -Manas, Nameri and Kaziranga! Little-visited, and rather tucked away in thenorth-east of the subcontinent, Assam is aland of mighty rivers and fertile plainssituated in the foothills of the Himalaya.Remarkable for the richness of its flora andfauna, its natural history represents amelting pot of east and west - many ofthe species found here being either at thewesternmost or easternmost points of theirrange. This new holiday begins in Kolkata, ateeming metropolis that is home to over 12million people, and also, surprisingly, manyinteresting bird species! From Kolkata wetransfer to Assam, on a flight which givesus our first views of the great Himalayanmassif, before we drive by coach to the firstof our three parks, Manas, for a 4-nightstay. Extending into Bhutan, ManasNational Park forms one of the largestuninterrupted protected areas on thesubcontinent and is a UNESCO NaturalWorld Heritage Site. Passing through theheart of the park is the Manas River, atributary of the mighty Brahmaputra.Extensive grasslands, together with moistriverine, sub-Himalayan and dry deciduousforests provide ideal habitat for a richbirdlife, and some of the most sought-afterspecies of the Himalayan foothills live here,amongst them Bengal Florican, GreatHornbill, Ibisbill and Red-headed Trogon.India's iconic mammal-life is also wellrepresented here, with a total of 55mammal species recorded, and we will be looking out especially for theendemic Golden Langur, as well as morerecognisable Indian mammals - a Tiger or Asian Elephant perhaps. Next we travel to the semi-evergreen, moistdeciduous forests of Nameri National Park,home to nearly 400 bird species and over30 species of mammal. The park is animportant conservation area for Tiger andAsian Elephant, and its birdlife is variedand abundant. Arguably, Nameri's mostimportant avian residents are its White-winged Ducks, an important population(the core of the remaining Indianpopulation of 150-odd pairs) of this highlyendangered duck being known to inhabitthe park's forest pools.We will look for the ducks during our 3-daystay, as well as a wealth of other birdspecies, amongst which may be suchhighlights as White-cheeked Partridge,Great and Wreathed Hornbill, CrestedKingfisher, Pallas's and Grey-headedFishing Eagle, Mountain Imperial Pigeon,Blue-naped Pitta, Slender-billed Oriole, HillBlue Flycatcher, White-crowned Forktail,Sultan Tit, Jerdon's Babbler, Rufous-backed Sibia, Long-billed Plover andIbisbill.The world-famous Kaziranga National Parkis our next destination and the last of our'three parks'. Comprising large stretchesof swamp, interspersed with broad tractsof tall elephant grass, evergreen forests,watercourses and reedbeds, Kazirangaoffers an impressive habitat - with wildlife to match! It is also one of the best places in the world to see theendangered Great Indian One-hornedRhinoceros. Asian Elephants are plentiful,as are herds of wild Water Buffalo, andgrazing Sambar, Hog Deer and SwampDeer all of which live here, keeping a waryand constant look-out for such predatorsas Leopard and Tiger! Kaziranga boasts a tremendously variedbirdlist which includes many rare or localspecies. The wetlands attract largenumbers of storks, herons, wildfowl andwaders, and there are significant numbersof Spot-billed Pelicans, Bar-headedGeese, and Black-necked, Greater andLesser Adjutant Storks. From time to timethe waterbirds are sent into panic by theappearance of a Grey-headed or Pallas'sFishing Eagle, or a Bengal Florican isstartled into flight as a Pied Harrier glidesover the waving grasses; while amongtracts of forest we will look for an array ofbarbets, leafbirds, bulbuls and warblers.For those wishing to postpone theirhomeward flight we recommend anextension to the Sunderbans - theworld's largest delta, and a fascinatinghabitat supporting a rich and uniquewildlife.India-TheWildlifeofAssamA 15-day holiday focusing on the birds and mammals of Assam's three most famous national parks - Manas, Nameri and Kaziranga - all of them situated in the foothills of the mighty Himalaya.Saturday 5th January - Saturday 19th January Cost: £3,395Sunderbans extension: to Tuesday 22nd January Cost: £595Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationTIBETSIKKIMBANGLADESHKOLKATASUNDERBANSNATIONAL PARK(EXTENSION)MEGHALAYABHUTANGUWAHATIMANASNATIONAL PARKMIZORAMMANIPURASSAMJORHATNAMERINATIONALPARKNAGALANDKAZIRANGANATIONALPARKARUNA CHALPRADESHOutline itineraryDay 1 Depart London.Day 2Kolkata; birding. Day 3Fly Guwahati; transferManas National Park. Day 4/6Manas National Park. Day 7/9Nameri National Park.Day 10/12Kaziranga National Park.Day 13Kolkata.Day 14Depart Kolkata. Day 15 Arrive London.Sunderbans extensionDay 14/16Sunderbans NationalPark.Day 17Kolkata.Day 18Fly London. AccommodationComfortable tourist hotel in Kolkata;simple but comfortable lodges atNameri and Kaziranga; basic lodgein Manas. All rooms have privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price, except formain meals in Kolkata. Allow £40. Grading A. Some easy walks; mostexcursions by jeep or on elephant-back.Focus Birds and mammals.LeaderSujan Chatterjee or Manoj Sharma,plus local guides.Single room supplement£595 (extension: £195).Web quick search: IND40221Great Indian One-horned RhinocerosLesser Adjutant