Alan Dalton post's birding diaries and original artwork from Sweden. Established in 2006, this now long running blog is now a complete overview of my birding experiences. As an artist I greatly enjoy sketching birds in the field and you will find a wide selection of that work here, from fieldwork to finished paintings. I am very passionate about my artwork and try to depict birds in their natural habitat, as I see them in the wild. My artwork is for sale and can be viewed at http://www.alandalton.net/
As regards to my photography, since 2008 I have used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera coupled with a Sigma 150-500mm OS lens for since March 2012 for bird photography, all previous images being digiscoped. Regarding sound recording, I have been usung a Telinga Stereo Dat Mic and parabol to record birds in the field, coupled to a Marrantz 661 digital recorder, a superb piece of kit. Interest in butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies has recently seen the accquisition of a Sigma 150mm macro lens. I hope you enjoy the blog and please feel free to leave comments or contact me at alandltn@gmail.com

Friday, September 28, 2012

Batumi Raptor Watching;15th September 2012

 Georgia. A view of the interior of Georgia taking from the train between Tbilisi and Batumi. The views from the window seat were breathtaking throughout, Georgia is a stunning location...

A much awaited trip to Batumi, Georgia began with an evening flight to Tbilisi from Stockholm Arlanda, with a changover in Tallinn, Estonia. I arrived at 06.00am at Tbilisi and immediately had problems with my visa card! It would't allow me to withdraw money and I had to convince a local girl in the Bureau de Change to exchange some Swedish SEK for a little Georgian Lari, which saw me good to get a taxi to the central station in Tbilisi. I had prebooked an express train here to Batumi at 08.00am and that morning the first glimpses of georgian daily life were fascinating to me. Local ladies walked the platforms selling flowers, soft drinks and pastries at incedibly cheap prices and I ate as I waited for the train. I boarded at 07.45am with my E Ticket and soon we were on out way, leaving the city and entering a quite beatiful country, high mountains often dominating the scene. I watched spellbound out the window, the whole time expectant of my impending arrival at Batumi six hours later. After a couple of hours the entire train was singing and dancing and obviously a little anniebriated! I had booked a first class ticket for jusy 40 Georgian Lari and was able to grab a couple of hours sleep before the train pulled in to Makhinjauri on time. I was met at the train by a driver from Batumi Raptor Count and whisked up to the headquarters at Sakhalvasho within a few minutes. I was met here by Jasper Wehrmann here, who is the BRC count co-ordinater and was immediately made to feel at home. After a quick refreshment Jasper informed me that the Station 1 watchpoint at Sakhalvasho was 100 metres up the hill and I asked if I could head straight up there. Booted Eagle was a species I had never seen and Jasper assured me there were birds passing, so we headed up the hill. Here I was introduced to the counters present, Kelle Mellor, Morgon Boch, Jan Wellenkes and Johanna Yourstone. I sat and watched overhead and the west beside Jan Welenkes and Jasper informed him  needed Booted Eagle. Jan turned to me and informed me that 'This will not be a problem'..
 About 90 seconds later Jan turned to me and said, 'Here you go Alan, Adult Dark Morph Booted Eagle', as overhead a dark morph bird drifted in from the southeast and began circling overhead! It was joined by a second pale morph individual. I watched astonished as four more appeared and a flock of 6 Booted Eagle circled on a thermal right over my head. My astonishment was duly noted and I sat there with a beaming smile on my face, Jasper slapped me on the back and gave me a thorough breakdown on how to age the overhead birds. This was only the first of many such lessons, Batumi is an incredible place to learn how to age, sex and identify raptors.


 Booted Eagle,  Adult Dark Morph. Note the obvious moult in the primaries, as well as less obvious moult in the secondaries, creating an uneven trailing edge.



 Booted Eagle, Juvenile Light Morph. Note the clean trailing edge to the wing with no apparent moult. The trailing edges of the remiges are tipped with white, another feature of birds in their first calender year, though amount of wear is variable due to more southerly populations breeding earlier. Thus, these southerly juveniles are fledged earlier in the year and have more worn tips to the remiges as a result. In some cases these birds may appear much more adult like, though with careful inspetion the clean, 'S' shaped triling edge to the wing is apparent..



 Booted Eagle, Juvenile Dark Morph. Note here the clean trailing edge, the white tips to the tail and secondaries quite obvious. Note also the rather solidly dark underwing covert's, often adults show more mottled, lighter markings here..



 Booted Eagle, Juvenile Light Morph. Again the clean, fresh plumage and white tips to the secondaries and tail very obvious here. These are stunning birds. Incredibly I saw over 250 birds on my first day viewing the species!



 Booted Eagles. Five of six birds overhead that were my first ever view of the species overhead at Sakhalvasho. At times streamimg and soaring birds are overhead in such numbers it takes the breath away and I have never experienced anything like it, a quite incrdible place...

After ticking Booted Eagle I sat back and began watching in earnest. Honey Buzzards and Black Kites predominated and I had incredible views of both as they passed by in numbers, a few adults in their midst. Only a few minutes had passed when a shout went up for Short-toed Eagle and I enjoyed amazing views of an adult bird through the scope a little to the east. I was given a complete run down on the local landmarks in the west, south and east as reference points. Names of mountains such as 'Big Mama' and 'Little Ginger' were new to me then, but are now fixed in my memory fondly. Then the first Marsh Harriers of the trip over the sea to the west, wilst watching them I heard the calls of Bee Eater, lots of them! As I watched a flock of thirty birds blast past us calling Jan informed me that millions pass here in the autumn. A few minutes later a second flock, then a third, quite an amazing spectacle. That day I counted them for myself and had 1,125 Bee Eater, despite the fact that the majority, by far, pass early in the morning. More Booted Eagles passed and I tried to familiarise myself with the appearance of these birds, the white patches on the shoulders quite stunning to behold. The light birds were easily identified, quite fantastic birds. The smooth trailing edge to the wing was pointed out as well as the fresh plumage, white tips to the remiges and the bird was logged as a juvenile...


 Honey Buzzard; Adult. Note the small head, long tail with rounded corners, clean, dark trailing edge to primaries and dark tips to the primaries, cleanly demarciated. The tail pattern is diagnostic, a dark band on the trailing edge, with two further narrow dark bands on the inner half of the tail. These birds are highly variable, though shape and the features mentioned above remain fairly constant and are the key identification tools. The most numerous species at Batumi. Incredibly, on 3rd September 2012, a new world record day count total was set when the BRC team logged a staggering 179,000 birds in a single day! A second count of 99,001only three days previously, was the former record at the site and clearly demonstrates the mind boggling numbers of birds that pass through the easten Black Sea migration bottleneck at Batumi...


 Above and Below; Honey Buzzard; Juvenile Dark Morph. Note again the proportions, the small head and long tail with rounded corners. The wings are rather long with five prmary fingers. Note also here the obvious yellow cere on the bill, a very useful point of reference on close to mid range birds. The underwing covert's are silver white, with a dusky trailing edge and primary tip and show some barring, though generally not as heavily as that shown by adult birds. The underwing covert's and underparts are highly variable in these birds and here are quite dark...



I continued to watch and became more and more impressed. A couple of small flocks of Steppe Buzzard moved through and gave me my first views of this eastern species. It struck as rather small and compact, though rather variable in morph, a number of stunning red morph birds seen well, a beautiful raptor. Another Montagu's Harrier followed before another juvenile harrier was picked up in the west by me, this one was only my third ever Pallid Harrier. At medium range the boa around the neck and dark neck sides were obvious, as well as the white inner primaries at the carpal and very dark secondaries. During all this time Honey Buzzard and Black Kite were streamimg overhead and there was a period of more intense passage were the clickers we used to count could be heard. In addition, there was constant radio contact with Station 2 in Shuamta to the east and it quickly became apparent to me how well organised the count is at Batumi, with double counting eliminated through constant communication. A few Hobby, Sparrowhawks and best of all, a Levant Sparrowhawk were picked out to the west. Booted Eagles passed constantly singly or in pairs or small groups and I began to see moult in the adult birds and age the birds I picked up. Marsh Harriers were numerous and were also aged and sexed, though I am familiar with the species, so this was no problem. More Montagu's, Pallid and unidenifiable Mont/Pallid Harrier passed and I was really happy to get good experience of these birds. After a while the shout came for an adult male Pallid Harrier, a bird high overhead which was my first adult male, a bird that was more than worth the wait. It drew appreciation from even the most experienced counters, a bird of extraordinarily beautiful form and plumage, and it went straight to the the top of my list of favourite birds. Then Jasper announced Lesser Spotted Eagle approaching overhead. The bird was among a kettle of Honey Buzzard in a kettle and easily picked up and I had good views as it passed overhead. Aquilla Eagle species were a major reason for my visit here and I wanted to learn as much as I could about their field identification. I approached Jasper and again her ran through the birds features, moult state and general appearance, right there in the field whilst the bird was in clear view. More followed and soon I began to build a clearer picture in my head of what to look for, all this in just a few hours on station. Earlier there had been a Greater Spotted Eagle and a Steppe Eagle, though for the moment I concentrated on the passing Lesser Spotted, of which I saw more than twenty birds! I knew that time was on my side and that I had twelve full days ahead of me. Looking at what was going on around me, it began to sink in just what an incredible raptor watching experience lay ahead of me..

 Lesser Spotted Eagle, my first of the trip, high overhead. a probable fourth calender. Notice the uniform remiges, lacking barring. The underwing covert's are rather pale though, indicating a younger bird. Note the short P6 on the wing.

And so it went on and I watched into the evening, the numbers of Harriers increasing as the evening wore on. More Short-toed Eagles passed overhead, some juveniles and adults as well as a very instructive bird in its 2nd calender year. Two more male Pallid Harriers were the icing on the cake as the evening closed in and we made our way back to the headquarters where I met the other counters from Station 2. Raptor counts, which are carefully entered into electronic palm tops on station now downloaded their data into the computer and the totals could be seen. On the day the counters said was just okay, even a little slow, though with good Booted Eagle passage, the totals were as follows for Station 1, Sakhalvasho...
404 Honey Buzzard, 343 Black Kite, 13 Short toed Eagle, 79 Marsh Harrier, 12 Pallid Harrier, 8 Montagu's Harrier, 27 Mont/Pallid/Hen Harrier, 102 Steppe Buzzard, 31 Lesser Spotted Eagle, 1 Greater Spotted Eagle, 1 Steppe Eagle, 3 Aquila Species, 307 Booted Eagles, 3 Osprey and some unidentified Buzzard Sp. made for a total of 1,345 raptors, which I was assured was a poor day!
 A chat with the counters from Station 2 at Shuamta really whetted the appetite with a grand total of over 5,500 birds! Among the various species there were 2 Crested Honey Buzzard and an Imperial Eagle..

 Montagu's Harrier; Juvenile. The same bird here above and below. Here note the dark primary tips and dark trailing edge to the primaries, a very useful feature for identifying these birds. The inner primaries on the underside are rather delicately barred. Note also the clean, umarked underparts and deep orangish tones, as well as the long and fine tail. Note the narrow proportions on the body, which is tiny given a head on view. The head pattern can be made out here, some white easily seen above and below the eye, whilst there is a dark spot on the ear covert's. There is no obvious boa or dark sides to the neck...


Montagu's Harrier Juvenile, same as above. Here the upperwing can be seen to a degree, well enough to discern the pale tipped greater/primary covert's. Also in this shot a very good view of the dark tipped primaries on the underwing. Also on the underwing, note how there is little barring on the outer half of the primaries, whilst the barring is concentrated on the inner primaries, though rather finely marked. Photos of course, cannot prescribe the birds flight, wonderfully bouyant on long wings, the tip of the tail moving up and down, very light on the wing and extremely small bodied...

The evening meal was ready for us at 7pm. sharp and the food was delicious, all home cooked Georgian fare prepared by the lady of the house. I was shown my room, which I shared with two others and the facilities. The modern tiled bathroom and shower were immaculate, with good water pressure and I was very impressed with everything. After the meal we sat down and discussed birds and birding, got to know each other and drank the local beer, which was good and incredibly inexpensive at 4.50GEL/1.80€ for a large three litre bottle, which was referred to as 'Yellow Beer'. I went for bed early after an amazing day and had little trouble sleeping...

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