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

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Raptor Watching at Batumi; Sakhalvasho; 16th September 2012

 Marsh Harrier; Juvenile. The same bird above and below. A very numerous species at Batumi, which has thousands of migrating Harriers. Given that Harriers migrate on a broad front, the numbers might seem suprising, though it may in fact have much to to with topography. The fact that the Batumi watchpoints are situated on the coast no doubt contributes, as do the mountains to the east, serving to affect a concentrated bottleneck effect on raptor migration. This bird is a classic juvenile, note the creamy tones on the head, dark brown plumage and fresh, even retrices. Five primary tips fingered, the long narrow wings and tail and smallish head form a distinctive silhouette in flight. Often these birds passed all day, though there was a pronounced peak in the early mornings and late evenings...



With regard to raptors the day would start rather slowly at Station 1, the Sakhalvasho watchpoint. This was my first full day at Batumi and I woke at 05.50am full of anticipation. After a quick wash I made my way down to the large kitchen downstairs where a basic, but ample breakfast was prepared and waiting for all the counters on the large table. Eating is a communal affair here, though the early morning start often means breakfast is a quieter affair than dinner! The manning of the sations was decided the previous evening and I had been allocated Station 1 with Jasper Wehrmann, Jan Wellenkes, Kalle Meller, Aki Aintilla, Davir Dekannoidze and Gael Foilleret. After breakfast I grabbed my gear and headed up the hill. The morning was stunning,with blue skies and the sun breaking over the mountains. Straight after dawn there were not yet many raptors though Swallows and Sand Martins were soon moving in their thousands and filled the sky. A Red Breasted Flycatcher rattled from nearby trees. A few Tree Pipit flew through calling, whilst flocks of Bee Eater soon began to fly by in parties of 30-50 birds, calling constantly as they did so. It was quite a backdrop and the air was filled with bird calls...
 Typically the first birds through were harriers, Marsh Harrier in small flocks on a few occasions, whilst the first Pallid and Montagu's were soon picked out. I had began watching the west with Jan Wellenkes and that meant we had the benifit of good light in the morning and we had some stunning views of Pallid and Montagu's Harrier juveniles as the passed. It was a fantasic opportunity to really famiiarize myself with both species, more distant birds were more challenging and those far off were naturally assigned to Mont/Pallid Sp. After a short period the first of 2 stonking adult male Pallid Harrier went overhead at some height, though the views were superb again of this magnificent raptor.
 The next few hours saw other species begin to trickle by. The first Black Kites and Honey Buzzards were soon passing, whilst Bee Eaters were seemingly everywhere..


 Adult Bee Eater in flight, a species I found very challenging to photograph due to their fast flight and tendency to change direction almost constantly. As regards looks, surely on of the most amazing birds in Europe, the copper underwing is fantastic when backlit with sunshine in the early morning..


Soon the first of the days Booted Eagles drifted over and after a while we had our first kettling raptors overhead. The radio crackled and informed us that the staion at Shuamta, Station 2 was much busier and was seeing a lot of birds further inland. After some time though the numbers at Station 1 increased as a broader front of migration developed and we had a few streams of birds. At around 10.38am I was watching a Honey Buzzard to the south when a small raptor rose up from behind the trees south of the station and I raised my binoculars. My first view prompted Sparrowhawk, the bird was circling level with me and then showed its upperparts which were rather greyish toned, confusingly so in fact. My thoughts moved towards Levent Sparrowhawk, the wingshape seemed wrong for Eurasian Sparrowhawk and I asked Jan to get onto the bird, then others around the station as I noticed the barring on the underparts and underwings and became rather perplexed by the bird, realizing it did not fit Levant Sparrowhawk either. I grabbed the camera and reeled off a couple of shots. The birds rose overhead and I saw a dark gular area, just as all hell broke lose and Brecht Verhelst, Johannes Jansen and Jasper Wehrmann were heard charging up the hill screaming 'Shikra'!! On their arrival the bird was still overhead and most people at Station 1 got onto the bird, the first record for Batumi and a mega for Europe in general. The mood was jubilant and what a start I had to my stay, quite amazing! Johannes Jannsen had managed some shots of the bird too in front of head quarters where he, Jasper and Brecht had been having a meeting when Brecht picked the bird up before it flew towards Station 1. With good shots of the bird in the bag, the record was documented solidly and the observers at the station were all delighted. Birds were passing now though and we had to get back to counting immediately..


 Honey Buzzard; Juvenile Dark Morph. Note the unusual pale patch on the flank. Variation is the rule, as opposed to the norm in this species and juveniles in particular display many plumages...

Numbers were picking up steadily and soon there were streams of raptors, counters were busy clicking and I found myself witnessing my first push of raptors here. Black Kites, Honey Buzzard and Steppe Buzzards were the main species involved, with Booted Eagle, Levent Sparrowhawk, Sparrowhawk, Hobby and Harriers all going over. It was brilliant stuff and I had a few hundred birds racked up on my clicker before a shout went up for a much wanted species, Egyptian Vulture! I soon had a cracking sub-adult bird in my scope, my second lifer of the day! This was a target species of mine and I was over the moon to see it well, an unmistakeable bird really. It passed and I resumed counting, now ecstatic..

 Pallid Harrier; Juvenile. Note the head and neck pattern, when seen well it is diagnostic. The boa around the back of the ear cvert's and dark sides to the neck are clearly obvious here. Note the unmarked, apricot underparts also and the pattern of the retrices on the underwing. The tips of the primaries are suffusely darker and there is obvious barring on the our half of the primaries. Also compare the general bulk of the body with the Montagu's Harrier in the same ageclass below. Photos taken within seconds of each other!


 Montagu's Harrier; Juvenile. Note the head pattern here, more white around the eye than the Palid Harrier above, with a dark spot at the ear covert's. The head and neck have a less contrasting appearance as a result. An excellent view of the underwing pattern here, note the dark primary tips and dark leading edge to the wing, classic juvenile Montagu's Harrier. The barring is largely confined to the inner half of the primaries...

Bird's were really going by now and we started getting our first Lesser Spotted Eagles of the day and again I tried to look closely and age the birds, slowly begining to get my eye in. Black Kites picked up dramatically in numbers and soon we had clocked over 1000 birds. Booted Eagle were still passing, these were now aged confidently at reasonable ranges and there was so much to look at. It's hard to describe these kind of scenes, though at some stage the emphasis changes from looking at and simply enjoying the birds, trying to take in the technical details. You find that as the numbers increase, you become more pre-occupied with purely identifying each bird swiftly and clicking it and you enter a different mode. This is invaluable experience as you begin to take in shape, silhoette, jizz and features in a glimpse. There was a brief distraction in the form of my second ever Egyptian Vulture, an immature bird on this occasion. As passage began to drop off, there was a big shout for Steppe Eagle and I found myself waching a stunning juvenile bird in the east, my third lifer for the day and another major target species was out of the way on my first full day. It was difficult to keep the smile off my face and the other counters acknowledged my lifer with high fives, depite all having seen the species, some on many occasions. The cammaraderie between the counters is built up in such ways, I found it a great shared experience and the socializing, discussion, learning and tutorial that went on at the stations was remarkablet. This served to rapidly expand ones knowledge...


 Black Kite; Juvenile. A species that can look remarkable bulky in the field, note the forked tail, pale head and pale inner hand on the primaries. In flock formation these birds often resemble squadrons of fighter pilots and when passage is heavy it is an impressive sight.




 The view to the north from Station 1, this image grabbed on the i Phone..

Late afternoon the passage slowed somewhat, but the birding was phenomenal and there was something to look at almost constantly. Lesser Spotted Eagles, Booted Eagle, smaller numbers of Short Toed Eagles, which are brilliant birds to see. I began to familiarize myself with Short Toed Eagle, it's lethargic flight was remarkable, whilst the pallid underparts were beautifully marked. Taking in the greyish upperparts, in flight the two pale patches on the upperwing covert's were cemented in my mind as a key identification feature for the species. Still more Honey Buzzard passed, more Black Kites, another Hobby or two. My first Storks of the trip were recorded, a flock of 2 Black Stork with a White Stork, later came more Black Storks, wonderful birds to look at in flight. Often, Black Stork could be seen to join mixed kettles of raptors on migration...

 Hobby; Second Calender. Note the newly moulted inner primaries and the contrast with the older, retained juvenile outer primaries. The body appears adult due to the complete body moult already undertaken...



 Sparrowhawk in the hand. This was one of two birds that had been trapped and put up for sale in a local market, bought back by birders on this occasion for just a few euros and released back into the wild.

The afternnoon moved on into evening and another highlight came. I was now stationed counting birds to the east when an 'Aquila' Eagle came into my view through the binoculars. I scoped the bird immediately and watched it circle, as it showed its underparts I saw a broad white bar near the greater covert's and heard myself shouting 'Steppe Eagle'! The bird was fairly distant but unmistakeable, it soon passed to the south. A Roller blasted through also, there had been over a thousand seen before my arrival, though it was  getting late for the species now and it was nice to see this bird, a technicolour wonder. Then a Peregrine, in fact it was the second of the day and was out in the west, but looked remarkably pale and drew some discusiion as to it's origins. Later in the week more would be seen. These were Siberian Peregrines, of the race 'Calidus'. As the evening wore on we took in the last few Harriers before heading back to the house and showering, before heading down to the kitchen where another delicious dinner was gratefully received. Conversation was animated at the dinner table as the counters went over the days birding and tomorrows prospects were discussed. I was a very happy man indeed, it was a red letter day for me, with Shikra, Egyptian Vulture and Steppe Eagle new to me! Beyond that it had been a day of varied passage with a good range of species. The Shikra was discussed in detail, the photos downloaded and analyzed and the mood was bouyant and uplifting..


 Booted Eagle; Juvenile Light Morph. Stunning birds in ever way..




 Booted Eagle; Juvenile Dark Morph. A really claen individual with obvious white trailing edges..




Honey Buzzard; Juvenile Dark Morph

The following species and totals were recorded for thr day at Sakhalvasho, Station 1;

1 Shikra, 14 Black Stork, 1 White Stork, 702 Honey Buzzard, 1,724 Black Kite, 2 Egyptian Vulture, 6 Short Toed Eagle, 45 Marsh Harrier, 14 Pallid Harrier, 15 Montagu's Harrier, 38 Mont/Pallid/Hen Harrier, 360 Steppe Buzzard, 31 Lesser Spotted Eagle, 2 'Aquila' Eagle Sp., 2 Steppe Eagle, 210 Booted Eagle, 2 Peregrine Falcon.

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