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

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Raptor Watching; Shuamta; Batumi; 25th September 2012

Shuamta; Station 2, high in the mountains, view from the trail upwards on the way to the summit..




Brecht, Gael, Mael, Johannes and Manuel joined me on my last full day as a counter...




The weather was again stunning, blue skies bode well for the coming day. Often, when there is no cloud cover, Station 2 gets the bulk of the birds..

This was my last full day at Batumi and I was given a choice of station. After looking at the weather forecast, which was giving no cloud cover and sunshine, I chose Station 2. Generally, in these conditions, it got the bulk of the birds. At breakfast, there was an air of expectancy again, there was a big day due after a short period of bad weather. We boarded the marshutka and headed for Shuamta, duly getting the 20 minute climb out of the way. At the top, we quickly set up camp, which involved putting up a tarp for shelter/shade, setting out the food and water for the day and dividing the area up between the counters. Again, I got choice and took overhead and East 1. The closest birds would be mine to count. On setting up we were greeted to an incredible sight. To the south, on the ridge of the mountain, raptors were perched in waiting. Well over a thousand birds soon took to the air nervously and the first flock was soon on it's way. The formation told u thats these were Black Kite and they passed in two large flocks, the first passed overhead and I clicked over 500 individuals. The second flock was even bigger and passed in West 2, where Gael clicked furiously, within a few minutes we had well over a thousand Black Kite logged! The visibility was remarkable and we could see the Greater Caucasus mountains across the sea in Russia, a magnificent sight. Through the scope, there was an amazing spectacle. Thousands of Black Kite were crossing from Russia and moving along the coast, several huge kettles filled the air in the distance...

The scene from early morning as Black Kite filled the skies to the south, an amazing sight....




Black Kite were a feature today in the morning and there was a particularily heavy passage of birds..

The morning moved on and there was a nice steady passage of birds early on. There was a kettle right in front of me most of the morning and I enjoyed spectacular views of Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and Steppe Buzzard. A snatch of song from a Green Warbler was a highlight of the morning, most of these had moved on by now. A couple of 'tristus' ChiffChaff called and fed on the mountainside below us. The first Black Stork was a singleton, though it was rapidly followed by a flock of 17 birds, which went right over my head in glorious light, allowing lots of good photos to be taken. This was a great day for photos, the light was superb and many of the birds were overhead...




Black Stork; these birds were a big feature of the day. Not a species I had seen a lot of before I visited Georgia, here I had seen hundreds during the trip and the views were often spectacular...

The morning pushed on and the first of the eagles appeared, a couple of Booted Eagle were first, then a 2nd Calender Short Toed Eagle, before the first Lesser Spotted Eagles appeared, four birds together! There were two juvenile and two immatures together, in a kettle of Steppe Buzzard and Honey Buzzard. It was a fantastic sight. We didn't know it at that stage, but we were in for a big passage of these birds, this was only the first of many. The views were quite incredible as they flew past and I resisted the temptation to grab the camera, chosing to simply enjoy a close up view of these birds as they drifted past...

Honey Buzzard; Juvenile. This bird has a strange tail, perhaps due to excessive wear, otherwise it is a rather typical dark type morph. Many birds are more solidly dark than this individual...


Early afternoon approached and we suddenly had birds everywhere. I had hoped for a big passage of birds, now we were getting it! There were Lesser Spotted Eagle all over the place, often in small flocks, it was outrageous. The views were nothing short of incredible. Having spent the previous couple of weeks looking closely at these birds I was now quite comfortable ageing these birds, but there were so many that I often had to ask Brecht or Johannes for help. Many of the eagles were passing overhead along the ridge or in East 1. Steppe Buzzard were also passing in increasing numbers, birds now streaming southwards, the odd Black Kite or Honey Buzzard in their midst. It was a very steady passage, though I had time to grab the camera for anything interesting or close and I tried to grab some decent shots of the passing birds...

Lesser Spotted Eagle; Juvenile. Note here the rather tidy, fresh retrices with no obvious signs of moult. The thin, whitish tips to the retrices are clearly visible here against the blue sky and are a good feature of juvenile birds. Note also the carpal area, displaying a prominent, pale, double carpal patch, a classic feature of Lesser Spotted Eagle. Note on the hand of the wing there are six fingered primaries, though P4 is rather small and rudimentary, also typical of Lesser Spotted Eagle...



The view to the west, where Station 1 lies along the coast of the eastern Black Sea...




Lesser Spotted Eagle; 2nd Calender. Note again the double carpal patch, fresh retrices with whitish tips to the feathers and thin whitish tips to the greater underwing covert's. This bird looks like a juvenile above to a large degree, but note P6 is growing out on the left wing, a sign of moult, which tells us this is not a juvenile. Note the new inner primaries on both wings...

As the afternoon wore on we were getting incredible views of Lesser Spotted Eagles. It was only a matter of time before something better was picked up. I was going through the next kettle when I picked up another Aquilla in the binoculars, my first impression was that it looked very pale. I got the scope onto the bird and shouted to the others to have a look at this bird. It was remarkably pale, though it seemed fine for Lesser spotted Eagle structurally. I had it down as a 3rd calender birds due to the state of the moult. Then I noticed the barring on the secondaries and I could not get a grip on the birds identification. The bird had 7-8 bars on the secondaries, all the way to the tips of the feathers. Lesser Spotted Eagle.should have 10-12 bars, so the bird seemed to fit Greater Spotted Eagle in this regard, except tht the bars were all the way to the feather tips! And so I wondered aboud a hybrid Lesser/Greater Spotted Eagle. The bird came quite close as it passed and I managed to get some quite good shots of the bird, which had some damage to the tail and secondaries, which were proably the result of a hunter shooting at it. It was a stunning bird to behold and very informative..

Putative Greater/Lesser Spotted Eagle, a 3rd calender hybrid? Note here the damge to the tail and secondaries on the right wing, which look to be from gunshot...


Here one can see the the six prominent fingered primaries, with small P4, seemingly perfect for a Lesser Spotted Eagle. At odds with this are the bars on the secondaries, 7-8 bars at most, which are rather thin with wide gaps between them. This could be said to be a feature of Greater Spotted Eagle, though, atypically for that species, the bars run to the tips of the feathers, as they do in Lesser Spotted. To my eye the head looks a little broad and may indicate a female bird, whilst the gape line is rather wide for Lesser Spotted Eagle...


Tonally the bird could be mistaken for Steppe Eagle, though I am quite sure the bird is not of that species. Structurally, especially on the hand of the wing, the bird is perfect for Lesser Spotted Eagle. I would expect a 3rd calender Steppe Eagle to show much white on the underwing and they are usually straightforward. There are two moult waves visible on this bird, confirming it is a 3rd calender bird. Also note the appearance of a double comma on the carpal. I will seek further advice on this individual, a very interesting bird indeed..


And so the eagles kept coming and I had fantastic photographic oportunity. I was very happy to realize the day would leave me with a good selection of Aquilla images with plumage details visible in the shots. It wasn't long before the first Greater Spotted Eagle was picked up in the west, the bird eventually flying overhead after giving stunning views, allowing all the features to be seen well. A short while later there was another. This was birding at it's very best, soon a Steppe Eagle was giving us crippling views to the west. Steppe Buzzard numbers had picked up substantially and I now had quite a lot to count, as did everyone else, it was a frenetic afternoon. A short while later Mael drew attention to a Kite in the east, it proved to be a Red Kite, a very rare bird here in Georgia and the first of the trip. The bird was among Black Kite and the direct comparison between the two species was nice.



Lesser Spotted Eagle; Juvenile. Same bird above and below...







Short Toed Eagle; Adult Male. Same bird above and below. Judged to be a male due the rather small head and and small, tidy markings on the underparts, typical of male birds. Adult females are more heavily marked in general. Note the uneven trailing edge to the wings, indicating moult. There is also evidence of moult in the tail. This bird was right over my head and gave me my best photos of the trip of this fantastic species...







Lesser Spotted Eagle; Juvenile. Compare this bird with the bird below...




Great Spotted Eagle. 2nd Calender? Note the bigger, deep, broad wings with a larger hand. The longer P4 is clearly visible here and very different to the rudimentary P4 typical of Lesser Spotted Eagle. Note the rather dark underwing covert's. Note also the single pale carpal patch, formed by the whitish base to the primaries. The tail seems to fit a juvenile bird, with the longest inner tail feathers very obvious, though there seems to be some moult on the underwing covert's and in the secondaries, suggesting this bird is in fact a 2nd calender. The whitish tips to the retrices are not very apparent, also supporting a bird in it's 2nd Year.







Lesser Spotted Eagle; Immature. Here a bird in it's 3rd, or even 4th calender year. Note the lighter underwing covert's, with obviously darker retrices, as well as the double carpal patch. There are two wave moults visible in the wing, indicating the bird is at least in it 3rd year, which is how old I suspect this birds to be, due to the mottled appearance of the underwing covert's and undercarriage...




Greater Spotted Eagle; Juvenile. A stunning bird. Check out the beautiful white tips to the secondaries, inner primaries and tail. The long inner tail feathers are that of a classic juvenile bird, this feature is seen in many raptor species and very useful in the field. Note the very obvious, single carpal patch, as well as the very dark undering coverts, contrasting with lighter toned retrices. P4 is rather long, but only marginally so than many Lesser spotted Eagle. This is a beautiful, fresh juvenile!







Lesser Spotted Eagles, a very useful shot of birds of different ages. Notice the older, larger bird at the top right of the image and how the shape of the bird changes markedly. Both birds show the classic double comma on the carpal. The lower bird is a juvenile, as can be seen by the fresh retrices with whitish tips and long central tail feathers.  The upper bird, possibly a large female Lesser Spotted Eagle, is an immature bird. Note the barring on the secondaries/inner primaries, where the feathers are backlit by the sun. 10-12 bars running along the entire length of the feathers, which indicate the bird is not an adult. This is a bird in it's 3rd or 4th Calender Year. 




One more shot of the stunning juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle, same bird as above, Wow!


The birds just kept coming and there was an Aquilla fest! Booted Eagles were now going over more regularily, as well as Bee Eater flocks. This was my last full day and was one of the best days I had seen since my arrival and I was delighted. The exceptional light, heavy passage and close birds made it a day to savour. Around 3pm it slowed a little, though not before we had logged a lot of birds. I was busy overhead and in East 1, mainly with Steppe Buzzard. Among the birds there was the odd Honney Buzzard and quite a few Black Kite, so I was forced to be attentive in order to identify these other species. Dark morph Booted Eagles were a further complication. The I noticed a larger buzzard among the Steppe Buzzards, very much larger and longer winged. Any notion of Common Buzzard was soon dismissed when I saw the tail, a beautiful rufous, ummarked affair, this was surely a Long-legged Buzzard. I roared at the others and we all had great views as it flew right past us overhead. I managed a few snaps and we went back to counting...




Lesser Spotted Eagle; Immature. Same bird above and below.







Lesser Spotted Eagle? Another odd eagle, but most likely a Lesser Spotted due to the apparent double carpal. A third calender bird again perhaps? P4 bothers me a little, it looks rather long and well developed, whilst the bird is rather pale. The barring on the retrices seems to be bang on for Lesser Spotted Eagle though, which is what I suspect this bird is..








Greater Spotted Eagle; Immature. Backlit by sun, nevertheless one can see the single carpal patch easily here, as well as the wing shape. Not the rather arched wing position and dark underwing covert's. If pushed, I would age this bird as a 2nd Calender..




Lesser Spotted Eagle, Immature. 





Lesser Spotted Eagle, Immature.



Lesser Spotted Eagle, Juvenile.



Steppe Buzzard; Adult.




Lesser Spotted Eagle, Immature. Same bird above and below..







Lesser Spotted Eagle, Immature.



Black Kite; 2nd calender. Note the essentially juvenile appearance, though with signs of moult in the secondaries..




Steppe Eagle; Juvenile. What a cracking bird they are!





Lesser Spotted Eagle; Immature; 3rd Calender Year. Same bird above and below. Obvious signs of moult, with two moult waves visible, fresh inner and outer primaries. Note variagated undercarriage and largely pale vent...







Lesser Spotted Eagle; 2nd Calender; The same bird above and below. Note the moult on the inner primaries and tail...







Long legged Buzzard; Same bird above and below. Note the heavy proportions and clean, unmarked, rufous rail. This is a bird of the rufous morph, which is a little more tricky to identify and not as contrasting one might expect. I think this may be a sub adult bird, though I must admit to finding it difficult to age this individual. Note the dark subterminal band to the secondaries and primaries, with quite clean, almost unmarked inner primaries. The inner secondaries an only faintly marked. The underwing covert's are rufous toned and there is no obvious darker carpal, thus a rufous morph bird. The tail was rather long in direct comparison to Steppe Buzzard, which this bird dwarfed, as well as being very clean, unmarked rufous. A cracking bird...




Later in the evening the passage slowed considerably and we were able to relax. It had been a quite remarkable afternoon. Booted Eagle were still going over, though there were a couple of great birds. The first was a lovely juvenile Levant Sparrowhawk, which went over my head. It was followed by a pristine adult male Pallid Harrier, the light was incedible and the bird was low. It was a wonderful view of the best looking bird of the trip...



Steppe Buzzard




Honey Buzzard; Juvenile; Light Morph. Not much one can say about a bird as beautiful as this, they really are immaculate in appearance..




Honey Buzzard; Juvenile; Intermediate morph.




Booted Eagle; Dark morph. Juvenile bird? Seems rather fresh on the wing, with no obvious moult. Looks a little pale on the underwing though and I wonder could this be a 2nd calender year..




Levant Sparrowhawk; Juvenile. Small numbers of these stunning birds going over all week, though they were difficult to get a photo of and I has very happy to get this shot on my last full day..




Pallid Harrier; Adult Male. Same bird above and below. What a bird. What a bird. What a bird!




The evening was slow, but extremely enjoyable as we had plenty of time to study the birds once again. There were plenty of Honey Buzzards and it was nice to study the variation in plumage. A few were of the light morph and were very nice to look at. After a while we were joined by students from the local secondary school. Whilst they were there there were just a few birds, though they had great views of Booted Eagles, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and Steppe Buzzard, as well as a brace of adult male Pallid Harrier! Best of all was a stonking 'calidus' Peregrine Falcon in the east, at least the third bird of the trip for me, a little distant, but still a brilliant bird. The students really enjoyed the outing I think, as well as looking through the optics and seeing the birds up close. We eventually packed up and headed down the mountain altogether, the kids singing all the way down. We were joined by some hunters on the way, who were very nice and friendly towards us, an ironic reminder of the situation here in Georgia. Educating young people is surely the key to avoid indiscrimate shooting of birds in the future..






Honey Buzzard; Juvenile; Intermediate morph. The same bird in the three images directly above here..



Booted Eagle; Juvenile. Light Morph.




Manuel Tacke. Classic Raptor Watching position in light passage....




Johannes Jannson with students at Station 2, introduction to bird identification/raptor monitoring.




Brecht with students at Station 2, introduction to bird identification/raptor monitoring.




Brecht with students at Station 2, introduction to bird identification/raptor monitoring.



A typical rural scene shot from the minibus near Shuamta..


The following species and totals were noted..
Black Stork98Pallid Harrier3Lesser Spotted / Greater Spotted / Steppe Eagle40
White Stork1Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier7Booted Eagle135
Honey Buzzard324Steppe Buzzard5196Peregrine1
Black Kite2775Lesser Spotted Eagle160falcon sp.2
Short-toed Eagle23Greater Spotted Eagle3raptor sp.3818
Marsh Harrier43Steppe Eagle2

Totals: 12631 individuals, 17 species, 9:35 hours


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