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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Raptor Watching; Sakhalvasho; Batumi; 26th September 2012

Black Kites; Early morning saw quite a few past Station 1 at Sakhalvasho on my last morning in Batumi...

I awoke after a lie in at around 07.30am on my last morning at Batumi. The previous night had been one of festivity, the counters had thrown a beach party for me on my last night, we had sat around a fire on the beach, gone for a swim in the Black Sea, drank Cha Cha and 'Yellow Beer' and finally, danced for a few hours. I ate a breakfast and headed up the hill. There were a lot of Black Kite passing the station and I relaxed and did a little counting, enjoying my last morning. I had already packed and had until 15.30 to watch raptors, before leaving for Tbilisi. The Black Kite were right over our heads and many were aged as a result. Honey Buzzard were also numerous, and there were many juveniles over our heads. A trio of storks contained 2 Black Stork and a single White Stork...


Honey Buzzard; Juvenile. Over the course of the trip, juvenile Honey Buzzard had taken over and the earlier adult birds had pracically dissapeared. Here is a dark morph bird directly overhead. On the day I had fantastic views of Honey Buzzard...

Late morning saw the radio crackle to life and we were told that Station 2 had just had an adult male Crested Honey Buzzard, the 10th record of 2012 at Batumi. Try as we might, we just could not pick it up in the stream of birds at East 3, this was dissapointing as Andrea Corso needed the species and was very keen to see the bird. We also found out that Shuamta was having a huge passage of Lesser Spotted Eagle and had also had a few Greater Spotted Eagle and Steppe Eagle. This was not really a surprise, given the clear blue skies. Over our heads there were Booted Eagle and I was quite content to watch these closely. We did have a handful of Lesser Spotted Eagle around the early afternoon, though a large passage never materialized.
We did, however, have a very good day for Short toed Eagle, many of these superb birds going past in the early afternoon. These were most welcome, we had plenty of time to get onto every bird and take in the details...

Andrea Corso trying to get to grips with the local Damselflies whilst passage was slow..

As the afternoon went on there were a few better birds. A Steppe Eagle was high up the list, a fantastic juvenile passing in the east which was seen very well at medium range. There were several Pallid Harrier on the day and numbers were up on the previous year already, which was heartening. This species has seen a marked decline in numbers at Batumi in the past five years. In mid afternoon, Filiep picked up a Peregine to the south and I tried to locate it. I was soon hearing that it looked rather greyish and pale, frustratingly it took me a while to get onto the bird in the west. This was yet another siberian bird of the race 'Calidus' and it blasted up the coast at amazing speed...
  Mid afternoon saw a few Steppe Buzzard going through, with more Black Kite and Honey Buzzard. Short toed Eagle and Booted Eagle were still passing when I looked at the clock and realized my time was up. I said goodbye to everyone at the station, which was not easy. I had made a lot of friends during my stay and the group at headquarters had become very close. I couldn't face getting on the radio to Station 2 and made my way down the hill, where there were more goodbyes. I passed on the news on the seasons 10th Crested Honey Buzzard to Jasper, Brecht and Johannes and they were delighted. In the end I took the bus to Batumi and hopped on a Marshutka to Tbilisi, remarkably cheap for a seven hour  journey across Georgia. It was a little cramped, though I was rather tired and had little trouble slepping. Tbilisi was duly reached and I took a cab to the airport, eventually boarding my flight to Istanbul without incident. From there it was direct flight to Stockholm and home.

 Batumi is, quite simply, a quite incredible experience. There is no doubt I will return. It is, in a european context, phenomenal. If you are interested in raptors in the western paleartic, Batumi is simply a must visit destination. It was one of the best birding experiences of my life, without any doubt.
In just 12 days at Batumi I saw a total of 118,492 raptors!!! The combined total for Shuamta and Sakhalvasho stations during my twelve days was a mind boggling 187,081 birds. As I write, the count continues and the Batumi Raptor count is on the brink of breaking through the 1,000,0000 barrier for the first time in theirs five or six year history, which is huge in a european context. In addition, the range of species at Batumi is quite incredible, with eastern species adding a touch of the exotic. Honey Buzzard, Crested Honey Buzzard(2), Common Buzzard, Steppe Buzzard, Long Legged Buzzard(2), Black Kite, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, Levant Sparrowhawk, Merlin(1), Common Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, Red Footed Falcon(40+), Hobby, Peregrine(inc. 4 'calidus'), Egyptian Vulture(3), Steppe Eagle(25+), Greater Spotted Eagle(7), Lesser Spotted Eagle, Imperial Eagle(1), Booted Eagle, Short toed Eagle, Osprey, Pallid Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, and Marsh Harrier made an incredible 26 Species personally seen. In addition, Golden Eagle, Griffon Vulture and Saker Falcon were all seen by counters at headquarters during my stay, covering 29 species. Then there are other subspecies, such a 'fulvescens' Greater Spotted Eagle, 'calidus' Peregrine Falcon. Quite incredible. I will be back and would seriously reccomend it...

Lastly, a word of special thanks to the guys at Batumi Raptor Count. Jasper, Brecht, Johannes and Arthur deserve special mention. The count was superbly organized, so much so, that counter's could concentrate 100% on the birds. The food, facilities, bird festival and transport were quite superbly organized and all due credit goes to BRC. To the other counter's a huge thank you for the banter, friendship, technical expertise, endless hours of conversation, Cha Cha and 'yellow beer'! Aki, Jan, Filiep, Morgan Gael, Mael, Guilliume, Jean Jacques, Andrea, Manuel, Stijn, Kalle, Davit, Dietrich, Rien, Johanna, and Maik. Thank's for the memories and see you again on station I hope..

Honey Buzzard; Juvenile; Dark Morph. Same bird above and below.





These two turned up over the course of the morning and proceeded to plead for our binoculars!



Andrea Corso gave them both a quick tutorial in the art of raptor indentification....






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