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 02, 2012

Raptor Watching, Shuamta, Batumi; 18th September 2012

Pallid Harrier; Juvenile. This was one of the first birds of the day and flew right over our heads at Shuamta, leaving us breathless. Shuamta, being a much higher location, tends to have birds at closer range. This photo depict's the head and neck detail of juvenile Pallid Harrier perfectly. Note the extent of white around the eye, the dark ear covert's, pale boa and dark sides of the neck..


Pallid Harrier; Juvenile. This image better depict's the underwing details. Important features are the rather dusky primary tips and boldly barred outer primaries. The breast, undercarriage and underwing covert's are clean and deeply washed apricot. Note the relatively sturdy chest and body...


Pallid Harrier; Juvenile. The bird looking straight at the assembled counters! Amazing stuff...


We awoke at the usual time and after breakfast were transported to Shuamta by minibus, locally known as Marshutka. Guillaume Peplinski, Filiep T'yollin, Manuel Tacke and Gustav Erikson joined me for thr day. The climb to the watchpoint high in the mountains takes about twenty minutes and is rather gruelling, though worth it. Shuamta is a breathtaking place to birdwatch in every way. We set up the station quicky and began to look for birds. Harriers were immediately picked up and there were quite unforgettable views of Pallid Harriers in particular. A Levant Sparrowhawk was rather nice, a beautiful adult male as well.
 It did not take long for the first Booted Eagle, which was quickly follwed by the first Lesser Spotted Eagle of the day, the latter dwarfing other birds in the kettles in front of us. Steppe Buzzards began to appear, then to increase in numbers. Marsh Harriers came, as well as another silky white adult male Pallid Harrier...


Lesser Spotted Eagle; Juvenile. Views were very much improved here at Station 2, due to the increased elevation. As the birds approached the details on the upperparts could often be made out as the birds circled, a major aid to identification and ageing. Note here the rather short, insignificant P5. The underwing covert's are lighter than the remiges and there are obvious pale tips to the greater underwing covert's. Another very useful feature are the long central tail feathers, easily seen on the closed tail in gliding and flapping flight...


This bird certainly caught the eye! It took a bit of figuring out after the initial shock of seeing such a large, pallid raptor overhead. This is a 2nd Calender Short Toed Eagle with worn plumage, causing the pallid appearance. Note especially the very pale head on this bird. There is some evidence of moult on the secondaries and the innermost primaries have been replaced. Structurally, the bird presses all the right buttos for Short toed Eagle. Note the large head, longish, broad tail and long wings with six fingered primaries. A long way overhead, so quite glad to get a decent record shot of this interesting bird..


Lesser Spotted Eagle; Immature.


Lesser Spotted Eagle

As the morning wore on the numbers of Steppe Buzzard increased dramatically. I was counting in the eastern section at mid to long range, which were prescribed as East 2 and East 3 for counting purposes. I was soon very busy indeed, as first hundreds, and then thousands of birds poured south. Unlike previous days at Station 1, this was a stream almost entirely made up of Steppe Buzzard and therefore easier to count. I clicked for the Steppe Buzzard whilst another counter looked after any other species, such as Lesser Spotted Eagle, so that I could concentrate on the passing waves of birds. It was a remarkable experience to witness a large wave of Steppe Buzzard and quite interesting to take in the variable morphs the species appears in. An Egyptian Vulture was all too brief during this period as I was to busy counting to look at it for long! At some stage a large pipit flew over calling, not the expected Tawny, but rather a Richard's Pipit! There were also a few Black Stork, a cracking Steppe Eagle and a couple of Greater Spotted Eagle! A Lesser Kestrel passed with a small group of Sparrowhawk, many of the latter looking very long tailed to my eye. Harriers were still moving through, Bee Eater were everywhere and the odd calls of the local ChiffChaff's could be heard constantly...


The view northeast for Shuamta, quite stunning...


Filiep and Manuel helped me on the eastern side of Shuamta...


Yours Truly at Shuamta...


Whilst counting the Steppe Buzzard towards a lull in the stream I was eventually struck by an amazingly white Buzzard and I quickly realized I was looking at a partially albinistic Steppe Buzzard. This remarkable looking bird was very striking looking and everyone at the Station had good views of this odd bird...

Steppe Buzzard; Above and below are record shots of the same partially albinistic individual. The photos are not great, as the bird was quite distant, but serve to show how odd this bird looked in the field. Steppe Buzzard, unlike Common Buzzard, does not have a light morph. The bird appeared very white from above in particular, though many of the secondaries and primaries were dark, creating a piano effect. The bird also had a dark mask, reminiscent of light phase juvenile Honey Buzzard.




The counting went on, through the late afternoon, but the passage of Steppe Buzzard dried up suddenly. A few more Short toed Eagle were most welcome, as was a second Steppe Eagle. The Steppe Eagle was a juvenile bird and gave breathtaking views in the scope of both the upperparts and underparts. The upperparts were incedible to see well, an unmistakable light coloured forewing, with dark greater covert's bordered by white tips to the median and, in particular, greater covert's. The white rump added to the contrast, at odds with the dark tail. A remarkable bird, which I did not try to photograph, rather just enjoy the wonderful view through the scope in superb light. Honey Buzzard trickled by in small groups and we checked them carefully, again their variation was striking..


Raptors in the sky in front of me, a Lesser Spotted Eagle dwarfing the other species. Scenes like this are everywhere you look in Batumi, an unforgettable experience.









Bee Eaters; Three images directly above. Flocks of birds begin moving from early morning and the sound of the migrating birds is very much the sound of Batumi. Millions are estimated to pass by every autumn, often the flocks blast right past the standing counters at close range on both stations...


Steppe Buzzard. A rather small, compact buzzard with a rather short tail. I was rather appreciative of the fact that these were indeed quite so compact, as it helps greatly to diffrentiate these birds from Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and even Common Buzzard. A grey morph type here, typically marked..


Lesser Spotted Eagle






Steppe Eagle; Same bird in the three images directly above. This was the first bird of the day and thought to be a third calender bird. Note the diagnostic white markings on the underwing and the apparent moult on the secondaries. The tail appears rather large here and diamond shaped, also the head looks large in comparison with Lesser Spotted Eagle... 

And so the evening moved along, again the number of Harriers increased. It was a really good evening for Pallid Harrier, at least four of which were adult males. As now seemed inevitable, the adult males were all high overhead. A couple of adult female Pallid provided interest also, with many juveniles passing for comparison. Marsh Harrier were also coming through in good numbers and we saw many of them, adults and juveniles and a few interesting 2nd calender male birds to add variety. A couple of juvenile Levant Sparrowhawk were very much outclassed by a spanking adult male. Another Lesser Kestrel or two were also welcome, dwarfed by a single Black Stork, the last bird of the day.


Gustav in classic raptor watching mode to the rear, just waiting to spring into action...


The big Swede, good company at all times and occasional exponent of partaking in 'Yellow Beer'.


Low cloud over Shuamta quicly gave way to blue skies. Generally speaking the weather was fantastic at Batumi and settled at an almost constant 28 degrees celsius throughout the first week. Sunblock was a must...


Another couple of shots of this picturesque location, a pleasure to birdwatch in such a beautiful place as this..





Morning cloud often appeared to threaten rain, but was quickly dissapated by the rising sun...


The following totals and species were seen at Shuamta by the end of the day;
9 Black Stork, 500 Honey Buzzard, 289 Black Kite, 1 Egyptian Vulture, 9 Short toed Eagle, 178 Marsh Harrier, 24 Pallid Harrier, 7 Montagu's Harrier, 22 Mont/Pallid/Hen Harrier, Buzzard Sp. 73, 2159 Steppe Buzzard, 79 Lesser Spotted Eagle, 2 Greater Spotted Eagle, 2 Steppe Eagle, 7 Aquilla Sp., 12 Booted Eagle, 81 Raptor sp., 3 Lesser Ketrel, 7 Levant Sparrowhawk. 3,454 Birds in Total.

Interesting to note that Station 1 was much busier today with a grand total of 15,020 Raptors. The higher numbers can be attributed to cloud cover over the mountains and clearer skies along the coast, producing better thermals for migration. 249 Lesser Spotted Eagle, 7 Steppe Eagle, 7,970 Black Kite, 2 Imperial Eagle, 1,771 Honey Buzzard, 532 Booted Eagle, 40 Pallid Harrier and 42 Short Toed Eagle were among their totals. Booted Eagle in particular seems to favour the coast and Sakhalvasho many more of these than Shuamta. The reverse is true of Steppe Buzzard, which prefers to migrate through the mountains. Others, such as Lesser Spotted Eagle, simply migrate where conditions are best and the thermals strongest..

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