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

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Raptor Watching; Shuamta; Batumi; 19th September 2012

Honey Buzzard; Juvenile Dark Morph streaming past overhead. Dark morph seems to be by far the commonest morph in Batumi amongst the juvenile birds...

The morning was really fine, with incredible blue skies as we climbed into the transport after breakfast. Everyone was a little tired, though spirits were high. On arrival, after the ascent, we quickly set up the camp. Jasper Wehrmann, Gael Foilleret, Filiep T'yollin and Gustav Erikson were my co-counters on the day. As was to be expected, a few Mont/Pallid Harriers, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and hordes of Bee Eater were the early birds. After less than an hour I picked up a large flock of Black Stork moving in our direction and a short while later the flock came directly overhead and the views were mega! Against a nice blue sky, it was quite a treat and very much enjoyed by all present.
 Other birds were moving too. Tree Pipits, Spotted Flycatcher and a Lesser Kestrel moved through. A calling Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was heard on the mountainside, whilst a party on Long Tailed Tits flitted through, busily feeding and calling. It wasn't long until we had our first Lesser Spotted Eagle, though the sight of ten birds together was amazing, and not really expected. They were soon piling over the top of our position, one Lesser Spotted Eagle after another. Once again I was left feeling in awe of the place where I was watching this spectacle unfold before my eyes. Then a Booted Eagle, a couple of Short Toed Eagle, Honey Buzzards and Black Kites in a big kettle overhead, perhaps sixty birds...






Black Kite; Juvenile. The same bird in the three images directly overhead. Take stock of the pale, creamy toned head and underparts. Note also the pale creamy spots on the breast and flanks. In the top image the tail is shown very well, in particular the long central tail feathers shown by many raptors in juvenile plumage. Black Kite can appear deceptively large in the field, though the distictive flight, long, indented tail, and silhouette make identification relatively straightforward...


It kept coming, the eagle passage in particular was so very impressive. I picked up a large looking bird coming from the south and got little or no carpals on it, it looked quite pale appearance and I mentioned to Jasper Wehrmann that I though there was a Short toed Eagle approaching. The bird was backlit by sun as it came in to join a kettle of Honey Buzzard and Steppe Buzzard and when it flew in we had the light on it's side. I realized the bird was not an Eagle, but a buzzard and quietly said to Jasper, 'That is a very big buzzard...' The bird turned and showed it had no carpals and Jasper roared 'Crested Honey Buzzard, Adult Female'. The rest of the group got onto it quickly and everyone got fantastic views of this much wanted species. It was remarkable how much bigger than Eurasian Honey Buzzard it appeared in direct comparison, the secondaries bulging outwards, the hand small and six, long fingered primaries clearly visible. The bird passed after a few minutes and everyone was ecstatic, a very good bird indeed. In fact it was the eighth of the season for Batumi Raptor Count! I decided to get back to my counting in the east and had just turned around when I heard Gustav Erikson calmly remark, 'Isn't, this another one??'
 Ridiculously, it was. Even more ridiculously, it wasn't the same bird. An adult male Crested Honey Buzzard was now in a kettle just north of our position, the views were sublime and we were going out of our nuts looking at the ninth bird of the autumn. Again we grilled the bird, this time I got a few photos for record before it moved off after a few minutes, we were completely thrilled. This is birding at it's very best, when it's so good you can scarcely believe what you have just seen...
 A short while later came a third bird, this one seemed a candidate for a juvenile bird, but no, it was a big Eurasian Honey Buzzard and we couldn't notch three birds in a day, though I would bet it will happen here in the coming years..








Honey Buzzard; Juvenile Female. A beast of a bird this one, it's large size drawing attention immediately. This one caused quite a stir at Shuamta and was initially considered a candidate for Crested Honey Buzzard, which incredibly, we had already recorded twice already earlier in the day! Important to take in that there are just five fingered primaries and not six, required for Crested Honey Buzzard. Nevertheless, an interesting bird. The belly and underwing covert's are light, there is a greyish brown breastband. The carpal patch was present, though rather reduced. Generally the bird was very bulky, with very bulging, concave secondaries, small hand and large, volumous tail. Nevertheless, this is a juvenile female Eurasian Honey Buzzard.


Batumi at night. Photo taken from the top patio on the Sputnik Hotel where it was the opening night of the Batumi Raptor Festival, celebrating five years of counting at the site. Down below, the locals were shooting Quail, attracting the birds to floodlights by tapeluring. Inside, we enjoyed lectures by Johannes Jannsen and Brechct Verstedt on the origins of the Batumi Raptor Count and a sumary of the results to date. Johannes dealt with the shooting and hunting issues and outlined its roots, as well as the continued reasons as to why it is so prevelant. We then retired to the patio again where a fantastic night was had by everyone. Transport was laid on from headquarters, to and from the hotel...



Pallid Harrier; Juvenile at Dawn. Once again, Pallid Harrier was the first raptor of the day. a wonderful sight as it flew staight past the counting station...



Honey Buzzard; Juvenile Intermediate Morph. What a stunning bird this is! The bird flew right past the station in glorious early morning light. The undercarriage, head and underwing covert's are a beautiful coffee/cream tone. There is a faint eye mask, whilst the yellowish cere is obvious. A beautiful view here of the retrices, note the creamy tip to the secondaries and inner primaries...





A short while later cloud moved in overhead and the passage slowed to a trickle, just like that. A few Marsh Harriers were still going through, a couple of Short toed Eagles and a single Aquilla Sp. Soon after even they stopped, though there were more Black Storks, two flock of fourteen and twelve birds respectively moving south. Apart from the odd straggler, raptor passage stopped. Bee Eaters, of course, were still moving through in flocks. Then out of nowhere at 2.04pm. came a cracking Steppe Eagle in the west, which gave stunning views. It's sometimes nice to have little passage as it allows you to really savour and enjoy the birds that do pass and this was a memorable juvenile bird.
 At 3.20pm. I was watching birds in the west that were distant to us at Shuamta. I picked up a large looking eagle with amazing pale forewings and underparts, but I could not identify it due to the distance involved and wondered whether it was a young Imperial or a Fulvescens Greater Spotted Eagle. The birds shape though, indicated a Lesser Spotted Eagle. It seems this bird may indeed have been a bird of the eastern race Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquilla pomarina hastata, more on this bird in a later post! There were little highlights over the rest of the afternoon, a smart male Lesser Kestrel was tip top. Fantastic bird! Out of nowhere came another 161 Steppe Buzzard, as well as more Black Storks, a good day for them it seemed. Then, an hour before we had to leave at dusk the sun broke through the crowds and birds started going past again. Straight away there were streams of Steppe Buzzard, Honey Buzzard and Black Kite. Lesser Spotted Eagles were overhead again, then a probable Steppe Eagle in the west. Just before the end came a cracking Great Spotted Eagle to wind up the day, a day which ended with a last flock of 20 Black Stork moving south in the east.
At aroung 17.30 we packed up our gear. I took my scope off the tripod, folded the tripod, removed the lens from the camera body and carefully packed the lowepro camera bag in preparation for the trip down the hill. I kept the binoculars around my neck as always, and stood up and looked westwards. There were three eagles in a kettle right in front of me! I raised the binoculars and checked the highest bird out, Lesser Spotted Eagle. As was the next bird down, there had been so many that day it was amazing. Except the third bird, the lowest in the sky, was not a Lesser Spotted Eagle. I shouted to the others I had a long winged eagle with a large hand and that they should get onto it. The bird was right in front of us and everybody was straight on it as it turned and I saw the bird clearly, large and dark, large headed, long tailed and long winged with a splayed hand. I then noticed the point where the tail joins the vent and noticed 'narrow hips', just as Jasper said 'this could be an Imperial Eagle!' And thats what it was, an immature Imperial Eagle. We watched the bird as it circled in front of us for a few minutes before it glided a short way along the ridge and began to kettle again. At first the views were excellent and I enjoyed my first ever Eastern Imperial Eagle, the last target species of mine to fall and probably the one I wanted the most. At the second kettle I had scope views and then the bird was gone. We headed off down the hill and once again I was over the moon, a smile from ear to ear all the way to the bottom.
  That night we had dinner and some went into the Sputnik hotel for the second night of lectures. The Batumi Bird Festival was well attended throughout and a good night was had by all. After a few beers and lots of talk of birds, a little banter and more bird talk we headed back to the transport and then to bed. What a day it was...









Black Stork; Various images of a large flock of Black Stork directly above. The birds passed directly over our heads early in the morning and were a remarkable sight.







Lesser Spotted Eagle; Juvenile. Nice view here of the 'double comma' at the carpal, a very useful identification tool. Fresh remiges without obvious signs of moult and light tips to greater underwing covert's, light undertail covert's and fresh, pristine tail...





Steppe Buzzard; Rufous Morph. What a cracking bird this is, the tail very beautiful. note the subterminal line on the tail. Many of the birds fell into this morph, in sunshine the red tails could be seen for miles when backlit. Note again the compact appearance, very distinctice structurally.







Lesser Spotted Eagle; Juvenile.Same bird in both images directly above. A classic bird in many ways. Here the clean trailing edge and immaculate fresh remiges are very apparent. Note also the pale tips to the greater underwing covert's, the creamy trailing edge to the wing and the barring on the remiges all the way to the feather tips..




Crested Honey Buzzard; Adult Male. From this angle this bird could easily be overlooked as Eurasian Honey Buzzard. Note the dark, broad terminal band on the tail and dark tail base..


Here the tail pattern becomes very obvious, unmistakably that of Crested Honey Buzzard! Note the rather large looking wings, with a sweeping concave line to the trailing edge of the secondaries, coupled with a small looking hand. The real clincher are the six, dark tipped, fingered primaries. This bird came just five minutes after another, an adult female, quite incredible!


Here in profile you get a sense of the breadth of the wings, much more volume than Eurasian Honey Buzzard and uncannily reminiscent of Short toed Eagle in silhouette. A big bird in company with Eurasian Honey Buzzard. Also in this shot, a superb view of the diagnostic tail pattern and the six fingered primaries, complete with small dark tips. A stonking bird in the field, where we had incredible views....


One last shot of this very rare species. Note here the broad trailing edge to the wing, very dark and well defined. Note the well marked underwing covert's and barely defined carpal patches in the shots above also...





The following are the totals species for the day, what a day it was...
Black Stork 71 Marsh Harrier 190 Greater Spotted Eagle 1
White Stork 1 Pallid Harrier 9 Steppe Eagle 1
Honey Buzzard 328 Montagu's Harrier 9 Imperial Eagle 1
Crested Honey Buzzard 2 Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier 26 Lesser Spotted / Greater Spotted / Steppe Eagle 10
Black Kite 152 Steppe Buzzard 1750 Booted Eagle 27
Short-toed Eagle 11 Lesser Spotted Eagle 77 raptor sp. 58


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