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.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Batumi Raptor Watching;15th September 2012

 Georgia. A view of the interior of Georgia taking from the train between Tbilisi and Batumi. The views from the window seat were breathtaking throughout, Georgia is a stunning location...

A much awaited trip to Batumi, Georgia began with an evening flight to Tbilisi from Stockholm Arlanda, with a changover in Tallinn, Estonia. I arrived at 06.00am at Tbilisi and immediately had problems with my visa card! It would't allow me to withdraw money and I had to convince a local girl in the Bureau de Change to exchange some Swedish SEK for a little Georgian Lari, which saw me good to get a taxi to the central station in Tbilisi. I had prebooked an express train here to Batumi at 08.00am and that morning the first glimpses of georgian daily life were fascinating to me. Local ladies walked the platforms selling flowers, soft drinks and pastries at incedibly cheap prices and I ate as I waited for the train. I boarded at 07.45am with my E Ticket and soon we were on out way, leaving the city and entering a quite beatiful country, high mountains often dominating the scene. I watched spellbound out the window, the whole time expectant of my impending arrival at Batumi six hours later. After a couple of hours the entire train was singing and dancing and obviously a little anniebriated! I had booked a first class ticket for jusy 40 Georgian Lari and was able to grab a couple of hours sleep before the train pulled in to Makhinjauri on time. I was met at the train by a driver from Batumi Raptor Count and whisked up to the headquarters at Sakhalvasho within a few minutes. I was met here by Jasper Wehrmann here, who is the BRC count co-ordinater and was immediately made to feel at home. After a quick refreshment Jasper informed me that the Station 1 watchpoint at Sakhalvasho was 100 metres up the hill and I asked if I could head straight up there. Booted Eagle was a species I had never seen and Jasper assured me there were birds passing, so we headed up the hill. Here I was introduced to the counters present, Kelle Mellor, Morgon Boch, Jan Wellenkes and Johanna Yourstone. I sat and watched overhead and the west beside Jan Welenkes and Jasper informed him  needed Booted Eagle. Jan turned to me and informed me that 'This will not be a problem'..
 About 90 seconds later Jan turned to me and said, 'Here you go Alan, Adult Dark Morph Booted Eagle', as overhead a dark morph bird drifted in from the southeast and began circling overhead! It was joined by a second pale morph individual. I watched astonished as four more appeared and a flock of 6 Booted Eagle circled on a thermal right over my head. My astonishment was duly noted and I sat there with a beaming smile on my face, Jasper slapped me on the back and gave me a thorough breakdown on how to age the overhead birds. This was only the first of many such lessons, Batumi is an incredible place to learn how to age, sex and identify raptors.


 Booted Eagle,  Adult Dark Morph. Note the obvious moult in the primaries, as well as less obvious moult in the secondaries, creating an uneven trailing edge.



 Booted Eagle, Juvenile Light Morph. Note the clean trailing edge to the wing with no apparent moult. The trailing edges of the remiges are tipped with white, another feature of birds in their first calender year, though amount of wear is variable due to more southerly populations breeding earlier. Thus, these southerly juveniles are fledged earlier in the year and have more worn tips to the remiges as a result. In some cases these birds may appear much more adult like, though with careful inspetion the clean, 'S' shaped triling edge to the wing is apparent..



 Booted Eagle, Juvenile Dark Morph. Note here the clean trailing edge, the white tips to the tail and secondaries quite obvious. Note also the rather solidly dark underwing covert's, often adults show more mottled, lighter markings here..



 Booted Eagle, Juvenile Light Morph. Again the clean, fresh plumage and white tips to the secondaries and tail very obvious here. These are stunning birds. Incredibly I saw over 250 birds on my first day viewing the species!



 Booted Eagles. Five of six birds overhead that were my first ever view of the species overhead at Sakhalvasho. At times streamimg and soaring birds are overhead in such numbers it takes the breath away and I have never experienced anything like it, a quite incrdible place...

After ticking Booted Eagle I sat back and began watching in earnest. Honey Buzzards and Black Kites predominated and I had incredible views of both as they passed by in numbers, a few adults in their midst. Only a few minutes had passed when a shout went up for Short-toed Eagle and I enjoyed amazing views of an adult bird through the scope a little to the east. I was given a complete run down on the local landmarks in the west, south and east as reference points. Names of mountains such as 'Big Mama' and 'Little Ginger' were new to me then, but are now fixed in my memory fondly. Then the first Marsh Harriers of the trip over the sea to the west, wilst watching them I heard the calls of Bee Eater, lots of them! As I watched a flock of thirty birds blast past us calling Jan informed me that millions pass here in the autumn. A few minutes later a second flock, then a third, quite an amazing spectacle. That day I counted them for myself and had 1,125 Bee Eater, despite the fact that the majority, by far, pass early in the morning. More Booted Eagles passed and I tried to familiarise myself with the appearance of these birds, the white patches on the shoulders quite stunning to behold. The light birds were easily identified, quite fantastic birds. The smooth trailing edge to the wing was pointed out as well as the fresh plumage, white tips to the remiges and the bird was logged as a juvenile...


 Honey Buzzard; Adult. Note the small head, long tail with rounded corners, clean, dark trailing edge to primaries and dark tips to the primaries, cleanly demarciated. The tail pattern is diagnostic, a dark band on the trailing edge, with two further narrow dark bands on the inner half of the tail. These birds are highly variable, though shape and the features mentioned above remain fairly constant and are the key identification tools. The most numerous species at Batumi. Incredibly, on 3rd September 2012, a new world record day count total was set when the BRC team logged a staggering 179,000 birds in a single day! A second count of 99,001only three days previously, was the former record at the site and clearly demonstrates the mind boggling numbers of birds that pass through the easten Black Sea migration bottleneck at Batumi...


 Above and Below; Honey Buzzard; Juvenile Dark Morph. Note again the proportions, the small head and long tail with rounded corners. The wings are rather long with five prmary fingers. Note also here the obvious yellow cere on the bill, a very useful point of reference on close to mid range birds. The underwing covert's are silver white, with a dusky trailing edge and primary tip and show some barring, though generally not as heavily as that shown by adult birds. The underwing covert's and underparts are highly variable in these birds and here are quite dark...



I continued to watch and became more and more impressed. A couple of small flocks of Steppe Buzzard moved through and gave me my first views of this eastern species. It struck as rather small and compact, though rather variable in morph, a number of stunning red morph birds seen well, a beautiful raptor. Another Montagu's Harrier followed before another juvenile harrier was picked up in the west by me, this one was only my third ever Pallid Harrier. At medium range the boa around the neck and dark neck sides were obvious, as well as the white inner primaries at the carpal and very dark secondaries. During all this time Honey Buzzard and Black Kite were streamimg overhead and there was a period of more intense passage were the clickers we used to count could be heard. In addition, there was constant radio contact with Station 2 in Shuamta to the east and it quickly became apparent to me how well organised the count is at Batumi, with double counting eliminated through constant communication. A few Hobby, Sparrowhawks and best of all, a Levant Sparrowhawk were picked out to the west. Booted Eagles passed constantly singly or in pairs or small groups and I began to see moult in the adult birds and age the birds I picked up. Marsh Harriers were numerous and were also aged and sexed, though I am familiar with the species, so this was no problem. More Montagu's, Pallid and unidenifiable Mont/Pallid Harrier passed and I was really happy to get good experience of these birds. After a while the shout came for an adult male Pallid Harrier, a bird high overhead which was my first adult male, a bird that was more than worth the wait. It drew appreciation from even the most experienced counters, a bird of extraordinarily beautiful form and plumage, and it went straight to the the top of my list of favourite birds. Then Jasper announced Lesser Spotted Eagle approaching overhead. The bird was among a kettle of Honey Buzzard in a kettle and easily picked up and I had good views as it passed overhead. Aquilla Eagle species were a major reason for my visit here and I wanted to learn as much as I could about their field identification. I approached Jasper and again her ran through the birds features, moult state and general appearance, right there in the field whilst the bird was in clear view. More followed and soon I began to build a clearer picture in my head of what to look for, all this in just a few hours on station. Earlier there had been a Greater Spotted Eagle and a Steppe Eagle, though for the moment I concentrated on the passing Lesser Spotted, of which I saw more than twenty birds! I knew that time was on my side and that I had twelve full days ahead of me. Looking at what was going on around me, it began to sink in just what an incredible raptor watching experience lay ahead of me..

 Lesser Spotted Eagle, my first of the trip, high overhead. a probable fourth calender. Notice the uniform remiges, lacking barring. The underwing covert's are rather pale though, indicating a younger bird. Note the short P6 on the wing.

And so it went on and I watched into the evening, the numbers of Harriers increasing as the evening wore on. More Short-toed Eagles passed overhead, some juveniles and adults as well as a very instructive bird in its 2nd calender year. Two more male Pallid Harriers were the icing on the cake as the evening closed in and we made our way back to the headquarters where I met the other counters from Station 2. Raptor counts, which are carefully entered into electronic palm tops on station now downloaded their data into the computer and the totals could be seen. On the day the counters said was just okay, even a little slow, though with good Booted Eagle passage, the totals were as follows for Station 1, Sakhalvasho...
404 Honey Buzzard, 343 Black Kite, 13 Short toed Eagle, 79 Marsh Harrier, 12 Pallid Harrier, 8 Montagu's Harrier, 27 Mont/Pallid/Hen Harrier, 102 Steppe Buzzard, 31 Lesser Spotted Eagle, 1 Greater Spotted Eagle, 1 Steppe Eagle, 3 Aquila Species, 307 Booted Eagles, 3 Osprey and some unidentified Buzzard Sp. made for a total of 1,345 raptors, which I was assured was a poor day!
 A chat with the counters from Station 2 at Shuamta really whetted the appetite with a grand total of over 5,500 birds! Among the various species there were 2 Crested Honey Buzzard and an Imperial Eagle..

 Montagu's Harrier; Juvenile. The same bird here above and below. Here note the dark primary tips and dark trailing edge to the primaries, a very useful feature for identifying these birds. The inner primaries on the underside are rather delicately barred. Note also the clean, umarked underparts and deep orangish tones, as well as the long and fine tail. Note the narrow proportions on the body, which is tiny given a head on view. The head pattern can be made out here, some white easily seen above and below the eye, whilst there is a dark spot on the ear covert's. There is no obvious boa or dark sides to the neck...


Montagu's Harrier Juvenile, same as above. Here the upperwing can be seen to a degree, well enough to discern the pale tipped greater/primary covert's. Also in this shot a very good view of the dark tipped primaries on the underwing. Also on the underwing, note how there is little barring on the outer half of the primaries, whilst the barring is concentrated on the inner primaries, though rather finely marked. Photos of course, cannot prescribe the birds flight, wonderfully bouyant on long wings, the tip of the tail moving up and down, very light on the wing and extremely small bodied...

The evening meal was ready for us at 7pm. sharp and the food was delicious, all home cooked Georgian fare prepared by the lady of the house. I was shown my room, which I shared with two others and the facilities. The modern tiled bathroom and shower were immaculate, with good water pressure and I was very impressed with everything. After the meal we sat down and discussed birds and birding, got to know each other and drank the local beer, which was good and incredibly inexpensive at 4.50GEL/1.80€ for a large three litre bottle, which was referred to as 'Yellow Beer'. I went for bed early after an amazing day and had little trouble sleeping...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Batumi; Georgia; An Overview

 Migrating Black Kites, one of the more numerous migrant raptor species at Batumi in mid September, thousands can pass in a single day. Mixed kettles of this species, Honey Buzzard and Steppe Buzzard can fill the sky and make for an unforgettable experience. Counting these birds is organized at the Batumi Raptor Count headquarters and carried out by volunteers, important work, as this is the largest flywat of raptors in the western paleartic..



 Booted Eagle a pale phase specimen. One of the signature species, hundreds may pass in good weather conditions, ideally sunny weather with a light headwind.



 Honey Buzzard, a male in flight. The main migratory raptor at the site, often in staggering numbers. In early 2012 a staggering 179,000 birds passed in a single day, a new world record, underlying the importance of the black sea flyway...



 Lesser Spotted Eagle. One of the species that the staff at Batumi are making special efforts to document, both numbers passing through and also the ages of these birds as they do so. Aquilla Eagles pass through in good numbers in September and are one of the highlights of a trip to Batumi at that particular time. The census of these birds is important work and is an important tool in monitoring the health of raptor populations.


Egyptian Vulture; One of the most sought after species and something of a holy grail for me. The species is rare, but several are generally seen annually, the middle of September being an excellent time to see this stunning species...



Steppe Eagle. One of the scarcer, though still regular species, that can be seen onsite. This particular species will be a lifer for me, the species has been seen daily for the past week. Apart from simply identifying these birds, Batumi offers fantastic opportunities to gain experience in the ageing of raptors.

From 13th-25th September I will be visiting Batumi, Georgia to take part in the raptor bount there. The site is located on the Black Sea coastline on a bottleneck of raptor migration. To put it quite simply, this is the largest volume of birds of prey to be seen anywhere in europe and there is also a very eastern flavour, with rare species such as Oriental Honey Buzzard being recorded in small numbers annually. Stapple species occuring in the biggest numbers are Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and Common Buzzard. The numbers involved can be staggering in suitable conditions and may blow sites like Gibraltar and Falsterbo out of the water. Booted Eagle, Pallid and montagu's Harrier, Marsh Harrier are also numerous, occuring in hundreds daily if the weather is reasonable. Throw in a large passage of Aquilla Eagles, the possibility of species like Egyptian Vulture, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Oriental Honey Buzzard and you have a heady collection of raptors. It is not just the huge counts of raptors here taht meke it exceptional, but also the wide spectrum of species on offer. The site is rapidly gaining a reputation as a must visit location within Europe and I am very much looking forward to being there. Let's face it, this should be one of the birding experience of a lifetime...
 You can visit the Batumi Raptor Counts website here, there are daily updates and a wealth of other imformation here, including information on how to visit as a volunteer...
http://www.batumiraptorcount.org/

As well as raptor migration, Georgia has a wealth of birding to enjoy. I will be raptor counting for eight full days, though will also have a few days off to do my own thing. Just a few miles down the coast there is the Chorokhi Delta and nearby dump, attacting, migrant passerines, waders and other species, including a large number of gulls, in flocks that are rarely checked for rarities in their midst...


 Heuglins Gull? Gulls along the Black Sea coast include such wanted species as this for the larophile and I look forward to checking through the flocks of Yellow-legged Gulls for any other species..



Armenian Gull; Right at the top of the wanted list in these parts for the larid lover. Hopefully I can connect with this species...


Alittle bit further down the road are the Batumi Botanical Gardens, these hold another rather enigmatic species...Kruper's Nuthatch.

A further travel, should there be time, could be to the Kazbegi Mountains for Caucasian Snowcock and Caucasian Black Grouse, though I'm told the latter is a tough target bird in September. 


In the mean time it's all down to weather conditions. I will be gone from September 12th, will probably have no access to internet and will rely on written notes, photographs and my sketchbooks to record the trip. The trip will be well documented soon after my return on September 25th.

Angarn; 10th September 2012

 Midsommarberget; Angarn



 The view from Midsommarberget towards Byskberget....



 Whit Wagtail were numerous today, birds moving through all the time...



 A Kestrel moves high up overhead, an adult male....



 A few of the local residents chewing the cud...



Golden Plovers; Two on nine birds present, digiscoped with the iPhone 4S...

A day out at angarn was held up as I had to get to the bank before my trip to Batumi, Georgia. Got that out of the way and made my way to Angarn on an amazing autumn day, the sun beaming down. On arrival a Hobby was immediately picked up feeding over the reserve, a juvenile bird. There were dragonflies everywhere and the bird was feeding busily. I made my way straight to Byskberget and sat for 90 minutes, scanning the reserve carefully. In the end, no less than 4 Hobby were feeding over the length of the reserve, always distantly. In addition to this were several Common Buzzard on the far side near ├ůsta. Waders were scarce, though a nice flock of 11 Ruff flew in and dissapeared into the long grass on the flooded meadows. White Wagtails were moving through all the time and a few Yellow Wagtail were with them, often calling and giving themselves away. A cracking adult male Marsh Harrier quartering the reeds was followed by an equally cracking adult female, a lovely bird with extensive creamy forewings, covert's and head.
 I eventually moved a short distance and became more active. Lundbydyket nearly always produces something of interest and had seen a Red Throated Pipit recorded earlier in the morning. I walked the drainage ditch, full of iris and willow and eventually realized I was pushing something skulking along in front of me. It called after a few minutes and I knew it was my first Bluethroat of the year. I kept rolling it along, until, from a large Willow at the end of the cover, two Bluethroat flew out low down and doubled back into the ditch, calling and showing those wonderful red tail bases. Nice! I made my way through some stubble and put up a few Skylark and several Common Snipe, the latter were carefully checked. Then a familiar call came across the fields and I looked up to see a small flock of Golden Plover flying in to an adjacent field. A short while later I had at least nine birds in the scope, the field they were in looking fantastic for waders. There were no more there though! A male Kestrel flew over at this point, whilst 3 Red Backed Shrike juvenile were then located. all in all, nice birding.
 I slowly tracked around the reserve, about 550 Greylag Geese were loud at times, a couple of adult Whooper Swan were also seen. Hobby continued to feed high up. At Kusta I had a third Bluethroat, flushed from some long grass and weeds, whilst a juvenile Whinchat was also here. In addition, there were Wheatear, several birds bouncing along in front of me, including a stunning autumn male. All the time I scanned the slopes to my left, hoping for a harrier, it never came. At the outflow there were some Teal and a large flock of White Wagtail, a few Yellow Wagtails among them. A Sparrowhawk went over to the south. I was just approaching the style at the outflow when I heard a call behind that I thought I recognized immediately. I turned around and listened carefully. After three or four seconds the call was given again, I heard it clearly this time and then twice more. A Red Throated Pipit, my first of the autumn and a good bird. The bird flew west and faded into the distance, a speck in the binoculars which faded to a smaller speck. I moved onwards and eventually settled down back at Byskberget, several hours later, the whole reserve now covered. I sat and watched two hunting Hobby for a while as the sun sank downwards, as a very nice day out came to a very nice end...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Pre migration moult in Baltic Lesser black-backed Gull(Larus fuscus fuscus), Skeppsbron; 9th September 2012







 Four shots here of the same bird, a light phase Baltic Lesser Black-backed Gull, a 1st Calender bird. This individual I have been refering to as Bird A. Many of the salient features can be seen here, these are well marked birds with much contrast. It is apparnt that this bird has begun moulting, with mantle feathers and 9 or ten scapularsmalready having been replaced. It had been intially thought these birds didn't moult until they reached the winter grounds after migration, but many do in fact. This bird has been present at the site for some weeks and was the first bird to begin moulting...



 Here, by contrast, is another individual. I have been making notes on these birds and this one I refer to as Bird C. It shows no moult whatsoever and is a little smaller and darker overall than the other regular birds onsite. Certainly, not all birds begin moult before they leave...





Here is a third individual, refered to as Bird B. This is also a light phase type, a particularily beautiful bird, with crisp markings and now rather ghostly pale head and body. The birds were very cooperative today as they were well fed by a group of tourists and were resting up on the dock. It was apparent that this bird to had started to moult on inspection, though not as adanced as Bird A. The date of moult begining may be corelated to date of birth, the older birds showing moult before other, younger birds. It would be nice if these birds hung around for a few more weeks, but the reality is they could leave for the winter grounds any day now...



Great Black-backed Gull; 1st Calender; Skeppsbron; 9th September 2012

 Both of the two 1st calender Great Black-backed Gulls at the site today caught in the same frame, the dominant birds on the scene just now. Note the massive, deep bills, thickset build and short primarary projection. Plumage wise not unlike a 1st calender Herring Gull at a glance, though there are obvious differences. Note in particular the rather sparsely patterned greater coverts and the markings on the tertials.


One of the gulls managed to oil it's head slightly some time ago and is readily identifiable. It has been around for some weeks now, a brute of a bird. A nice view of the scapulars here. I find these gulls easier to pick out on structure, before then looking at the details of plumage...


A couple of Great Black-backed Gulls still present at Skeppsbron today, these birds arequite settled there now and dominate the other gulls when feeding. Both birds were very cooperative as usual today.