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
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

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Return to Batumi, Georgia with the BRC; 13th September-3rd October 2014

 Honey Buzzard. A juvenile passes Shuamta in September 2012, by far the commonest species at Batumi with over 500,000 migrating through the bottleneck each autumn

From this coming Saturday 13th September I will be returning to Batumi, Georgia to help monitor perhaps the most awesome avian spectacle the western paleartic has to offer, the raptor migration that takes place at the site each autumn. All this in a year which already looks set to break records with regard to the sheer numbers of migrating raptors, the count is already at a staggering 688,641 raptors, the count having started on August 17th. The majority of birds so far have been made up by an incredible 629,588 Honey Buzzards, which peaked in early September, with two bird days almost hitting 100,000 birds. Such phenomenal migration totals underline the importance of the Batumi bottleneck on the shores of the Black Sea as a monitoring site and mean that the site is almost unrivalled in Europe for dramatic large scale movements of birds of prey. In addition some 32,000 Black Kite and 11,000 Harrier Sp. have been logged this autumn already and with peaks of other species still to come, notably Steppe Buzzard, which can reach into the hundreds of thousands. I sumation, it looks as if this year may well be yet be another record breaking year at the site and I, for one,  am very much looking forward to being part of one of the great avian spectacles in the world. This experience, which is difficult to describe in words and is best experienced on the ground. The sight of raptor migration in full swing, on such a massive scale is nothing short of breathtaking..

 Short Toed Eagle and a pale phase Booted Eagle to the right here. Both species pass through in big numbers and late September sees a peak in migration for both these smaller eagles.

 Black Kite. Again, there is a huge passage of this species in Batumi. This is a juvenile bird at Sakhalvasho station which I photographed two years ago on a memorable day when thousands were logged and could be seen streaming across from the Caucasus.

I will spend three weeks counting at the site and though most of the huge passage of Honey Buzzard has passed(despite tens of thousands to come) there is much still to see. Mid September to early October will see the peak of other species, with Steppe Buzzard the most numerous of these. Steppe Buzzard have tended to show a dramatic peak over a few days in late September when massive movements can take place, when days with many tens of thousands can pass, often in huge pushes over just a few hours. In addition large scale movements of species  such as Black Kite continue, whilst Marsh, Pallid and Montagu's Harriers continue to move through. One of the biggest plus points of this period are the passage of eagle species, with Booted Eagle and Short Toed Eagle prevelant. It is the passage of Aquilla eagles which is a personal highlight, with days of hundreds of Lesser Spotted Eagles interspersed with rarer Greater Spotted Eagle and Steppe Eagle in their midst offering identification and ageing challenges in the field. One of the joys of the period is the sheer diversity of raptor passage and one can expect upwards of thirty species of raptor in the period..

 Lesser Spotted Eagles, a juvenile below in contrast to the immature above. The immature is probably a fourth calendar. Batumi offers stunning opportunity to familiarise one self with the aquilla species, in particular ageing these birds in the field. Late September sees large numbers on certain days...

It is not just about monitoring numbers of raptors, one of the goals of the BRC has been to age as many of the key species as possible in order to help build a better picture of of population dynamics and breeding success in any given year, many of the observers at the site being expert at identification, ageing and counting in the field. This leads to a sharing of expertise and a real learning opportunity for all who take part. As if the spectacle of one of natures greatest natural events was not enough, there is the added attraction of working with like minded individuals from all over Europe. At the counting stations, as birds pass, observers pass on knowledge to each other in the field, share the experience and workload, laugh and joke and generally connect with each other. This is one of the aspects of the volunteer count that really makes a visit to Batumi special, it's not just about the birds, but also the birders. Lasting friendships are formed here and the birding community becomes a smaller one..

 Black Storks are a species that can also be seen at Batumi. Far from just raptors, many other birds migrate along the Black Sea coast and are seen whilst on station. Bee Eaters, Roller, Storks, Wagtails, Shrikes, Pipits and many others are seen....

Day to day at Batumi one slips into an easy routine, due to the superb organization of the BRC team. On arrival you are instantly made to feel at home and are introduced to the other volunteers, count coordinators, host family and BRC staff. There are two counting stations, one above the accomadation at Salhalvasho and one at Shuamta, a site of quite incredible natural beauty at higher elevation inland, to which you are transported to each morning by minibus. Volunteers are alternated between stations and the previous night you know which station it will be. Breakfast is waiting on the table each morning, prepared by the host family at BRC headquarters, where all the volunteers stay. Lunch is provided for the day at the counting sites and on return an excellent, hearty evening meal is provided. Each week volunteers get a couple of days off, which are generally spent birding at the Chorokhi Delta, a superb wetland site, packed full of migrant species. The area has fantastic birding potential, is relatively untapped and still largely an unknown quantity. The coastal beaches are often full of migrants after large falls. Large gull flocks provide interest for larophiles. Locally interesting species such as Kruper's Nuthatch, Green Warbler and Armenian Gull only add to the birding spice...

 Steppe Buzzard migration can be spectacular and shows a remarkably concentrated peak in late September when tens of thousands can pass in a single day, a breathtaking spectacle, as is the entire migration at Batumi. This shot, showing only a small section of sky on the day was taken with my iPhone!

 Honey Buzzard, a dark phase juvenile here. As September draws on the numbers of these birds drop after the ealy September peak, often allowing the rarer Crested Honey Buzzard to be more easily pick out amongst them.

For those interested in rarities there is much to hope for raptor wise, and it is the eastern flavour that provides much interest. One of Batumi's specialties is the annual presence of a much sought after Western Paleartic rarities such as Crested Honey Buzzard. Saker Facon is another distinct possibility, with several annual records. Eastern Imperial Eagle is regular late season. Batumi boasts an incredible raptor list and is missing only a few species, such as Bonelli's Eagle, Sooty Falcon and Barbary Falcon. Surely more eastern species will appear, such as Amur Falcon and Eastern Marsh Harrier?

 Aquilla passage is a real highlight in late September at Batumi and I am greatly looking forward to this aspect of the trip..

The real joy of Batumi is the experience of being there. Unwinding after a long day count is done after dinner on the balcony most nights to the sound of crickets, chatting about the days birds and sights with birders from all over Europe, enjoying a beer together and talking the night away. Birder's can talk forever about destinations, sightings, other birders and experiences abroad. Occasional forays into Batumi for a meal where you meet locals and experience warm Georgian hospitality and traditional music. Perhaps an evening relaxing on the beach along the Black Sea, or an early night.

 Shuamta, site of count station B. A quite stunning location, high in the mountains of coastal Georgia, overlooking the Black Sea.

This time around I hope to make a decent record of my experience, through videoscoping and photography, all of which will, in time be shared here, in order to try and share the experience. The Batumi Raptor Count started only as recently as 2008 and was the result of a few intrepid young birders with an aspiration to count what they figured could be a significant passage of raptors. It has been proved since that the Batumi bottleneck is vitally important as a site where the population of raptors can be monitored through annual count. Though these birds only pass through here briefly, the count itself allows an insight into the health of the population, not only through numbers, but also through the analysis of data with regard to aged birds, relations to weather patterns and correlation with other raptor watchpoints, such as Eilat in Israel, the Bosphorus in Turkey, even as far as Gibraltar in Spain. The BRC seeks to study more than just the figures the count produces, but also hopes to changes attitudes towards the birds that pass through. There is a hunting culture in Georgia, as there is in many parts of the world, and the BRC is undertaking long term measures to counteract this. Education is the key, big strides are being made with regard to local efforts to show that ecotourism is the way forward. Schools are approached, a number of jobs are being created and the knock on effect of events such as the BRC organized  Batumi Birding Week, which will run from 21-28th September 2014, will see an influx of visitors from abroad and bring real income to local families, hoteliers and businessmen.

 Short Toed Eagle directly overhead at Sakhalvasho. Views like this make Batumi an unforgettable experience..

So, three weeks in Batumi. Personally, as a birder I can't wait.
A link here to the BRC website, which has details on the latest count, bird festival and other relevant information for those interested...

Greater Spotted Eagle, a juvenile as Shuamta was one of four birds recorded at the station on a day the yielded hundreds of eagles.