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 14, 2014

Batumi, Saghalvasho, 23rd September 2014


A quiet start to a day of superb weather saw the team on Station 1 in good form. The early part of the morning was very bright and clear and the opportunity for scrutinising the passing harriers was taken. Passage was not heavy early on and that meant the birds could be enjoyed. There were wonderful views of Marsh Harriers of all ages and some very informative juvenile Pallid Harriers. After a while the first Black Kite appeared, flapping in squadrons over from the Greater Caucasus and onwards towards our position. Right from the start of the day there were Honey Buzzard and Steppe Buzzard present, whilst Booted Eagles also began to pass early on. They really began to pass in numbers after a while and we had several small flocks late morning, a wonderful sight to see them kettling in good light against the sky ahead of us...


Above and Below, a stunning non juvenile Marsh Harrier. This bird closely resembles a juvenile at first glance, though closer inspection reveal a suite of features that reveal the bird to be older. There is evidence of moult in the retrises, note that P7 is growing out on the right wing. There is a marked contrast between P8-P10 on both wings and the newer inner primaries, whilst on the secondaries contrast can also be seen between newer and older feathers, leading to a piano keyed effect. The overall tones are rather lighter than one might expect on a fresh juvenile. There are some lighter tawny tones around the head, upper breast and on the leading edge of the wing, consistent with an older bird. Assigning the bird as an immature or adult is much more difficult, perhaps even speculative, which is why these birds are classified as Marsh Harrier, non juvenile, female colour...




The first quality bird came quite early in the form of a textbook juvenile Steppe Eagle and it gave excellent views as it passed, circling on a number of occasions. It was great to watch this bird in the sole and take in the upperwing, which was seen particularly well on this individual. After it passed there was much to see and I scanned ahead and searched through the kettles for species. It was not insanely busy at all and this meant that the birds could be grilled as they passed. The counters always looked forward to days like this, when there were birds passing, though not in so great a number as to prevent al the birds from being viewed. I was enjoying picking up birds in the kettles and right around then a few Lesser Spotted Eagles were starting to appear. whilst there were high numbers of Booted Eagle. I was looking low in the valley at long range at a promising kettle when I picked up my next diamond, an adult Egyptian Vulture. Everyone at the station got onto the bird before Station 2 also picked it up as it moved slowly south. This was a nice start to the morning and it soon got even better as the radio crackled to life and we were informed there were 2 Eastern Imperial Eagles over Station 2. We managed to pick up a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle fairly easily, though the other bird evaded us. The juvenile was distant, but the views were adequate and all of the key features could be seen. This bird had only passed when we clocked a second adult type Egyptian Vulture! Batumi was doing it again. Around us a diverse range of raptors were passing in wonderful conditions..

Black Kite over Station 1, also a non juvenile bird. Again note the evidence of moult in the retrices and piano keyed effect in the secondaries. Much of what holds true for the above Marsh Harrier holds true with other species when it comes to ageing. On this bird there are replaced, new primaries as fr as P5, whilst P5 has been dropped and P7-P10 are older feathers.




Above and below, Black Kites overhead in the morning.



After the flurry of good birds were settled down to count the mixed streams overhead. The birds were right above us in quite superb light and the early afternoon was an absolute joy. There was ample time to look through the birds, yet the passage was steady, there was always something new to look at. some fantastic views of Honey Buzzard and we had several pale juveniles. Short Toed Eagles gave crippling views as they floated over with there bills slightly open, often turning their heads to look at us as they passed. Black Kites were easily aged. Lesser Spotted Eagles went over, allowing feather detail to be assessed in the scopes. Levant Sparrowhawks darted through the kettles, Lesser Kestrels passed close by, Steppe Buzzard in all morphs, Marsh Harriers and a few more Pallid Harrier as well as a really nice Peregrine blasting past us. Phenomenal raptor watching...


A rather interesting pale juvenile Honey Buzzard. Having seen a juvenile Crested Honey Buzzard the previous even and sat through a very informative lecture on the finer details of Crested Honey Buzzard and Hybrids by Wouter Faveyts the previous night, late passage Honey Buzzards were now very much on our radars. Juvenile birds were of particular interest as we tried to contemplate whether juvenile Crested Honey Buzzards were being overlooked or were in fact genuinely very rare at Batumi, perhaps due to a different migratory route to the adults. This bird was clocked quite a long way off as it was very heavy and pale. Of interest are the rather bulky build, unmarked carpal area and large winged appearance. Closer inspection reveals the bird to be a juvenile European Honey Buzzard. Note the rather short P6 and relatively small hand in relation to the rest of the wing. The barring on the retrices is interesting, rather evenly and finely barred, as with the tail, which show four this bars. The tail is rather broad, though perhaps a little long for CHB. This was one of the most interesting EHB I saw in my time at Batumi in 2014, hence its inclusion here...




A few hours passed in this manner before time began to erode in the usual fashion. Around 4pm the shout went up for an interesting Honey Buzzard and were were quickly onto the bird, kettling among some Black Kite under Big Moma. The range was around 2km, though the light was superb and through the scope there was no doubt this was a classic female Crested Honey Buzzard. By this stage there was a rather large group of belgian birds on station to or right and there was a great deal of excitant as everyone got onto the bird. Having taken in the features myself I even managed to get a record videoscope of the bird which is acceptable...click on the link here and watch in 1080p in settings..

Videscoped Crested Honey Buzzard, a reddish toned female bird...



Short Toed Eagle, adult type. Note the well marked underparts, dark hood and evidence of moult.





P7 can be seen clearly here, growing out....



Pallid Harrier, a bird which caused a little head scratching initially due to a rather atypical underwing pattern and being strongly backlit. In better light the dark boas and collar could be clearly discerned, though the pattern on the underwing was not typical. Note some dark markings at the bases of the primaries in particular. The primaries are rather poorly barred. The lack of a dark trailing edge on the inner primaries and rather pale tips to the wingtips point towards Pallid Harrier however. An interesting individual..




It was not over there, steady passage continued into the evening and wonderful views continued. A highlight came in the form of several Red Footed Falcons overhead, including a group of three female birds which paused to hawk dragonflies around the station. As the count came to an end we had a look behind the station and located a cracking Pied Wheatear, the bird really giving itself up and allowing some really good quality video to be shot through the scope, agin, click on 1080p in setting for the best image quality...


Pied Wheatear, a rather nice bit of videoscoped footage...


The day closed in quietly and a few of the counters remained on the hill until sunset, sharing a beer and relaxing. The sunset was rather spectacular and rounded off a pretty special day, which everyone had truly enjoyed, a stress free raptor fest with the odd happy ending thrown in for good measure. There were a lot of photos taken on the day and I include many of them here for your enjoyment..

European Honey Buzzard, adult male showing signs of moult in the wings.





Note the typical tail pattern here...



Short Toed Eagle, second calendar year. Note the newer inner primaries, contrasting with the heavily abraded and fader our primaries. Often, as with this individual, second calendar Short Toed Eagle appear very white overall and are rather striking in the field.



A stunning pale type juvenile European Honey Buzzard directly overhead with Black Kite.


The views at Saghalvasho were quite stunning on this day, with wonderful light and plenty of blue sky against which to view the birds.






Marsh Harrier, non juvenile, female colour. Note P9 is growing out on this bird and the piano key contrast in the secondaries...



Lesser Spotted Eagle and Black Kite. The eagle is an immature, probably a second calendar year bird. It would appear that P1-P5 are new feathers, whilst the older P6-P10 are older juvenile generation feather, clearly more pointed, faded and abraded in appearance.


Two immature Lesser Spotted together over the station...






Juvenile Honey Buzzard, glorious views of these birds today...





Note the rather typical underwing pattern here, dark, well defined primary tips with a light basal patch, largely unbarred. The secondaries are rather dusky and dark towards the extremities, with the bars on the secondaries not reaching the axillaries. Well marked carpal patches and brown ins underwing coverts and body are rather uniform.



Pallid Harrier, again a juvenile bird. Great views of this species today...



Booted Eagle, pale morph, non juvenile..



Yet another juvenile European Honey Buzzard, these birds are incredibly variable in appearance. There is no better place to study the appearance of this species than Batumi...


Juvenile Honey Buzzard to the top, pale morph Booted Eagle to the bottom...



Red Footed Falcon, finally now seeing some of these fantastic birds passing now. Three female birds passed in the afternoon and spent a while hawking insects around our heads at the station, a really nice sight.





Glorious light illuminating the underwing here, a cracking little falcon...


Counting period: 7:00 - 18:00
Count type: Storks and raptors
Weather:
Observers: Dries Engelen, Carles Durà, Alan Dalton, John Wright, Jean-Marc Thiollay, Mélanie Browne, 
Black Stork8Pallid Harrier16Booted Eagle296
Honey Buzzard320Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier25Osprey3
Crested Honey Buzzard1Levant Sparrowhawk115Red-footed Falcon3
Black Kite3222Steppe Buzzard85Peregrine1
Short-toed Eagle6Lesser Spotted Eagle12raptor sp.15
Marsh Harrier71Steppe Eagle1European Roller3

Totals: 4203 individuals, 18 species, 11:00 hours

Bold = Remarkable observation (scarce or rare species or large number)

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