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

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Batumi, Sakhalvasho, 18th September 2014

Marsh Harrier, a juvenile bird circling over Sakhlavasho. A nice view here of the fresh retrices, with noe evidence of moult. Also, note the rather uniform, dark brown appearance, with typical creamy throat and crown, though this was a rather variable feature.

Not everyday in Batumi involves huge numbers of raptors. Passage of these birds is dependent largely on the weather, with days of rain, strong wind or conditions leading to poor thermals often slowing migration. For the visiting counter, this can be something of a blessing, as days of slower migration lead to a more relaxed atmosphere on the stations. With less birds comes the chance to look at birds for longer periods, often leading to a more opportunity to study various species. The 18th September was just such a day...
 The day started slowly, with the prerequisite harriers first to appear. The light was quite superb and the birds were passing at low height, the views were magnificent. I spent the morning grilling ringtail harriers, there were some incredible views of both Pallid and Montagu's Harrier. By now I had gained a lot of confidence with these birds and felt I had a good understanding of the juveniles. A small number of female coloured birds passed this day and these were something I really wanted to get to grips with, a real identification challenge in the field.
 Marsh Harriers were also passing, as always it was interesting to view these birds and try to correctly age as many as possible. The juveniles, immature and adult females are far from simple at longer range, many of these birds tend to pass along the coast, often out over the sea.

Pallid Harrier, a juvenile stares me down as it passes right in front of the station. Such views are not unusual in Batumi. The light iris identifies this bird as a young male...

Note here the key features. The apricot body and underwing covert's help identify this bird as a juvenile. Separation from Montagu's requires the inspection of two key areas, the underwing and the area around the head and neck. 
 On the neck, note the classic dark boa and pale collar, extending around to the nape. In addition there is little white around the eye, often a feature shown by Montagu's Harrier.
 The under primary pattern show a diffuse tip to the primaries, with a diffuse trailing edge to the inner primaries, The base of the primaries are white and rather unmarked, forming the classic boomerang often cited as a pro Pallid Feature. The barring on the primaries in rather bold and extends well out towards the feather tips. The secondaries are rather dark with a single, diffuse pale bar running all the way to the body.
All in all, this is a classic juvenile Pallid Harrier.

A view here of the upper wing, note the light tipped greater covert's...

The, quite suddenly, after a few hours, the radio crackled to life and we were instructed to look to the east. What we were then seeing beggared belief, a totally unexpected moment and something I will never forget. A huge flock of birds covered an immense are of sky. The birds were Black Winged Pratincoles, a massive, migrating flock of around 3,000 individuals! At the head of the flock was a tight ball of several hundred birds, flying in steady, level fashion. This flock was followed by a much lager, looser flock of apparently feeding birds. These birds appeared to be flying in a looser manner and were hawking insects as they moved south. It was a fantastic sight to behold and it certainly made our day. The birds had passed right over Station 2 and the air there had been filled with their calls, though the view from where we were allowed us to see the full extent of the flock. At the nearby Chorokhi Delta, BRC members were treated to the arrival of this flock a short while later, when a reasonable estimate of 3,000 birds was arrived at, a massive flock of communally migrating birds, presumably from the russian steppes.
Conditions began to deteriorate late in the morning and I was loathe to see the excellent light dissipate as the opportunity for good photographs of passing birds had been excellent until that point. As it clouded over the small passage of Honey Buzzards, Black Kites and Booted Eagle began to slowly dry up and soon we were struggling to pick up any birds at all. A Steppe Eagle was most welcome, and one of the highlights of the day. Soon, though, there was little to look at as the Black Kite streams dried up. This was tempered in the afternoon by a spectacular display of weather far out to see, where several tornadoes formed intermittently, their long funnels reaching down from the clouds, a rather strange, eyrie spectacle.

A Booted Eagle light morph juvenile in the three images above, all the same individual. In the top image the white shoulder 'headlights' are visible. In all images the fresh, clean trailing edge to the wing is apparent, with thin creamy tips to the retraces and tail. Note the classic dark hood from below. A stunning bird...

Raptor passage all but came to a halt, though I soon discovered a new distraction. Just behind the station there were a lot of migrant passerines and I was able to scope a small copse for a while, picking out it's occupants as they fed on a myriad of flies. A Green Warbler was the best here, a cracking, bright 1st calender bird. Also present were many Spotted Flycatcher, a Golden Oriole, Redstart, Blackcap and a single Pied Flycatcher. The latter was intensely grilled but remained a Pied. Further back, on the deck. there were several Wheatears. A few proved to be Northern Wheatear, but there were better still in the form of 3 Eastern Black Eared Wheatear, these gave superb views as they fed. I managed a few photos an a little video, despite rather poor light at this point...

Link here to video of the Spotted flycatchers...

Link here to video of Eastern Black Eared Wheatear..

A Black Kite, directly overhead...

A rather typical scene when looking upwards at Salhalvasho...

Eastern Black Eared Wheatear...

Spotted Flycatcher

Northern Wheatear?

Northern Wheatear?

Northern Wheatear?

The afternoon was very poor as it began to rain and raptor passage came to a halt. A single Spoonbill over the sea was scant consolation and we spent the day under the shelter, scanning for the very occasional bird. The odd foray behind the station produced a Tawny Pipit, which was most welcome. Overhead came Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, more Tawny Pipit, Bee Eater, Red Throated Pipit and Short toed Lark, it was apparent that the weather conditions were grounding passerines. As the day ended we made our way back for dinner and went down to the cafe for a slideshow on the finer points of Aquilla identification, one of several instructive identification presentations that were made over this period to focus minds on the finer identification points of the trickier raptor species. A few beers and a lot of good natured banter followed before we headed back to the accommodation for a good nights sleep. The weather forecast was bad however, very bad indeed...

Batumi - Saghalvasho
Thursday 18 September 2014   

Counting period: 7:00 - 17:30
Count type: Storks and raptors
Observers: Blanca Pérez, Rafa Benjumea, John Wright, Demetrios Bertzeletos, Jean-Marc Thiollay, Carles Durà, Guillermo Mayor, Alan Dalton, Sergius Nizinski
Black Stork5Montagu's Harrier4Aquila sp.1
Honey Buzzard59Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier14Booted Eagle96
Black Kite1284Levant Sparrowhawk23Osprey1
Short-toed Eagle1Steppe Buzzard48raptor sp.5
Marsh Harrier47Lesser Spotted Eagle3European Roller2
Pallid Harrier9Steppe Eagle1

Totals: 1603 individuals, 17 species, 10:30 hours

Bold = Remarkable observation (scarce or rare species or large number)
Comments: Flock of more than 3.000 Black Winged Pratincoles over the mountains.

No comments: