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

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Batumi, Sakhalvasho, 14th September 2014

 Steppe Buzzard. A juvenile rufous morph here, an absolutely beautiful bird. Aged as a juvenile due to the clean, fresh flight feathers, or retrices. There is no solid dark terminal bar along the leading edge of the secondaries and primaries or tail, ruling out an older bird. There is no apparent moult in the wing. 

I awoke on the morning of 14th September 2014 full of anticipation, this being my first full day on station as part of the Batumi Raptor Count team. Breakfast was on the table at 06.20am, with egg fried bread, bread, jam, cheese and tea. The counters assembled at the table before heading off to their appointed station, mine today was Sakhalvasho, or Station 1.
 It was a glorious morning and I paused to shoot a little video of the landscape before climbing the long flight of steps to the station, over 100 of them! The climb is well worth the effort, the station sits atop a high hill and commands a superb view over a wide vista. The sea lies to the west, whilst the mountains lie to the east. The coastline is visible far to the north and on a clear morning there is a rather special view, as the Greater Caucasus mountain range overlook the scene, the highest peak in the western paleartic, Mount Elba, is clearly visible. As the sun rose over the mountains to my right we were assigned or positions and began to scan for raptors. The sounds of migration were everywhere as large flocks of Bee Eaters passed over calling constantly, many thousands of bird. Tree Pipits buzzing call was also apparent as the flew over, whilst a single Tawny Pipit got my full attention as it passed. A shout went up in the west and I watch as my first Roller of the trip flashed past, a fantastic flashing azure blue. Then, over the sea came large flocks of marsh terns, too far to identify with certainty. This was followed by a mixed flock of Heron, soon identified as 3 Grey Heron, 1 Spoonbill and 6 Great White Egrets. A fantastic start, migration at Batumi has much more to offer than just birds of prey, I was enjoying myself immensely, though reminded myself I was here for the raptors..
 It wasnt long before the first birds were located, approaching from the north along the coast. Harriers typically make up the bulk of the very early morning passage, and it wash\t long before I was watching a small group of Marsh Harriers. These birds were in good light to the west and it was not only easy to identify them, but also to sex and age the birds. Juveniles, immature males, female coloured non juveniles and adult males are readily separable in the field, given good light and reasonable range. All of this data is then given to the coordinator on the station and is entered into a digital palmtop, which stores all the information and numbers..
 Then came the smaller harriers, both juvenile Montagus and Pallid Harriers. These birds can be tricky in the field to separate and I began to scrutinise the passing birds in order to refamiliarise myself with the key features. I had been to Batumi in 2012, I was a little rusty due to the two year interim. A stunning male Pallid Harrier flew over high up, the views through the scope was superb, this is one of the special birds Batumi offers visiting birders...

The mornings video can be seen here, just click on the link here...

 Above and below, White Storks over Sakhalvasho....

I wasn't long before other species entered the frey and the first Honey Buzzard and Black Kite began to appear. Singletons came first and then small flocks began to appear. Booted Eagles cakes next, often singly at first, then in small groups as the morning progressed. So it went, until around 11.00am when there was a dramatic increase in passage and the first large kettles of migrating raptors began to appear over the hills to the north. Thirty minutes later and the sky was belching forward streams of raptors. On the west side of the station came streams of Black Kite, moving purposefully along the coastline. Booted Eagle passage really picked up and the views overhead were simply stunning, both light and dark morphs were easily close enough to be aged as juvenile, immature or adult. The peak of Booted Eagle was only a week away and the numbers passing were staggering, this is one of Batumis special species, many hundreds of birds passing in a day. I was watching the west of the station in good light and was very busy ageing Booted Eagles, so much so that I had no time to turn around and get my scope onto a passing Crested Honey Buzzard to the east. A small group of Aquilla Eagles came next on my side and I had stunning views of my first Lesser Spotted Eagles of the day, again I strained through the scope, trying to take in the features and plumage of the birds, not just to identify to species, but also to age them if possible. These eagles offer a considerable challenge in the field and a solid knowledge of Lesser Spotted Eagle is crucial, it being the most common of the large eagles at the site. Ofte, due to bad light, or range, the birds cannot be assigned to species and are entered into the palm top as large eagle species. These birds were showing very well though and I soaked up the view through the scope. Three juvenile birds were in immaculate condition and showed really well alongside two immatures...

 Booted Eagle, a dark morph, adult bird. Note the lack of a white trailing edge on this birds retrices.

The passage remained strong through the afternoon. Marsh Harriers passage was good throughout and mixed streams of Honey Buzzard and Black Kite were the order of the day. The first of two Peregrine Falcons blasted past overhead early afternoon. Levant Sparrowhawk appeared in the streams, as did Steppe Buzzards and all three Harrier species. The languid rolling flight of Short Toed Eagles gave away their identity as they approached, often passing overhead as they moved on the to south. Hobbys hawked dragonflies around the station as they passed through, Eurasian Sparrowhawk moved through more purposefully still. Migration was in full swing as hundreds of birds turned to thousands and the sound of the counters clickers began in earnest to a background symphony of Bee Eaters and Crickets...

 Booted Eagle, a light morph, non juvenile bird. There is, at first glance, a white trailing edge to the retraces and tail, which might prompt thoughts of a juvenile. Closer inspection tells the real story. There is a slightly uneven look to the secondaries, this is caused by moult. The newer feathers protude from the wing, are more broadly fringed white and help age the bird as an immature, or non juvenile individual. The inner primaries have also been replaced, the bird is in its second calendar year. Juvenile birds do not moult in their first year, have an even trailing edge, with all of the retraces in good condition, forming a clean shape along the rear edge of the wing..

 Levant Sparrowhawk. A stunning juvenile bird here, directly overhead, note the gular stripe on the throat. Structurally a rather different bird to Eurasian Sparrowhawk and given good view, identification is relatively straightforward. Note the lighter brown, warm tones on this bird. The wings are rather long and tapered towards the tip, whilst the tail is rather long. A superb bird..

Later in the afternoon came more Lesser Spotted Eagles, often single birds. After perhaps a dozen of these had passed I heard the shout go up for Steppe Eagle and I soon had the bird in my scope. This bird was huge and unmistakably a juvenile, the undoubted highlight of the day for me. All of the features were seen readily, a really impressive eagle. The bird had a really nice clean trailing edge to the secondaries, white tips to the greater coverts, dark retraces, contrasting with the upper forewing and underneath the unmistakable white heater covert bar was unmissable on the dark underparts. The bird passed a little to far to take in the finer details, but nevertheless this was a great bird to see.

 Lesser Kestrel. Note here the key structural difference which allows separation from Common Kestrel. On the wing tip the outermost primary(P10), is the same length as P8, with the primary in between a little longer. This can be seen surprisingly well in the field given a good view. Naturally, freezing the bird in flight with a good photo makes identification even easier, though it is not good to rely on the camera in this regard, best to exercise the eyeball and brain beforehand...

There were many highlights late in the afternoon. Good views were had of many Kestrels at close range and it was nice to be able to pick out a few Lesser Kestrels from among them. White Storks and Black Stork were both seen and were very welcome, these birds are also recorded in the palmtop, as important numbers of both species pass Batumi. It had already been an excellent year for the earlier migrating White Stork, whilst the passage of Black Stork was now only begining
. No doubt there would be many more of these in the coming weeks. As the afternoon wore on into the evening the passage began to slow to a slow trickle in the evening, when harriers again began to increase, After the count was officially over at 17.30 I decided to stay back with three other counters and we sat back and enjoyed superb views of Pallid and Montagus Harriers passing in fantastic evening light. Sunset was quite amazing, then later, as the last of the light faded, we made our way down the hill after a fantastic day on the station..

 A single Black Stork passes over the west of the station, always a nice bird to see...

Back at the house the counters were arriving back from Station 2, as always, we were keen to find out what had been seen at the other station and we sat down to dinner discussing the events and birds of the day. The food was excellent and the conversation generally revolved around birds. Batumi is an excellent place to learn about raptors, often knowledge is passed on between the counters, both on station and off. It was very nice to sit around with birders from all over the world and exchange stories, often raptor related, though often about other subjects, often other destinations, birding holidays, stories from home or just general banter. The group was, at this point, just getting to know each other and there was a good deal of banter already. Friendships would be formed, experiences shared and a lot of good humour and joking would eventually be enjoyed. This is one of the really pleasant things about Batumi, it is not just about birds, but also very much about the birders that come here to view them...

Lesser Spotted Eagle, a juvenile bird this one. Note the pale trailing edge to the secondaries and inner primaries, fresh remixes on the wing and tail, lack of moult on the wing and good condition of the primaries.The head is rather small looking with a small bill, whilst the tail quite long.The underbody is uniform brown in tone. Note that the pale vent is not visible here, light plays an important part in raptor identification in the field and this is just on example of how it can affect a birds appearance.

Batumi - Saghalvasho
Sunday 14 September 2014   

Counting period: 6:55 - 18:48
Count type: Storks and raptors
Observers: Simon Cavaillès, John Wright, Matthias Lehmann, Carles Dura, Alan Dalton, Maik Jurke, Jean-Marc Thiollay
Black Stork36Pallid Harrier24Steppe Eagle1
White Stork3Montagu's Harrier90Aquila sp.4
Honey Buzzard1188Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier57Booted Eagle467
Crested Honey Buzzard2harrier sp.1Osprey2
Black Kite3257Levant Sparrowhawk173Peregrine2
Short-toed Eagle12Steppe Buzzard914raptor sp.106
Marsh Harrier169Lesser Spotted Eagle35European Roller9

Totals: 6552 individuals, 21 species, 11:53 hours

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

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