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

Monday, October 06, 2014

Batumi, Shuamta, 17th September 2014

Levant Sparrowhawk, a male bird high overhead...

The morning of September 17th dawned much brighter and it was clear that this would be a day of fine weather. Again, it would be station 2 for me, I was happy climb into the Marshutka(Minibus). We ascended the mountain, set up camp quickly and bagan to take in the migration, as usual it was Harriers that were the first order of business. Several Montagus and Pallid Harrier started the day off, whilst, yet again, there were plenty of Marsh Harrier in the early morning sky. On the slopes of Little Ginger a Short Toed Eagle was located perched, resting before migration would call it to the south. Again, there were singing Green Warbler, Lesser and Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Caucasian Chiffchaff, Red Breasted Flycatcher and other species migrating over. The skies were stuffed full of Bee Eater, Swallow, Sand Martin and the occasional Common Swift.


Black Kites were in evidence much of the day, often overhead in kettles, before dreaming away to the south..




From around 10am onwards came a marked increase in birds, with distant kettles forming, a sure sign that soon we would be busy on the station. Several Pallid and Montagu's Harrier went high over head among the more numerous Marsh Harriers, their long winged, elegant, light flight unmistakable. An adult male Red Footed Falcon blasted through our airspace, a real early morning treat in excellent light.
 Viewing conditions were superb and we were really enjoying good light, which also saw the camera repeatedly pulled from its bag. A large stream of black Kites kept me busy for some time, before a further brace of Red footed Falcon went past, this time they were both juvenile birds. Overhead there were Levant Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Kestrels, Honey Buzzard, Black Kite and Steppe Buzzard. Then at 11.10am two very large Aquilla Eagles appeared just to our west, both of them identical, both of them were pristine juvenile Steppe Eagles. As we watched, one of the birds banked sharply left and proceeded to drift towards the station. A minute later it was casting a huge shadow over our heads and we were treated to absolutely incredible close range views in perfect light. All of the features could be clearly seen, including the finer details. Moments like these make Batumi very special, often the birds show very well indeed, views like this live very long indeed in the memory...

A Steppe Eagle glides in from the west, the highlight of a fantastic morning. A nice view here of the long gapeline, which extends back behind the eye...




Note the fresh retraces, uniform white train edge to the wing. This is a classic feature of juvenile Steppe Eagle. We had seen the upper parts well earlier, though unfortunately I didn't capture them on camera on this occasion...



Here the white bar on the underwing greater coverts is clearly visible, a defining feature of both juvenile and immature Steppe Eagle...



Note the massive head here, as well as the heavy bill. Lesser Spotted Eagle shows a proportionally much smaller head and fine bill.



A nice view of the shape here, large head and bill, broad wings, shortish tail. Note th indented shape along the leading edge of the primaries. The underbody is uniform dark brown in tone...




Here the large hand, with splayed primaries. Given direct size comparison, Steppe Eagle is substantially larger than Lesser Spotted Eagle..




Soon after the Steppe Eagles had passed we had a few Lesser Spotted Eagles, which allowed a good deal of examination. We were having an excellent day, though rain now appeared from nowhere and stopped play for a while. In the mountains the weather can change very quickly, though it would soon clear again....

Honey Buzzard, an adult male showing signs of moult along the trailing edge of the wing...




Steppe Buzzard. Note the shape of the head, lack of yellow cere on the bill, short, rounded wings, short rounded tail and general, compact appearance...

No sooner had the rain cleared and the sun reappeared, kettles of birds began to appear in the east. High over the montains, the swirling towers of Steppe Buzzards began to appear and before I knew what was happening I was besieged by streaming birds. The passage went from light to moderate, to heavy in a very short space of time. A Crested Honey Buzzard, my second of the trip, provided a brief distraction, before Steppe Buzzards began to pile through in huge numbers. I was clicking furiously in order to keep up with the numbers, though soon I began accustomed to the flow of birds and styled of clicking for every five individuals. Hundreds became thousands, it was not long before ten thousand birds were logged as a full blown migration spectacle began to take shape. The birds erached a rate of around 60 birds per minute for a while, ensuring there would be a good total of birds at the end of the day...

Lesser Spotted Eagle, a juvenile.



Lesser Spotted Eagle, an immature bird.



Lesser Spotted Eagle



Lesser Spotted Eagle


As the late afternoon approached more Lesser Spotted Eagles began to pass. Though I was busy with Steppe Buzzards, passage did slow towards the evening and I was able to grab some views and photographs of several birds. A beautiful hobby flew past, low over the ridge and landed on a tree beside us. It was a stunning bird and I was able to get some very nice photos of it as it checked out our group.
 As the afternoon progressed it became clear that the passage would not let up. In fact it increased dramatically, soon we had mixed streams overhead, in our west and our east. Every counter was busy dealing with the birds in his assigned sector. The quality of birding was breathtaking and it became apparent this would be a superb day. Aquilla Eagles began to appear in the streams, whilst the numbers of Booted Eagles really began to pick up quite dramatically. They appeared among the buzzard streams, often the white shoulder patches showing well as they passed over. We didn't know it at the time, but we were witnessing something very special. Just to our west, at Sakhalvasho, things were even more crazy. As always, we were communication with Station 1 by way of walkie talkie and we were told that a massive passage of Booted Eagles was taking place there. By the end of the day, in glorious light, over 1,000 Booted Eagles would have passed the transect line, constituting a new day record for this handsome, medium sized Eagle. Batumi was surpassing itself yet again...





Hobby, a couple of images of this superb bird, which landed in a tree beside the station and sat for a couple of minutes, before moving onwards...


Still the birds came, and by late afternoon we had another couple of Steppe Eagle under our belts as the passage continued. Aquilla passage really picked up towards the evening and several birds were seen together on occasion. For the majority of the afternoon there was a large kettle of Steppe Buzzard over Little Ginger, the mountain directly to my east, often large Eagles would appear in the bottom of this kettle, dwarfing the buzzards as they rose through them. Late afternoon I was relieved from counting Steppe Buzzards and began to identify and age Aquillas, always a nice task. After perhaps ten Lesser Spotted had passed though my scoped a huge eagle loomed into view, entered a kettle and began to rise. The unmistakeable white underwing bar was unmissable, closer inspection revealed moulting secondaries and inner primaries, here was my first immature Steppe Eagle of the trip. It gave itself up in the evening sunshine and represented a glorious sight over the mountains. In the end I would witness well over 100 Lesser Spotted Eagles before the end of the official count at 17.30.

Steppe Buzzards, a typical view of kettling birds from Station 2.



Lesser Spotted Eagle and a Steppe Buzzard, these two rather distant.

Normally, at this stage of the evening, there is no option but to leave Shuamta, as the bus leaves at 18.00. Today though, there were eco tourists on the platform with Jasper, one of the BRC founders and he kindly offered to transport me home an hour later if I wanted to stay on. A glance at Little Ginger provided my answer, the were 9 Aquillas in the kettle! I made my way to the tourist platform alongside Jasper and an Austrian group and began to go through the eagles. After a few moment Jasper pointed out a resting juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle on a dead tree at around 200 metres and I was able to videoscope the bird as it preened itself. A glorious bird, there is a link below to the video taken below...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXKRTSGQpg0&list=UUUWm0gG93nKzlG2XotE1F3A

No sooner had I recorded my video, I picked up two adult male Pallid Harrier rounding Little Ginger. I had only just got them in the scope when I heard Jasper shout out 'Crested Honey Buzzard' and I looked up to see a female grey phase bird drifting over our heads. It was my best ever view of the species, passing about 70 metres overhead, before flapping towards station 1. We got on the radio to let them know it was on the way and happily, everyone there connected with the bird.
 I returned to scanning the Lesser Spotted Eagles and less that 15 minutes had gone by when Jasper again roared out that another Crested Honey Buzzard was coming. Whereas the first bird had been close, the second was right overhead. I had the view of a lifetime through my binoculars as an immaculate red phase female drifted lazily over. The level of detail was astounding, it was a truly beautiful bird, a brick red underbody and underwings, with no carpal and immaculate finely barred secondaries and primaries. The tail pattern was that of an adult male Honey Buzzard, the structure was all Crested Honey Buzzard. The long P6 was plainly visible, and the short, broad and rounded tail was remarkable. This was another special moment for me me. I had seen seven or eight Crested Honey Buzzard before this point at Batumi, as well as some birds in Thailand, but the view on the platform was more than I could ever have wished for. After it passed there were smiles all round, again we informed Station 1, again they picked the bird up a few minutes later, albeit a lot more distantly at that point. A short while later it was time to go and a very happy group of birders made there way down the mountain. This had been a very special day indeed...

Wouter Faveyts and Phillipe T'jollyn scanning the skies over Shuamta..




Maik Jurke having a quick bite to eat in between operating the Palmtop, in which the days records are stored. I had previously met Maik in 2012 at Batumi and it was great to see him again...




Sergius Nizinski, ever present in the west today, checking out a mixed stream of raptors in order to extract the species...




Carles Dura, this man was glued to a seat facing west for the entire three weeks I was present!




Wouter grills an Aquilla, at this point he was rather happy, having seen a Crested Honey Buzzard, a species which he is rather keen on, his expertise and knowledge of raptors was a huge asset at the stations.


Batumi - Shuamta
Wednesday 17 September 2014   

Counting period: 8:00 - 17:30
Count type: Storks and raptors
Weather:
Observers: Dries Engelen, Rafa Benjumea, Carles DurĂ , Alan Dalton, Maik Jurke, Wouter Faveyts, Filiep T'Jollyn, Sergius Nizinski, Hans Henrik Schou
Black Stork21Pallid Harrier17Steppe Eagle5
Honey Buzzard778Montagu's Harrier7Aquila sp.116
Crested Honey Buzzard3Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier62Booted Eagle221
Black Kite3081Levant Sparrowhawk504Peregrine1
Short-toed Eagle42Steppe Buzzard14844raptor sp.126
Marsh Harrier208Lesser Spotted Eagle77

Totals: 20113 individuals, 17 species, 9:30 hours

Bold = Remarkable observation (scarce or rare species or large number)
Comments: Nice afternoon with lot of eagles.

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