The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Batumi - More Kettles than a Tea Room - Part 5

September 5th
 
 
Today I spent my first day on the 2nd station. To get there we had to take a minibus, playing the 'best of' Georgian music. 
 
The station was well positioned, though lacked the purpose-built shelter of the other.
 

The site immediately showed its different set of wildlife, with a singing Green Warbler, and a gigantic Convolvulus Hawk-moth caterpillar (green from).


The day was fairly busy for raptor passage, but it also happened to be quite gloomy.  The good news about this situation was that some of Honey Buzzard seemed reluctant to continue their journey, and landed in trees around us.


The bad news about the weather, was that birds were constantly 'gluxing' (flying in and out the clouds), which meant counting was difficult.  It also meant that the bird of the day, a female Crested Honey Buzzard, almost immediately kettled up into the clouds on being found.  It was clearly bigger, but it was a very unsatisfactory 'bimbo' (French word meaning lifer - I learned a whole new raptor-counting vocabulary in Batumi!).

Also among the top raptors were an adult White-tailed Eagle, apparently making a brief sortie from its breeding territory to the north, and yet another poorly-seen Steppe Eagle.

A Middle Spotted Woodpecker was again heard, and it was joined in the dawn chorus by a Black Woodpecker - I really hoped I'd see one at some point.

In the evening, there were a few more moths to see, such as Olive CrescentEpiblema foenella, and this familiar Straw Dot (pale).


September 6th

A day with nothing new to be seen, but the raptor passage was good.

video


I finally saw a Green Warbler, and I yet again heard Middle Spotted and Black Woodpecker.

I was beginning to realise how demanding the counting process is, particularly when concentrating on the distant streams!

September 7th

I continued at station 2.

Despite the poor passage today, we had a total of THREE Crested Honey Buzzard, two of which I saw well, finally!  They really are quite distinctive birds, with their large proportions and striking tail pattern of the males.

A Georgia tick was Jay.

I was staying at different accommodation for a couple of nights, and a bit of a novelty was this Bear paw hanging from an outbuilding!  Apparently it belonged to a rogue animal which was killed after finding its way into the village and terrorising the residents!  From now on I became rather anxious about wandering away alone from the stations!


A week gone, and I was thoroughly enjoying the whole experience. Not just the birding, but the people too, both the locals and the other counters. So much fun was being had!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Batumi - More Kettles than a Tea Room - Part 4

September 3rd

A day of few highlights on a Batumi scale anyhow, but I shouldn't complain at things like these views of Lesser Spotted Eagle.

video

The other top sightings were another poorly-seen Steppe Eagle, and a glimpse of a juvenile Red-footed Falcon.

Some Georgia ticks included Blackbird, Goldfinch, and Robin!

At one point, I caught myself saying ''...only a Golden Oriole''.  I'll never forgive myself.


September 4th

Once again, passage was pretty average, so having some ringers working behind the station was a nice distraction.

Ortolan Bunting are a daily occurrence as fly-overs, but to see a bird in the hand was brilliant.

 
Earlier in the week, I glimpsed a Nightingale sp. in the bushes behind the station, which on occurrence, was very likely to have been a Thrush Nightingale, but I couldn't be sure.  It was therefore nice to see the ringers catch a definite one to have a close look at.


In the evening, we retired to the small café round the corner, which happened to have some perfect moth-attracting outside lights! Of far more interest to me than the alcoholic drinks.

Also by the lights was this Large Conehead, which make a very loud, distinctive sound.


And now the moths - IDs are very much tentative for some of them, please feel free to correct.

The familiar 1st...

...Ruby Tiger (dark)...


...Green Silver-lines (pale)...


...Golden Twin-spot (yet another rare migrant in the UK)...


...Boxworm Moth...


...Latin (ooft!)...


...Setaceous Hebrew Character (pale)...


...Clay Triple-lines (2nd gen)...


...Nut-tree Tussock...


...Mocha and Peacock...


...Purple-bordered Gold...

 
...White Ermine...
 

...Orache Moth (beauty!)...

 
...and Common Footman (pale).
 


And then we have the unfamiliar, I can only think these are The Alchymist, although strangely dark examples...


...Dotted Footman...



 ...and the Marbled White-spot-like Callopistria latreillei.


Things are hotting up!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Batumi - More Kettles than a Tea Room - Part 3


September 1st

I started the day nailing some of the odd sounds around the houses, recognising the calls of Short-toed Treecreeper, and seeing a male 'samamisicus' male Redstart on the way to the count station.

The weather was quite fare, and so passage was on the whole less than yesterday, but I'm certainly not going to complain, as I got into the counting groove properly. 

A Tawny Pipit flying over, and a couple of subliminal Alpine Swift were new on the passerine front, but a flock of 110 White Stork was a particularly spectacular sight.

video

We'd already had some close Lesser Spotted Eagle, when the highlight of the day came early afternoon, with an ominous shape looming out of the murk ahead of us...


...which showed the dark upperparts, the large hand, and single underwing 'comma' of a Greater Spotted Eagle! What a bird!

A particularly close male Pallid Harrier was a delight...

video


...but I was very sad to hear that the bird was shot out the sky shortly after this footage was taken. A brutal reminder that illegal hunting is a big problem in the area. There is currently a dedicated team there monitoring the hunting, and implementing educational measures to reduce it. Attempts from past years have shown some encouraging results.

A good day, with some 12,000 birds in total, mostly distant ones.

In the evening, I was amused to watch the guys from Batumi Birding branding their office - how many people does it take to stick a sticker on a window? ;-)


Come the night, I got the first taster of the quality of moths to be found in the area, with stunning Latin, Orache Moth, Splendid Brocade...


...and a darker form of Bordered Sallow...


...attracted to lit windows.  Interesting to see many species which are scarce migrants to the UK.

September 2nd

Today was a slow day, with most of the Honey Buzzard passage occurring in the distance.

Instead I took the opportunity to look at other things.

Looking out to sea was always worth a try, and today I got the Georgia ticks of Little Egret and Grey Heron as flocks migrated south.

In the bushes behind the station I found a confiding male Red-backed Shrike, and below the view point I heard my first Middle Spotted Woodpecker.

The insects were interesting to look at such as loads of Red-veined Darter and a few Long-tailed Blue.

Also this unidentified green-tailed Lizard taking refuge from the hot sun in our shelter.


Nearby was this cracking Wasp Spider - familiar to me, but no less striking for that.



In the evening, more moths were found around outside lights, including a dark Iron Prominent...


...Sub-angled Wave...


...a dark (yet another dark form, why is this? The warmth perhaps?) Porter's Rustic...


...and female Four-spotted Footman.


I looked forward to more action tomorrow!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Batumi - More Kettles than a Tea Room - Part 2

August 31st

As everyday, I was up at 5:30, to start my first day as a raptor counter.

Although officially today was a 'learning day' for me, just observing how the counting works, I couldn't resist getting stuck in later in the day.

After a lovely breakfast, I walked up to the main count station, once again surrounded by various unidentified bird sounds.  Only the many Bee-eater were recognised.

 The view from 'Station 1' was spectacular.


The day started slowly with just a trickle of Harriers (including a cracking dark-phase male Marsh Harrier) initially, but then the Honey Buzzard began to appear.

Although the raptors were the main focus, I was delighted to see migrating flocks of Roller and Turtle Dove amongst the many Bee-eater.  A Wood Sandpiper called as it went over, and a Short-toed Lark and a few Ortolan Bunting checked us out.

As the day warmed up, the Eagles began to appear, and they were all lifers. Many Booted Eagle moved through, and distant Lesser Spotted and Steppe Eagle were seen. I looked forward to seeing them closer though.

One or two Short-toed Eagle were found, a female Red-footed Falcon whizzed through, and a distant male Pallid Harrier was great to see.

The main highlight of the day occurred when a sub-adult Egyptian Vulture appeared in a distant kettle - it stood out like a sore thumb!

Soon enough, particularly when the cloud descended, we were literally surrounded by raptors, and Batumi started to show what it's all about. 

video


The final count of some 13,000 Honeys was apparently quite 'slow', but a the time it felt like a baptism of fire for me on my first day!

The cloud soon turned to rain, and the count went on hiatus.


A male Golden Oriole gave us something to look at for a while, as it seemingly enjoyed a wash and brush-up at the top of a nearby tree.

Remarkably, this turned out to be the only rain-break I experienced during the counting!

The birds continued their migration once the rain stopped, but only in small numbers.  A pair of Black Stork moving through was the last highlight.

On the walk down back to the house, I found this stunning Red Ladies-tresses Orchid by the path.


To wind down before the evening meal, some of the counters joined the local children for a game of football. Having not played in like 10 years I was a bit rusty, but it was the best fun I've ever had.  The kids were fantastic!


Despite having had no sleep the night before due to traveling, plus playing football for an hour, I was still pumped to get up at 5 tomorrow for more counting!

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Batumi - More Kettles than a Tea Room - Part 1

Sorry that the quality of the videos in these posts are so poor - a good quality one shall posted at the end of the report.

29th/30th August

I departed Heathrow on Saturday evening and arrived at Istanbul Ataturk airport early the next morning.

I struggled to kill the 9 hours I had till my Batumi flight, so I was delighted to learn of the presence of a 'veranda'. I had my bins in my hand-luggage (naturally) and I was keen to start my Turkey list (that's a list of birds in Turkey, not a list of species of Turkey! :-D ) .

Sadly, this turned out to be a 'cage' everyone used as a smoking area.



Despite the difficult viewing, I saw a few things through the mesh, including Yellow-legged Gull, Cormorant, and Hooded Crow.  The first good bird was an Alpine Swift, dwarfing the nearby Common Swift.  Several flocks of Yellow Wagtail flew over and Grey Heron and a Kestrel were spotted.

Then, just as I had to go to the gate, I remembered that Istanbul is a bit of a bottleneck for large migrants in itself, and I found a nice north-facing window to check. 

Lo and behold, there was a flock of some 300 White Stork heading through!


Don't worry, the wildlife images shall improve!

There was also a couple of very high raptors, probably Black Kite, with them.  Also from this window, I saw my first lifer of the trip with a nice rufous Long-legged Buzzard hunting, and it was good to see the familiar below the window itself with a dead Silver Y.



On arrival at Batumi airport I was taken on an impromptu tour of the city which included this rather rustic (and packed!) wine cellar.


 
 I was impressed by the architecture etc of the city (though not the driving!!).




On getting to the accommodation - the house of a Georgian family, I was immediately greeted by the calls of Bee-eater. This would set the tone of the trip really, as the 'prrrrp' was a constant soundtrack to our raptor counts.  There were clouds of them!

video

With a couple of hours of daylight left, I mostly just pottered about the house balcony and garden to see what I could see. Along with a load of unfamiliar sounds (most of which I cracked later!) I managed to spot distant Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, a large unidentified Eagle, and my first ever Levant Sparrowhawk!  This male was filmed later in the trip - notice the black, narrow wing-tips and unbarred underparts.

video


 A nice warm-up for my first count day tomorrow!