The Portland Naturalist

The Portland Naturalist

Friday, 9 October 2015

Batumi - More Kettles than a Tea Room - Final Part

September 11th
My last official count day, and the passage at station 1 warmed up nicely, with a good early movement of Harriers, mostly Marsh Harrier, some even pausing in the trees.  

As the day wore on, the passage got better and better, and soon I got the feeling Batumi was trying its best to give me a last hurr'ar.  One of the larger kettles:

An immature White-tailed Eagle put in a brief appearance, and I had my own heart-pumping moment.

Some of the Honey were flying low at the station, and I had to look twice when I thought one bird had dark eyes. It did! It was a male Crested Honey Buzzard!  My own find!  It begun to kettle close-by. One of the best moments of the trip was followed by one of the most frustrating, as my attempts to film the bird resulted in me filming the wrong bird throughout! :-(

The day was nearly over, when we heard from one of the hunting monitoring team on the search for bird remains, that they'd found a Honey Buzzard. I assumed it was a body, though I was still eager to see it.

Imagine my surprise when they returned, and revealed from their blanket, a live female Honey Buzzard!  It had a shot wing sadly, so there was no chance of it surviving.


It was such a bitter-sweet moment, to see this beautiful bird close-up and to discover all its amazing adaptations (like its well-muscled legs for digging, and slit-shaped nostrils to decrease soil intake), all the time keeping in mind the reason it was here.
I was even given the chance to hold it. It was a great privilege.  To feel her heartbeat was incredibly humbling.
In the evening, several Night Heron were heard calling as they migrated over, and the only moth of note at the café was the dark form of the Boxworm Moth.
September 12th

It was supposedly my day off today, but I really couldn't face going to the nearby delta, where hunting is rife on a weekend (apparently there were very few birds to see anyway).  Instead, I just travelled with the others to station 2, with a plan to go for a walk through the woods.
On arrival at the station, a Common Rosefinch flew over calling. 
Soon enough, I took a route down through the precipitous woodland, in search of Woodpeckers and the like.  I didn't have a map, so negotiating the many tracks was a challenge!
The likes of Song Thrush and Wren were added to the Georgia list, and a Red-breasted Flycatcher was seen well.  Eventually, I did find a bit of Woodpecker activity. 
An unseen Black Woodpecker called, and a Middle Spotted Woodpecker eventually showed itself, after a series of anxious calls caused by a Great Spotted Woodpecker on the same tree.  Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was also later heard.
I somehow found my way back to the station, and I settled down for some passage.  The day was a particularly warm one, and this clearly suited the larger birds. 
An Egyptian Vulture was spotted a bit late to see it well, but that didn't matter, as a further 2 birds passed, followed by a few Eagles. 
Lesser Spotted Eagle were well represented, but then, a stunning immature Steppe Eagle passed so close, I could touch it (see video at the end).  Finally a good view of this species!
Then, I spotted a large Eagle at mid-distance.  As it began to kettle nearby, others present excitedly identified it as an Imperial Eagle!  What a bird.
As things quietened down a bit towards the end of the day, I thought I'd go on another wander, in a different direction.  I ended up walking right to the bottom of the hill. I was exhausted, but I got adequate reward in the form of a drink and wash in the clean mountain river.

The only birds of note really were a family party of newly-fledged Ortolan Bunting, but it was a nice walk nonetheless.
We stopped at a suburban shop on the way back to base, and a Wood Sandpiper flew over calling! A good example of why I don't have an off switch when it comes to birding! ;-) 
September 13th
The day dawned on my last day in Batumi.

I spent the morning at least up at station 1, in the hope there would be one last finale.  That didn't really happen unfortunately, but it was nice to see a Redstart in the hand. Although 'samamisicus' is the more frequent race round here, this proved to be one of those tricky ones which couldn't be safely assigned to race.

The final bird list for Georgia was 89, all from around the count stations.

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to everyone.  I miss this place.

The journey home was uneventful, and I typically landed in Heathrow in driving rain, having barely experienced rain in 2 weeks in Georgia!

All in all, the fortnight was immensely enjoyable, with incredible birding and wonderful people.  I found some of the counting quite intense, and counting distant dots isn't all that enjoyable, particularly when birds are passing close in the other direction that you can't look at or you'll loose count! Staying as a counter is of course much cheaper than if you went as an eco-tourist (though not massively cheap, I would say [They're currently working on reducing accommodation cost through grants etc.]).

Overall though, I would recommend the experience to all serious birders, particularly if you want to improve your ID skills. You'll be able to tell juvenile Montagu's and Pallid Harriers apart in a glimpse afterwards!

I want to thank all who enriched the experience with their friendliness and humour.

Here's a better-quality video of taster footage from the fortnight.


I must try and get to some other birding areas in Georgia next time. I WILL go back next year if I can!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Batumi - More Kettles than a Tea Room - Part 6

September 8th
A day of pretty slow passage at station 2, but there were a few highlights.  For example, on arrival at dawn, a Red-breasted Flycatcher was calling from nearby trees - the first reported from the area this autumn.
Later on, in the same area of trees, there was a massive flurry of warbler and Tit activity, that included Green Warbler, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and a Ficedula Flycatcher, seen poorly. Almost more likely to be Collared or Semi-collared here than Pied. Never mind.
The other main highlight beyond the usual Lesser Spotted Eagle, Pallid Harrier etc, was a juvenile male Goshawk.
To add to all the heard-only lifers from previous days, Grey-headed Woodpecker was heard.
Some typical views of Georgia from the journey home to the accommodation. They love their Watermelons here!

September 9th

After days of clear weather, there was a shower of rain overnight, which really raised hopes of a fall of passerines.  To hear Red-breasted Flycatcher and Thrush Nightingale on leaving the house, things looked promising.

Sadly though, they proved to be a flash in the pan, with nothing of real note on the ground up at station 1, or passage in the air.  The only trip tick was a group of Raven.

A few moths around the lights of the café in the evening included this unidentified Mother-of-pearl-like Pyralid (appreciate help!)...

...and Diasemiopsis ramburialis.

September 10th

Plenty to talk about today.

A hulking thing flying straight towards us didn't look quite right for an Eagle, when it turned slightly and I realised it was an immature Egyptian Vulture.

Looking out at sea produced a load of Georgia ticks, including many Little Gull, a Great Crested Grebe, and brilliantly, a pale-phase Arctic Skua harassing the Little Gulls, and eventually resting on a floating dead Dolphin!
As well as reasonable raptor passage, there seem to be decent overhead passerine migration going on too, with Roller involved, as well as many Turtle Dove, including a ridiculous flock of c43 (including a Stock Dove - Georgia tick)!
One of the funniest moments of the whole trip occurred when a juvenile Cuckoo with no tail flew by, and someone shouted ''Pin-tailed Sandgrouse!''.  To his defence, it did look very weird with no tail, and the ID was not immediately obvious!
A cracking day.

In the evening, I was looking through the pics I got of a juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle which went by nice and close, when I noticed something strange. Can you spot it?

It appears to be carrying some sort of data-logger/geolocator device!

Unfortunately, I've not yet heard any further details of this bird (not enough detail to ID individual obviously, but hopefully tracking data will pinpoint individual involved), probably from Germany or Hungary.