We touched down at Malaga at lunchtime, having experienced Abi's first ever flight, despite having missed our train to the airport back in the UK. Thanks to the Salisbury train station staff who paid for a taxi!
Our next hiccup was that we couldn't find where we caught the courtesy bus to the car hire company, so we had to walk it. The upside to this, was that we saw our first Spanish birds, Feral Pigeon and House Sparrow, but, rather more exciting, we found several of the tiny Geranium Bronze egg-laying on ornamental flowers!
Once we'd got a car, we zipped down to our accommodation for the week, at La Linea de la Concepcion, not far from the Gibraltar border. The view from the flat was rather special!
I had a great time attending an A Focus On Nature (group for young conservationists and naturalists - look at me above being all naturalist-y ;-) ) gathering at Knepp Wildlands estate in Sussex at the weekend.
As you may know, I struggle in social situations, so it was fantastic to spend time with so many like-minded genuinely nice people for a weekend, and the wildlife was truly remarkable at this unique place.
The stuff we got involved with included moth-trapping, bird ringing, invertebrate catching, as well as a couple of species-specific searches.
Turtle Dove are a key species at the site, but they proved hard to find. We did luck upon one singing male.
A Brown Long-eared Bat which was a patient at the resident Bat hospital.
The main target for the weekend was first found right by the site we moth-trapped at. Quite funny watching the crowd surrounding a cow pat!
The Purple Emperor was remarkably confiding. This whole thing made me a bit emotional, cause it was in such circumstances about 20 years ago that my love of nature was sparked. Seeing a Purple Emperor on the ground during a guided walk in Surrey when I was 10ish is my earliest wildlife memory, and until now I'd not seen one on the ground (and only one other time, at all) since. Who knows what I'd be doing now, if I hadn't seen that butterfly on that day. It's a sobering thought.
The weather was perfect throughout, including a stunning sunset.
The group shot! Hope to meet you all again some day! :-)
Huge thanks to Simon Phelps for organising, Tony Davis for guiding, and Penny Green for fab hosting. Top work all!
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.
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! ;-)
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 Crescent, Epiblema foenella, and this familiar Straw Dot (pale).
A day with nothing new to be seen, but the raptor passage was good.
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!
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!
A day of few highlights on a Batumi scale anyhow, but I shouldn't complain at things like these views of Lesser Spotted Eagle.
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.
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)...
...Setaceous Hebrew Character (pale)...
...Clay Triple-lines (2nd gen)...
...Mocha and Peacock...
...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...
...and the Marbled White-spot-like Callopistria latreillei.