The first aim of the Batumi Raptor Count project is the full-season monitoring of raptor migration at the Batumi bottleneck. Since 2008 this has happened with a clear focus on high quality counts, meaning that 1) all birds passing the bottleneck are counted, whilst 2) as many individual birds as possible are identified, with a high proportion sexed and aged. At this early stage of the project no long-term data are available and the practical organisation in Batumi is still developing. The primary aim of the counts now is therefore to achieve a decent quantification of all species of migratory raptors. A preliminary comparison of these numbers with breeding bird data of presumed areas of origin –especially concerning threatened species such as Pallid Harrier- is also important. For future monitoring purposes, also storks and Roller (northern populations of which are in strong decline) are included in the counts.
In the upcoming years the BRC Team will develop a research scheme which should increase our knowledge of the precise areas of origin of the raptors. A first method to achieve this will be the ringing/tracking of migrating raptors. The potential use of stable isotope analysis on feathers should also be assessed. For the purpose of understanding the funnelling effect of Georgia’s geography and weather conditions on migratory raptors the application of GIS software looks promising.
In general, the potential of the Batumi Raptor Count for future research on migrating raptors is very high. This includes 1) raptor migration in general (flight strategies and weather conditions, global migration geography …) and 2) conservation of raptors through monitoring of raptor populations and assessing the impact of anthropogenic threats to these birds. For these purposes, it is obvious that long-term continuation of the counts and a better insight in the origin of the migrants is of extreme importance.
For the sake of good understanding and efficiency, we would like to encourage anyone with interest in pursuing any such research questions to contact the BRC organisation for further communication. The future possibilities for incorporation of such research projects within the BRC are being/will be assessed throughout the months and years following the 2009 edition of the count.
Local involvement, international cooperation and long-term vision
A first major effort has been undertaken during the 2008 project, featuring an international student exchange. This concept has been repeated and expanded in 2009. During this exchange students from Georgia, Turkey and Armenia acquire experience in raptor identification, both in the field and through academic lectures. Both in 2008 and 2009 these were provide by Prof. Karen Aghababyan of the “Birds of Armenia Project” of the American University of Yerevan.
In the field, more experienced students of Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have been involved in the practical training. The involvement of these people is made possible by our cooperation with partner organisations in all of these countries. An overview of them can be found under ‘acknowledgements’.
For a long-term future perspective, the BRC team is currently expanding the international network of cooperating organisations and institutions (e.g. universities) for the training of students. We encourage students to expand their understanding of raptor migration ecology beyond the mere acquisition of identification skills. This involves work on specific research questions by both collecting field data and analyzing these statistically. The BRC project aims to be a starting point for the construction of such a learning centre, and we welcome input and cooperation from academic institutions, both from Georgia and abroad.
In the near future, involvement of local people will be enhanced through a cooperation with Georgian organisations such as PSOVI and Georgian falconers. Basic identification pamphlets of common species with information on conservation status will be provided to the people. A major problem in the region is the widespread practice of illegal hunting. The opinion of the BRC is that the existing Georgian law should be enforced both regarding the hunting and trapping of birds for falconry.In order to gain support for measures against illegal hunting, we believe it is important to provide information on raptor migration ecology and the worldwide importance of the Batumi bottleneck to the people.
For the further development of a hunting free bottleneck however, more will be needed to convince both local people and government of the importance of these birds. In particular eco-tourism is bound to play a major role in the effective protection of these birds. In order to effectively ‘conserve nature’, first the local economic situation should improve substantially. For many regions in Georgia, in particular the Adjara province, tourism provides a significant outcome! Considering the huge appeal of the region for birders, botanists and all-round nature enthusiasts, the potential to further develop such an economy is clear. As an international project, BRC wishes to passively further promote Georgia and Batumi as an ideal destination for these people and encourage local government to undertake action in developing the necessary infrastructure for this public. The BRC website will be our main tool in reaching the world.
In short, the Batumi Raptor Count project wishes to promote the development of a well organised, high-quality, long-term monitoring of raptor migration at the Batumi bottleneck, with high potential for a scientific research programme for both professionals as students. In combination, a lot of attention is needed for the situation of the local people as well, as the presence of the birds and the area’s stunning natural richness also provide them with a stable basis for future economic development. Provided good mutual understanding and the cooperation of all organisations and institutions involved, the BRC organizers are convinced that the long-term conservation of Batumi as an area of major importance for migratory birds can be achieved!