Half-season report

Our 10th Autumn count kicked off at 17th August, with the coordination team and first volunteers arriving to our headquarters in Sakhalvasho a few days before. Even though the days are long, it’s always nice to see how the migration builds up and to see the first records for the season, whether it’s the first Osprey, Roller, or a Steppe Eagle.

the West is under control (c) Aki Aintila

The first days can already be diverse and surprising. This year we were positively surprised by a total of 4 Eleonora’s Falcons! These birds, mostly 2nd cy, were observed between 21st August and 2nd September, all of the dark morph except the 3rd of the pale morph. We had a reason to party after seeing these beauties, since there are only two previous confirmed records of this species from Georgia!

Eleonora's Falcon 2cy (c) Bjorn Alards

Once again, the Honey Buzzard migration started to build up towards the end of August. The first proper day was 22nd Aug with 20.000 Honeys. After that we had bit more modest days, and the migration really kicked off on 27th Aug with 37.000 Honey Buzzards, followed by almost another 37.000 the next day.

Honey Buzzard (c) Bjorn Alards

As expected, the big days were going to hit us at the beginning of September. On the 2nd, we faced another slow morning with low clouds and the odd rain showers. In late afternoon, once another shower had passed and the visibility cleared, we suddenly faced the northern side of Station 1 full of raptors. Honey Buzzards everywhere! More and more birds started to head towards the coastline and streams grew larger and larger. By early afternoon, the sky in distant north was literally covered by buzzards. It was a 5 km wide kettle, a swarm of raptors. That day we had more than 9.000 raptors passing within 20 minutes and by the end of the day we reached a total of 70.000 Honey Buzzards!

Massive migration of Honey Buzzards (c) Aki Aintila

More epic days followed, as we counted over 69.000 Honeys on the 3rd, 48.000 on the 5th and 66.000 on the 6th. Massive streams, shifting from overhead to the east, again to overhead and the west side, seemed to be everlasting from the midday to late afternoon. Even though some of us has witnessed this many times before, it never stops to amaze us.

station 1 (c) Aki Aintila

The harriers came along with the Honey Buzzards. 2nd Sept was a good warm-up with 169 Montagu’s and 87 Marsh Harriers. Then, 5th of Sept, we got a nice late afternoon passage for harriers, constantly picking Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers from the HB stream. Then we knew that the next day was going to be good, if the weather stays clear. And so, the next morning the harrier show started immediately, and between 8 and 9 we had continuous streams of harriers over our stations! For the late afternoon, the harriers slowed down a bit, but then had another rush in late afternoon with the Honey Buzzards. We managed to positively identify, age and sex a good proportion of harriers, and daily totals from Station 1 include 458 Montagu’s, 25 Pallid, 278 Montagu’s/Pallid/Hen and 204 Marsh, a total of 965 harriers!

Marsh Harrier (c) Aki Aintila

Montagu's Harrier (c) Bjorn Alards

Pallid Harrier (c) Aki Aintila

Roller migration has been rather low this season, as only 765 birds have been counted compare to the average years situated around 1.100 individuals. European Turtle Doves migration has as always been very entertaining. Small compact groups of fast-flying doves rushing at low heights around the count station can be quite challenging to count. Peak-day was 786 individuals the 31st of August for a season total almost reaching 1800 birds. Some lucky counters could observe during this peak day an Oriental Turtle Dove nicely sticking out of a European Turtle Doves flock. It is the second record for the BRC after a bird seen in very similar conditions on the 23rd of September 2016.

European Turtle Doves (c) Aki Aintila

Some Large Eagles migrated early in the season again. Few adults Steppe Eagles were observed during the first weeks of the count along with some immatures, while first Greater Spotted and Eastern Imperial Eagles showed up in September.
It seems to be a rather low season for Crested Honey Buzzards, with 7 birds recorded so far plus some hybrids. This stunning male flew close to observers, showing a global European HB wing plumage, but the reddish iris, tail pattern and large hand with a long 6th finger suggest a hybrid bird.

Possible hybrid Pernis (c) Aki Aintila

Birding in the Chorokhi Delta has been a real pleasure this year. It is the very first year that shooting is banned in this major stopover site for birds. With a cloudy August, the place has been packed with passerines, with a Red-backed or Lesser Grey Shrike sitting on top of every bush, accompanied by hundreds of wagtails and wheatears. Little Crakes and Purple Swamphens have been occupying the fish ponds, and people who had the effort to scan wader flocks were rewarded with Broad-billed Sandpipers. And even on sunny days, there’s always something to see, especially the terns, gulls and shearwaters by the seaside.
The true gem of the beginning was found at 26th August, when a group for the team found an Egyptian Nightjar close to the shoreline! The bird was first flushed by a shepherd’s dog, then flying around the observers and giving close views. Another team managed to find it the following day – what a gift for the 10th count of BRC and congratulations to Jonas Schärer, Xu Shi and Jaime Escobar Toledo for this stunning bird!

Egyptian Nightjar (c) Simon Cavaillès

We would like to thank our count coordinators (Hélène from France, Xu from China and Aki from Finland), volunteer counters (so far 24 volunteers from Netherlands, Estonia, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, England, Switzerland - and Kenya!), organizers (Simon, Dries and Rafa) and all our supporters for all the efforts and making this season possible. Now we are heading towards the most diverse period of the season, and we’re preparing for the peak migrations of Black Kites, Booted Eagles, first good days for large eagles and observing up to 20 different species of raptors in a single day! Stay tuned!