Raptor Migration Report Autumn 2016

The 9th consecutive Batumi Raptor Count has come to an end, and we are proud to present you some of the results. Again we managed to count a total of more than one million migrating birds of prey, for the fifth year in a row! We managed to count historical totals for Black Kites, Booted Eagles and Red-footed Falcons, but poor numbers of Harriers. Read on for more!

After a good first half of the season (read the half season Raptor Migration report 2016 here) - with over half a million Honey Buzzards (including the peak day of 94.000 individuals), some nice days for Montagu's Harriers and Rollers, and some rarer sights such as Dalmatian Pelican - the 2nd half of the season started just as promising!
 Dalmation Pelican soaring with Honey Buzzards (John Wright)
A clear mid-season peak of raptors rushed over Batumi on 17th September, as one can see on the graph below. This day only, we counted more than 30.000 Black Kites, 880 Booted Eagles, 15 Ospreys and lots of other goodies, including a juvenile Saker Falcon (crossing close just west of Station 1 Sakhalvasho)!

Raptor Migration Phenology of all raptors in Batumi 2016

Black Kite migration seemed never ending this season and new kettles kept on showing up in front of Mount Elbrus. On 26th September we counted another 25.000 and finally this autumn was the best Black Kite season ever for BRC with over 180.000 individuals (more than 50.000 above our previous record!). Booted Eagles had an excellent season as well, reaching over 8.000 counted individuals.
 Black Kites kettling in front of Mount Elbrus (John Wright)
After the mid-season frenzy Batumi faced a long rainy period, probably pushing most of the birds to other passages further inland. Fortunately the rains brought some birds that we have been missing for the whole season, like Pallid Harriers. On 29th September we counted 35 of them and the day after we even had one of the best ever Batumi days for this species with 92 individuals! Nevertheless, the season’s total of 416 is quite poor and fits the rather low numbers of all Harrier species this year.
 Counters and ecotourists sheltering from the rain (Eva Knizatkova)
On the other hand, the influx of Red-footed Falcons this season was a welcomed cheer-up. Many counters will remember the last two days of September, as we counted over 229 on 29th and 934 on 30th! Especially a kettle of over 300 Red-footeds was a sight to remember! The season total for this species finally reached 2.087 (and strongly contrasts last year’s total of 28 birds).
The last day of September also ended up to be the peak day for Steppe Buzzard migration with 48.000 individuals (mostly east of Station 2). Although we never really felt overwhelmed by their numbers this year, we still counted a decent 225.000.
 Red-footed Falcons passing station-1 (John Wright)
After the rains finally stopped and with a visibility from the Greater to the Lesser Caucasus our watch points were once again flooded by birds and we witnessed some incredible days of eagle migration, the moment that many counters had been waiting for. Things started picking up at 26th September with some 412 Lesser Spotted and 72 Short-toed Eagles counted from Station 2 Shuamta in extremely beautiful weather. The beautiful passage of birds continued and on 27th September Batumi Eagle migration reached a completely new level: we were enjoying the variety of species and plumages all day long, until we started to get more streams and flocks, consisting exclusively of large eagles! The flocks grew larger, and in the end Station 2 was simply surrounded by eagles! We saw many flocks of over 100 eagles simultaneously in the landscape and managed to count 52 Short-toed, 979 Lesser Spotted, 10 Greater Spotted, 15 Steppe, 1 Imperial and 772 unidentified large eagles, reaching a day total of 1.800 large eagles!
 Juvenile Steppe Eagle & Greater Spotted fulvescens (John Wright)
The fireworks of eagles continued in early October. This time lower in numbers, but higher in variation. 4th October the counters on Station 2 were part of a Batumi Eagle Festival! From over 1.000 counted eagles we identified 222 Short-toed Eagles, 541 Lesser Spotted, 39 Steppe, 2 Imperials and 71 Greater Spotted. The juvenile fulvescens-type Greater Spotted overhead was the clear highlight for the day. The same show continued on 5th October. No fulvescens this time, but one of the very first eagles we identified was an adult Imperial Eagle! Finally we would count 8 Imperials that day, accompanied by hundreds of other eagles including 83 Greater Spotteds and 52 Steppes! And it wasn’t just a privilege for the watchpoint in Shuamta, this autumn both count stations had their equal share of eagles!
 
5th October was a special day for another reason as well: this day we reached, for the 5th consecutive year, the total of 1 million counted raptors in Batumi! It is always a highlight and a rewarding result which reminds us of the special place where we work in. Compared to previous seasons, this autumn wasn't  an extraordinary one in terms of totals, as shown in the figure below.

Raptor Migration Totals for all raptors in Batumi since 2008

So many other nice sightings could be mentioned like 4 Griffon Vultures or the calidus-Peregrine or the mixed 65 strong flock of Black and White Storks, but actually the entire migration is a highlight in itself with the endless variation in plumages of some species and the just plain odd birds you come across, those you’d never see on pics on internet or in books.
 Pale plumage variety of Lesser Spotted Eagle (John Wright)
Unfortunately some days later for a second time this season a rainy period started and it left us all with a bit of an anti-climax feeling at the end of the count. Luckily even on these days there is still plenty of other things to see, such as the large number of migrating passerines, the local birds, other station inhabitants and a variety of interesting weather phenomena.
 Local krynicki-ssp. Jay; Station-2 inhabitant Forest Dormouse; Cloud iridescence over LIttle Ginger (John Wright)
Besides the birds, we truly had an excellent atmosphere among the counting team for the whole season. We had great fun on and outside the count stations. On top, we managed to have some unforgettable parties (involving some epic ‘shrimping’, nipple Chartreuse shots and the first Georgian outdoor screening of Sabrina’s Boyz, boyz, boyz in the Botanical garden), don't ask specifics. A little more sophisticated was our visit to a traditional Georgian dance performance. All of you who have been here before know how it is, not just for the birds, but for the amazing atmosphere, meeting old friends and making new ones!
 Happy counters after 1800+ Eagle Day (Nuri after many attempts)
So warm thanks to the coordinators, all the counters, our host families, BRC members, Swarovski Optik and all other supporters and sponsors of our project. We all appreciate your part and support with long-term monitoring and our efforts towards a more safe passage for the migrating birds! A special thanks also the documentary team from Oropendola Productions who spent a month in Batumi documenting our project. Their footage should be available some time during winter and will hopefully increase the awareness of the importance of this migration bottleneck and draw more people to Batumi to contribute to the conservation of this place. Even more so, because next year it will be the 10 year anniversary of the Batumi Raptor Count and it would be great if we could celebrate this event with as many former participants and new volunteers as possible. So see you next year in Georgia!

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The BRC Coordinator Team
Count coordinators during second half of the season (John Wright)

Data Zone
Count totals Autumn 2016
Honey Buzzard: 549,372
Steppe Buzzard: 225,583
Black Kite: 180,078
Medium Raptor: 67,066
Booted Eagle: 8,011
Marsh Harrier: 6,978
Lesser Spotted Eagle: 4,703
Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier: 3,958
Levant Sparrowhawk: 3,632
Montagu's Harrier: 3,189
large eagle sp: 2,899
Red-footed Falcon: 2,087
Short-toed Eagle: 1,611
Black Stork: 1,536
European Roller: 1,257
White Stork: 418
Pallid Harrier: 416
Greater Spotted Eagle: 320
Steppe Eagle: 279
Osprey: 160
Egyptian Vulture: 32
Imperial Eagle: 30
Peregrine: 27
Crested Honey Buzzard: 10
White-tailed Eagle: 10
Hen Harrier: 6
Saker Falcon: 1
[...]
Total raptors: 1,062,651

Monitoring data on trektellen.org
Since we use this platform for our monitoring it has helped as a lot to increase data quality and database handling. The mobile app helps us in the field to increase quality while it consumes less time for the coordinators to deal with the database. This mobile app has proofed successful in the 2nd year and our sincere gratitude goes to Gerard Troost from trektellen.org for his strong motivation in bird monitoring and his volunteering effort in the huge database. If you want to see our daily data since the beginning, you can check the daily totals on the trektellen for station 1 and station 2. There you also can see year totals and compare data between the years. Interesting stuff!!

www.trektellen.org
 

Bird observations in Georgia
Many participants and visitors of the BRC are collecting bird observation data on observation.org. You can join the platform and easily upload your observation on any sighting, including animal and plants. With it, you contribute to the Breeding Bird atlas, biodiversity knowledge and conservation in Georgia. Or you can just visit the page and see what has been seen where and when.

Georgia.Observation.org

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