Posts in 2011
Towards the end of the 2011 season…

Hello everyone,
time flies as the BRC counters are approaching the end of the 2011 BRC edition. As you could read in previous updates the project has been a success. Monitoring went smoothly, not in the least thanks to our great team of coordinators whilst our student groups were highly motivated and interested to learn.

Since the last update from half September both the monitoring and student exchange have maintained this high standard. Counts were held successfully and completely, also during rainy days, as in 2010 when the new BRC protocol was started. These data will allow us to do very important and interesting analysis regarding the effects of weather on local migration dynamics. Important knowledge that will be crucial in the context of long-term monitoring.

As the migration enthusiasts among you will expect, since half September the migration has changed dramatically in species composition. The eagle migration ‘exploded’ after a period of very bad weather on Sept 27th and the two following days when over 2000 Lesser Spotted Eagles accompanied by hundreds of Short-toed Eagles, Booted Eagles and dozens of Steppe, Greater Spotted and even several Imperial Eagles.

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A next peak came around October 4th with another several hundreds of Eagles. On top of the monitoring of priority species, many nice observations were made of rare birds, including Griffon Vultures, many Egyptian Vultures and Ospreys compared to previous years (a result of the new protocol?), another Oriental Honey-buzzard … and even a new species for the Batumi Raptor Count: an immature Eleonora’s Falcon. This is the 35th diurnal raptor species encountered at the site over the past 4 years.

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Like you are all aware, during the counts several other activities aimed at community-based conservation are held at the site. In the weeks since our last update, two such projects should be highlighted here.

Firstly, the education of local people. This is a topic that will receive much attention from 2012 onwards, though some important pilot projects were conducted in 2011 that provide BRC (and Georgian partner GCCW) with crucial information for designing education tools. This year, one particular education effort included a cross-over with our international summer course for students. Educators from Armenia who joined BRC to learn about conservation-in-practice gave presentations to school children in the village of Sakhalvasho. A good introduction for the children about why those strange people come to count bird every year. But also an important chance for us to learn how we can captivate these children to protect raptors in the future, rather then to shoot them.

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Secondly, local capacity-building for ecotourism. By promoting sustainable use/ecotourism as a viable economical strategy, BRC aims to increase the local support for conservation of raptors. During the 2011 count several groups of tourists from all over Europe were hosted in BRC homestays: staying in the house of local families. We are happy to report this initiative is really catching on in the local community, and that in 2012 we will have the capacity to welcome several dozens of tourists in the area during the autumn migration season. This is a great step forward as the ecotourist sector can become a substantial part of the local economy, creating work opportunities for many unemployed people in the area.

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Interested to visit BRC as an ecotourist in coming years? Keep on eye on our webpage for more information!

We also wish to report that the field work by BRC-team member Johannes Jansen for his Msc. Thesis dissertation on hunting pressure in the area was conducted successfully, and that photographer Bert Willaert has managed to collect an impressive series of images on the hunting topic. The work of both will be important pillars to promote the active protection of raptors in Georgia at the political and scientific level.

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You may expect a final update/report on the project towards the end of October.

Right now, it seems like a good time to express our gratitude once more to everybody who is making BRC possible this year: our volunteers, coordinators, students and collaborators, partners and sponsors. Thank you!

The BRC Team

2011Admin
Halfway through the season…

Hello dear BRC-enthusiasts,

the BRC 2011 counts have been going on for just over a month now, which means it is more than time to bring you another update. Many of you have been following our daily updated counts. You can also click through to the trektellen.nl website to make graphs of the recorded species.
 
Shortly after the last update, Honey-buzzard migration really exploded with several very good days (50.000 +) leading up to the peak day on Aug 31st with some 80.000 birds. However weather conditions quickly deteriorated after this peak, and after a few days of continuous rain migration exploded on Sept 5th as with the hords of Honeys also came a wave of Bee-eaters, Rollers (upto 368 in one day), Wagtails and many other birds. We enjoyed some very nice harrier migration during these days, with over 1000 Montagu's/Pallid harriers from station 1 on Sept 5th and several other days with harrier numbers reaching 300 - 600 individuals. But that has again been two weeks already. Right now Steppe Buzzard migration is getting started, whilst the majority of Honey-buzzards have passed.

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And now the later migrants are pushing through observations of species like Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Steppe Eagle, ... are becoming more regular. Also the first dozens of Lesser Spotted Eagle have been counted so far. On Sept 5th the 2nd Crested Honey-buzzard was seen and we have observed the third Crested Honey-buzzard for BRC 2011 on Sep 18th: an adult male.

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Of course all these counts would not be possible without our great team of volunteers...

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At the end of August, the Turkish group of students succesfully ended their stay at the project, and at this moment a group of 6 Armenian students is here to learn more about monitoring projects and migratory bird conservation. During their stay students are introduced to the scientific principles behind structuring a protocol for data collection in function of your research questions. This includes a week-long  excercise whereby students aim to complete a mini-research project of their own at Batumi. The Turkish team tried to construct a protocol to find out if Black Kites and Booted Eagles actively follow Honey-buzzards during migration...

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By working with students but also locals and collaborating researchers, BRC tries to establish the local and international support needed to continue our work for conservation of migratory raptors here. Sadly, in 2011 we have again been confronted with the urgent need for conservation measures on the site, in particular for controlling illegal hunting. The fieldwork Msc. thesis on hunting pressure in the Adjaria province by BRC Coordinator Johannes Jansen is in any case turning up some interesting results. For 2012, the publication of these and other results will hopefully yield enough evidence for local policy makers to come into action.

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Saddening and depressing as images like these above may be, our team is mostly positive about our interaction with the local community. It is clear that 2011 has become an important year for BRC, a year wherein many local families got to understand what our project is about, what our plans look like and why we feel so strongly about migratory birds. For now, we always try to enjoy the great diversity and numbers of birds that are passing through the bottleneck, knowing that we are very much needed here now, in order to be collecting pictures like the ones above as well as essential hard data to back up our findings.

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Our apologies for the long time it took to bring you this update. We tried to make up for it with a lot of pictures and information…

All the best

BRC Team

2011Admin
One week of BRC: 18 volunteers + 6 students vs. 10.000 raptors!

“Too soon.” In the days leading up to the count, villagers here in Sakhalvasho conveyed to us that the count would begin in earnest on 20 August. There is something to be said about the collective knowledge of a tightly knit community that has lived on the same land for generations. On 20 August, we were treated not only to several flocks of bee-eaters and a steady stream of swifts, but a first vanguard of Honey Buzzard accompagnied by some Black Kite, Booted Eagle, and other raptor species, lending substance to the villagers’ gut conviction that this date might be significant for raptor migration here in Batumi. The BRC counters are tiptoeing in anticipation of the true ‘wave’ of Honey Buzzards to come as the end of August draws near … Take note of the daily updated count results on www.trektellen.nl!

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Apart from raptors, other significant observations include the first migration of Bee-eaters, some wagtails, Golden Orioles … As far as resident birds go, a White-backed Woodpecker (a first for the BRC project) was observed from the Shuamta observatory.

A significant component of the BRC is outreach. We are fortunate to be joined by 6 Turkish students from the METU Birdwatching Association (Ankara) this month, who arrived on Friday and will be spending 12 days working alongside BRC participants. We are grateful for their interest and enthusiasm, and we hope to send them home with memories for a lifetime and enough impetus to consider a career in ornithology. In any case they will leave with lots of new knowledge acquired during one of many (evening) lectures, some 80 hours of count experience and many more talking with amateur and professional ornithologists from across the world.

With some literature on the stations and birds in the sky our students are learning to identify guilds of raptors.

With some literature on the stations and birds in the sky our students are learning to identify guilds of raptors.

How could we blame anyone for feeling tired after some 11-hour days of counting and then still doing a great job translating English lectures to Turkish in the evening? Thank you Soner, for being the dream coach of our Turkish student team! 5 minutes of sleep well earned!

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No less than 10 nationalities are represented in the project at this point from the United States over Sweden or Spain to Iran. After a hard day of counting it is a true pleasure to see how the phenomenon of raptor migration can bring together such different people in such a close group. As if that would not be enough reason for celebration, Marta, one of our Count Coordinators, celebrated her 29th birthday with her new BRC friends some days ago.

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Gaumarjos Marta!

Watch out for our next update. We will bring more news about our interactions with the locals soon. As this author is watching out the window he is seeing some hundreds of Honey Buzzards soaring in the east ... Time to head for the station where the team is vigorously scanning the sky ... perhaps with an unexpected visitor to add to the atmosphere of beautiful Sakhalvasho ...

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2011Admin