Posts in 2010
Processing data & looking forward to 2011…

Hello everybody,

as you will have noticed some changes have been made to the website. After succesfully finishing the BRC 2010 count on Oct 16th allready big steps were taken in the organisation of BRC 2011!

Thanks to the enthusiasm of many people worldwide BRC is keeping up it´s growth. Again in 2011 many new initiatives will be undertaken in Batumi, such as independent and joined research projects, a renewed student program and of course the continuation of our monitoring initiative.

You can now find out more about the 2011 BRC edition and other options for teaming up with us under Get Involved! We will also be looking for volunteers to help out in practical organisation in this section!

2010 Results

Several of you will be waiting for the full numbers of BRC 2010 along with our conclusions on the Kazbegi pilot project and the evaluation of the renewed monitoring scheme.

All of these are currently in the making ... Announcements will be made as soon as these updates are available!

Kind regards,

BRC Team

2010Admin
Lots of rain, lots of migration, lots of rain, lots of migration...

Hello everybody,

Over 10 days since the last update and the weather conditions in Batumi have changed dramatically compared to what we experienced in September. At the start of October temperatures have dropped by more than five degrees whilst the lack of precipitation during September is now being compensated by many days with extremely hard rains alternating with bright, sunny days.

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An adult male, adult female  and part of a flock of Red-footed Falcons. About 1,500 were seen on a single day. Photos by Freek Verdonckt

An adult male, adult female  and part of a flock of Red-footed Falcons. About 1,500 were seen on a single day. Photos by Freek Verdonckt

October did start very well when out of nowhere no less then 1,500 Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus were seen from our coastbound counting station! This is truely an exceptional number and presumably among the highest ever recorded for the species anywhere. To put it in perspective, with a total ± 300 ind. per year in 2008 and 2009 we usually only get a fifth of this number in a year. The falcons started at mid-day when suddenly over 800 birds were seen in about 30 minutes time. This huge boost was followed by some quiet when half an hour later they started again, this time with more than 200 birds. This second boost was followed by a more steady migration of Red-footed Falcons accompanied by some Hobbies Falco subbuteo during the rest of the day. The following day this enormous stream seemed to have passed completely and only some small groups and single birds have been seen since. However, the rain that followed on the 1st of Oct. resulted in lingering groups of Red-footed Falcons of 40+ ind. in the Batumi harbour and the Chorokhi Delta.

A juvenile Steppe Buzzard. This species continues to migrate far into October. Photo by Freek Verdonckt.

A juvenile Steppe Buzzard. This species continues to migrate far into October. Photo by Freek Verdonckt.

After that stunning Oct. 1st things returned to normal with typical late-autumn migration of many hundreds of large Aquila eagles and tens of thousands of Steppe Buzzards Buteo buteo vulpinus. In general persisting rain that often moves northward stops migrating broad-winged raptors to a great extent. When drier days arrive we mostly observe promising morning activity of buzzards kettling early in the day, though these are birds that have been roosting nearby, only to take advantage of dry conditions from the moment these arise. Typically migration seems to stop after this, only to come to a very sudden and intense arrival of many thousands of birds in the early afternoon. It is very likely such fronts (or ´birdwaves´ as counters often describe them) have collected just north of the precipitation zone that grounded them the day(s) before. When conditions are right they start to kettle in huge numbers to arrive at Batumi almost simultaneously. 

This type of movement has resulted in three peak days during the last week with a total 50,000+ raptors each. Only some days ago on Oct. 7h there was a huge day of migration when roughly estimated some 80,000 Steppe Buzzards migrated along Batumi. On all of these days there were large numbers of Lesser-spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina (ca. 500 per day) circling by the dozen together with up to 2,500 buzzards in a single kettle. For several hours, 200 to 250 buzzards crossed the telescope view of an observer every minute.

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A Lesser Spotted and a Steppe Eagle. In Batumi we daily see fair numbers of Steppe, Lesser and Greater Spotted Eagle. Photos by Freek Verdonckt.

A Lesser Spotted and a Steppe Eagle. In Batumi we daily see fair numbers of Steppe, Lesser and Greater Spotted Eagle. Photos by Freek Verdonckt.

In general the identification and ageing of the Aquila species can be difficult when flocks of over 50 ind. are approaching. Nevertheless most of the birds are clearly Lesser-spotted Eagles (a lot of adults compared to some time ago) and many Steppe Eagles Aquila nipalensis (20+ per day) and Greater-spotted Eagles Aquila clanga (15+) have been succesfully identified. This included many juveniles of A. nipalensis and A. clanga but also consistently some of the first adult-type plumages in the last days. Short-toed Eagles Circaetus gallicus are generally picked up more easily, as their huge appearance and ´king-of-the-hill´ type of flight sets them apart from the Aquila species. The Short-toed Eagle is now observed with upto 100 ind. per day on those days when we get that truely spectacular raptor migration.

Short-toed Eagle - always fun! Photo by Freek Verdonckt.

Short-toed Eagle - always fun! Photo by Freek Verdonckt.

Rarer species this week included one adult and two juvenile Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus that were seen on the peak days. On Oct. 7th, 9th and 10th respectively three, two and one Imperial Eagles Aquila heliaca were observed, as was a juvenile Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus on Oct 7th.

One  of the last Honey-buzzards. Juveniles typically migrate later than adults. Photo by Freek Verdonckt.

One  of the last Honey-buzzards. Juveniles typically migrate later than adults. Photo by Freek Verdonckt.

Although the shift towards late-autumn species has now occured some time ago there are still stragglers of nearly all species that typically peak in late August or early September. These include max. daily totals of up to some dozen Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus (of which suddenly some late adults have appeared, ± 5 Pallid Harrier Circus marcrouros and ± 10 Booted Eagles Aquila pennata. Diversity thus remains good whilst also good numbers of Common Kestrel Falco tinninculus and Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, Black Kite Milvus migrans and Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus can (still) be seen in good numbers. Even other species that should be more numerous in late October and November are now also appearing more frequently: Merlin Falco columbarius and Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus.

A Merlin, one of the late-season species. Photo by Freek Verdonckt

A Merlin, one of the late-season species. Photo by Freek Verdonckt

A good addition to the raptors are some hundreds of Black Storks Ciconia nigra that were seen in flocks of up to 40 ind. strong during the peak days this week.

It is also worth mentioning that due to the nearly complete abscence of migrants during the days of heavy rain and the high flight altitude of the birds on the sunny days neither hunters nor trappers had any real luck this week. Allthough we did find some unlucky birds (2 juvenile Red-footed Falcons, 2 Lesser-spotted-Eagles and ca. 10 Steppe Buzzards) the number of casualties has generally been small along the major flyway in the hills. This is not true for the Chorokhi delta and other stop-over sites at the coast where many roosting birds are disturbed frequently by many hunters.

A nice anekdote comes from three days ago when one observer enjoying a day of rest on a rather calm day of migration was overwhelmed by a cload of dragonflies 10,000´s strong migrating at a slow pace along the coast. At least 15 Hobbies were seen migrating with them as they took advantage of this flying food supply.

In conclusion, the Batumi raptor migration continues to live up to its standards. Huge amounts of birds, high diversity of species and good observation quality, making it the beautiful experience it is for all of our counters. Life in the region is simply dominated by autumn migration. With only six days of counting to go before the end of the 2010 season you may expect one more update by the end of this week.

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Keep an eye on the website, the final results will come soon!.

The BRC Team

2010Admin
A summary of 2 weeks at Batumi: migration in general & some perspectives on hunting in the bottleneck…

Dear BRC enthusiasts,

It has been nearly two weeks since the last update and since then there has still not been a long period of unfavourable weather in between the Caucasus and Batumi. Presumably this is why migration has been going on at a steady pace here in Batumi with upto several 1.000´s of raptors per day, but whereby peak days of 10.000´s have mostly been lacking up untill a week ago. The passage of Steppe Buzzards Buteo buteo vulpinus is now reaching it´s peak, which leads to some serious movement through the bottleneck. Taking everything in account the continuous steady migration is an interesting type of movement we have not observed much in Batumi before since we got a lot of rain in previous years during late september. Also in Kazbegi numbers have risen substantially with some days of very good migration. Our counts there so far confirm that Steppe Buzzard indeed migrates in significant numbers through this valley in the Greater Kaukasus, in contrast to Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus (as we mentioned previously on this website).

Many hundreds of Sparrowhawks are currently entertaining our counters in Batumi - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Many hundreds of Sparrowhawks are currently entertaining our counters in Batumi - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

For what counting days in Batumi are concerned we now roughly get the following daily pattern on either counting station. Firstly, on most days, there is a rather small morning movement of some species like falconssparrowhawks and harriers which tend to start flying from the first hours of sunlight onwards.Especially harriers are mostly observed during the mornings and evenings. These birds just fly to high to be observed by ground-based counts during the day whilst falcons and sparrowhawks often can be seen throughout the day in reasonable numbers. Since the peak of Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus and Montagu´s Harrier Circus cyaneus has finished this mostly explains the low amount of birds in early morning. However other species like Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus and Hobby Falco subbuteo are becoming more numerous and a group of 12 Red-footed Falcons shearing overhead of station Makhindjauri on Thursday came as a nice suprise to the team there. Since then, several ind. of that species have been observed on a daily basis, including more small groups.

One of the many Hobbies - Falco subbuteo - sheering along the coastal counting station ´Makhinjauri´. These small falcons and sparrowhawks are often seen following large streams of migrating swallows and martins near the shoreline ... - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

One of the many Hobbies - Falco subbuteo - sheering along the coastal counting station ´Makhinjauri´. These small falcons and sparrowhawks are often seen following large streams of migrating swallows and martins near the shoreline ... - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

After the short boost in morning activity there are usually some hours with less birds followed by the first sightings of kettles of Steppe Buzzards when rising air columns start to get strong enough to support soaring flight in heavier birds. However rather surprising were some large groups of buzzards kettling even in mild rain one week ago, whilst many birds continued to fly also in the heavier rain of the afternoon of that day (Sept 23rd).

Even the dark phase of Booted Eagle - Aquila pennata - is often distinguished from far away by the clear presence of the diagnostic ´landing lights´ on it´s shoulders. We should currently be seeing the last individuals of this species in Batumi - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Even the dark phase of Booted Eagle - Aquila pennata - is often distinguished from far away by the clear presence of the diagnostic ´landing lights´ on it´s shoulders. We should currently be seeing the last individuals of this species in Batumi - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Large kettles are often preceeded by some movement of some Booted Eagles Aquila pennata, mostly near the coast, and are followed by a relatively short time-frame at mid-day when large eagles start their flights. Numbers of Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina are clearly coming to their peak as well as they have been rising since our previous update. On Sept 26th at least 500 – 600 individuals were seen on our inland counting station whilst from Sept 20th onwards generally 100+ ind. were observed on a daily basis. Most of the birds could be identified as lang as they did not pass the bottleneck far to the east of our inland counting station.

A juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle - Aquila pomarina - with subtropical forest in the background ... typical Batumi migration - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

A juvenile Lesser Spotted Eagle - Aquila pomarina - with subtropical forest in the background ... typical Batumi migration - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Often Greater Spotted Eagles Aquila clanga and Steppe Eagles Aquila nipalensis are counted as well. It is too early to tell as of yet, though we continue to feel that we manage to carefully identify more eagles and other species due to the exclusion of Steppe Buzzards from the counts which generates more time for ID´ing. On Sept 22nd, the 2nd juvenile Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca of the year was seen from our station at the coast and the 1st White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla for 2010 was seen on Sept 27th.

Steppe Eagle - Aquila nipalensis - with a Steppe Buzzard - Buteo buteo vulpinus - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Steppe Eagle - Aquila nipalensis - with a Steppe Buzzard - Buteo buteo vulpinus - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

This record shot of the 2nd fall White-tailed Eagle of this week gives a good added impression of how many birds can be studied from a variety of angles from the hilltops in Batumi - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

This record shot of the 2nd fall White-tailed Eagle of this week gives a good added impression of how many birds can be studied from a variety of angles from the hilltops in Batumi - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Sadly, both Sept 25h and 26th were characterised by incoming fog and low cloads that greatly reduced visibility in the afternoon. This was at the time of flight of many buzzards and eagles making precise counts rather difficult on these days. With numbers exceeding 30.000 birds on Sept 26th this gave rise to some concern towards count accuracy. At the same time the number of migrants defineatly did drop but whether this is due to migrants going to rest for the day or perhaps a change in the route chosen by raptors towards the mountains is hard to tell. In any case some days of calm followed but today Steppe Buzzards peaked spectacularly again easily exceeding 25.000 - 30.000 birds, accompagnied by over 700 large Aquila eagles!

Apart from raptors there has also been another important observation on the coastal station including two groups of Sociable Lapwings Vanellus gregarius of 18 en 7 ind. on Sept 21st following the observation of 1 ind. in Chorokhi delta two days earlier. Other nice observations included migrating Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferrugineaBlack-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni and Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus.

On another note, the longer we count here, the more we see how well local hunters and trappers can predict the response of raptors to changing weather. Not only do we observe noteable changes in the activity patterns of hunters in relation to weather (more hunters when low cloads force birds down) there have also been several encounters whereby BRC members have had discussions with either hunters or trappers that keep on revealing interesting details on their thaughts about eachother´s practices and migrating birds. 

It needs to be said hunters and trappers are very much seperated ´classes´ indeed. In general, trappers take a lot of pride in their traditional art. Their goal is to catch a strong female Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus (local name: Mimino) with which they might win the regional championships in order to push through to the national falconry finals in Tbilisi where their birds will be tested on skill and appearance. If they are lucky enough they might even catch a Goshawk Accipiter gentilis (local name: Kori) which is a good bird to hunt for rabbits, instead of the Quail that are hunted with Sparrowhawks. It often seems that as far as trappers are concerned, the shooting of raptors is a disturbing pass-time adopted by bored and unemployed youths. They clearly worry about the potential shooting of Sparrowhawks by these hunters, and are in general much less fond of the killing done by hunters that have much less knowledge about the species they shoot.

A strange moulting pattern? No, this Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus fell victim to shooting further north of Batumi but was "lucky" to survive - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

A strange moulting pattern? No, this Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus fell victim to shooting further north of Batumi but was "lucky" to survive - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Nevertheless Levant Sparrowhawks Accipiter brevipes that are trapped can be killed to be used for food for Sparrowhawks or the Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio that are used as bait for trapping. Still, the true "bazjeeri" or traditional trappers release all Sparrowhawks they catch except for the one strong and young female they will keep on training with. Other trappers claim not to sell their ´unwanted´ Sparrowhawks, mostly because it has become impossible to cross the Georgian border without paying a fee that exceeds the profit they could make from their bird. Nevertheless it is clear many birds are trapped to be sold somewhere ... In any case the BRC team has not observed any Sparrowhawks for sale either on the local markets or elsewhere. And we have in effect observed on several events in 2009 as well as this year that some birds are being released even the very day they have been caught. This week, one trapper gave one of such birds to one of the BRC coördinators so he could show the bird to the counting team before allowing it to continue it´s southbound journey.

BRC counter John was relieved he could release this young Sparrowhawk that was captured by a trapper earlier that day back in to the wild - Photo by Lucio Manisculco

BRC counter John was relieved he could release this young Sparrowhawk that was captured by a trapper earlier that day back in to the wild - Photo by Lucio Manisculco

In their turn, hunters will shoot practically anything but – with some noted exceptions – clearly take care not to hurt Sparrowhawks as they do not want to irritate traditional trappers that might be living nextdoor. In response to some questions we have received previously it is worth noting that according to locals living near the counting stations - of which some friends to the BRC project - the Georgian hunting laws are in fact relatively well known among locals. In Georgia one can buy a license for bird shooting, but as in most European countries this is limited to a certain period of the year for a limited number of catches per day for a given species. According to local rumours (and we take care not make an official statement here!) environmental officials in Georgia are taking steps in order to better control illegal hunting, including the shooting of raptors or rare species like those that are shot in Chorokhi Delta or in the mountains near the coast.

It is very likely the broken leg of this Steppe Buzzard is the result of an encounter with hunters along it´s migratory flyway. Regularly birds harmed in similar ways are observed in the bottleneck - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

It is very likely the broken leg of this Steppe Buzzard is the result of an encounter with hunters along it´s migratory flyway. Regularly birds harmed in similar ways are observed in the bottleneck - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Luckily the vast majority of birds like this Short-toed Eagle make it through the bottleneck unharmed, though on Sept 29th one shot individual of this species was found with hunters near station Makhinjauri - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Luckily the vast majority of birds like this Short-toed Eagle make it through the bottleneck unharmed, though on Sept 29th one shot individual of this species was found with hunters near station Makhinjauri - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

Whether or not these stories will prove to be correct (we will offcourse check with the official sources) we are happy to find both hunters and trappers are willing to talk to us. They are mostly open to questions and allow us to register what they have shot on a given day. We would defineatly like to thank one local trapper (we will not mention his name here) for involving our project participants with his friends to demonstrate the local trapping techniques. Especially since he realises very well what is wrong with killing certain species. This is partly because we are able to communicate about raptors by using the work of Lexo Gavashelishvili, Zura Jvakhishvili and Rafael Antonio Gálvez in ´Raptors and Owls of Georgia´ that contains information on identification as well as migration and conservation status, both in English and Georgian.

Bazjeeri demonstrating the technique for trapping Sparrowhawks whereby a Red-backed Shrike is forced to dance behind a carefully constructed net - Photo by John Vereijken

Bazjeeri demonstrating the technique for trapping Sparrowhawks whereby a Red-backed Shrike is forced to dance behind a carefully constructed net - Photo by John Vereijken

So, in conclusion, we have again had good communication with locals in the last weeks. BRC finds this very important in order to look for a sustainable solution for hunting but also trapping of birds in the Batumi region. It seems appropriate to end here with the words of the anonymous trapper mentioned above who somewhat summarised how BRC feels about the conservation approach that is needed in Batumi. This was as part of a toast to us as guests at his table: “What you raptor counters are doing here is very important. It is important to understand the world we live in and whatever goes on in there. Like astronomers that study important facts about what is ´out there´ in space, you study an important phenomenon here in Batumi … Hunters here are not punished because nobody understands why it is actually wrong what they are doing. You specialists are important to spread this information about protected species so they can understand what is wrong and take responsibility. Not only for those hunting now, but also towards the children who live here that would otherwise continue these killings in the future".

It was a good toast indeed, even for Georgian standards …

As always, we will keep you posted!

Nahuamdis,

The BRC Team

BRC counters on station ´Makhinjauri´ as seen from station ´Shuamta´ - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

BRC counters on station ´Makhinjauri´ as seen from station ´Shuamta´ - Photo by Freek Verdonckt

2010Admin