Our History

The idea for the Batumi Raptor Count dates back to 2004, when Brecht Verhelst, Stijn Hantson and Nicolas Vanermen traveled through the Caucasus, and spent a week in Batumi, to observe the spectacular raptor migration. Irakli Goradze helped them to find a good watchpoint, and provided them with the results of earlier counts. The idea of setting up a full-season count, and involve volunteers from different countries was discussed, but it would take some more years before this dream could become reality.

In 2007, Brecht Verhelst, Johannes Jansen, Charlotte Nys and Jasper Meyns traveled around in Georgia and Azerbaijan for a birding trip and included a fair portion in the Batumi region in order to make a ten day count during the first and last days of their trip in September. The numbers they recorded suggested that the actual number of migrating honey buzzards should be much higher than the ones recorded during the 1976-1977 Borcka count, or the earlier counts in Georgia by PSOVI and Alexander Abuladze. Brecht Verhelst and Johannes Jansen then decided to go for it, and organize a full-season count in the Batumi bottleneck.

The first edition of the Batumi Raptor Count took place in 2008. It was coordinated by Brecht Verhelst, together with  Johannes Jansen and Jan Putteman. The survey lasted from August 21th till October 14th.  Part of it was a youth exchange between Georgian, Armenian, Belgian and Dutch students, who received an extensive training in raptor identification. Unfortunately, the short war between Georgia and Russia just before the start of the count cast a shadow over the project, and many volunteers canceled their participation out of safety concerns. However, through hard work and a strong team spirit, a high-quality count was achieved, and the amazing total of 812 665 raptors instantly made this the most important bottleneck for autumn raptor migration in Eurasia.

In order to confirm the high numbers of 2008, and to outline the further possibilities for monitoring and research, a second edition was organized in 2009. This time it is led by Johannes Jansen and organized together with Wouter Vansteelant and Brecht Verhelst. The relative political stability allowed the expansion of the project: more than sixty people participated, and the youth exchange comprised over 20 people from Georgia, Armenia, Sweden and Belgium. The survey started on August 21th, and lasted until the 17th of October. With the observations of these two seasons, the foundation was there for a well founded monitoring approach and the first steps in the conservation of the site were taken.