Estonian Highlights

I have spent the past weeks assisting Triin Kaasiku with her PhD fieldwork in Estonia. While most time was spent searching for wader nests, there was plenty of time to enjoy other birds as well. I can now safely conclude Estonia is a fantastic country for birding! Regardless of my principle not to travel only for ‘fun birding’, the northernmost Baltic country wasn't on my radar so much, but it now certainly is and I’m surely coming back. The following is a compilation of the most interesting (or nice) photos I’ve made during my stay, mostly from the occasional migration counts we have done, the ferry crossings or when some of the field sites were particularly loaded with birds.

P.S. A word of warning: if you don’t like ducks, better not scroll down.

P.P.S. In comparison with other blog posts this one is probably a little bit sloppy in terms of photo selection and writing. As I have quite some travel planned in the upcoming months, I prioritised getting it out regardless, so it won’t end up on the big pile that’s my todo list.

 

Highlights in chronological order

 

A lonely house on the peninsula. Must be amazing to life there…

 

April 22nd, 2019 — Ristna

Absolutely breathtaking day! I knew I liked duck migration already, but until you see it at the scale it occurs at in the northern European countries… you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Besides an impressive ~13.000 Common Scoters and 10.000 Long-tailed Ducks, I saw my first ‘proper’ Yellow-billed Diver (what a bird!), we found the 5th Great Skua for Estonia and to top it all off a Great Northern Diver passed over our heads. The last bird is the only one I regret not having any photos of as it is still a seriously rare record in Estonia.

 

Mixed streams of Long-tailed Ducks and Common Scoters. They were all over the place: low, high, close, near, over land, over sea…

The 5th Great Skua for Estonia and we have the pixels to prove it.

My first ‘proper’ Yellow-billed Diver. Great to see after an observation of a migrating individual in The Netherlands that left me very unsatisfied. In case you’re wondering where the yellow bill went, that’s a typical ‘sign’ you’re looking at a YbD: it’s very hard to see the bill against the sea.

The team that made it happen, minus yours truly. Batumi Raptor Count represented by Triin performing coordinator duties and Gabi doing what he does best: tackling continuous streams of birds.

The team, once again (including yours truly).

A close Black-throated Diver. For some reason many birds were flying with their bills somewhat opened up. Is that some form of thermoregulation for migratory flights?

Three Black-throated Divers.

 

April 27th — Saaremaa

We had to go to Hiiumaa for fieldwork and decided to travel through Saaremaa, to hopefully catch the Steller’s Eiders that could still be lingering around. In the end we searched in every possible bay they could be in, but we unfortunately didn’t find any birds. Nevertheless, we had a great day birding, found a female Red-footed Falcon (quite rare in spring), a Ring Ouzel and made lots of complete eBird lists along the way. Especially the crossings with the ferries were very rewarding as we had stunning views of the Long-tailed Ducks in perfect light. It’s still difficult to photograph the species in flight over water, but oh so enjoyable.

 

Adult female Red-footed Falcon, quite a rare spring migrant in Estonia.

Flock of Barnacle Geese crossing in front of the ferry. Very pretty geese in general, but especially in Estonian light conditions…

 

Ok, here comes what I’ve warned you for: some ducks.

 

Long-tailed Ducks.

Long-tailed Ducks.

Long-tailed Ducks.

Long-tailed Ducks. Same birds as above.

A flock of Long-tailed Ducks.

 

April 28th, 2019 — Aandi

Aandi was probably our favourite fieldwork site on Hiiumaa, hosting a large diversity of bird species, but also in very impressive numbers. Specifically, numbers of Geese are absolutely incredible and certainly high for Dutch standards as well. We, for example, estimate to have seen over 14.000 Barnacle Geese fly over us in the span of a 30-minute mass movement.

 

Barnacle Geese.

Greater White-fronted Geese.

Some geese moving back to the bay after a short trip towards the surrounding agricultural fields.

The same flock as in the previous photo.

A small flock of Cranes. I never expected Cranes to be so common in Estonia. It seems that every field has a pair of Cranes somewhere around…

A single adult Common Crane making a close flyby.

Quite regularly the geese would be scared away from the bay by approaching White-tailed Eagles (so common we call them the Estonian House Sparrows). This kettle of 11 (!) White-tailed Eagles, however, was a surprise to see!

 

April 29th, 2019 — Ristna

This place just fails to disappoint! After spending a whole day searching for Steller’s Eiders through the heat haze over the bays of Saaremaa, we were confident it would be highly unlikely we would still get to see this species. But then at the end of this day’’s count, out of the blue a group of 27 Steller’s Eiders passed the cape at just a few hundred meters from us. Despite seeing the birds mostly through the camera, we had breathtaking views of this fantastic species. And really, what better way to see them than on migration? This was the icing on the cake of an already very impressive count with 8000+ Long-tailed Ducks, a whopping 34 Rough-legged Buzzards, a Short-eared Owl and 3 Black Guillemots. Furthermore, the migration of Hobbies and Common Buzzards was very interesting as almost all birds came from the sea, probably arriving from a nightly crossing of the Baltic Sea from Sweden!

 

Fan-tas-tic! What a treat! A very compact group of 27 Steller’s Eiders passing the watch site at just a few hundred meters. The next day another 69 birds would be seen migrating past the cape.

Hobby arriving from the sea.

Second calendar year Rough-legged Buzzards were most common and most of the birds were actively moulting their 1st primary (P1).

 

May 3rd, 2019 — Hiiumaa

Changeable, cloudy and very windy conditions made for a difficult photo session of the Long-tailed Ducks on the ferry to Hiiumaa. As it was impossible to get properly sharp images in 6Bft winds anyways, I opted for a different approach.

 

Long-tailed Ducks.

Long-tailed Ducks.

Long-tailed Ducks.

 

The weather conditions remained the same for the larger part of the morning, providing very nice backdrops for photographing birds on the field sites.

 

Little Tern in light snow.

Little Tern in light snow.

Adult Little Gull… Beautiful birds…

Adult Little Gull. Photographing these birds poses one major challenge: getting a little bit of catch light in the eyes. So far I have failed miserably at that. Until I manage to do so I am convinced the black cap and eye of these birds can be classified among our blackest materials possible.

Lots of Ruff around, mostly in full breeding plumage.

Dunlin of the schinzii subspecies, with restricted black on the belly.

A massive flock of Golden Plovers.

Golden Plovers hanging/soaring in the strong wind.

 

May 5th, 2019 — Ristna & Back to the mainland

Another excellent count! After the first one during a previous count, we never expected to see three Yellow-billed Divers in a single day! The first and third flew right over our heads. With a little sunlight added to the mix and the birds overhead, it's probably the easiest diver to identify: when lit from the side, that massive bill shines like a light bulb! The second bird was not photographed for a change, because I preferred to — finally — properly see and enjoy one through the scope instead of a camera.

 

What. A. Bird! Yellow-billed Diver. The third one of the day.

Yellow-billed Diver, the third bird of the day.

The first Yellow-Billed Diver of the day. As you can see, it flew right over us.

 

Besides the Divers, we counted an incredible 54.000+ Common Scoters. Unfortunately we failed to properly estimate the duration of the drive to Ristna and started quite a bit later than anticipated. Based on the speed of passage in the first minutes of the count, we estimate we must have missed at least 15.000 Scoters by starting too late, if not (much) more.

Furthermore, we counted another 7 Steller’s Eiders, a (probably 2cy) Pomarine Skua, 3 Black Guillemots and 13 Common Guillemots, the latter of which is a seriously high number for this part of the Baltic region.

 

A flock of Common Scoters.

 

The morning had already proven to be fantastic for Duck migration, but the evening was even more impressive. On our way back to the ferry, we could see Ducks starting their nocturnal migrations and taking off from the water everywhere. Never before have I seen a dusk ascent of birds on this scale. Truly a magical sight to see, especially in this gorgeous light! Seeing so many ducks start their nocturnal migration at this scale is certainly an experience I will never forget.

 

The scenery that we could enjoy on the way back.

Red-breasted Mergansers

Female and male Goosander.

A flock of — you guessed it — Long-tailed Ducks taking off for the night.

More Long-tailed Ducks…

As birds were flying progressively higher, some groups could be seen quite close overhead. Before this evening I had not seen birds from below properly, as they would mostly fly at or below eye level.

More Long-taileds…

Flocks of probably mostly Scoters cruising north at high altitude.

Common Scoters and a few Long-tailed Ducks.

 

May 6th, 2019 — Virtsu

The final vismig session of my trip. Relatively uneventful, except for the 27+ Arctic Skua that were migrating through the strait. The terns and specifically the Arctic Terns at the harbor were showing absolutely brilliantly.

 

A small flock of Common Goldeneye, many of which — for some reason — were flying south rather than north.

Arctic Tern.

Arctic Tern hovering.

Arctic Tern, same bird as previous.

Arctic Tern, same bird as previous.

 

For now these are all the photos I have ready to share. I hope you enjoyed going through them, despite the sloppiness of this blog post…

BRC 2018: October Photo & Video Report

It’s now been three months ago that I returned to The Netherlands from coordinating the Batumi Raptor Count of 2018. It has been an amazing season, with highly unusual phenology, but lots and lots of fantastic birds and people. In a few weeks we will officially open the call for counters for next year’s count, so be sure to keep an eye on our website.

During the season I have taken thousands of photos. Since that would take days to categorise (like I have done for previous seasons), I have decided to simply compile the best and/or most interesting photos per month from August 15th til October 19th. I hope this will give you an idea of what you can experience if you count with us, coordinate or visit as a tourist. However, the most complete overview of the past season, which will also go into detail about things not photographed, can be found in the Autumn Report of 2018 published on the BRC website.

 

I recommend going through the Photo & Video Reports in chronological order:

 

October 1st. Counters see the sun rise every morning. It requires waking up early, but more often than not it’s totally worth it.

October 1st. Lesser Spotted Eagle (sub)adult.

October 1st. Juvenile Honey Buzzard.

October 1st. Immature Steppe Buzzard (see the retained juvenile secondaries and outer primaries).

October 1st. Juvenile Steppe Eagle approaching in the distance. A beautifully sand-coloured individual.

October 1st. Same bird.

October 1st. Same bird.

 

October 4th. Quite dark adult female Marsh Harrier.

October 4th. Same bird. Underwing quite dark as well, especially flight feathers lacking warm coloration and showing signs of limited barring.

October 4th. Immature male Marsh Harrier.

October 4th. Immature male Marsh Harrier.

October 4th. Adult female Pallid Harrier. An individual with very limited barring in the hand.

October 4th. Typical rufous coloration of Steppe Buzzards.

 

October 6th. Small flock of Black Storks over Little Ginger.

October 6th. Plumage variety within juvenile Honey Buzzards is incredible. Everything from super dark to super light birds shows up in the bottleneck. Some plumage types often give the impression an Osprey is coming, others are Bald Eagle like. Although wing barring is generally quite prominent, this bird has surprisingly thin bars.

October 6th. Flock of Steppe Buzzards. Many SBs showed interesting behaviour this day, by flying progressively higher as the day went on, showing absolutely no sign of decreasing their altitude due to decreasing thermal activity. Not sure what was going on there…

 

October 7th. We took part in the EuroBirdwatch, so I went to the station much earlier than usual. Right at the moment I arrived at the top I heard the magical ‘grus grus’ sound. It doesn’t get better than this… In the remaining days of the count we would luckily hear that more often.

October 7th. Stock Doves rushing in small groups through the bottleneck. Unfortunately they often get shot. Accidentally had my shutter speed a little too slow for these rapid birds, but I guess it turned out OK.

October 7th. Juvenile White-tailed Eagle, probably replacing some accidentally lost secondaries on the right wing.

October 7th. Apart from the pale head, this is quite a dark juvenile Honey Buzzard. At a distance, this often very shortly gives a sort of Bald Eagle-like impression when the contrast between light head and dark rest of the body is emphasised.

October 7th. Immature male Lesser Kestrel, aged by the juvenile outer primaries and retained juvenile (barred) secondaries.

 

October 8th. Typical low-altitude, loosely organized, early morning migration of Black Kites.

October 8th. Counters counting a stream of Black Kites in the west.

October 8th. ‘Right Antennas’ is in the background, one of the most important landmarks on the west side of Station 1.

October 8th. Cormorants, really quite scarce in the bottleneck during the 2018 season. Probably we can count the number of birds that passed on 2 hands.

 

October 9th. Common Cranes.

October 9th. Another sub par shot of an Imperial and once again a juvenile.

October 9th. Juvenile Steppe Eagle. This birds has very little ‘kink’ in the wing.

October 9th. Boom! That’s more like it. Still a crappy shot, but my first ‘fulvescens’ type Greater Spotted Eagle. A juvenile. Unfortunately I have no pictures of the birds’ upper side, which is equally striking to say the least. The other bird is probably a Steppe Buzzard, but of the variety that is going to make separation from Common Buzzards very, very hard.

 

October 10th. Absolutely terrible light in this photo, but it emphasises the incredible diversity in wingshapes in Black Kites. Everything from rectangular to almost ringtail-like narrow-winged seems possible…

October 10th. Non-juvenile dark morph Booted Eagle with very limited headlights. Remember the immature Black Kite from the September post? See under September 16th how similar these birds are proportionately.

October 10th. Adult female Eurasian Sparrowhawk. One of the countless birds we had seen migrate through the bottleneck in October…

October 10th. And an adult male Eurasian Sparrowhawk.

October 10th. Photo compilation of a juvenile dark morph Booted Eagle. A gorgeous bird!

October 10th. Photo by Diego Jansen. Very strange eagle. Plumage is very pale and blotchy, with underwing coverts lighter than remiges. Structurally a Greater Spotted and it could just be an aberrant plumage, but it’s hard to exclude some hybrid genes (especially at this distance).

October 10th. Older immature or possibly subadult Greater Spotted Eagle, still showing some light undertail feathers.

October 10th. Photo by Diego Jansen. Subadult or young adult Steppe Eagle, showing a clearly serrated dark trailing edge to the wing, but still many light feathers in the greater coverts.

October 10th. Aaaaand… another crappy shot of an Imperial and again just a juvenile bird. At least we’re starting to see some color…

October 10th. Juvenile Red-footed Falcon.

 

October 11th. Well, hello there! Juvenile Black Kite observing its observers.

October 11th. Adult Steppe Buzzard of the rufous morph, probably the only morph that can reliably be separated from Common Buzzards outside of the normal range. Unfortunately this morph, to this extent as shown in this individual, is not as common as I hoped.

October 11th. That’s more like it. Still very distant, but an adult Imperial Eagle is quite a nice observation in the bottleneck, with only a few birds seen every season.

October 11th. Adult Short-toed Eagle with stunning eyes.

October 11th. Juvenile Short-toed Eagle passing Station 1 low on the westside. A tricky altitude to fly at, with hunters along the ridge during intense migration and inclement weather. This bird made it through fine, though.

October 11th. Juvenile dark morph Booted Eagle. This bird, too, made it through safely.

 

October 12th. Sometimes the roles are reversed and it’s Accipiters that are harassed by other birds, like this presumably shot Eurasian Sparrowhawk chased by a Hooded Crow.

October 12th. Immature Greater Spotted Eagle. A bird with very clear barring in the remiges and interesting pattern on the undertail coverts.

October 12th. Juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle with fault bars in the remiges and tail, an indicator of possible nutrient deficiencies during some phases of feather development.

October 12th. Not quite sure of this one. Very dark, short-tailed adult bird. Wing shape and hand (short and rounded P4) most in line with a Lesser Spotted.

October 12th. Dark morph Booted Eagle (adult).

October 12th. Common Crane calling whilst soaring amongst eagles in a kettle that was almost overhead.

 

October 13th. Adult Steppe Buzzard. Typical bird.

October 13th. Steppe Buzzard juvenile. Another typical bird.

October 13th. These little buggers make scanning the sky on some days a real pain.

October 13th. Bush cricket spec? Impressively large.

October 13th. Crappy record shot of an adult male Honey Buzzard. Shape of the left wing is strange, probably due to an injury. A large proportion of the late Honey Buzzards has issues. I’ve seen all kinds of wing shapes, with some birds having one wing bend downwards and the other wing bend upwards unnaturally. But they will continue migrating nevertheless. Zugunruhe…

October 13th. Juvenile Short-toed Eagle. These birds will just refuse to look downwards.

October 13th. Adult Greater Spotted Eagle. Only a hint of carpal crescents. Not a very large hand, but still a reasonably long P4.

October 13th. Probably an immature Greater Spotted Eagle.

 

October 14th. Lovely flock of Common Cranes, truly sublime migrants. A group I will never forget, because I saw two birds plummet from the skies when they met Georgian hunters on their way south. A horrific sight.

October 14th. The same group, right before two birds perished…

October 14th. Another flock of Common Cranes, later on the day, popping out of the clouds.

October 14th. A flock of White Storks quite late in the season.

October 14th. Steppe Buzzard juvenile. Very cold toned plumage, with the exception of some rufous-y feathers at the leading edge of the arm.

October 14th. Immature Greater Spotted Eagle. Probably 3+ cy, because of two moult fronts visible in the primaries (see especially left wing)?

October 14th. Immature Steppe Eagle. Bird should be a 3cy, with most primaries and many secondaries replaced, but plumage is still quite neat. This is probably the kind of Steppe we struggle to age at a distance: would it be a rough looking juvenile, or is it an immature?

October 14th. Oh my… (Juvenile Imperial Eagle)

October 14th. Could it be that this time..? (Juvenile Imperial Eagle)

October 14th. Oh yes! Finally! What. A. Bird!

October 14th. Best bird of the season for me, clearly. I couldn’t wish for better views as it passed just over us. Luckily I didn’t screw up my camera settings either, so I now have a nice collection of pin sharp juvenile Imperial images.

October 14th. When looking up from viewing the photos of the juvenile above, I noticed a bird was trying to sneak past. Apparently the juvenile was flying together with a much more experienced 5th plumage Imperial. Although not the nicest plumage, obviously a much rarer bird to see on migration.

October 14th. Same bird.

 

October 15th. In the legendary ‘green machine’, a 30+ year old Moskvitch, which is still capable of driving all the way up to Station 2.

October 15th. Juvenile Honey Buzzard. Is it clear I can’t get enough of them by now? :-)

October 15th. Black Storks.

 

October 16th. The final day of the count. Nice sunrise, looking in the direction of Station 2 and Little Ginger.

October 16th. Lovely adult male Merlin (photo compilation).

 

October 18th. We spent the day birding in Mtirala National Park. Rather than living up to its name (Mtirala literally means ‘crying’ if I’m right), it was — like the whole region — quite dry when we visited. ALthough we didn’t see too much, it was great to spend a day here away from the counting sites.

October 18th. Mtirala National Park.

October 18th. Caucasian Salamander.

October 18th. Slug of some kind.

October 18th. Searching for Dippers near the Mtirala NP visitor center.

October 18th. White-throated Dipper of the caucasicus subspecies. I had some plans to photograph it in a specific way, but the birds (we saw quite a few) were not cooperative enough, so here is just a simple evidence shot.

 

October 19th. The final day of my stay we spent in the Chorokhi Delta. It was mostly empty already, unsurprising given the constantly nice weather for the whole season. There were a few dozens of Black Kites on the beach.

October 19th. Occasionally they would try to catch some fish from the sea that were close to the surface. The success rate appeared to be quite low…

October 19th. But apparently the success rate is sufficiently high to have a go at it… and succeed.

October 19th. Om nom nom…

 

The photos of October 19th conclude a fantastic two months in Georgia, an experience I will never forget. In fact, I’m planning to return in 2019 and coordinate again. Want to join as a counter or coordinator? Keep an eye on the BRC website and Facebook page for announcements.

BRC 2018: September Photo & Video Report

It’s now been three months ago that I returned to The Netherlands from coordinating the Batumi Raptor Count of 2018. It has been an amazing season, with highly unusual phenology, but lots and lots of fantastic birds and people. In a few weeks we will officially open the call for counters for next year’s count, so be sure to keep an eye on our website.

During the season I have taken thousands of photos. Since that would take days to categorise (like I have done for previous seasons), I have decided to simply compile the best and/or most interesting photos per month from August 15th til October 19th. I hope this will give you an idea of what you can experience if you count with us, coordinate or visit as a tourist. However, the most complete overview of the past season, which will also go into detail about things not photographed, can be found in the Autumn Report of 2018 published on the BRC website.

 

I recommend going through the Photo & Video Reports in chronological order:

 

September 1st. Juvenile Honey Buzzard, a very obliging individual.

September 1st. The first Crested Honey Buzzard of the season, an adult female, and an adult male Montagu’s Harrier.

September 1st. One fo the best parts about September: absolutely insane numbers of European Bee-eaters, totally uncountable, but easily enjoyed. Two different individuals in this photo, no photo compilation.

September 1st. European Bee-eater. All the ‘specks’ are in fact insects, no wonder the birds stayed around for long.

September 1st. European Bee-eater

September 1st. European Bee-eater

 

September 2nd. Obligatory Station 1 Team photo.

 

September 4th. Adult female Montagu’s Harrier with all central tail feathers missing kettling with a juvenile Black Stork.

September 4th. One of the many Eurasian Hobbies we see migrate through the bottleneck. We don’t count them because it requires too much effort — which inevitably comes at the cost of count quality for other species — to identify and separate from other falcons. But, you can and will still be able to enjoy them on your visits.

 

September 6th. Kettle of Black Kites.

September 6th. With local schools regularly visiting the counting sites, the Batumi Raptor Count is also a platform for environmental education.

September 6th. Looking through the scopes at the other station and birds in their vicinity is captivating for many.

September 6th. For many children this is the first time to see the world through a pair of binoculars.

September 6th. Due to a lack of cloud cover, there are occasional dull moments when Station 2 has all the birds, and Station 1 has none.

 

September 7th. Finally, a visit to the Chorokhi Delta. Obligatory and almost always rewarding to scan the shrubs, ponds and coastal area here. Probably due to this year’s drought, it was not as full of birds as in other years… but the area still provides fantastic birding opportunities.

September 7th. Flock of Garganey and Common Pochards

September 7th. Three species of dolphin can be observed in the Black Sea. Sometimes they approach quite close and are easy to spot…

September 7th. … but if you struggle to find any, just have a look at where the Gulls are going. See the fin on the right.

September 7th. The Chorokhi Delta is great for gullwatching. Although I didn’t really focus on the gulls during this visit, the numbers were impressive, but nothing compared to winter numbers.

September 7th. Mostly Yellow-legged Gulls.

 

September 8th. A few minutes of rain could easily be weathered in the freshly reconstructed shelter.

September 8th. Photo by Johannes Jansen. The birds don’t care about a little rain, the count needs to continue…

 

September 9th. Close flyby of an adult female Pallid Harrier. Amazing birds…

September 9th. Same bird.

September 9th. Same bird.

 

September 10th. BRC’s logo… for good reasons. Adult male Pallid Harrier.

September 10th. Same bird.

September 10th. Same bird.

 

September 11th. Around the middle of September, Booted Eagle migration generally peaks. This year, we seem to have lost a few thousand of these birds, for as of yet unknown reasons.

September 11th. For me, this is the photo that encapsulates the Batumi migration in 2018 best: great light, fantastic birds in a fantastic landscape. In this case — once again: an adult female Pallid Harrier.

September 11th. I thought my Pallid Harrier photographs reached a peak with the adult on the 10th, but this immature male tops it easily. Notice the juvenile secondaries still present.

September 11th. Same bird.

September 11th. Same bird.

September 11th. Two adult male Honey Buzzards, two entirely different moult strategies?

 

September 12th. This is what the immature male Pallid Harriers looks like most often when they migrate past the counting site, with no retained juvenile secondaries, but just a brownish hood and a (sometimes) smudgy underwing. However, this season most immature males looked like the ones above, with retained secondaries.

 

September 13th. Proper views of hybrid Honey Buzzards this day. This is an adult male with a barring pattern that fits European HB, but the trailing edge and tail barring is like Crested HB. Carpal patch is just a smudge and hand clearly has 6 fingers, but is more rounded than square-shaped. See comparison with European male in the next photo.

September 13th. Same hybrid adult male Honey Buzzard (left) with a non-hybrid European Honey Buzzard.

September 13th. Hybrid female Honey Buzzard. Barring is European type, but wing is quite clearly fingered, lacks carpal patches and there is a very strong gorget. Bird had a very heavy wingbeat, often the first character that points you toward an odd bird (hybrid or pure CHB)

September 13th. Another strange female, perhaps quite a bit closer to a European than a CHB. Wingbarring more in line with CHB, carpal patch quite faint (though accentuated on this picture), short tail, but no gorget and wingtip not so large as in CHB. Bird was very large in comparison with other pure EHBs and had a very slow Short-toed Eagle-like wingbeat.

September 13th. Juvenile Montagu’s Harrier.

September 13th. For some reason I had to miss many Egyptian Vultures this season (there weren’t many), but this juvenile amongst Black Kites I have had good views of.

 

September 14th. Crappy evidence shot of some noose or falconers equipment trailing a Eurasian Sparrowhawk.

September 14th. European Bee-eaters

September 14th. Honey Buzzard adult female.

 

September 15th. Some Accipiter chasing an adult male Pallid Harrier above our heads.

September 15th. Photo by Gerrit Jan van Dijk. The only clear adult male Crested Honey Buzzard we have a photo of from this season. I — once again — found the bird straight away because of its slow wingbeat. Luckily Gerrit could snap this photo of the bird.

 

September 16th. Very dark adult female Marsh Harrier, lacking any yellow patches on the head. Although the bird does perhaps not look so dark on the photo, that is mostly the result of overexposing the photo to make the barring — another interesting feature — more clearly visible.

September 16th. The same bird. Notice how the nape area is very dark as well.

September 16th. Immature (2cy) Lesser Spotted Eagle with fresh inner primaries and the third secondary (S3) counting inwards replaced on both wings.

September 16th. Juvenile Hobby.

September 16th. It’s especially Black Kites like this immature — showing no semblance of a forked tail anymore and with only 5 fingers — that are tricky when picking out species from different streams at a rapid pace. When the light is good, there’s little doubt about its identity, but when the light is bad…

Watching this in 4K will show you how many layers of birds are migrating on top of each other. I've never seen migration on this scale. What you're seeing here in this video was happening all around us, throughout the bottleneck at all altitudes for the whole day. Easily hundreds of thousands of mostly Barn Swallows must have moved through the bottleneck that day.

 

September 18th. Typical stream of Black Kites for the bottleneck, with birds quite close, pushed down because of cloud cover. Moments like this never get old…

September 18th. Nor do the sunsets from Ruslan’s terrace…

 

September 19th. Large flock of Black Kites leaving the roost on Little Ginger early in the morning. Some birds are still in the trees.

September 19th. The view going down from Station 2 after a long day of counting.

 

September 22nd. Steppe Buzzard migration is the total opposite of Honey Buzzard migration. It appears inefficient, chaotic and too much of it happens within the clouds. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to experience though…

September 22nd. Steppe Buzzards in the clouds.

September 22nd. Hardly an exciting photo of a juvenile Imperial Eagle, but since this was the first Imperial I ever ‘properly’ (ahum) photographed, this one deserves a spot here.

 

September 23rd. Juvenile Honey Buzzard with fault bars, indicating probable nutrient deficiencies during development of these weakened parts of the flight feathers.

 

September 24th. A very hot day. Luckily, there is a shelter on both stations (Station 2 on the photo), but unfortunately the lack of clouds means most birds are flying far away in the heat haze…

September 24th. Station 2.

September 24th. Station 2.

September 24th. Station 2 team that day.

September 24th. Moonwatching with the entire team in the evening.

September 24th. Ruslan’s guesthouse and balcony.

 

September 27th. A slight drizzle and poof — out of the blue — Falcons everywhere, such as this adult female Common Kestrel.

September 27th. Juvenile Common Kestrel (see the length of the outer primary is equal to the 4th counting inwards, P10 = P7).

September 27th. A juvenile Kestrel with a very long outer primary (P10 longer than P7), clinching this as a Lesser Kestrel.

September 27th. Immature male Lesser Kestrel. Aged by retained juvenile outer primaries and barred secondaries. Even though plumage is enough to identify this to species level, P10 is still long enough to use primary formula as well.

September 27th. Immature (2cy) female Red-footed Falcon with outermost 2 primaries still juvenile type and barred greater coverts on the underwing.

 

September 28th. A nice flock of Black Storks, or in BRC lingo pronounced as Black-È Stork-È with hard E’s.

September 28th. Counting streams of almost overhead birds, with the naked eye, and identifying species with binoculars.

September 28th. Station 2.

September 28th. A slight drizzle in the night forced some migrants to the ground. On my way back from the Green Café, I almost stepped on a Common Quail and later Ruslan came with this individual that he could pick from the road in front of his car. Needless to say: we did not eat it.

 

September 29th. The day we passed the million mark started off with a fantastic sunrise over the saddle. This was quite possibly the best birding day in my life, we had amazing views of the birds, a great species composition and the pace of migration was perfect to enjoy every bit of it.

September 29th. Vultures, especially the larger ones, are rare in the bottleneck during our count period. But that makes seeing them, like this Griffon, even better…

September 29th. Strange hybrid Honey Buzzard. Very pale bird, with no carpal patches, very broad hand that clearly fits 6 fingers, very broad bars on the tail, but the wing barring — once again — is very typical for a European HB.

September 29th. Juvenile Steppe Eagle showing a pristine trailing edge to the wing.

September 29th. Immature Steppe Eagle, presumably a 4th calendar year or older.

September 29th. (Sub)Adult/young adult Steppe Eagle, showing poorly defined adult-type barring on the upperwing and only a few retained white greater underwing coverts.

September 29th. (Sub)adult/young adult Steppe Eagle, the same bird.

September 29th. Juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle that gave off a fantastic show to counters, coordinators and tourists. Showing the typical silvery shine to the underwing and lacking barring in both the primaries and secondaries altogether. In initially thought this had to do with the quality of the photo, but given the angle of the light on the wings: if there was any barring, it should be visible.

September 29th. Same bird, obviously. Also on the left wing absolutely no barring visible.

September 29th. Juvenile Honey Buzzard chased by a Eurasian Sparrowhawk. I love how the yellow eye of the Sparrowhawk adds to the ‘evil look’. These little birds seem to love to harass larger raptors on migration.

September 29th. The same Honey Buzzard. Views like this of brown Honey Buzzards often make you think you’re looking at an eagle for half a second, before you realise what you’re looking at is actually much smaller.