Posts in BRC2018
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.

 

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

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 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. Same bird.

 

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. 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 Barn Swallows must have moved through the bottleneck.
 

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.

 
BRC 2018: August 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.

 

August 15th. Did you know these ‘Orcas’ have pale eyelids? Very adorable sleepers.

August 15th. From Ruslan’s balcony we could already enjoy migration of raptors whilst doing (mostly) administrative tasks before the start of the count. This — in essence — is not what we like to see and one of the reasons we have decided to start the count earlier in upcoming years.

 

August 18th. For the first weeks of the count we were joined by a group of Georgian falconers, providing excellent identification skills and lots of very sharp eyes to the count.

August 18th. You are never alone when counting with us. Station dog ‘Perrito’ kept us company in the first weeks.

August 18th. I’m not at all into Moths and Butterflies, but some are so obliging even I cannot escape from them. If I’m right this is a Striped Hawkmoth.

 

August 21st. Ruslan’s guesthouse not only hosts the BRC family during the season, but now also hosts a family of House Martins. The birds come back to the nest to roost during the nights.

August 21st. Juvenile Black Kites. I regret having so little proper photos of the Black Kites. They’re perhaps not considered to be the most interesting species passing in the bottleneck, but they have grown on me. At one point I hope to have a nice collection of photos to show the incredible plumage variability of this species.

 

August 22nd. One of the rare moments of rain this season. Our makeshift shelter was not able to withstand the downpour that ensued, so we had to resort to holding the tarp for a while. Luckily, there was no migration going on at that moment.

 

August 23rd. Pallas / Great Black-headed Gull, a very early record. For some reason this bird decided to fly right over our heads. Despite the crappy angle for photos, a great way to ‘bimbo’ (a bimbo = a lifer) this bird. There would be quite a few more observations of this species this autumn.

August 23rd. Adult male Pallid Harrier (photo compilation). Although the number of Pallids was very high early on, fully adult birds like this were quite rare. Instead, most birds were either juveniles or immature male and females. Surprisingly, many of the Pallids were actively moulting, something that’s highly unusual to observe this often in Batumi, as Pallid Harriers (contrary to Montagu’s) generally finish their moult before the migration commences.

 

August 24th. Injured birds are unfortunately quite common. From some angles they may look fine, but when you have a closer look… This juvenile Montagu’s Harrier (the bird on the left is the same as on the right) has most of the left wing shot. It’s a miracle it can still fly. Strong case of ‘zugunruhe’.

August 24th. One of many immature male Pallid Harriers we observed this season. It has a retained juvenile secondary in the left wing and 2 in the right wing that still have to be moulted.

 

August 25th. This bird truly scared the crap out of me when I saw it through binoculars. It was flying almost against the sun, so no plumage details were visible, but the silhouette looked very strange and resembles that of what I imagine an immature bird to look like. The photos, however, show that this is ‘just’ an adult with some moulting related problems.

August 25th. Same bird.

August 25th. Same bird.

August 25th. The largest flock of White Storks (423 birds) ever recorded by BRC.

August 25th. Showed a counter what the moon and nocturnal migration looks like in Batumi. This facial expression was guaranteed if people see birds flying in front of the full moon for the first time.

August 25th. Moonwatching turned into a popular evening activity as the season progressed.

August 25th. This is what you may end up seeing when you start peering at the moon through your scope. Note: I filmed this with my iPhone. Your eyes are able to see much more birds that the phone cannot pickup.

 

August 26th. Another immature male Pallid Harrier that’s still moulting some of its secondaries. It appears two secondaries are missing (one on both wings) and two secondaries (one on both wings) are still juvenile type.

August 26th. Montagu’s Harrier juvenile female.

August 26th. Lesser Spotted Eagle immature, one of the earliest birds. Second calendar year bird with replaced inner primaries and the typical barring throughout the secondaries all the way to the feather tips.

 

August 27th. Adult female Osprey with 2 nice Alpine Swifts circling around it.

 

August 28th. The birds are great, of course, but it’s people that keep me coming back to Batumi. Some photos from the station when we did not yet have a reconstructed shelter.

August 28th. All counters and a coordinator scanning the skies.

August 28th. Some diehards kept scanning the west side of Station 1, which was remarkably empty for most of the season. Quite strange, considering usually ‘the west is best’.

 

August 29. A luxury: Three coordinators on 1 station! One of which was taking photos rather than doing anything useful.

 

August 30th. Juvenile Purple Heron that circled in front of the station.

August 30th. Adult female Honey Buzzard.

August 30th. Terrible photo, equally terrible state of the plumage in this adult female Honey Buzzard, with 3 replaced inner primaries on right wing.

August 30th. Little stunner. Adult male Montagu’s Harrier. One day I’ll photograph one up close in beautiful light…

August 30th. When clouds cover the mountain, soaring raptors such as these Honey Buzzards are forced to fly through the bottleneck.

August 30th. Adult male Honey Buzzard. Notice that on the upperwing you can distinguish the trailing edge of the wing as well, a good feature to use for separating the sexes when you cannot see the underwing and head.

August 30th. Adult female Honey Buzzard. Quite similar to previous adult female, but a different bird. Apparently 3 replaced inner primaries on right wing and 4 on left wing.

August 30th. Lone raptor (the black dot on the right half of the image in the clouds) moving through the bottleneck in the beautiful light of evening.

August 30th. Almost every evening, when thermal activity has decreased, birds (like these Honey Buzzards) can be seen over Little Ginger (the mountaintop on the left), searching for a good tree to roost in. Unfortunately, hunters are aware of this as well…

August 30th. Overhead Honey Buzzard migration, a religious experience.

August 30th. Overhead Honey Buzzard migration.

 

August 31st. Adult male Marsh Harrier of the striking dark morph, presumably shot in the right wing. Notice the very dark body and underwing coverts, the light patch at the base of the secondaries and primaries, causing a strong contrast between the light patch and the dark trailing edge of the wing.

August 31st. Juvenile Honey Buzzard.

August 31st. Attempt at photographing a flock of overhead Bee-eaters. During the first month of the count, Bee-eaters continuously provided the background vocals. Wonderful, wonderful birds…

BRC Autumn Report is online

A juvenile Imperial Eagle that flew incredibly close past me and was — by far — the best bird of the season.

This autumn I have spent more than 2 months in Georgia coordinating the 11th Batumi Raptor Count. While I do still intend to highlight some elements of the fantastic migration that’s going on there in separate blog posts, the most comprehensive overview of the count, the autumn report, is now online for all of you to see. I hope you will enjoy reading it.