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.