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.
Since 2008, in a decade of counts, over 300 volunteers have participated in the annual Batumi Raptor Count. This year, the 11th count is held, which runs from August 17th until October 16th of 2018. Despite the positive stories you may have heard from volunteers or visitors, participation in the count or coming as a visitor is not without some drawbacks! In the spirit of transparency, we have listed the most frequently encountered problems participants face during and after their stay.
1. Watching raptors won’t ever be the same again
Those fantastic days of raptor migration in your home country or in other migration hotspots? They will forever pale in comparison with what you experience in the Batumi bottleneck. Every single Honey Buzzard you see will bring back the good memories of seeing 50,000+ migrate on a single day; every harrier will remind you of the sun rising in a sky scattered with Marsh, Montagu’s and Pallid harriers; every eagle… well, you get the point. By participating, you risk becoming forever spoiled with experiencing migration of more than a million birds and around 30 species in a period of only 2 months.
2. Painful fingers
At BRC we like to count birds so much, we count them one at a time! Our trusty clickers keep track of the numbers, while the most important thing counters have to do is move their fingers at the pace of birds crossing the transect line. A calm but continuous click-click-click-click is the resulting background sound throughout the day… That is until migration breaks loose and the calm clicking turns into a frenzy of rattling counters all over the station. The upshot? You will physically be able to feel the intensity of migration. The downside? Your fingers will end up hurting and we cannot guarantee you won’t develop temporary RSI-like symptoms. Imagine clicking streams of birds like in the video below, but for hours on end on all sides of the stations:
3. We don't count everything
At BRC we have made the decision to focus on a few key species for the bottleneck. Our aim is to count those species really well, instead of counting all species badly. These tens of thousands of Bee-Eaters flying by? All these Hobbies, Common and Lesser Kestrels? These Long-legged Buzzards or Alpine Swifts? Painful, maybe, but you will just have to enjoy them. Instead, we’ll keep you busy identifying, sexing and ageing our target species at a rapid pace. This should provide plenty of entertainment and learning experience for even the most hardcore of counters.
Every single day, except for the one day a week in which you have a day off, will look like this: You wake up an hour before sunrise, prepare your stuff and have breakfast. A delicious lunch prepared by the host families will be waiting for you to take to the station. Then, from sunrise until 2 hours before sunset you will be counting birds in a standardized fashion, independent of weather conditions. When you return to the guesthouse, tired but satisfied, families will provide a dinner full of Georgian delicacies, after which you’re free to do as you like.
All we can offer to break the daily slur, besides the birds you’ll be seeing, is 1 day off per week in which you can explore the region (or sleep), a very international group of like-minded birders from all experience levels, a pleasant atmosphere, regular evening presentations to get to know the raptor species and each other, drinks in the Green Cafe and the occasional team visits to the nearby beach.
5. You may come back again… and again…
The birds, the people, the country, the food, there are plenty of reasons to come back one more time. And many participants do come back as counter or coordinator, time and again, despite the hardships described above. It is quite likely you will plan to come again next autumn the moment you have ended your stay and leave Georgia for your home country. Consider this before you plan to come only once.
If after reading this you still think you want to participate, you can read more and apply here . But… you have been warned!
This blog originally appeared on the website of OSME, the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Another month has passed, already. April had highlights, of course, but overall it was still a bit of a disappointing month, with still quite low numbers of summer visitors. This is quite an unusual situation, possibly a result of adverse weather conditions on the Sahara crossings for many species taking a Westerly route. But, nevertheless, here we go:
Interesting records in chronological order
April 2nd, 2018 — De Vulkaan
A very long count given the circumstances: seven hours in continuous rain. However, I predicted this would push birds down, and so it did. By the end of the day we had counted a new record number for The Hague: 373 White Wagtails (spec.)! This has contributed significantly to the best ever spring total of these birds, with already over 2000 counted birds on April 3rd, whereas the previous maximum for an entire ‘spring’ period (until July) was only 1561 birds (in 2005). Perhaps not the most spectacular species, but a fantastic number nevertheless! Also, my first Barn Swallow and no less than 3 Little Ringed Plovers.
April 4th, 2018 — De Vulkaan
First House Martin for the year and also the first photographed bird for The Netherlands. And a cracking migrating Tree Creeper, taking off right above our heads up to an altitude of around 30 meters and then flying north. Nothing spectacular apart from that.
April 6th, 2018 — Breskens
Actually my first ever visit to Breskens, The Netherlands' prime migration hotspot in Spring. What a place and what a day! Highlight of the day was an adult Glaucous Gull, a bird I was so flabbergasted to see I forgot to photograph it, despite flying by so close. Incredible record for April and generally in The Netherlands (adults are very rare). Very enjoyable numbers of Meadow Pipits and Barn Swallows, but still really low numbers for this time of the year. Bramblings, on the other hand, were flying in crazy high numbers, with 2215 birds counted in a day, mostly passing in compact groups very close to the counters.
Other birds worthy of a mention: my first Purple Herons (finally), a Black Kite I picked up a few kilometers south but didn't come any closer, a Hooded Crow, a fantastic Caspian Tern just before my departure and a Corn Bunting.
April 7th, 2018 — De Vulkaan
I was expecting to see my first for roughly 2 weeks already, and there it was: my first Osprey of the year. As applies to so many other species, a late first. Another Black Kite, 4 Ring Ouzels, a possible Corn Bunting, a ticking bunting that turned out to be a Little Bunting, an oddly sounding Tree Pipit (could be Olive-backed), and a nicely showing Short-Eared Owl. A slow day with quite enjoyable birds in the end.
April 9th, 2018 til April 15th, 2018 — Georgia
Upcoming Autumn I will be one of four coordinators of the Batumi Raptor Count. To prepare more efficiently for this year's count, we went to Georgia for a week. The week was mostly filled with meetings and administrative work, but there was some time for birds as well. Although we did not do a full-blown count in typical BRC style, we did 2 short counts and there were many birds to be enjoyed. Mostly Black Kites and Steppe Buzzards with relatively good numbers of Lesser Spotted Eagles. On the first day in the village (Sakhalvasho), many thousands of Black Kites passed on the coast. I'm sure if we would have done a count on that day we would have set a new Spring-record on Trektellen.
Of course quite a few Eagles were left unidentified, so could have been Steppe, Imperial or Greater Spotteds. Besides the few Pallids I have seen (3 adult males, 1 adult female), at this time in spring also Hen Harriers are relatively numerous, a species that generally migrates too late to be picked up during the Autumn count.
Weather in spring — at least for this week — did not push all too many birds to the coast, so many birds were seen migrating in the mountains, but remained unidentified.
April 19th, 2018 — Breskens
A second day in Breskens, which started off very nicely with a Red-rumped Swallow flying past very closely. Again I found a Black Kite, which this time migrated past quite a bit closer, but still too far away for photos. (But I had seen plenty in the previous week, so whatever). I was occupied with an interesting looking Harrier, which turned out to just be a ‘regular’ Hen Harrier, while a Marsh Sandpiper flew past, so I missed that bird. Have a look at the full count for details, while I let the pictures do the rest of the talking:
April 21st, 2018 — De Vulkaan
Not a particularly good count, but some Little Terns a few Raven and a very obliging Ring Ouzel (above) still made for an enjoyable count.
April 25th, 2018 — De Vulkaan
Six Beaufort westerlies, but a boring count in general, except for a shortly present and singing Grasshopper Warbler and a 2cy Glaucous Gull, a species much less common this winter than in the winter of 2016-2017. Also, for some reason we have a few pairs of Barnacle Geese flying around often this spring. One of the nicest geese in The Netherlands if you'd ask me, so I had to grab the opportunity for a shot.
April 27th, 2018 — De Vulkaan
Southern winds, so most of the birds flew past very high, but I did manage to pick out a few niceties: my first Whinchat of the year, a Purple Heron, a very obliging Northern Wheatear and the first Ortolan for The Netherlands for this year. Remarkably, at the moment of writing (the 5th of May), it still is.
April 29th, 2018 — De Vulkaan
The last count of April in overall windless conditions with a sea calm and mirror-like. As a result the Common Scoters that were migrating north could be seen from much further away than usually, resulting in a nice number for April of 668 birds. Also, finally a decent number of Barn Swallows (519). And because I don't want to end without a photo, below is the only bird of the day that was photographed: a species we don't see up close so often, but that is oh so present on our sound recordings.
And that concludes April 2018. Let's hope for a better May…