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Georgia - 12th > 26th September 2019...

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Old Wednesday 25th September 2019, 22:10   #51
GiG
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Originally Posted by Jos Stratford View Post
Wonderful trip, a pleasure to read, brings back nice memories.

On the negative side, is there still shooting on the adjacent ridges - I have less pleasant memories of the fairly regular shout of shots (also logged by the counters) anf even less pleasant occasional raptor spiralling down to the ground after being hit.
Yes, there was quite a bit of shooting both on the ridges and at Chorokhi. After more restrictions in recent years, apparently with recent elections has meant a softened stance and therefore more shooting this season.
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Old Friday 27th September 2019, 06:43   #52
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I take your point re the posted images but they are BOC with a mobile phone and running thru lots they have exposed OK. I tend to use the AI setting a lot as they are record shots - the irony is that i taught BTEC level 2 Photography for 6 years when it was paper, darkroom and chemicals!

Now back in birdless Blighty after 15 hours travelling and waiting. Literally Planes, Trains and Automobiles finally finishing with the gas-powered Perry’s People Carrier from Stourbridge Junction to Stourbridge Town. For those who don’t have enough Anoraks in the closet it is the shortest scheduled service on the rail system Sometimes locals have trouble using the single carriage as it is full of train-spotters on an annual, dare i say it, ‘twitch’ - i have enough guilty pleasures including both birding and military aviation so i draw the line at chuff-choughs.....

My last day birding up on the hill followed the same pattern as previous with glorious sunshine but at least it clouded over from 2 onwards. The cover was high so lots of birds kettled and streamed in the distance. Movement took place over most of the day so at least there was always something to look at and sift through. A cheer went up amongst the counters as they received the news that Black Kites had broke 200k

The counters have a job to do and i appreciate that. They had cordoned off an area where visitors were asked not to enter. I find that a pity as it made me feel a bit ‘us and them’. I also felt that they could communicate movement a bit better with other birders. Last year i had no problem talking about things with them and i did this in lulls between bird movement so as not to impinge on their work.

Suffice to say altho a proportion are very good and experienced a number are helping out for the experience. They do not see or identify everything i can assure you. There are a lot of extremely experienced birders visiting Sak who know their stuff. 3 birders i chatted to are members of a national rarities committee to give you some idea.

Birdwise there were lots of Black Kites with reasonable Honeys. Lesser numbers of Booteds and a handful of Short-toeds. Harriers were thin as Marsh had dropped off and a handful of identified Montys and a very close fem/juv Pallid skimmed the top of the Observatory. Large Eagles were again mid-distant to very distant but LSE’s padded them out and late afternoon 2 male RedFoots zippd thru down below at Mach 2. A couple of Ospreys and late Hobbies and a Peregrine were noted. Sprawks continued to strut their stuff with one in with a party of Bee Eaters - an incongruous bunch of fellow travellers if ever there was.

I will now go into my usual post-trip 2 week decline and basically Hermitize myself as i cannot face local patching. This attitude shot me in the foot last year because had i gone out first thing to my local puddle, about a mile away, i would have found a wind-blown Grey Phalarope

I will post a few pics and an overview sometime over the coming days whilst ruminating and starting to check prices well ahead of the Eilat Spring Festival an event that has been bucket-listed since a friend went there in the early-80’s. I have to do it whilst a couple of marbles are still rolling around. I said i would do it at 60 and am now 63 so the clock is ticking.

Good Birding -

Laurie
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Old Friday 27th September 2019, 10:05   #53
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Nice one Laurie, thanks for posting.
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Old Saturday 28th September 2019, 10:11   #54
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The dust is now settling on what, for me, was a very enjoyable and educational trip. The Bride and i do other things than just bird and i am mindful that the locations and itinerary are based around my interests and not hers although she very much likes the fact that we go to places that her work colleagues and friends do not - i have none of the former and not many of the latter

This is only my 2nd visit to Georgia but not the last, either to there or the Trans-Caucasus region. It has a fascinating history in many aspects but its natural history including not just avifauna but also botanical roots whether it be the origin of the domesticated Apple with many wild varieties to be found, Georgia’s endemic Wild Almond or the 450+ varieties of Grape there is much to see in this crucible of an area

Sakhalvasho and Shuamta have been chosen for their geographical position and proximity to Batumi - this is where the hunters chose to shoot passage raptors from so it makes sense logistically and practically to site 2 Watchpoints and now a bespoke Observatory from one of them. Visually you can see why the birds use these narrow valleys to descend from the surrounding high mountains and how the terrain makes for thermalling upcurrents for migrants to be able to spiral easily to 15k feet in large kettles and then stream out Southwards skirting the cooler Black Sea then around through Turkey and on to the Levant to Winter on the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

My visit last year was timed to coincide with large movements of the key species for the sheer spectacle. I only visited Sak twice and had impressive 30k days. I also played a hunch by going to the Argo Cafe via cable-car and was rewarded with 2x 15k days. On my previous 4 visits to Tarifa during the same period 15k would have been a high total but here in Georgia in mid-Sept it is considered ‘slack’. I missed a couple of 50k days as i wasn’t in the area at the time. These large numbers gave me the opportunity to keep upping my game with subtle differences in identification which cannot be gained, for me, anywhere else. Sifting through thousands of Black Kites, Booted Eagles, Steppe Buzzards and Marsh Harriers allows comparisons with not only these species but the other raptors moving through. This year i chose a week or so later in order to see and improve my ID skills with the larger Eagles and also to age birds.

In addition to geographical factors the weather is what governs what happens, when and where. Last year it was more mixed with lots more low cloud. This meant birds a lot lower as the adjacent mountains were cloudy to low elevations so the birds moved lower and on a narrower front. Showers halt movement if they are heavy otherwise birds carry on regardless but tend to get lower. Periods of heavy rain can stop movement altogether and ‘bottle’ birds up until the conditions change. Wind can also hold things up or disperse birds over the sea...

This year during my week at Batumi we had one 24-hour period of really heavy rain followed by a morning of light showers until midday and that was it. The 4 days at Sak was mostly Blue skies, hot, with little cloud. This meant birds could kettle over more points and then stream out over a much broader front. Checking the daily counts, particularly Shuamta, show very large numbers of birds just assigned to ‘unidentified’ due to the height and distance. Many more birds passed to the East this year just on my observations.

I am ambivalent. The good weather makes it very pleasant. The birds gain more height for a more efficient passage. Very few are in danger of remotely being shot at. At the end of the day all this is beneficial to them and hopefully more arrive at their Wintering quarters in better condition to return next Spring. My 4 days probably averaged about 5k a day which is meagre fayre by BRC standards but every day was different, exciting and enjoyable and i will (hopefully) be back for more

I will follow up with an annotated list of raptors seen and last thoughts

Good birding -

Laurie -
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Old Sunday 29th September 2019, 00:44   #55
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A great summary putting your whole trip into context. I’ve heard great things a out Georgia from various sources and am increasingly tempted, especially given your wife enjoyed it too.

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Old Sunday 29th September 2019, 18:19   #56
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I told ya you had to go end of September ;-)

https://www.trektellen.org/count/view/1047/20190929

460 Short-toed eagles and almost as much Lesser Spotted Eagles isn't bad... Never mind a Crested HB!

Did I mention 84.000 Steppe Buzzards?

https://www.trektellen.org/count/view/1048/20190929
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Old Monday 30th September 2019, 04:40   #57
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Don’t remind me Temmie

I saw yesterdays count and felt sick and wobbly but an additional gut feeling told me things would ‘move’...

Whilst in Batumi i had been watching the forecast for the Greater Caucasus closely - as you do! Despite the brilliant weather up ‘on the hill’ the important factors lie to the North and i had noted the heavy precipitation and blocking conditions in that region. Indeed the very low (for Batumi) numbers whilst i was there did make me wonder whether birds were just being held up or were being displaced and forced to move around the North of the Black Sea. Observers at Burgas and Sariyer/Camlica might be able to shed some light on this possibility?

I was going to limit my final posts on the trip to overview, thoughts and a list but the drastic change to the movement yesterday is worth mentioning to illustrate what the ‘bottleneck’ is usually like - as i have stated my 4 days were meagre fayre by the standards set over recent years and i don’t mind i do feel a little sick at missing a day like yesterday. I had serious doubts as to whether the counters would break 1M this Autumn and the 1.4M of a couple of years ago seemed like fantasy land but it ain't over until...........

I could just link but instead i will list the key species at both stations yesterday and it is truly mouth-watering in both numbers and variety and will ensure that the next time i visit it will be the last 2 weeks of September and you can quote me on that!

Sakhalvasho -

Short-toed Eagle 460
Lesser Spotted Eagle 452
Greater Spotted Eagle 19
Steppe Eagle 15
Large Eagle spp 1734
Marsh Harrier 172
Pallid Harrier 11
Black Kite 7563
Steppe Buzzard 28163

Total 40228

Shuamta -

Short-tod Eagle 49
Lesser Spotted Eagle 201
Greater Spotted Eagle 7
Booted Eagle 55
Steppe Eagle 18
Large Eagle spp 116
Marsh Harrier 111
Pallid Harrier 6
Black Kite 688
Steppe Buzzard 83998

Total 85659

Bear in mind these are unduplicated counts - truly phenomenal

On a brighter note i unblocked a 35-year hiatus yesterday by finally clicking with a Skua sp in the West Midlands - a smart juvenile Great Skua at a local reservoir that had been harassing the local Gulls and Geese and obligingly and uncharacteristically stopped since being spotted going to roost on Friday night

Good birding -

Laurie -
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Old Monday 30th September 2019, 17:53   #58
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Another 65k Steppe Buzzards at Shuamta today

This takes the watchpoints to over 1M again this season

Good birding -

Laurie
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Old Thursday 3rd October 2019, 19:29   #59
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Yes, there was quite a bit of shooting both on the ridges and at Chorokhi. After more restrictions in recent years, apparently with recent elections has meant a softened stance and therefore more shooting this season.
I'll continue here with my own part that involved five days at Batumi from 26 Sept to 30 October. The shooting was most severe over the weekend.

The attached picture shows hunters at the beach of the Chorokhi delta. They walked towards the cars and men seen in the background. We approached the group by car later on, but tried to keep our distance. We then witnessed an osprey being shot by one member of the group. It may have been the guy depicted here, but we were not sure as they were all behind the cars when the shot happened. The osprey fell, still alive, but could not be recovered from the water. Thus a simple waste. There are tons of large gulls from the nearby dump. But those seem not attractive.
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Old Thursday 3rd October 2019, 19:41   #60
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Another 65k Steppe Buzzards at Shuamta today

This takes the watchpoints to over 1M again this season

Good birding -

Laurie
Yes it was truly phenomenal, actually all four days we were at the two watchpoints. Sunday was rainy, that's when we visited the Chorokhi delta. The last day, 30 October was similar to Laurie's last day, with the sky clearing up too much and the raptors thus flying higher and higher, at least being out of reach for the hunters then. But still excellent numbers. Thus passing the 1 Million mark happened early. However, checking the daily count results now also shows that the numbers have dropped dramatically since. Monday 29 Sept was the most exciting day number-wise. As so often, it was the day after the rainy period.
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Old Thursday 3rd October 2019, 20:00   #61
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We then witnessed an osprey being shot by one member of the group. It may have been the guy depicted here, but we were not sure as they were all behind the cars when the shot happened. The osprey fell, still alive, but could not be recovered from the water. Thus a simple waste.
Despite the spectacular migration,the sight of raptors falling from the sky is, unfortunately, my enduring memory of my days at Batumi.

Sickening memories of two Black-winged Pratincoles downed at the delta, then a Marsh Harrier spiralling out of control as it tumbled downward from the ridge in front of the count station. Even worse was a Steppe Eagle - an amazing bird, low over our heads at the ridge, but already the counters were muttering 'too low, too low'. And sure enough, shots rang out, the bird was no more.

For me, regardless of how many birds pass over, no matter how dramatic the big 50,000 raptor days, it is still a shooting range for trigger happy Georgians ....and for that, I just can't say it is an enjoyable experience to be at Batumi.
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Old Thursday 3rd October 2019, 20:02   #62
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………………….
...........…. the next time i visit it will be the last 2 weeks of September and you can quote me on that!

………….
Laurie -
We obviously simply lucked out. But on Sunday, our only major rainy day, my brother who was with me, also said that one should have at least 7 days available as there can easily be more than one rainy day. And the second half of September is the time to go if you want to see eagles. Just don't be disappointed if you can't identify them all. I would also not bet on the numbers reported, at times things simply go too fast. There are also raptors that do not make it into the counting list. Most notably, sparrowhawks are not counted, and there were more and more of them as our days went on. The "falcon sp." that made it on to the Shuamta count on 30 Sept was in my opinion clearly an Eleonora's, so there can be excitement even without being official. Why pigeons make it on to the list, but not hobbies and sparrowhawks eludes me. But these are details one can easily accept.

On our second day, the first one at Shuamta, the weather looked decent when we started out at Batumi in the morning. But by the time we arrived, rain had started to fall. There is a shelter a bit below which we thankfully occupied then. Fortunately, the rain stopped again after about an hour or so, and the migrants quickly flooded the sky.

Some words to the watchpoints: #1 Sakhalvasho now has a fairly large observation building. Its only problem comes into play after heavy rains when the water does not drain properly from the upper floor. The new stairs Laurie criticized are definitely not optimal, at least when one descends.

As for #2 Shuamta, its main problem is the limited capacity when there are visitors in addition to the counting crew. I think more than three to five visiting guests will quickly become a problem. We tried to keep a low profile, and we never felt hostile feelings by the crew, though.
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Old Thursday 3rd October 2019, 20:44   #63
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......….including both birding and military aviation so i draw the line at chuff-choughs.....
……………………....

...........Eilat Spring Festival an event that has been bucket-listed since a friend went there in the early-80’s. I have to do it whilst a couple of marbles are still rolling around. I said i would do it at 60 and am now 63 so the clock is ticking.

Good Birding -

Laurie
Laurie, I had to become over 77 before making it to Batumi! So I hope you still have lots of fine years to travel. I had been to Eilat twice in the past, much depends on the winds where the masses migrate through. Batumi seems relatively clear, at least one can see the masses even if they are far away at times.
I recall our first day at Eilat (also with my brother), we saw the constant flow of raptors from the hotel and assumed it was going to be like that for the rest of our stay. So we took it easy and only later realized that we half missed the best day of our time there.

By the way, we seem to share more hobbies, I'm also into military aviation and steam trains (among others).
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Old Friday 4th October 2019, 08:04   #64
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Thankfully NOT steam trains but birds and aviation (not surprisingly really) seem to be a common association - some birders just seem to have an endless supply of ‘Anorak’ storage facilities

I picked an optimum week at Batumi as i can only spend 1 out of 2 due to other plans and not being fair on the bride. She came up to Sak on 2 out of 4 days and the Argo Cafe. She enjoyed the Obs experience and liked chatting, after a fashion, to the local lady in charge of the refreshments and another female birder.

The situation at Chorokhi smacks of the bad old days that Jos alluded to. This is at odds with last year when i saw soldiers enforcing the No Hunting policy
Indeed i had severe apprehensions over visiting that area as i am no shrinking violet and the Bride was already having palpatations over a potential fracas. Consequently the news of a anti-hunting enforcement policy was a relief all round. Accordingly i paid a visit to the Tourist Information office in Batumi and was assured. I also contacted the Adjura Head Office online and was asked to send them any details/images if i see any transgression. I will contact them again and remind them of this and that it is NOT acceptable that ILLEGAL hunting is taking place whilst paradoxically people are using migrant birdwatching facilities paid for by them A group of English birders that were part of a Caucasian Birding tour bumped into a trio of locals with guns down on the delta and despite the guide urging them not to get involved they explained the situation in their ‘robust’ Lancastrian style This took place with armed soldiers only 500 yards away involved in some other sort of road work!

I will post your pictures and vent my spleen as the Adjara have a duty to enforce the law and protect migrant birds that belong to everybody else - these birds have enough to contend with around the corner in the Levant

With regard to the Observatory - i have been involved with practical conservation projects, access, construction and habitat management for 40 years both professionally and as one of these new-fangled and trendy ‘Citizen Scientists’ and so have one or two thoughts - which will be passed on to the BRC...

Suffice to say:

The steps are potentially very dangerous. The retaining sheet metal is already rusting and will rot in 3-5 years. The infill material is unsuitable and is already spilling out thus exposing a dangerous razor-sharp lip. The bottom 2 and top few steps are infilled with concrete - they all should be and the retaining metal removed and then the steps painted with anti-slip paint.

Most of the concrete paths etc need finishing properly.
When the shuttering was removed it would have been easy to round off the edges with a specialised trowel or something improvised.
The terrace has anti-slip paint the lower standing area does not at present.
The upper terrace drainage has been highlighted - it doesn’t drain as the pipes
are not only in the wrong place but they are far too small. They appear to be about 1/2” ID they need to be about 2”ID imo as not only do they not do the job properly they already clog with fine particulates from peoples shoes.

The sub-tropical climate of Adjara, moist conditions and high seasonal precipation means that Batumi is a smorgasbord for Ferric Oxide. Look at the amount of galvanised rooves, gutters etc. The annual climate cycle just eats up anything that is not coated etc...

This brings me finally to the metal balustrade of which there is a lot!
It is all fabricated in box-section Carbon Steel. Curved sections are cut and welded and then overpainted - at present the downstairs is Black and the terrace is White. I presume the latter is a primer? If so i would have used a proper Red Oxide primer, i suspect none of the metal is primed. Consequently Rust is bleeding through on most of the welding joint this means the rot and therefore decay and weakness has started - bad news.

I do not know what the budget was but in a situation where maintenance is difficult then i think all of the metal should have been either high quality Galvanised or Zinc-coated or my personal favourite.....Stainless Steel

The toilets and wash-basin had not been plumbed in yet.

There also a series of totally useless cheapo pedastal lights scattered around to trip over which seems rather pointless for a daytime bird observatory - who needs it lit up at night causing light pollution and competing with the casinos and fleshpots of nearby Batumi. The seals and bolts etc on all of them were already falling apart.

This sounds like a very negative tirade but it is constructive criticism. It seems to have been thought out by people who do not have to use it. I have no doubt that the bird counters were consulted but if they have little practical experience you end up with a Sows Ear which now needs a Silk Purse to fix it when it could and should have been done properly from the outset

As stated the migration has dropped off dramatically with only a few hundred each day consequently a White-backed Woodpecker was the noteworthy bird at Shuamta

I will post final thoughts and a raptor list over the weekend.

Good birding -

Laurie
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Old Friday 4th October 2019, 14:09   #65
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............….exposing a dangerous razor-sharp lip. The bottom 2 and top few steps are infilled with concrete - they all should be and the retaining metal removed and then the steps painted with anti-slip paint.

Most of the concrete paths etc need finishing properly.
When the shuttering was removed it would have been easy to round off the edges with a specialised trowel or something improvised.
The terrace has anti-slip paint the lower standing area does not at present.
The upper terrace drainage has been highlighted - it doesn’t drain as the pipes
are not only in the wrong place but they are far too small. They appear to be about 1/2” ID they need to be about 2”ID imo as not only do they not do the job properly they already clog with fine particulates from peoples shoes.

........................I do not know what the budget was but in a situation where maintenance is difficult then i think all of the metal should have been either high quality Galvanised or Zinc-coated or my personal favourite.....Stainless Steel

..………………….
This sounds like a very negative tirade but it is constructive criticism. It seems to have been thought out by people who do not have to use it. I have no doubt that the bird counters were consulted but if they have little practical experience you end up with a Sows Ear which now needs a Silk Purse to fix it when it could and should have been done properly from the outset

...............Laurie
Laurie, you have obviously studied the details much better than I did, but from all of what I have seen, I can only fully concur with what you have mentioned.

One should always remember, however, that the present things are already a vast improvement over what there was previously. I think the most urgent amelioration needed now is the dangerous situation regarding the steps of the stairs.
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Old Friday 4th October 2019, 15:23   #66
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Agreed but my overall impression is of a half-finished edifice much like the buildings you can find in Greece that are in that condition because the siphoned-off EU funds ran out

One thing that stands out, to me, is the ad-hoc building process. There are very few of what i would call ‘hamlets’. If you look from Sakhalvasho hill the lower elevations are dotted with single buildings each with their little track for access. To my eyes it gives an impression of random jerry-built development which takes the edge off of the otherwise stunning scenery. I wonder what the planning process is in Adjara and what regulations apply?

I will pass on my thoughts to the powers that be before somebody falls down the steps and bleeds out - in addition to whoever it may concern re: shooting at Choroki FWIW. I will post any relevant replies...

Good birding -

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Old Monday 7th October 2019, 16:53   #67
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A few pics.....

Lesser Spotted Eagle overhead.
Peregrine on approach.
Damned graffiti - i blame Banksy.
The legs look a bit thick on that wader

Laurie
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Old Monday 7th October 2019, 17:00   #68
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T
This sounds like a very negative tirade but it is constructive criticism. It seems to have been thought out by people who do not have to use it. I have no doubt that the bird counters were consulted but if they have little practical experience you end up with a Sows Ear which now needs a Silk Purse to fix it when it could and should have been done properly from the outset
Don't you mean construction criticism?

Nice report (the birding one I mean ;-) ) Only been to Kazbegi but did manage to come across a raptor movement en route - absolutely awesome. I'm sure Batumi on an ok day must still be quite good?!?
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Old Tuesday 8th October 2019, 07:00   #69
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Nice one Dan - if/when you visit you will see what i mean

When one has been heavily involved in this sort of thing it is difficult not to get distracted by the new infrastructure and inevitably you start looking for faults.....

An OK day is far better than anything over here in Blighty but then again it is going to be. Despite my 5 days being decidedly quiet by Batumi standards i would not hesitate to go the same week next year and indeed have it pencilled in along with an initial week spent split between the mountains around Gori or thereabouts and a few days South between Batumi and the Turkish border.

The week or so since my return saw 2 days of huge movement approaching 90k a day but the rest of the time has seen birds only in the hundreds or less than 5k. Still the quality of the movement is salivating with many, many Aquila sp the larger % being big ones. As stated in an earlier post the weather was stunning so i am not moaning - the last few days has seen temperatures maintained in the mid-30 consequently lots of birds are streaming higher over Sakhalvasho but Shuamta is having a Purple patch with many Eagles kettling around the watchpoint giving excellent views.....

Good birding -

Laurie -
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Old Tuesday 8th October 2019, 14:10   #70
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We have a Turkish Airlines flight directly to Batumi, but need to change planes at the Istanbul mega airport. Booking two separate flights instead of one with a stop-over reduces the price considerably despite the planes being the same ones.
There was a decided pitfall with our separate booking of the two legs. In order to have the luggage checked through in this situation, there must be a stopover time of at least two hours. We only learned about this rule when at the airport, ready to check in. We only had an hour and 45 minutes, in Istanbul, so Turkish Airlines did not do it. Though they would have done it with the same planes if we had booked a through ticket! Thus, with the oversized new airport, that meant having a rough time getting to the bag claim (there are some "conveyor belts" that speed up getting ahead, but by far not enough), then going though security and checking the luggage in for the second part. Somewhere along the line I lost my orientation and thus lost valuable time. It must have been a matter of less than a minute or so for me to get this done in time. Missing the flight would have meant paying again for it! So, I can't really recommend our strategy.

On the return trip, we had enough time, so the luggage was checked through and we had time to waste.
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Old Tuesday 8th October 2019, 14:30   #71
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I recall a terrorist incident at the airport a while back maybe that is a reason for checking already checked baggage but it is something to bear in mind if flying to Batumi via Istanbul...

A few more pics from Sak. Mainly BK but LSE and a photobombing Raven

Laurie -
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Old Friday 11th October 2019, 04:15   #72
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After several very quiet days this week including a no-go day at Shuamta due to heavy rain things picked up ystda with nearly 10k Steppe Buzzards Despite falling numbers there is still a good variety with ca18 raptor species noted most days. The 2nd ‘fulvescens’ Greater Spotted Eagle of the season was noted yesterday - they must be very impressive, talk about gilding the Lily A smart adult Pallas Gull was seen by observers at both stations - they refer to the species as the ‘Bimbo’ bird. I would quite happily settle for this much-sought species

Good birding -

Laurie -
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