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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Batumi Sęp !3th - 23rd 2023..... (1 Viewer)

Another glorious day of sunshine and light cloud thickening towards the end of the day. Any breeze was imperceptible.

Although only just over 10k birds were counted streams continued to move over and adjacent to us and the sea for most of the day. Black Kites have probably peaked and it will be the turn of Steppe Buzzard and to a lesser degree both Booted and Short-toed Eagle. StE is nowhere near as abundant here as they are at Tarifa where I have seen thousands over a 10 day period rather than several hundred at Batumi. Booted Eagle numbers were excellent yesterday with 700+ being recorded the record standing at around 900. They appeared in every stream indeed some small kettles of ca20 birds contained mainly BE.

Harriers, Marsh aside, were thin but i managed to latch on to 2 of the 3 Pallids including another smart male. Lots of Marsh giving close views as the glided languidly over and around the Obs. Steppe Buzzards notably picked up with the distinct underwing and pale tail being visible even in very high individuals. Honeys have tailed off but 250+ yesterday included some nice dark birds. I managed 2 out of 3 Ospreys and 1 of a dozen Black Storks.

After 3 o'clock and particularly the last hour between 4 and 5 the larger Eagles dominated. Lesser Spotted Eagle had been moving all day but now there were thermals containing upto 6. My own day count was 100. A single Greater was picked out as was 2 Steppe.

Bird of the day goes to probably the most sought after non raptor at either Watchpoint. In amongst a kettle that contained BK/HB/BE and a LsE was an unmistakable.........Great White Pelican! This brute of a beauty was picked up several miles away by observers in the upper level at Sak. The bird continued to, thankfully, drift more or less over our heads - a stonker of a bird that turned out to be a Lifer for most of the young counters. For me it was a Western Palearctic tick and a reaquaintance with a species I last saw over 45 years ago in the soda lakes of Kenya's Rift Valley.

Today is forecast wall to wall sun peaking at 27c - my last day of Batumi birding before travelling to Kars to catch the Dogu Express to Ankara.

I have been kept up to date with the fall of Yank Wood Warblers deposited in West Wales by the tail end of several depressions and it is mouth -watering in the same way that my 80's Scillies Autumn visits were.

Good birding -

Laurie -

Batumi - Sakhalvasho
Thursday 21 September 2023​

Counting period: 07:50 - 17:40
Count type: Storks and raptors
Observers: Jos Koopman, Fernando Gross, Thomas Los, Ada Coudenys, Reinier de Vries, Jarno Michielssen, Koen Diercks, Peter Symens, Flip Veryser, Eirik Kersten

Stock Dove 4 -
Black Stork 11 -
Great White Pelican 1 -
Osprey 3 -
Honey Buzzard 270 -
Short-toed Eagle 76 -
Lesser Spotted Eagle 130 -
Greater Spotted Eagle 1 -
Booted Eagle 726 -
Steppe Eagle 2 -
large eagle sp 169 -
Marsh Harrier 69 -
Pallid Harrier 3 -
Montagu's Harrier 1 -
Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier 14 -
Black Kite 7984 -
Steppe Buzzard 1207 -
MediumRaptor 1 -
Totals: 10672 individuals, 18 species, 9:50 hours

Bold = Notable observation (scarce or rare species or large number)
Comments: Highlight of today: PEEELICAAAAAANNN!!!! Overall an amazing day. The day started calm but the afternoon was perfect. Entertained by some Black Kite-streams we saw finally our most-wanted-non-raptor of the season!! And also the booted-eagle-highway was finally opened, we ended with a daytotal of 726 Booties, the 8th day ever for Sakhalvasho.

Batumi - Shuamta
Thursday 21 September 2023​

Counting period: 06:51 - 17:32
Count type: Storks and raptors
Weather: Fresh morning with cold winds, warm and sunny afternoon
Observers: Pamela Carvajal, Marc Heetkamp, Simon Hugheston-Roberts, Daan Knoops, Kasper Wieck, Samuel Prettyman, Eka Tevdorashvili, Milosz Cousens, June Heene

Black Stork 66 -
Osprey 1 -
Honey Buzzard 290 -
Short-toed Eagle 79 -
Lesser Spotted Eagle 62 -
Greater Spotted Eagle 2 -
Booted Eagle 77 -
Steppe Eagle 3 -
large eagle sp 221 -
Marsh Harrier 52 -
Pallid Harrier 1 -
Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier 4 -
Black Kite 2137 -
Steppe Buzzard 4426 -
MediumRaptor 101 -
Totals: 7522 individuals, 15 species, 10:41 hours

Bold = Notable observation (scarce or rare species or large number)
Comments: Lovely eagle day! We saw multiple kettels up to 6 birds. At the end of the count we had some beautiful views on, for most of the people, their favorite eagle: Short-toed. The best highlight was actually not an eagle but the great white pelican wich was discovered by station 1! Thanks!
As the counters do not record small raptors I forgot to mention loads of Sprawks and a smart but all too brief female Red-footed Falcon that shot past at Mach 1 - odd because they record Stock and Turtle Doves.

Laurie -
No internet for 3 days from Saturday until Tuesday as we were travelling. This included the Kars - Ankara Anatolian (Dogu) Express which did not have Wifi or certainly didn’t in the Cattle Class that were the only seats available making 30 hours a challenge to say the least. I will do a final post on the travel aspect which, in order to undertake the above marathon train journey, wasn’t worth it for us with regard to logistics and birds seen but hey-ho it’s been done…..

The last day up at Station 1 Sakhalvasho was very pleasant and once again a glorious day with bright conditions in the morning until about 2pm when it turned hazy. Friday was the quietest of the 4 visits indeed since then subsequent days have been very, very quiet at both stations with a day count of 8k+ Steppe Buzzards at Shuamta being the exception in addition singles of Egyptian Vulture, another White-tailed Eagle and the first Griffon Vulture of the season have all been recorded at Station 2.

My personal tally is as follows.

Both species of Stork. Always nice to see Black but today a flock of White put in an appearance. The latter are always scarce during my visits I presume populations are both more Westerly in origin and move mainly mid-August to mid-September?

Great White Pelican - a bird, heading North this time, could be a different bird from the Southbound bird but either way was just a day tick.

A smart adult Egyptian Vulture was my only one of the trip but another Crested Honey Buzzard was my 2nd for the trip my 3rd for Batumi.

Honey Buzzards numbered several hundred and I had excellent views of a range of colour variations including some very dark birds. Likewise I clocked about 30 Short-toed Eagles both adult and juvenile.

Lesser Spotted Eagles glided past in ones and twos until ‘Eagle o’clock’ when the flood gates opened at around 3pm. This species started appearing in with other raptor kettles. One bird stood out like a dick on a dog. It was Golden pale and you could pick it out easily. Afaik this species doesn’t have a ‘fulvescens’ form so it was just individual variation and very nice too. 5 Greater Spotted including distinct pale tipped upperwing birds and half a dozen Steppe a couple reasonably close between the hill and the sea. Many birds were not specifically identifiable by the counters.

Harriers were few but Marsh dominated. I managed 3 out of 4 Pallid including a freshly sprayed adult male and the only Monty of the day.

Just over 5k birds for the day but again quality over quantity is the mantra.

Another jaw-dropping trip for me and I can see it being repeated again next year but flying into either Tblisi or probably Kutaisi if direct flights from Luton resume to the latter. Batumi is a possibility but it would mean a change at Istanbul. One day had over 50 observers but visitors were not as numerous as previous trips. I re-aquainted with Noam Wiess from Eilat who was part of a lecture package for those willing to pay for such things but i heard his talk numerous times in the Spring.

The only slightly negative aspect of the Sak visits were some of the counters using the count tablet to play pop songs on from time to time when there was a lull in migrants. This while indulging in checking their social media a lot of the time. I did say to one of them ‘is this going on all day’ this was met with a shrug so I said that if I wanted loud music whilst birding I might have well stopped in Batumi! I wasn’t alone in finding this irritating and out of place in the peace and tranquility of the viewing station. Had it been more frequent it could have ended badly - other visitors commented accordingly. At 67 I am nearly 3x the age of some of the counters so it probably reflects my age but also theirs I feel - it will be mentioned on the BRC Faecebook page and I will be interested to see what if any response is forthcoming.

The next post will be birds seen on the last leg of the trip which is the train bit. As stated a travel post will also be put up as it might be found useful. I will also put up a series of images to round off the whole thing…..

Good birding -

Laurie -

Batumi - Sakhalvasho
Friday 22 September 2023​

Counting period: 06:54 - 17:30
Count type: Storks and raptors
Observers: Pamela Carvajal, Thomas Los, Eirik Kersten, Marc Heetkamp, Eka Tevdorashvili, Simon Hugheston-Roberts, Peter Symens, Koen Dierckx

Black Stork 22 -
White Stork 21 -
Great White Pelican - 1
Osprey 5 -
Egyptian Vulture 1 -
Honey Buzzard 321 -
Crested Honey Buzzard 1 -
Short-toed Eagle 46 -
Lesser Spotted Eagle 171 -
Greater Spotted Eagle 5 -
Booted Eagle 263 -
Steppe Eagle 7 -
large eagle sp 131 -
Marsh Harrier 21 -
Pallid Harrier 4 -
Montagu's Harrier 1 -
Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier 3 -
Black Kite 4051 -
Steppe Buzzard 150 -
MediumRaptor 14 -
European Roller 3 -
Totals: 5242 individuals, 21 species, 10:36 hours

Batumi - Shuamta
Friday 22 September 2023​

Counting period: 06:47 - 17:32
Count type: Storks and raptors
Weather: Sunny morning, clouds coming in in the afternoon
Observers: Jos Koopman, Frank Halberts, Kasper Wieck, Samuel Prettyman, Reinier de Vries, Jarno Michielissen, Milosz Cousens, June Heene & 'tourist' Fernando Gross

Black Stork 49 -
Osprey 1 -
Honey Buzzard 230 -
Short-toed Eagle 20 -
Lesser Spotted Eagle 48 -
Booted Eagle 41 -
Steppe Eagle 1 -
large eagle sp 104 -
Marsh Harrier 28 -
Pallid Harrier 3 -
Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier 2 -
Black Kite 918 -
Steppe Buzzard 1619 -
MediumRaptor 71 -
Totals: 3135 individuals, 14 species, 10:45 hours

Bold = Notable observation (scarce or rare species or large number)
Comments: Also slower days exist in Batumi. The only highlight of today was a pelican wich came (back) to say hallo, also today station 2 managed to pick up the bird far in the west. With some coke and weird fanta from the cafe and the presence of a really sharp tourist on station we had still an enjoyable day!!
Saturday morning the 23rd saw us waving bye-bye to Batumi taking a Marshrutka to the border at Sarpi then another to Hopa coach station before a 5.5 hour coach up the mountains to Kars. A local hotel was found for an overnight stop to board the Dogu Express at 8am the next morning.

The journey from Hopa to Kars was very pleasant with slowly but surely rising in altitude over about 4 hours. The ruggedness of the mountains and associated geology didn’t fail to impress. As did the impressive tunnels through the hillsides. There were literally dozens and dozens of them many of half to a mile in length and one of nearly 4m - truly impressive. I marvelled at where all the spoil went and how many tonnes of concrete must have been poured and more importantly how did they get up there before that!

Eventually there was light at the end of the tunnel system and we emerged blinking onto the Western Anatolian Plateau for the remainder of the ride. This consists of rolling grassland low hills and the odd ravine. Here and there bits of wetland shimmered - forgot to mention, on the way up there were hydro barrages galore - quite what it’s done to the riparian habitat God only knows but Turkey gotta ‘modernise’. Erdogan had/has plans for two thousand dams so it’s bye-bye Dippers and chasmophyte flora. The new Istanbul International Airport we flew into occupies the space that some 16 million Oaks once did so we are part of the problem - if you are in a ‘traffic jam’ you are the traffic jam as they say…..

The Anatolian Plateau occupies roughly 2/3 of the Turkish landmass and is Asia Minor of historical reference.

Had we been travelling in April or May i have no doubt that there would have been plenty of associated Passerine species e.g. Larks, Pipits, Wagtails and Buntings etc not to mention ground-nesting Harriers. There was evidence of arable crops having been harvested so plenty of nesting cover for all sorts of species. Of visual intrusion was ‘landscape plastic’ - does nobody pick anything up? At least the region has not been ruined by EU agricultural subsidies. If Turkey ever joined it would bankrupt the EU that’s for sure. Look no further than our own farmland to see the destructive effect that 40 years has had I.e. 80 Million birds less no wonder there is eff all to see away from the coast and pocket-handkerchief managed reserves.

Birding really started with the Kars-Ankara train.

8am - 1830 in daylight, 1830 - 7am in the dark, 7am until 1330 in the light.

The first section in rolling plateau country descending through low mountains overnight and the first 3 hours next morning then about 10pm winding through lowland with wider plains, cultivation and rivers appearing rather than the steep mountain rivulets.

I rather like the challenge of birding from moving public transport particularly coaches as they tend to move slower certainly in places we go to like Portugal, Spain and particularly Morocco. I have clocked Black-winged Kite, White-rumped Swift, Desert Finch and a super close calling (from a mound) smart male Double-spurred Francolin - all these in ‘Spain dirty’ Morocco a wonderful country for birds.

The Dogu Express was no exception as it travelled at the stately speed of around 50-60 km per hour. I could almost hear my nails grow but it did afford decent views of a range of species although small passerines always prove frustrating and so some species remain unidentified. The train often slowed down to 15-20kmph and I often wondered are we going in a loop or are we ever to arrive?

Below is an annotated list of species seen and identified. Fortunately I used The Bride’s optics a pair of Optician 8x42 rather than my 12x Swaros the former ideal for trainspotting.

White Wagtail - lots, haven’t checked if the subspecies is any different from the nominate ‘alba’.

Eastern Jackdaw - loads often with Rooks. The subspecies with the lighter present on the nape set in the general pale area.

Swallow - lots on migration.

Corn Bunting - a most impressive flock estimated at 1k - how much of the UK breeding population would that be?

Starling - large numbers on low power lines like something out of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Grey Heron - around the Barrages and on the rivers nearer Ankara.

Purple Heron - a single noted.

Kestrel - lots and lots.

Long-legged Buzzard - the standout species with over 300 birds seen en-route. These varied both in plumage and numbers with many well-marked birds. Singles hunting, pairs hunting and groups of upto half a dozen birds walking ploughed areas for food. Very nice to see so many as my experience has been limited to a handful of ‘cirtensis’ birds from Maroc.

Ruddy Shelduck - a party of c30 on a small pool.

GG Shrike - a number of birds seen no idea of what race until I look it up.

Lapwing - small parties feeding in stubble.

Hooded Crow - everywhere often with Jackdaws and Rooks.

Pygmy Cormorant - in excess of 100 birds in small groups on the rivers near Ankara.

Rock Thrush - a single juv/female seen.

Small Gamebird sp - 4 small brown featureless birds seen walking the edge of a field. I thought they must be See-See Partridge but the range is further South East so I don’t know what they were?

Yellow-legged Gull - looked a bit different on mantle and upperwing markings so maybe Eastern birds but I don’t have any experience.

Magpie - again presumable the same subspecies although there might be an Eastern race.

Collared Dove - nice to see as my local birds are declining. To actually see them in their region of origin Asia Minor iirc Collared Dove first record for Britain was actually a breeding pair in Cromer, Norfolk during the ‘50s.

Crag Martin - odd pairs hawking.

Green Sandpiper - single.

Black Kite - having seen 35k+ in a day at Sakhalvasho I will just say 'noted'.

Red-footed Falcon - a couple of hawking juvenile types seen.

Hobby - juvenile single only.

Levant Sparrowhawk - a party of 8 hunting around Kars Station and odd birds en-route.

Twite - a species not seen for 30 years. I used to survey breeding birds when living in Lancashire’s Western Pennines but only a coupla birds at a grotty Midlands reservoir since. Nice to see odd pairs sitting one fence wire during the journey.

Teal/Garganey - one unspecifically identified female/juv seen in flight.

Ring Ouzel - a rather smart male on a post.

Crested Lark - several going on habitat I.e. low cultivated.

Little Egret - on the rivers.

Marsh Harrier - 2 female types hunting along a river.

Good birding -

Laurie -
Great report, thanks. Sounds like a great trip. 35k Black Kites is amazing. A friend of mine, Simon, is currently doing his RSPB sabbatical on the count - he must be well over double the average age of the other counters!

I stayed in Sakhalvasho a good few years ago when the Batumi Raptor Watch was just getting an eco-tourist thing going. It was the worst place i've ever stayed anywhere in the world, and i've done a fair bit of backpacking. The food was burnt pasta sprinkled with sugar. The bed was an uncomfortable couch in a large spare downstairs room. The toilet was a dank mossy outhouse in the garden. The old guy ripped me off all my remaining cash when he dropped me off at the mashrutka in Batumi. His daughter would yell at her 2 very small girls as soon as she got home from work and make them cry, which i found quite hard to deal with. The nominated "go-between" who spoke English, and i'd been told to call in order to communicate with my hosts, was unhelpful and didn't seem to give a sh1t. Apart from that it was great!
Of course, Sak and Batumi, and Georgia are all great places and i really liked them. Quiet, fairly crime-free, not over developed, etc. I walked to the Botanic Gardens which are great, a nice wander for about an hour down country lanes. It is possible to get a mashrutka from Batumi to Sak, they'll drop you off at the side of the main road. I think it's harder in the other direction as they tend to be all full, and don't see you til it's too late to stop. But yes, a cracking, relaxing part of the world to bimble n patch. I've also been to Kazbegi another time, which is really stunning.
Interesting that u took the train Kars - Ankara, as it's something i've been wanting to do for years, tho if i understand correctly you weren't over enamoured? Sort of in the "ok" department but not great? I travelled to Batumi from Yerevan, taking the sleeper to Tbilisi then a regular train to the Makhinjauri. I can't do coaches anymore so your journey from Istanbul to Batumi would've finished me off!
Your digs sounded grim - we paid an average of about 25 quid a night for the pair of us which included a Georgian breakfast on the terrace. Each trip we have stopped in Batumi Old Town which is quaint with its cobbled streets and local bars/cafes. If it wasn't for the birding I wouldn't visit as it's like a hybrid Blackpool/Las Vegas and the amount of building of the new Batumi has to be seen to be believed - I counted in excess of 35 Cranes one day from a bus down to the Airport. I like to think the area beyond the Airport to Chorokhoi will be left undeveloped. Adjara needs to sort out building and enforcement of the illegal shooting imo but hey ho I'm just a tourist.....

I think next time we might stop up at Sak with one of the families. It's a good rate which includes breakfast, packed lunch, evening meal and free English lessons to the locals! Saves on the taxi etc. Having said that I do like to alternate with the Argo not just for my own ID challenges but also The Bride likes going up there. The only thing with Sak as there isn't much to do of an evening and I find the counters a bit us and them I'm afraid. I almost certainly saw your mate as anyone over 25 stands out like a Dick on a Dog.

I'm glad we did both the coach and the train but it will not be repeated as the logistics have still left me tired a week later. We will fly to either Batumi or Kutasai next time - I like Kutasai it has a faded, paint-peely, feel to it and some good bars plus the River Rioni runs through it. Batumi is a bit over-priced considering the economy but I put that down to the Russian presence. They used to be mainly tourists but are now living there in large numbers due to the Ukraine situation - I don't blame them but it is causing issues with rents etc. At least the ones I saw don't swagger around as they often do abroad as they will be conscious of local feelings and issues bear in mind that 20% of Georgian territory is de-facto Kremlin annexed i.e. South Ossetia and Abkhazia......

Good birding -

Laurie -
On my first trip up to the Argo I alighted to see a group of staff members looking down at something on the floor. It turned out to be a recently deceased..........Scops Owl!

I picked it up thinking it must have hit a window. Further examination revealed gunshot wounds - it must have been hit and managed to make it to the tower before bleeding out poor thing. My initial thoughts were how could a Scops Owl be hit but I assume it was flushed from a daytime roost and blasted with a shotgun.

I handed it to the counters after 3 days in the hotel fridge. They are going to use it for educational purposes.

All shots are counted at Sak and this year were very few and far between but that probably reflects the good weather and high streams. These birds have to pass through Macho Central e.g. Lebanon and beyond where they think nothing about shooting each other never mind migrating birds. Bird shooting is illegal in Georgia and if the Adjara regional government wants to encourage ecotourism then a grip has to be got. Like with all laws it is down to enforcement and people not wanting to engage in this sort of activity. There are plenty of people involved with schoolchildren and education so it should gradually diminish over time.

A similar attitude prevails over here amongst some of the shooting and gamekeeping fraternity so we have our own house to get in order if we are supposed to be an example to others.....

Good birding -

Laurie -


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The nicest red wine I've ever had was in Georgia. Got soaked in a thunderstorm in Kazbegi and sloshed and squelched into the "Rooms Hotel", full of oligarchs in shell suits. Roaring log fire and a few big glasses of a rich Georgian red that was off-dry, or perhaps a hint of sweetness without being sickly, would be a better description. Warmed the cockles. 🤩👍⛈️🤤🤤🐦
Good stuff.

With an 8k, iirc, history of Viniculture and an estimated (minimum) of 400 'varieties' what's not to like. The grape is imbued into Georgian culture and history and features everywhere. Vines twist up lamp posts and trail across roads utilising anything it can. We stood at a bus stop that doubled as an arbour heaving under the weight of ripening grapes. Almost everybody makes wine and if they don't have a small plot or vineyard they buy and press a batch to last the year. Indeed my taxi driver, Mindy, is a Muslim and he presses several hundred litres annually. It's worth popping into places that have a good range and sample 4 or 5 glasses. Even the Soviets celebrated the history by incorporating it into their Cold War tiled murals up in the wine-making region of Khaketi.....

Laurie -

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