Alan Dalton post's birding diaries and original artwork from Sweden. Established in 2006, this now long running blog is now a complete overview of my birding experiences. As an artist I greatly enjoy sketching birds in the field and you will find a wide selection of that work here, from fieldwork to finished paintings. I am very passionate about my artwork and try to depict birds in their natural habitat, as I see them in the wild. My artwork is for sale and can be viewed at http://www.alandalton.net/
As regards to my photography, since 2008 I have used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera coupled with a Sigma 150-500mm OS lens for since March 2012 for bird photography, all previous images being digiscoped. Regarding sound recording, I have been usung a Telinga Stereo Dat Mic and parabol to record birds in the field, coupled to a Marrantz 661 digital recorder, a superb piece of kit. Interest in butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies has recently seen the accquisition of a Sigma 150mm macro lens. I hope you enjoy the blog and please feel free to leave comments or contact me at alandltn@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Migrant Passerines, Batumi Harbour, 1st October 2014

 Reed Warbler, a nice fresh juvenile bird here. A rather confusing array of birds, no doubt there were many fuscus types among these birds. More discussion and photos to follow with regard to these birds, which were every where on the day...

Having decided to spend the early morning at Station 1 in order to be a part of the celebrations, we duly recorded and enjoyed the one million raptors and headed to Batumi Harbour. Our decision was made because of the previous days passerine fall around the station, John Wright and I figured that a proportion of the birds would still be present and feeding after such a dramatic fall of migrants. The weather was fine and we hope there would be some migrants. We took a very crowded marshutka to Batumi and made our way towards the harbour, noticing that there were far fewer gulls around on out way, presumably because the weather was fine. As we approached the harbour area it became apparent that there were a lot of migrants about. The first signs were Redstarts, flipping around the boats catching insects. As soon as we got into the small area of waste ground we were met with a sight I will never forget. There were Caspian Stonechats everywhere, many were stunning males and they were everywhere. This was one of the species we had hoped to see well, we decided to take out time and take lote of photos, starting with theses birds. Digiscoping was the order of the day, as we could stay back and not spook the birds too much. We spent 20 minutes photographing the Caspian Stonechats on the outskirts of the waste ground, the light was great and the views were out of this world. Whilst we were watching the birds it became apparent there were masses of migrant passerines here and we were stunned by the amount of Reed Warbler and Bluethroat present. They were simply everywhere. It was clear that this would be a rather special day and we decided not to rush in, rather t take it slowly and enjoy the birds, getting some good photos as we went. Later we could get into the cover and try and dig out some other species. And so it was we first studied and photographed hordes of Caspian Stonechat. The birds were sitting yp in the vegetation feeding on insects, often at close range and we could not of asked for more. We resisted the urge to move on too quickly and managed some nice photos of these birds, which were new to me and unfamiliar. It was nice to take in the features, though whilst the males were distinctive the first calendars and females were far more of a challenge. A further post will follow on these birds...


 Bluethroat, a remarkable day for this species, which was everywhere...

We moved on after a while and got las than 20 metres before were were stopped by Redstarts, Whinchats and Bluethroats. the vegetation was a tangle of long grasses and weed and was teeming with Reed Warbler. ChiffChaff were also in evidence. Looking at these birds it became clear that there was eastern influence on many of the birds, the Reed Warblers in particular showed a lot of variation, from warm, rufous types, to cold greyish toned birds.I spent a while photographing a Redstart at this point, before a Wryneck was flushed and took out attention for a few minutes, it sat in a palm tree against a backdrop of downtown Batumi and high rise buildings. I was looking at the bird in my scope when a Redstart landed on the other end! It was completely bonkers and we were blown away by the sheer scale of the migrants on show...

 Redstart, one of the first birds seen as we approached the harbour...



 Caspian Stonechat, a wonderful male here.

Red Backed Shrike were another very numerous species on the day. It was hard to judge the numbers present, but we both agreed Reed Warbler was by far the most numerous, with a minimum estimate at well over a thousand birds in a very small area of around 250 metres square. Next were Bluethroat, with hundreds of birds present, you only had to walk into the grass and you flushed a couple immediately, often they were feeding on the footpath.After that were there were many ChiffChaff, Caspian Stonechat, Redstart and Whinchat. It was bonkers, even on the flower beds beside the main road, there were birds everywhere. We spent a little time digiscoping the shrikes before a large warbler caught out eye, there could be little doubt this was a Great Reed Warbler on size alone, it sat right out for us and allowed loots of photos to be take. Time after time, this happened, the birds were out in the open feeding constantly. The Great Reed Warbler gave us stinking views and eventually warned off a Red Backed Shrike it felt was too close..

 Red Backed Shrike, a juvenile scolds me from atop some vegetation, many birds were present at the site...



 Great Reed Warbler, dwarfing the other warblers at the site...this one was seen early in the visit.


After viewing the Great Reed Warbler we carefully picked our way into the wastegroung, grilling every bird we could. Reed Warbler were so numerous it took forever to get through them, eventually we would pick something else out. A few Lesser Whitethroat, a Common Whitethroat, a Willow Warbler. There were small numbers of Blackcap too and we deduced to get into the vegetation to see what e might flush. Quail were flushed all over the place, they were everywhere. Often they would flush from just underfoot, waiting until the last possible second to fly. The first unstreaked Acro warblers were noticed at this point, after a while we realised there were many of them and they seemed to be Savis Warbler. Eventually we became familiar with a high, metallic call they often gave after being flushed, usually given at the point where they were diving back into cover. They proved extremely elusive and we were constantly baffled by there ability to remain undetected, low down in the grass, often moving at amazing speed on foot. Another Great Reed Warbler was picked up, whilst more Caspian Stonechat were noted, there were so many birds.


 Wryneck, always a special bird when a good view can be good. These cryptically camouflaged woodpeckers are always a real treat...

It was around this point we decided to scrap plans to go to the dump, which we had planned for gulls. /this was not easily decided, it was just the fact we were in the middle of the kind of passerine fall we might never see again at a location which might throw up anything. We did not want to rush the birding and we were getting so many good photos we just figured the birding was too goof to leave the area. The next species were Wheatears, a few Northern Wheatear and a single Black throated Wheatear. We got to the other side of the waste ground and decided to grill a Yellow Wagtail for a while, eventually getting some good photos. we decided to have a quick look at the beach at this point...

 Yellow Wagtail. This bird had a bad leg. Easily assigned to species, but what race is this?


We crossed the pedestrian area that runs along the beach, flushing Redstarts as we went. On arrival at the beach we found a small embankment with a tiny bush halfway along its length. We scoped the small bush, which was maybe two foot square. It held Bluethroat, Redstart, Reed Warbler, Caspian Stonecaht and Whinchat! We quickly christened it the Magic Bush and went on to enjoy stunning views of these species, also flushing Quail here too. Bluethroat gave itself up completely here, birds were bouncing around on the bank feeding, were fill our SD cards a little more. Male Redstarts were showing well too, we checked them all for eastern characters, more confusion as some showed pale collars and upper breasts...
 Gulls were scarce, though there were several Lillte Gull, Yellow legged Gull, Black Necked Grebe and a Kingfisher in the harbour. \we went back towards the wastegroung for more passerines soon after...

 Male Redstart, one of several that were feeding in a small area on the beach, glorious bird...



 Bluethroat. Unforgettable, crippling views of these birds all day. This one was an absolute star along the beach..


Back at the waste ground there were more birds. Tree Pipit were flushed, a few Skylark went over. Superb views of a preening Wryneck lasted for some minutes. More Savis Warbler were eventually identified, before John located a superb Little Bittern resting in the bushes. The bird gave amazing views as it roosted, moving around a little over the next fews hours.It was a real highlight of the day as it had been many years since I last saw the species in Poland. We were both stoked with our day, we were seeing more migrants than we ever had in a single day, as soon as you moved, you were onto a new bird. Whilst we were watching the Bittern a bunting flew past, which we eventually relocated and identified as an Ortolan Bunting. More Bluethroat, a Savis Warbler, Red Backed Shrike, Great Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Quail, it was outrageous really....


 Little Bittern, resting in the bushes, a rather special bird....


There were more species. Red throated Pipits were located near the city in a grassy verge, we spent some time attempting to see them well, I eventually got some photos. They were flighty and liked the longer grass. I spent quite a bit of time photographing Reed Warblers in the afternoon, as did John and it was around this time I photographed a lot of them in the area around the Little Bittern. Reed Warblers in Georgia are interesting due to the potential eastern flavour and it was a few weeks later whilst sorting through these photos I came across some images of a bird with a prominent, rather flared supercilium. Alarm bells rang straight away and I then realised that I has photographed a Paddyfield Warbler. The shots are quite good and show all the features one might hope for, leaving little room for doubt, subsequently ran the photos past some birding friends on social media, who unanimously agreed the bird was a Paddyfield Warbler. A rare, though probably overlooked species in Georgia, it seems this may be the sixth or seventh record in Georgia. So a good result in the end, though a little irritating I didn't clock the bird in the field..
 We had a few Red breasted Flycatchers in the pine trees, along with more Red Backed Shrike, all of which were careful checked without a hit. In the end we didn't have a big rarity, but we did not mind, such was the quality of the birding and the sheer number of birds involved. This was a magical days birding and we were both gobsmacked by what we were seeing...


 Red Throated Pipit, in the short grass at times, though hard to photograph...



 Hoopoe, waited a while for this one to raise the crest for the camera lens...


Onwards then, next came a Hoopoe, which gave great views as well. The bird was feeding on the ground and eventually even raised its crest for the camera. We had just left the bird alone when Red Backed Skrike flew past with a passerine in its bill and I alerted John to where it had landed. We both looked on in disbelief as we realised the bird had predated a Savis Warbler, which is preceded to drop, allowing us to examine the unfortunate bird. We eventually moved off, leaving the warbler for the Shrike to reclaim, which it did as soon as we moved away. The light was now going and time running out and we were forced to get back. We took a cab back to Saghalvasho and made out way back to the accommodation after an amazing day, only to find out that raptor passage in the afternoon had been unexplainably quiet. we had picked the right day to go for migrants. The forecast was good for the next day, my last full day on station. I could never have guessed what would transpire, I was simply hoping for a day of good passage, having now succeeded in recording a million birds we were relaxed. That evening we had a few beers and celebrated over a huge dinner at Mirabis house. It was a great night and everyone had a great night, none really considering just how huge the following day would prove....


Red Backed Shrike predating Savis Warbler, one of a number of remarkable observations during a day I will never forget, an absolute migrant fest....!




Paddyfield Warbler, note the flared, long supercilium, dark lateral crown stripe, pale edges to tertials, short primary projection, rather short bill with dark tip to both mandibles. 



 Batumi Harbour, the ground cover here was crawling with birds...




 The ferris wheels overlong the tangle grasses and bushes at Batumi harbour...



John Wright digiscoping the Little Bittern....


Chiffchaff, a stunning little bird this one...


1,000,000 Raptors at Batumi, 2014


The moment the 1,000,0000th raptor of 2014 passed Batumi...

A link here to the video in order to record the moment that the one million raptors warm was reached at Batumi in 2014. We needed just 93 birds from first count and it was soon reached with a stream of Steppe Buzzards to the east of the Station.
 John Wright and I had a day off on 1st October, when this occurred and decided to se at Station 1 first thing in order not to miss the moment. Many thanks must go to all the Batumi Raptor counters and coordinators, those who worked all three counting blocks, as well as the BRC team in Batumi. The season was far from over at this point, with 2014 going one to break the record annual total, with an incredible total of 1,384,537 raptors recorded.

Full details and breakdown here at the BRC official website....
http://www.batumiraptorcount.org

Batumi, Shuamta, 30th September 2014

Steppe Buzzard passage at Shuamta on September 30th...


A remarkable day, during which I was so busy that I never used my camera! The mooring was good wether wise and we figured that there might be some good passage, the mood was good on the way to Shuamta. I was glad to be on Station 2 as I figured it might see the greatest number of birds and on arrival things started off reasonable well, with the usual passage of  Pallid Harriers, with the odd Marsh Harrier group passing. After the early morning, passage saw an upturn as a few Black Kite began to move through, as well as the first Steppe Buzzard. The weather remained a concern and though the early morning had been quite clear there were signs of increasing cloud cover as the Steppe Buzzards really began to pick up in the east. Once again I was in the east, this time with Johannes Silvonen. Before long the stream became a heavy one and we were very busy and hundreds of birds soon became thousands.
 Today was a day when we were mindful that a good passage of raptors could see us pass 1,000,0000 birds for the season, always a special landmark. It quickly became apparent hat his would indeed be possible as the Steppe Buzzards began to stream in hundreds, so we concentrated hard on these. There were a few other species, with plenty of Black Kite at one point. Far to the east in the Steppe Buzzard stream came Aquilla eagles, too far to specifically identify. There were good birds however and the first of theses was a lovely juvenile Greater Spotted Eagle. A Steppe Eagle and second Immature later followed. giving us excellent views. From Station 1 came news they were also seeing birds, remarkably for the last day of September there were 7 Rollers south, as well as good numbers of Red Footed Falcon. Back on our station there were now a few Short Toed and Booted Eagle passing, still a few Harriers, whilst 26 Common Crane were noteworthy. In the afternoon a female Crested Honey Buzzard was a highlight. There were birds overhead and in the east, whilst passage was slowing in the west as bad weather closed in..
 Still we concentrated on the count at 10,000 Steppe Buzzard were soon logged. We were watching the totals closely after 20,000 birds were reached and were in close contact with the other station as the one million mark approached. Then at around 3pm the cloud finally began to cover the mountain tops and passage slowed. A huge kettle in the north would have seen us pass one million birds had it passed, but it was not to be and the birds with to the mountainsides to roost as the rain started to fall. We were just a few hundred birds away by the end of the count, despite scanning carefully in the rain for the odd Steppe Buzzard, some Black Kites also passing late on. By the end of day were very very close, we knew the next day would see a million birds for the season and the mood was good. John Wright and I debated what to do as we had a day off, deciding to go to Station 1 early the following day to be part of the landmark 1,000,000 birds before heading out to search for migrants or gulls. We didn't want to miss a big day of raptors though and decided it best to play it by ear and make the decision from station in the morning...


Batumi - Shuamta
Tuesday 30 September 2014   

Counting period: 8:11 - 17:01
Count type: Storks and raptors
Weather:
Observers: Blanca PĂ©rez, Demetrios Bertzeletos, Ana de Osma, Aurore Proutheau, Gerrit Jan van Dick, Johannes Silvonen
Black Stork52Hen/Montagu's/Pallid Harrier48Osprey2
Honey Buzzard30Steppe Buzzard24543Red-footed Falcon5
Crested Honey Buzzard1Lesser Spotted Eagle6raptor sp.27
Black Kite532Greater Spotted Eagle3Crane26
Short-toed Eagle11Steppe Eagle1Stock Dove3
Marsh Harrier35Aquila sp.163Turtle Dove36
Pallid Harrier20Booted Eagle9

Totals: 25553 individuals, 20 species, 8:50 hours

Bold = Remarkable observation (scarce or rare species or large number)
Comments: We reached the 100.000 Black Kites and 100 Ospreys!