Biblical Raptor Migration recorded in the Republic of Georgia

Batumi Raptor Count, or BRC, is a nature conservation NGO that works to monitor and conserve the 850,000+ birds of prey that migrate every autumn through the Batumi Bottleneck. A young and forward thinking organisation, BRC has been operating from the Black Sea City of Batumi, in the Republic of Georgia, ever since 2008 when it has organised the first raptor-migration count for the region covering the full autumn season. Although originally created as a monitoring organisation, after realising the scale of the hunting pressures that migratory birds face in the region, BRC’s mission has now expanded to that of a conservation and monitoring NGO.

Our fantastic count team has done it again, our season total is way over the 1.000.000 mark again. The count volunteers and especially the coordinators have mastered this incredible flight of raptors, and even succeeded to keep a high quality count, identifying a high proportion of the eagles and harriers. Read more on how the season evolved, and learn about the key species involved below.

Visitors and volunteers enjoy the raptor spectacle overhead (c) Olivier Dochy

What a remarkable sight, and no gamekeepers to spoil this unbelievable spectacle

 

 

Stack of Honey Buzzards (c) Otto Plantema

So far, the season brought us many surprises. Although we were expecting another peak of Honey Buzzards in the first week of September, we had to be happy with a first season peak day of roughly 68.000. Of course, we knew it would be hard to compete with last year’s high, but another higher peak day stayed out and in the end we did not break that record. On consecutive days we had roughly 42.000 (3 September) and 52.000 (4 September)  more, mainly over station one. Now that the majority of the Honey Buzzard migration has passed, we seem to have had a fairly average total of Honeys compared with the previous 5 years.

 A peak day of Honey Buzzards of 68.000 (c) Eddy Vaes

 

 

Adult female Honey Buzzard (c) Eddy Vaes

Much better to shoot these avian icons with a camera, but how long will this spectacle last?

A record we did break this year, was the amount of rainy days we had in September. We should analyze this properly later-on, but it seemed like half of the month we were sitting in the house due to heavy rain. There were a few sunny days, mostly during the middle of the month and those were very interesting. Numbers were modest, but the variation in species seen was spectacular.

A crowded station (c) Jasper Wehrmann

Counters also had to cope with dull moments on station 1 (c) Clément Rollant

We have never recorded that many Crested Honey Buzzards in one season, with about 47 individuals recorded until now! We had a new day record of 12 individuals, with eight of them over station 2 on the 17th of September. Definitely the quality of our count volunteers has something to do with this. Part of these big honey buzzards show mixed characters of both Eurasian and Crested Honey Buzzard, and might be hybrids. Enough material for a separate update, soon.

Adult male Crested Honey Buzzard

Adult male Crested Honey-Buzzard (c) Simon Cavailles

Adult female Crested Honey Buzzard

Adult female Crested Honey Buzzard 17 Sep (c) Jan Lontkowski

Adult female Crested Honey Buzzard

Adult female Crested Honey Buzzard 18 Sep (c) Jan Lontkowski

Adult female Crested Honey Buzzard with juvenile Honey Buzzard

Adult female Crested Honey Buzzard with juvenile Honey Buzzard (c) Dieter Colombier

Another day that will stick in our memory was the 23rd of september when hundreds of Red-footed Falcons passed our stations. The biggest flock numbered no less then 423 individuals, nevertheless they are not part of our monitoring program, which might be reconsidered after this spectacular amount.

 

Great show up by a flock of Red-footed Falcons (c) Clément Rollant

 

Red Footed Falcon

Red Footed Falcon and one Filiep (c) Clément Rollant

In contrast with the modest numbers of Honey Buzzards, the flight of Steppe Buzzards was larger then ever before and shattered all our previous records. A first peak day, after several days of heavy rain, was recorded on the 26th of September. The flight went mainly over station two, with mostly Steppe Buzzards (88.050), and a huge chunk of raptor spec. (61.127) in the far east. There also were good numbers of Black kites (4.564) and various Eagles (1.294), resulting in the second highest day total ever: 159.037 raptors from both stations together!

Impressive flocks of Steppe Buzzard, with a juvenile Steppe Eagle in the middle (c) David ‘Billy’ Herman

Almost continuous clicking concert on station two on the 26th of September (c) David ‘Billy’ Herman

We all thought that was it, and the migration would slow down towards the end of our count period. But no, one week later on the 5th of October, after several more thunderstorms, an incredible flight passed our stations of over 104.000 Steppe Buzzards (new day record) over station two and 1.125 Lesser/Greater/Steppe eagles. And strangely, this was a cloudy day with intermittent rain, the majority of the birds passed fairly low. Unseen before!

The next day, the 6th of October was good for a strong eagle flight, with over 2.000 Lesser/greater/Steppe’s and a few Imperials Eagles even. And even yesterday, the 8th of October, another flow of migrants came in. The stream of Steppe Buzzards totaled 35.807 and41.400 for station one and two respectively. The season is clearly not at it’s end, yet. Let’s see what the next days will bring…

 

What will the next sunrise bring? (c) Romain Roils

Georgia at it’s best

Please note that not all data has been filtered for double counts yet, and the actual totals might differ from the ones presented in this update. The totals presented here are the sum of all observations from both count stations, and although in most cases the streams were divided between the stations, some of the flocks may have been recorded on both.

AUTUMN MIGRATION RECENT TOTALS

Honey Buzzard: 441,225
Steppe Buzzard: 436,590
Black Kite: 126,486
Marsh Harrier: 9,800
Booted Eagle: 6,815
Lesser Spotted Eagle: 3,885
Montagu’s Harrier: 3,871
Pallid Harrier: 840
Osprey: 177
Crested Honey Buzzard: 47
Total raptors: 1,196,557

Check more pictures on facebook/batumiraptorcount

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