Friday, October 30, 2015

Hawkwatching Across The Globe - Georgia (the country!)

Continuing our series introducing HMANA members to hawkwatches beyond the Americas here is a little information about the incredible raptor migration through Batumi, Georgia. With season counts of over a million raptors of thirty different species and day counts of over 100,000 raptors it's easy to see why this site is becoming more and more popular with birders. Thanks to this years count coordinator Aki Aintila for both the accompanying photographs as well as translating his answers from his native Finnish to English for us!

View from Station one - Aki Aintila
1.Tell us a little about your watch.
Our watch is held at two count stations in the north side of Batumi. Count station one is located in the village of Sakhalvasho and Count station two in the village of Shuamta, approximately 3 kilometers apart from each other. We use radio communication between the two stations during the count.

The count season lasts from August 17th until October 16th. Both count stations are manned daily during the season, except for days of really heavy rain and severe thunderstorms. The pilot count was conducted in 2007 and since 2008 we have run the count annually.
We rely on volunteer counters who cover their own expenses (travels, food and accommodation costs). For count coordinators, the project covers their travel and other expenses.

Honey Buzzard - Aki Aintila
2.What is the most numerous raptor species seen at your count?
The most numerous species is the European Honey Buzzard. This season's total in reached almost 590 000 individuals. During the years with the highest counts the season's total can reach over 650 000 individuals. The peak of this migration of Honey Buzzards is in the end of August and beginning of September.

3. What are the most sought after? One of the most sought after species for visiting birders is the Crested Honey Buzzard as Batumi is one of the best spots to see this Asian species in the Western Palearctic. Counters and ecotourists also enjoy seeing Pallid Harriers, Saker Falcons and aquila eagles like Greater Spotted, Steppe and Imperial Eagles.

Black Kite "kettle" - Aki Aintila
4. Do you band (note referred to as "ringing" in Europe) raptors too?
BRC is not running it's own ringing projects at the moment, but we collaborate with other organizations and people. Our fellow organization SABUKO ( runs bird ringing activities, including ringing of small raptors.

5. Do you just count raptors or are you counting other bird species as well? We focus on counting raptors, but we also count some soaring-migrant species (Black Stork, White Stork and Common Crane) and species that are easily detected and provide additional information on the importance of the Batumi bottleneck, like European Roller. We also count high numbers of Bee-Eaters and Swallows if resources allow us to do so, and record interesting observations, like rare species or huge flocks of Herons, Egrets and shorebirds.

No Hunting sign - Aki Aintila
6. What are the goals of your count?
The aims of BRC are in monitoring, research and conservation. 

We are aiming for a long-term monitoring of the raptor populations that cross the bottleneck. We also collect additional data than just numbers of individuals per species, by identifying age and sex classes for many of the species monitored. You can read more about BRC's aims and visions here.

Illegal hunting of raptors in our monitoring area is sadly a major conservation issue. Approximately 10,000 raptors are shot down in the area during every season. Long-term monitoring and data collecting is a crucial approach and together with SABUKO we work for the conservation of the bottleneck and birds that pass through it. You can read more about hunting issues and hunting monitoring results here and here.

Research interests of BRC are on the results of long-term monitoring, impacts of hunting on the raptor populations and impact of weather conditions on migration patterns. Find out more about weather impacts on migration (here). Local flight routes and strategies (here).

Steppe Buzzard - Aki Aintila
7. What is the best time to visit your watch?

The best time to visit the area depends on what one wants to see, since the season can be roughly divided into 3 parts:
1. Peak migration of Honey Buzzards and harriers, last week of August and first week of September. Peak days up to 100 000 birds.
2. Most diverse season is mid-September, during the best days one can see 20 different species of raptors in one day.
3. Peak migration of Steppe Buzzards and eagles in end of September and beginning of October. Peak days up to 50 000 birds.

Counters at Station two - Aki Aintila
All in all, raptor migration in Batumi offers many different rewards for visiting birders. There is the pure enjoyment of the mass migration of birds that is almost beyond imagination during peak Honey Buzzard or Steppe Buzzard migration. The variation of different species, ages and plumage from mid-September onward  poses identification challenges and rewards for the birder wishing to hone their skills with Eurasian raptors in flight. There is also the reward of being able to witness an incredible 30 species of raptors over our season!
Montagu's Harrier - Aki Aintila

8. Can your data be viewed online, if so where?
Our daily count results since 2008 are available on our website, were we upload our count results daily (visit the website here).

9. If visitors wanted to visit your site where should they go to find out more?
Further information for participating in the monitoring or visiting the area as an ecotourist can be found here, details on travel options are here and tour options on arrival are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment