Birdwatching news and bird photography from Transcaucasia - by Kai Gauger and Michael Heiß

Freitag, 18. August 2017

Black-headed Penduline Tits?

Text & Photo © Christoph Himmel

During my wader counts at Lake Machmudchala I discovered two interesting Penduline Tits, which somehow look like Black-headed Penduline Tits (Remiz macronyx) or at least like hybrids. Both had blackish heads with a various amount of grey feathers in the nape. Unfortunately, the plumage was heavily worn. One bird had a blackish throat with some skin visible, grey neck and forehead. Tail and flight feathers were without broad white fringes (but maybe also worn). The second bird had a more whitish throat and dark grey feathers surrounded a large black mask. As in the other bird no broad white fringes on flight and tail feathers were visible. A possible third bird with a black head was also observed. In addition, I also observed two young birds in the reed bed, which might belong to the black-headed birds.

Any comments on the ID are welcome!

Samstag, 29. Juli 2017

First impressions of a wader study at the Caspian coast

Text & Photo © Christoph Himmel

Greater Sandplover at Neftcala beach

This blog post will introduce you to a research project about waders in the area of Gyzylagach (southeastern Azerbaijan). It gives you brief insights into the fieldwork and informs about nice sightings and numbers of waders.

The aim of this project is to update the old numbers from 1984/85 by A.O. Shubin. This project covers nearly the whole autumn migration period of waders from July to October 2017. Furthermore, it is planned to catch and equip eastern Black-tailed Godwits with satellite transmitters and search for the Steppe Whimbrel (subspecies N. p. alboaxillaris). For a detailed description please visit:

The journey began on 4 July when I arrived with my friend Stella in Baku. In the first days we were just birding for fun in Shirvan and Gobustan national park, Talysh mountains and Zuvand region. On 8 July Sönke arrived and the team was complete.

Since then we started exploring potential sites for shorebird counts along the coast and also did some additional bush- and steppe birding to get some local breeding birds.

We decided to count on three sites in the Gyzylagach area: a beach near Neftchala, Machmudchala wetland complex and the nearby fishponds and at the beaches of Narimanabad.

Map of the study area
Highlights of the first two weeks of counting were some incredible numbers for western European standards with flocks of at least 1600 Marsh Sandpipers, some nice sightings of Terek Sandpipers, Greater Sandplovers, impressive 43 Caspian Plovers, the second Grey Phalarope for Azerbaijan and a sighting of a Pectoral Sandpiper.

Terek Sandpiper at Neftcala beach
Nice variety of waders in Gyzylagach
Relaxed Caspian Plovers
Wader paradise Gyzylagach
Mixed flock of Black-tailed Godwits and Eurasian Curlews
Grey Phalarope (right) - A true highlight and only the second record for Azerbaijan

Unfortunately, the permission for trapping and tagging Black-tailed Godwits has not been granted so far but I will try to get the permission at least for the next year as long I am doing the fieldwork in Azerbaijan.

But nevertheless, I am quite exited of what the next few weeks will bring to Gyzylagach and the nearby beaches.

Freitag, 7. Juli 2017

Trip report Bird Camp Besh Barmag April 2017

Bird Camp participants and crew © Emin Mammedov/Nature Friends

 Find the trip report of the Bird Camp Besh Barmag here!

Donnerstag, 29. Juni 2017

Documentary of the Bird Camp Besh Barmag

This documentary shows the activities of the latest bird migration camp at Besh Barmag bottleneck in April 2017 and was kindly produced by an excellent team of

Dienstag, 27. Juni 2017

Volunteers needed: Bird ringing at Besh Barmag

© Emil Lundahl & Pia Fetting

The Besh Barmag bottleneck near Siyezen (coordinates: 40°59'N, 49°13'E) has recently been identified as a major flyway, where high concentrations of migrating birds are funneled through a narrow coastal plain between the Greater Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. The existence of a bottleneck was proven in extensive field studies in 2007, 2011 and 2012. These studies mainly focussed on visual field observations, hence, several bird species are often failed to notice. In the coastal plain, a woodland with some freshwater lagoons is surrounded by inhabitable steppe and therefore acts as an ‘oasis’ for resting and re-fuelling migrants.
By using mist-nets, data of elusive species (e.g. warblers), which could not be studied by migration counts, can be obtained. The area is expected to be an excellent mist-netting site, but except from occasional, nevertheless promising short-term ringing, no comprehensive research has been done yet. The method of mist-netting would be quite new to Azerbaijan, thus several new discoveries regarding species composition and phenology, but also new species for the country can be expected.
After a long period of development, bird ringing during the entire autumn season will finally take place this year. To broaden the preliminary knowledge of this bottleneck of global importance, our main target will be to catch and ring as many birds as possible. But temporarily there will also be others doing migration counts and we will have some time for birding as well.

So come to Azerbaijan with me and help to explore one of the least known migration hotspots at the edge of the Western Palaearctic!

This invitation goes to everybody who is interested in bird migration and ringing and has at least some experience in one of these topics. Considering the long journey, you should be able to stay for two weeks at least.

We will set up mist-nets in the woodlands and mainly catch birds. Mist-netting will daily start at sunrise for at least six hours. Depending on the circumstances (number of present people, wheather, migration etc.) this timeframe will be extended. The freetime can be used for bird watching and excursions in the surroundings.

The fieldwork will be between mid August and mid November 2017. This timescale is a minimum; depending on the number of volunteers, weather, migration etc. and it might start earlier/ end later.

Where to stay?
The bottleneck area is quite remote, there is neither electricity nor running water available. On site we will build up a real field camp, sleep in tents and look after oneselves. The site is optimal for camping; the ground is soft and dry, the forest provides fuel wood and the Caspian Sea for swimming is close by. We also will have a car to buy groceries and electricity via a solar panel on its roof.

What to bring?
The participants have to bring all their personal equipment (including a tent and sleeping bag) with them. You need your binoculars and if available telescope and photo camera. Also bring some dishes, a cup etc.

Flights to Baku are coducted for example by Turkish and Azerbaijan Airlines. For the board you should calculate about 40 € per week. Transportation between the airport and the survey area can be arranged by a local travel agency for about 50 €. This agency can also organise visa for about 85 €.


Besh Barmag in September 2016 © Pia Fetting