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

Freitag, 23. Dezember 2016

Summary of the days before the bird camp 2016



Text © Pia Fetting 


This blogpost covers the time between the 4th and 16th of September before the BirdCamp at Besh Barmag started. During these days Chris and I were in Azerbaijan, later joined by Micha. We mainly did migration counts (the numbers are available on trektellen: http://trektellen.org/maps/index/0/1533) at Besh Barmag and went to some other places on excursions.

Dunes at Besh Barmag © Pia Fetting

When we arrived at Besh Barmag in the beginning of September, temperatures were still above 30 degrees celsius and there was not much visible migration going on. Unfortunately, the lagoons were completely dried out, but there were lots of Red-breasted and Spotted Flycatchers, Lesser Whitethroats and several other species of warblers in the shrubs around. For waders and other waterfowl, of course, the conditions could have been better. The rubbish dump of the local chicken factory provided food for numerous gulls and raptors, Rooks and Starlings. Among them we observed up to 20 Black Vultures, some Imperial Eagles and single Black Storks together with several Marsh Harries and Black Kites.

Red-breasted Flycatcher © Christoph Himmel
Field camp © Christoph Himmel
On one afternoon we went for a brief visit close to the village of Shabran. Red-footed Falcons, Lesser Grey Shrikes, European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were roosting on the wires everywhere along the roads and finally we found some waterbirds. Including, 11 species of waders, two first calendar year and one adult Collared Pratincole, 130 Little Egrets, 160 White-winged Black and 30 Whiskered Terns feed and rested on the mud flats of drained fish ponds.

Collared Pratincole © Christoph Himmel
Heuglin's Gull © Pia Fetting
Lesser Kestrel © Pia Fetting
Our main ambition, however, was doing migration counts and numbers of migrating birds and species diversity increased day by day. Before noon Yellow Wagtails, Starlings with still some Rosy Starlings among them, Barn Swallows and Sand Martins were the most numerous species in the coastal plain. In the afternoon we switched to the dunes for seawatching. Here, different species of dabbling ducks (like Shoveler, Pintail, Garganey, Teal) and terns (like Common, White-winged Black, Whiskered, Gull-billed and Caspian Tern) dominated. The most exciting day was on 15th of September (Link: http://trektellen.org/count/view/1533/20160915) as migration already was great, but we also saw 11 Sociable Lapwings migrating just above our heads.

Seawatching © Pia Fetting
A single Sandwich Tern between Gull-billed and White-winged © Christoph Himmel
Squacco Heron at the beach © Christoph Himmel
Another trip was to the steppes of Gobustan and Shirvan National Park, where we found the anticipated Wheatear – species (Finsch´s, Black-eared melanoleuca, Isabelline) and had close views to some Ménétries´s Warbler. Additionally about 15 Black Francolin showed up in Shirvan NP quite well and even a Purple Swamphen appeared for some seconds at Flamigo Lake.

Finch's Wheatear © Christoph Himmel
Black-eared Wheatear © Pia Fetting
Isabelline Wheatear © Christoph Himmel
Black Francolin © Christoph Himmel
At the Flamingo Lake © Pia Fetting
The day when Micha arrived we drove up to the mountaintop of Besh Barmag, which not only provided a great panorama but also brought new species. On the way up we spotted a late juvenile Woodchat Shrike and a Pied Wheatear welcomed us at the top. Blue Rock Thrushes were around, a pair of Rock Nuthatch displayed in front of us and we saw Egyptian Vultures plus Long-legged Buzzard on eyelevel. Further in the Candy – Cane Mountains at the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus we found tasty figs and surprisingly high numbers of Chukar: in total 36 birds were counted here!

Blue Rock Thrush © Christoph Himmel
Fantastic view from the hilltop © Pia Fetting
Birding in the Candy Canes © Pia Fetting
Chukars © Christoph Himmel
Yummi... © Pia Fetting

Just the day the BirdCamp started temperatures dropped and we had the first rain since our arrival. However, for the arriving participants this was nothing to worry about since the change in weather conditions increased migration. The reports on the BirdCamp can be found in older posts.

Montag, 28. November 2016

spring trip 2017 offered

In May 2017 Batumi Birding is offering a trip to Azerbaijan with the same programme like last year's Avifauna journey. High paced, focus on target species and visiting all major hotspots. Kai Gauger and Brecht Verhelst will be the guides. If you are interested in joining us please have a look at:

http://www.batumibirding.com/azerbaijan-undiscovered/node/135

The profit will go to Besh Barmag Migration Camp!

Sonntag, 9. Oktober 2016

Last days at Besh Barmag in autumn 2016

Text & Photos © M. Heiß

The rush of nature and bird friends from the Bird Camp Besh Barmag ebbed away and after the wonderful dinner in Baku Pia and I drove back to the bottleneck area. We counted together for the next 1,5 days and after she left to do migration counts in Batumi I continued  for the next three days. Kai did one last count on 25 September. Bird migration slowly changed in species composition and numbers. Yellow Wagtails and Blue-checked Bee-eaters still occurred in good numbers, but were decreasing day by day. In contrast, numbers of White Wagtail and Common Starling increased.

The most exciting day was on 21 September when strong and hot winds from southern directions, which later became a sand and dust storm, dominated the day. Unfortunately, bird migration in the coastal plain was almost absent with only few individuals on migration, among these were, however, two Sociable Lapwings. Despite the negative effect of southern headwinds for migration in the plain, bird migration offshore turned out to be just brilliant. Ducks, waders, terns and gulls still continued their journey, often very close to the shoreline, which produced some very close encounters. This made identification of species very easy and gave excellent photo opportunities. Ducks were still dominated by Garganeys which reached a day maximum count of 3834 individuals for this season. Further species were Pintail, Shoveler and Teal. Almost all migrating waders were Calidris-species. Here, the Dunlin peaked with 1341 migrating individuals that day accompanied by 57 Sanderlings, 12 Curlew Sandpiper, 118 Little Stints, 2 Ruddy Turnstones, 8 Bar-tailed Godwits, 104 Avocets and 156 Common Ringed Plovers. A great surprise was a mixed flock of 17 Common Snipes with a Kentish Plover, four Common Ringed Plover and three Caspian Plovers. Caspian Terns were still migrating and also flocks of Slender-billed Gulls were struggling with the headwind.

In the bushes Red-breasted and Spotted Flycatchers, Lesser Whitethroats, Garden Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Red-backed Shrikes and Cuckoos were still common. It’s always exciting to see a Phylloscopus-warbler with bright wing bars, which was, however, just the Green Warbler from the Caucasus. Once again the Besh Barmag turned out to be an excellent site to study bird migration!


Camping in the shrubs
Pallid Harrier hunting a Calandra Lark
Colourful Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Black Stork overhead
Resting Cuckoo
Chiffchaff well hidden
Red-backed Shrike
First flock of Dalmatian Pelicans arrive
Huge flock of Garganeys
Mixed flock of Pintails, Garganeys and Shovelers
Incoming flocks of waders
Mainly Dunlins were migrating...
...but also a few Curlew Sandpipers
Dunlins and spray
Common Snipes migrating with Caspian Plovers
Sanderlings resting at the shoreline
Flock of Pied Avocets
Evidence of hunting along the Caspian Flyway
Bar-tailed Godwits are rarely observed on migration
Flock of Slender-billed Gulls
White-winged Black Terns struggeling in the sandstorm

Caspian Terns
Purple Herons starting migration in the evening
Soaring Marsh Harrier and Short-eared Owl

Mittwoch, 5. Oktober 2016

Bird Camp Besh Barmag 2016

Participants of the camp © Harald Ris

During 16-19 September the Bird Camp Besh Barmag was arranged at the watchpoint areas of the bottleneck. It was a joint arrangement by Nature Friends Azerbaijan, SOF BirdLife (the Swedish BirdLife partner) and the AOS (Azerbaijan Ornithological Society, the Azeri BirdLife partner). The camp was sponsored by BirdLife partners in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland and also by OSME (Ornithological Society of the Middle East).


We were 8 Swedes, 16 Azeris and 3 Germans covering the bird migration passing this important bottleneck for four full days and during the process also learning, socializing and enjoying camping in the bushland near the Caspian Sea. We also had a day visit with another 20 Baku ecology students one day and the RSPB-run Sociable Lapwing survey also camped with us.

Enjoying bird migration at Besh Barmag © Michael Heiß
Spotting a harrier © Michael Heiß
Stunning close encounter with a Pallid Harrier © Emil Lundahl
Hoopoe in flight © Emil Lundahl
Greater Flamingo on migration © Michael Heiß

Birds in the sky © Michael Heiß
Some 150 (!!) species, of which 20 raptor species, were recorded during those four days alone and some 65.000 birds noted on migration. The weather was overcast with drizzle the first two days and sunny the last two days so bird migration intensity varied. Besh Barmag continues to impress with spectacular migration birding and we hope that migration & conservation activities here can be more firmly established.


Migration was strong of sea birds with more than a thousand of herons/egrets/spoonbills, nearly 10.000 dabbling ducks (of which 4.000 Garganeys), 3.000 White-winged Black Terns and among many waders both Sociable Lapwings and Black-winged Pratincoles. About 20 Montagues Harriers passed us as did 4 fine males Pallid Harrier and six species of eagles (single digit numbers). Eastern delights among passerines overhead included tens of Citrine Wagtails, Tawny Pipits, Rose-coloured Starlings and Rollers. More than 3.000 Blue-cheeked bee-eaters were counted!
In the drizzle the bushes and scrubs were alive with migrants; warblers, Red-backed Shrikes, Thrush Nightingales, lots of Red-breasted Flycatchers, a few Nightjars, a Corncrake, hemprichii-Stonechats and among those single Paddyfield Warbler, Green Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Pied Wheatear and a trapped Scops Owl.

Migrating flock of Black-winged Pratincoles © Michael Heiß
Tomas pointing at a flushed Nightjar © Emil Lundahl
Resting Tawny Pipit in the steppe © Emil Lundahl
Rosy Starling among Common © Emil Lundahl


European Bee-eater on migration © Emil Lundahl
Often mixed with the greener counterpart the Blue-checked Bee-eater © Michael Heiß
Migrating Ruffs were a regular sight © August Thomasson
Mixed flocks of Spoonbills and ducks © August Thomasson
Glossy Ibis © August Thomasson
Up to 117 migrating Caspian Terns were observed per day © August Thomasson
Spotted Flycatcher resting in bushes © Michael Heiß
Great Reed Warbler © Emil Lundahl
Pia giving a lecture in bird ringing © Emil Lundahl
Setting up the mist-nets © Sabina Bunyatova
Everybody helps © Sabina Bunyatova
A trapped Lesser Whitethroat © Sabina Bunyatova
Garden Warbler © Sabina Bunyatova
Tomas releasing a trapped bird © Michael Heiß
Final dinner with excellent Azeri cuisine in a traditional restaurant in Baku © Michael Heiß

More about the Bird Camp and our records and many more photos can be seen at our Facebook pages and the daily numbers at trektellen.org


Tomas Axén Haraldsson
camp initiative holder and organiser