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

Montag, 7. Mai 2018

Breeding bird survey in western Azerbaijan


Text & Photos © Max Baumgarten 

My name is Max and I study Biodiversity and Ecology (M.Sc.) at Greifswald University (Germany). I am currently conducting the field work in Azerbaijan for my master thesis with the title 'The breeding bird communities of the western parts of Azerbaijan and their response to human alteration'. In the first two weeks (in April) I tried to get an overview of the study area, which stretches from the Lesser to the Greater Caucasus. In the beginning of my field work I focused on the ‘early’ species, such as woodpeckers, tits and other resident birds. Most of these species are found in forests and mapping them sometimes proofed to be difficult as most forested areas are on steep slopes and far away from any infrastructure. In general, most accessible places outside protected areas, either forests or steppe habitats, are unfortunately grazed or otherwise used and finding more natural places appears to be difficult. Nevertheless, the sampled forests hold almost all species known from home (Germany) including some additional goodies like Semi-collared Flycatchers or Booted Eagles.

Jays look different in the Caucasus (atricapilla subsp.)

Woodchat Shrikes arrived at the end of April
As forests cover only a fraction of the study area, I spent most of the time in agricultural land or in steppes. A cultural landscape, as every central European conservationist dreams of, is still present here on a large scale and sometimes it feels like a travel back in time. Thanks to this circumstance Rollers, Hoopoes, Quails, Motague's Harriers and other elsewhere rare farmland birds are a common sight and spending a day without seeing/hearing them is almost impossible.

She doesn't care. Displaying Lesser Short-toed Lark.
Rock Sparrow giving it all
Rollers are common, but Rollers on natural vegetation are rare
Isabelline Wheatears are nice photo models
Among the breeding birds I was able to find new breeding pairs of rare breeders such as Lesser-spotted Eagle or Eastern Orphean Warbler. Maybe even the first breeding record of Common Crane  (Grus grus lilfordi) for the country? One bird was observed in Qarayazi State Reserve, on 29 April, which is very late for a migrating individual. Additionally, the bird was very small and only weakly coloured around the head that hints for the eastern subspecies lilfordi, which breeds in eastern Turkey.

Lilford Crane in Qarayazi
Secretive Eastern Orphean Warbler
Black Vultures can be encountered throughout the area
Besides my actual field work I always had an eye on bird migration, which took a while to start and is more obvious since mid-April. Nice species such as Black-winged Pratincoles, Pallid Harriers and up to five subspecies of Yellow Wagtails could be observed. Keeping an eye on the wagtails produced a presumed White-headed Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava leucocephala), which is a vagrant in the WP and only rarely recorded.
 
White-headed Yellow Wagtail or just a very pale beema?

Yellow Wagtail (thunbergi)

One of hundreds of migrating Black-winged Pratincoles
Keen birders watching Black Vultures and Imperial Eagles
Dramatic landscape
Türyancay river
Will this be a Rosy Starling Year?
The gathered data will not only be used for my master thesis, it will also be part of the European Breeding Bird Atlas (EBBA2), who support me during this expedition.

Stay tuned for what’s going on in the best month of the year!

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