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

Mittwoch, 10. Dezember 2014

30 days bird migration at Besh Barmag

Text © Hans Olk, Fred Olk & Simon Olk
Photos ©  Fred Olk & Simon Olk

From the 10th of October till the 7th of November 2014 we visited Azerbaijan with the primary goal to study bird migration at the Besh Barmag bottle-neck. We are three birders from the Netherlands, at home we carry out different types of bird research, including migration counts. Plans for the trip were made after meeting Kai in Falsterbo, Sweden, in September 2013. He told us about the birds of Azerbaijan and especially the autumn migration and got us enthusiastic.

During the 30 days we visited Azerbaijan we also made a couple of short trips to other parts of the country. Gobustan, Shirvan NP, Gizil Agach and the Candy Cane Mountains were visited on one or more occasions. We rented a 4WD in Baku which turned out to be essential on several occasions. We slept in a small tent we brought from home and camped near the observation point. In total 212 species were seen during the trip.

Results migration counts Besh Barmag
Spread over 27 days we counted a total of 201 hours. The observation point was located on the coastal plain about 500 meters from the coastline of the Caspian Sea, approximately the same location Michael Heiss and Kai Gauger counted in October 2007 and Autumn 2012. We started our counts at first light and counted at least till 12 p.m. On most days we stopped when migration ended.
The observation point at Besh Barmag
During the hole period Black kites (40-50), Griffon (5) and Black vultures (30-40) and up to 10 Eastern imperial eagles were present nearby on the dump and flying around.
In total we counted 1.362.002 birds flying by, including north flying individuals. 154 species were identified actively migrating. The Common starling was the most counted species with a total of almost a million (963.756) individuals of which 289.040 passed on the 3th of November. Other species with over 25.000 individuals counted are: lark spec. (Sky/Calandra lark), Rook, Cormorant, Pygmy cormorant and Black-headed gull.
Impressive flock of Pygmy Cormorants
During the total 30-day-period we saw little sign of concentrated raptor migration. Only Sparrowhawk and Marsh and Hen harrier migrated in reasonably high numbers In the first two weeks some early migrating species were still seen. Barn swallow, Sand martin, wagtails, Blue-cheecked bee-eater, terns and for example Tawny pipit were seen. Towards the end other species became more numerous. For example different species of finches and buntings, thrushes, Jackdaws, Pygmy cormorants, Hen harriers and Little bustards increased in numbers.

Migrating Hen Harrier
Little Bustards resting in the steppe
Little Bustards in flight
During the night of 2-3 November temperatures dropped to 4°c. When we woke up it was windy and raining and there was snow visible on the top of the mountains. The weather would stay like this with northerly wind (bf 4-5) and low temperatures during the whole day. That day, within 8 hours, we counted 365.980 birds! Mostly Common starlings and larks but also 3281 Great egrets , 5 Lesser white fronted geese, 7 Pallid harriers and a Richard’s pipit passed. The next day it was still cold with a little less rain and wind and migration was still good with over 100.000 birds. Common starlings was again the most numerous specie (103.900), but also good numbers of Pygmy cormorant (2306), Marsh harrier (515), Hen harrier (190), Little bustards (51), two Dotterels, the first White-winged lark and three Great grey shrikes passed by. These days turned out to be the days with the most birds.

Great White Egrets flying through the Besh Barmag bottleneck
Levant Viper
Some other migration highlights
Besides the numbers of birds a couple of species got us excited or surprised:
·         Pygmy cormorant. The first were seen on the 16th of October (121) with numbers slowly building up to almost 10.000 on the 7th of November. Most of the time in large characteristic groups.
·         Dalmatian and Great white pelican. Seen in homogene, as well as mixed flocks. Total numbers of 156 Great white and 176 Dalmatic pelicans.
·         Little white-fronted goose. Spread over 4 days 85 birds were counted.
·         Sociable lapwing. Between a total of 5719 Northern lapwings 4 Sociable lapwings were found.
·         On the 5th of November 1555 Hawfinches passes in groups up to 100 birds. In total we counted 2351 Hawfinches.
·         On the 16th of October we were surprised by the presence of 3 Red-fronted serins which sat down in a low tree just in front of the observation point. From the 5th of November small numbers were present in the area and on the 7th of November a group of 15 birds flew by in southern direction.
·         Other interesting observations of migrating birds (with the total numbers): White-winged scooter (7), Saker (2), Little bustards (176), Caspian plover (1), Arctic skua (3), Black-bellied sandgrouse (35), Blue-cheecked bee-eater (508), White-winged lark (7), Richard’s pipit (6), Bearded tit/reedling (40) and Pine bunting (1).

Red-breasted Flycatcher
Dalmatian and White Pelican on migration
Dalmatian and White Pelican

Rare sightings
On the 11th of October the bushes were filled with resting passerines and between them a Dusky warbler was found. The bird was seen and heard well during the 5 minutes of observation. Most of the time the bird stayed low to ground and in the vegetation and unfortunately only some bad pictures were taken.
During a trip to the southern part of the country Kizil Agach was visited on the 31th of October were we surprisingly found a Grey phalarope between the waders at the beach. It took us some time to get close enough views to be sure it wasn’t a Red-necked phalarope but we obtained some decent photographs. About three kilometres to the south, also on the beach, we found a nice Desert wheatear. On the west site of Masalli a late Roller was present.
The Dusky warbler and Grey phalarope are rare and possibly even the first records for Azerbaijan.

Record shot of the Dusky Warbler
Grey Phalarope at Kizil Agach
Desert Wheatear on the beach at Kizil Agach

Overall we had a fantastic trip and we were sad we had to leave before the mass migration of Little bustards started. Also it would have been interesting to see how the migration would have continued for the rest of November and December.