Join us to watch and experience the worlds biggest raptor migration.

Raptor Bonanza in Georgia

Sunday 1st - Sunday 8th October 2017

The small state of Georgia lies mainly on the mighty Caucasus but to the west it is bordered by the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Although relatively small, the Black sea is still big enough to force the migrating raptors to avoid it, flying along its coast. Another obstacle for the raptors lies just east of the coast. Emerging virtually from the sea are the Caucasus with its numerous high peaks, covered in snow for most of the year. Both the sea and the mountains create a very narrow gap where the raptors funnel through. The result is nothing short of spectacular, it is the biggest raptor migration in the world. This migration route was known in the past of course, but was poorly studied until few years ago when professional monitoring of the migrations was launched. Nobody was really prepared for what was to be discovered. In September 2012 when we made our recce trip, over the course of fifty days of monitoring, the migration the team recorded over ONE MILLION raptors passing through. To make this figure even more staggering, the count did not include both sparrowhawks, both kestrels and smaller falcons - Red-footed and Eleonoras!
The numbers are truly amazing - we expect to see thousands of birds migrating in a single day. Figures of 10 000 large eagles (Imperial, Steppe and both spotted) or Black kites, 30 000 steppe buzzards and 50 000 Honey buzzards are not unusual. The highest number recorded in a single day was over 180 000 Honey buzzards, a mind blowing number really. Not only the numbers are huge but the variety is great and virtually all the European raptors have been recorded here, except the Spanish Imperial Eagle and the Gyr Falcon, including rarities such as the tundra Peregrine (Falco peregrinus calidus), Oriental Honey Buzzard, the dark morph of the Western Marsh Harrier etc. There are also many Black storks and cranes. Another great thing about the migration here is that you do not see dots in the sky or beyond the horizon. In fact huge numbers of birds, especially in bad (which means favorable in this case) meteorological conditions, will fly very close to the raptor watching points we will be using. This will be an excellent opportunity to improve our birds of prey in flight ID skills as we will see different species, of different ages, plumages etc., virtually in the same time. For example you can have Sparrowhawk, Levant Sparrowhawk and Goshawk in your bins in the same time. Same for different species of harriers, eagles and buzzards.
 The whole area is really nice - numerous green hills around us, with some higher ridges visible towards east, while westwards, but very close is the Black Sea. Beside the raptor migration we will also pay attention to the coast line, as well as some wetlands for other migrants, these might include Citrine Wagtail, through Terek and Broad-billed sandpipers to Greater Black-headed Gull.


ITINERARY

Day 1 An afternoon arrival at the small town of Batumi, via Istanbul, followed by half an hour transfer to our hotel for the holiday. It is right on the sea side, with huge garden and ideally situated for our activities next days. After a check-in we can have some easy sea-watching from the garden - skuas, gulls, terns and waders start filling our notebooks and we may also record the first raptors.

Days 2 to 7 We have six full days and at least four of them we will use to watch the raptor migration. There is no need of very early starts as the movements normally start about 09.00 and we have less than half an hour drive from our hotel. The early birds among us can go earlier for sea-watching just outside the hotel and it is likely that every morning will produce different species. Being about nine at the raptor watching point we will have about 4 hours of intensive migration and when it gets quiet we will have a picnic lunch. Following some rest, the migration picks up again in the afternoon and depends on the weather condition might go well up until 19.00. There are a number of wetlands along the coast near Batumi plus a few larger ones further north along the coast and we will pay visits to them too. Here we can find big variety of species - Moustached Warbler, Red-throated Pipit, Red-breasted and Semi-collared flycatchers, numerous shrikes, wagtails and other passerines, gulls, all European terns, all the crakes, waders - Marsh Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope and even Great Snipe, herons etc. Purple Swamphen is also possible as we have recorded it on our recce trip in October 2012. One of the wetlands here is Kolkheti National Park. Its names probably comes from the ancient Colchis and it is from here where the mythical hero Jason and his Argonauts brought the Pheasant into the European countries west of the Black Sea, which unfortunately is no longer pure one. However, around the Kolkheti NP the only population of pure pheasant can still be found. At the sea we can find Red-necked and Blacknecked grebes, both divers and some sea ducks, plus many Harbour Porpoise and both Bottle-nose and Common dolphins. In the town of Batumi there is a well maintained botanical garden and here we will find the smart Krupper's Nuthatch. The exact program we will define when on site as the weather may slow or accelerate the migrations. It works like this that if the raptor migration is slow, the passerines and the water birds are in higher numbers and the other way around. In any case there will be huge numbers of birds to see. Local people are really friendly and open. Georgia's culture, ancient history and national pride is something we will experience. There is a downside of all that though and that is the shooting. Locals have been aware a long time about the migration and good numbers of birds are shot each autumn - estimation is about 3 000 raptors, mainly Honey Buzzards. There is also shooting at the some of the wetlands along the coast. But a monitoring project has been employed for 5 years already has done some great conservation work among the local communities and the raptor shooting has already decreased. Ecotourism is one of the main tools in this battle and our presence there will further contribute to this cause. Part of our profit will be donated to the conservation work in the area.

Day 8 After some final mornings birding we will catch our return flight home.



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