Batumi – Serengeti of the skies

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Batumi in Georgia is rapidly becoming one of the best known places in the world to watch one of nature’s most spectacular phenomenon – migration. Specifically, raptor migration. Every autumn for the last 9 years a group of dedicated volunteers have been recording the incredible numbers of raptors migrating through the Batumi bottleneck. And the numbers can be staggering, more than a million birds of prey were counted in 2012, single day counts regularly exceed 50,000 individuals, and 35 different species of raptor have been recorded so far. From the common honey buzzard to the threatened imperial eagle, from the small red-footed falcon to the huge griffon vulture. This has been my second visit to Batumi, and despite several poor days of weather, I had one of my most amazing days of nature watching for many years. I spent Tuesday 27th September at the Shuamta watchpoint. The day had been steady with good numbers of black kite and steppe buzzards passing through, and as we approached early afternoon more large eagles soared by – mainly lesser-spotted, a few short-toed and the occasional steppe eagle. As mid-afternoon approached, on the horizon over the distant hills we started to observe large kettles of birds largely consisting of large eagles. The birds were initially too distant to make out which species they were, but we didn’t have to wait too long. Favourable wind located, large eagles, mainly lesser-spotted, started to stream along the valley and directly overhead. It was incredible, too many eagles for me to count accurately, but the seasoned raptor counters divided up the sky and counted them - “Palmtop – 25 lesser spot, 10 booted, 8 short-toed and 2 steppe” – the data disappearing in to a tablet to be digested later. “Palmtop – 18 lesser spot juvenile, 3 lesser spot adult, and a dark morph booted eagle.” Not content with counting the species, many of the seasoned counters managed to age them too! But despite many of the counters having volunteered here many times before and witnessed the wonder of Batumi raptor migration, as the peak of the eagle migration reached a frenzy, you could hear the cries of wonder, the “wows” and “woah” as large eagles passed a 100 metres overhead. It was truly amazing, as the eagles passed and the favourable thermals eased, the migration was over for another day. Counters and birdwatchers alike sat back and reflected on what they had just witnessed. There have been days with more eagles passing, but it was the intensity and the sheer number in such a short space of time, as well as the close proximity that was so special. I’ve never witnessed anything quite like it, nature at its most amazing. I tried to think of comparisons, and all I could come up with was this must be the raptor equivalent of the wildebeest on the plains of East Africa. Batumi – the Serengeti of the skies.

You can read more about the excellent work of the Batumi Raptor Count here. If you are interested in visiting Batumi check out Batumi Birding who can arrange local logistics, and profits go directly to support Batumi and other conservation initiatives in Georgia through the excellent BirdLife Partner, Sabuko. OSME have been delighted to support the work of BRC and Sabuko in recent years through our Conservation and Research Fund.

Many thanks to Batumi Birding and Sabuko for supporting my visit to the Serengeti of the Skies.

Rob Sheldon,

Chairman, OSME

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