October 10, 2012

1 Million raptors pass Batumi, Georgia!

Red-letter day for raptor conservation

As of noon today, counters at Hawk Mountain’s partner watch site on the east coast of the Black Sea reported having surpassed the 1 million raptor threshold during their 2012 autumn migration count. This conservation and monitoring watch site was founded with oversight by two Hawk Mountain leadership interns, Wouter Vansteelant and Johnannes Jansen, both of Belgium, along with the assistance of more than 200 volunteers from 20 countries.

"The 5th season of migration monitoring by Batumi Raptor Count was already exceptional grace due to the record-breaking passage of Honey Buzzards and Montagu's Harriers earlier this season. Now, this mind-boggling season, surpassing 1 million raptors, puts the ultimate crown on five years of dedication and hard work by all of the BRC team," says Vansteelant.

"Having made history today, we hope to continue attracting many regional as well as international visitors to Batumi in coming years, supporting our work as the main driver behind migration studies and bird conservation in the area," he adds.

The fledgling Batumi Raptor Count is conducted from several locations in the republic of Georgia in the ‘Batumi’ region, located along the east coast of the Black Sea where thousands of migrant raptors sail overhead on their journey to southern wintering grounds. Here, too, the tradition of hawk shooting continues, and so Batumi volunteers not only collect scientific data and monitor species and populations, but also provide public education in an effort to reverse raptor persecution.

So far 2012 has been an important one for conservation in Batumi. On September 3, counters recorded a one-day, world record 179,342 honey buzzards. Later that month, volunteers hosted the first-ever Batumi Bird Festival to celebrate its fifth year, and to boost eco-tourism through birding. Today it celebrates its new status as a million-raptor migration watch site.

Like Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, many places are ideally located along migration flyways and allow birders to witness large numbers of wild raptors in flight. However, only four other places on earth are considered major migration ‘bottlenecks’ where more than one million raptors funnel through on their annual journeys. Worldwide, the sites include Veracruz, Mexico, Kekoldi, Costa Rica, and the Panama Canal—all launched by Hawk Mountain partnerships with hands-on coordination by internship graduates—as well as Elait, Israel, which held the previous world record flight for honey buzzards set in 1982.

“This is another proud day for Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and we congratulate our intern graduates Wouter and Johannes and their many colleagues. Their work in Batumi, Georgia is quickly creating a better understanding of raptor migration along this globally significant corridor and will lead to better protection for the birds there as well,” says Keith Bildstein, the Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science.

To learn more about the count, please visit


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