September 20, 2012

Record flights at Batumi Bottleneck

179,342 Honey Buzzards

The Batumi counters and coordinators celebrate after a record-breaking day. Photo by Albert de Jong.

Learn more about the important work at the Batumi Raptor Count, Georgia

On August 30, this fledgling watchsite on the east coast of the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia reported an all-time record 99,000 Honey Buzzards, soon surpassed by a new record on September 3 when 179,342 Honey Buzzards passed. Below is text from the Batumi Raptor Count blog, posted by former Hawk Mountain Leadership Intern Wouter Vansteelant (Beligum):

"...the last thing we were expecting was to set the mark even higher. But so we did … and how! With a day total of 179,342 Honey Buzzards yesterday (September 3rd) we shattered the previous autumn migration world record which was set in 1982 at Israel’s Northern Valleys. It was an astonishing flight and anyone witnessing it rightly felt privileged to be here.

The complete surprise with which the flight arrived made the whole experience even more overwhelming. As we left our headquarters in the early morning, we noticed a completely overcast sky, holding little promise for good migration. However at 7:30 the first significant flocks of Honey Buzzards were already airborne, and it did not take all that long for the counters to realize that yet another great flight was taking shape. The morning hours of furious clicking, identifying and recording flew by in a daze, and before we realized what was really happening, the legendary hurdle of 100,000 birds was tackled. We could only stand there in amazement, wondering what on earth was going on whilst doing all we could to keep up with the endless streams of buzzards. At around 15:30 some drizzle started to come down over Batumi, which gradually turned into a more steady rain that eventually grounded all the birds. Though it stopped us from reaching an even higher number, it did make for yet another spectacular sight as the treetops on the ridges were quickly covered with roosting raptors.

Apart from the Honey Buzzards, the harriers were going at in great numbers already shortly after sunrise, exceeding 500 birds in the 1st morning hour. These were following the major harrier flight of earlier this week, with totals of 2,136; 3,944 and 2,174 Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers on Aug 30th, Sept 2nd and Sept 3rd respectively. And yes, also these numbers make for an absolute world record!

Due to the rain putting an early halt to yesterdays massive flight it was to be expected was a fantastic migration day. No less than 60,741 Honey Buzzards were seen from the observatories today (Sept 4th), and again they were starting to kettle already very early in the morning. As the day progressed we were now taken by a wonderful diversity of raptor species, whereas the flight yesterday was entirely dominated by Honey Buzzards, with hardly an eagle to be seen. Honey Buzzards are known not to care too much about a bit of overcast sky. They are strong flyers and will only really stop flying if rain forces them too. But today, the sun was shining, thermals were strong and with these conditions came loads of other raptors that are much more dependent on good thermal soaring opportunities to cover significant distances. So the Honey Buzzard flight was joined by 3,368 Black Kites, 658 Booted Eagles, 225 Marsh Harriers, 17 Lesser Spotted Eagles, 8 Steppe Eagles, 2 Egyptian Vultures and 2 Peregrines. But the cherry on the raptor cake were beyond any doubt the 2 adult females Crested Honey Buzzard, one for each of our observatories respectively. The Booted Eagles in particular, are a very high number being this early on the season, and also represent one of the highest day totals recorded at BRC in the last 5 years.

With the spectacular number of the past days, our annual total of Honey Buzzards has now come to a staggering 575,770 individuals. This exceeds our previous record already by nearly 100,000. And who knows what is yet to come? Overall 606,640 raptors have been recorded so far, and we look forward to counting –hopefully- many more coming our way!

Keep your eyes on our website for more delicious news to come! We will keep ours on the sky ensuring you won’t have to wait for such news very long ;-)

Bauman contracting