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

Montag, 11. Dezember 2017

Nocturnal bird migration at Besh Barmag

The journal Bird Conservation International has just published a paper about the nocturnal bird migration at Besh Barmag​.

Bird migration studies are sparse in the Caucasus region, but have received more interest in recent years. To date, these studies have focused on diurnal migration and no information about nocturnal bird migration is available from this region. Therefore, nocturnal bird migration in the Besh Barmag bottleneck (Azerbaijan) was acoustically analysed on the basis of 1,464 h 44 min of sound recordings cost-efficiently obtained with an autonomously operating recorder and an omnidirectional microphone between sunset and sunrise on 63 nights in autumn 2011 and 67 nights in spring 2012. In total, 88,455 calls of 106 migrating species were detected. Of these, 2,172 calls could not be identified due to recording deficiencies or imperfect familiarity with some of the vocalisations and may involve as many as 20 species. The calls and songs of another 13 non-migratory species were not counted. Due to organisational or technical constraints some nights in the study periods could not be analysed and so the ensuing data gaps were repaired by interpolation, resulting in an estimated total of 108,986 calls in autumn 2011 and 33,348 calls in spring 2012. In both seasons the most vocally productive and species-rich phase was civil morning twilight, containing as it does the onset of diurnal migration. In autumn 2011, 54.7% of the recorded calls occurred in civil evening and morning twilight and 68.8% in spring 2012. But species and call numbers were also high in the darkest twilight and night phases. The interpretation of the data is, however, partly conjectural and any future access to truly reliable information on migration densities is conceivable only through radar studies.

The supplementary materials are online free available.

Find the paper here:

Dienstag, 5. Dezember 2017

Birding tour in spring 2018

For spring 2018, Batumi Birding offers a birdwatching trip to Azerbaijan. The travel route will cover all main landscape types from the Greater to the Lesser Caucasus, from coastal wetlands to dry steppes in order to cover the large diversity of bird species including all Caucasian specialities.
These beautiful Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were photographed in Shirvan National Park on a previous trip by the tour guide Michael Heiß.

The profit of this trip goes to conservation projects in the Caucasus region.

Please find the itinerary here:

Donnerstag, 2. November 2017

Wings Across the Caspian: Bird Migration in Azerbaijan

The Baku Magazine recently published an article on the Bird Camp Besh Barmag, which took place in April 2017.

Read the whole article here:

Montag, 16. Oktober 2017

The first Little Buntings for Azerbaijan and other nice eastern species at Besh Barmag

Text © Pia Fetting

Little Bunting (juvenile) © Pia Fetting

In the first half of October rain and a low cloud cover brought some real ornithological goodies to the study site!

  • The second Yellow-browed Warbler for Azerbaijan was heard calling on 12th of October close to one of our nets, unfortunately without any records.
  • The first documented record of Little Bunting for Azerbaijan: One juvenile was trapped on 13th of October! Later that day even two birds were calling close to the camp site. One was also observed on 14th October.
Despite it is difficult to count the migrating birds during our bird ringing, we try our very best to count at least the more attractive species. At the moment migrating Little Bustards are a regular sight. So far 5519 individuals headed south with a peak of 4398 birds on 12th of October (check: More will surely come within the next weeks.

Flock of migrating Little Bustards © Jonas Buddemeier

Samstag, 14. Oktober 2017

September at Besh Barmag – Much heat, less birds

Text & Photos  © Pia Fetting

Volunteer Esther releasing a Wryneck
After some stormy and colder days in the beginning of September, temperatures rose again and it was once more like midsummer; still very hot (30+°C) and very dry. After more than three month without rain in this region, all ponds and lagoons were empty.
Additionally, strong winds almost every day resulted in low activity of resting birds and thus often empty mist-nets. Furthermore, kettle, dogs and other animals around posed a threat to the nets.

Trying to fix by cows destroyed nets
Excursion in the surroundings
Seawatching at the Caspian Sea
 Bonfire in the evenings
Together with the arriving volunteers I caught well over 500 birds in September. Sylvia warblers were still very common, but more and more autumn species like Common Redstarts, Common Rosefinches and Red-breasted Flycatchers mixed with them. In particular, we were glad about catching each one male Siberian Stonechat ssp. maurus and variegatus at the same day.

Though common around, still impressive in hand (f.t.l.t.b.r. Nightjar, Kingfisher, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Hoopoe)
One of the most common species in autumn: Red-breasted Flycatcher (adult male)
Siberian Stonechat ssp. maurus

By the end of the month cloudy and rainy days brought some more birds to the bushes and nets and we also had some more intense migration days with many terns, raptors, herons and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters being noticed while bird ringing ( As the first volunteers already had to leave and new people were coming, we met with some people of NatureFriends Azerbaijan in a traditional restaurant in Baku and had a nice farewell- and welcome- Dinner.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters on roosting site

Dinner in Baku

Samstag, 7. Oktober 2017

Finish of the wader study at Gyzylagach

Text & Photos © Christoph Himmel

Mixed flock of Kentish-, Ringed Plovers, Collared Pratincole and Little Stints

Now my time in Azerbaijan comes to an end and I prepare to go back to Germany.
Besides my counts during the last weeks, I also examined some specimens at the Zoological Museum of the Institute of Zoology in Baku. I checked the specimens of Whimbrels and Curlews for Steppe Whimbrel, but unfortunately couldn’t find a possible candidate.

Whimbrel specimens of the Zoological Museum in Baku
Examining Little and Temminck Stints in the Zoological Museum

The 11.000 counted waders mentioned in a previous blogpost was thought to be extraordinary, but I recently counted nearly 30.000 waders near Gyzylagach State Reserve on a single day. This is really an incredible number for this site, which doubles the numbers of individuals ever counted!
With the last counts at Gyzylagach, the total number of 186.000 resting waders was reached, which may also include double counts.
What a great finish, but, fingers crossed, not a final one. Stay tuned for a possibly extension next year!
A small area of a mudflat with nearly 30.000 waders
A serious-looking Broad-billed Sandpiper
Part of a flock of more than 1.500 Dunlins The numbers of Dunlins constantly increased during the last two weeks of September

Donnerstag, 14. September 2017

First two weeks of bird ringing at Besh Barmag

Text & Photos © Pia Fetting

Mist-nets at sunrise
Arriving in Azerbaijan in the middle of August, the first days were used for organisational issues and meetings. I finally started bird ringing on the 20th of August. This month is rather hot with temperatures of more than 30°C during daytime and never below 20°C at night. Several days were quite windy, which influenced the number of mist-netted birds. As I was alone the first weeks, I only used 54 metres of nets and due to the heat, nets were only opened for the first six hours after sunrise.

A stunner in hand - Golden Oriole

In these first two weeks, 466 birds of 23 species were ringed and additional 24 birds re-trapped. Although there was nothing surprising among the species, the composition was nice, with lots of warbler species, several Shrikes, some Orioles, Wrynecks and so on. Whilst some adults still undertook their post-breeding moult and several juveniles still grew their flight feathers, other birds were already prepared for migrating with higher fat scores.

Blyth's Reed Warbler
Green Warbler

From the beginning of September onwards, there will be volunteers joining and helping with the fieldwork. Together, we will be able to set up more mist-nets, and when weather is cooling a bit down, we can start with full-day ringing. As there also were fewer and fewer re-traps compared to the first couple of days, migration seems to be picking up – I am looking forward for the caughts to come!

Nasty but beautiful - Lesser Grey Shrike
The most common species group with about 60% of all trapped birds - Sylvia warblers (f.t.l.t.b.r.: Barred, Blackcap, Lesser White, Garden, Common White, Menetries's Warbler)
Successful catch