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

Freitag, 18. August 2017

Black-headed Penduline Tits?

Text & Photo © Christoph Himmel

During my wader counts at Lake Machmudchala I discovered two interesting Penduline Tits, which somehow look like Black-headed Penduline Tits (Remiz macronyx) or at least like hybrids. Both had blackish heads with a various amount of grey feathers in the nape. Unfortunately, the plumage was heavily worn. One bird had a blackish throat with some skin visible, grey neck and forehead. Tail and flight feathers were without broad white fringes (but maybe also worn). The second bird had a more whitish throat and dark grey feathers surrounded a large black mask. As in the other bird no broad white fringes on flight and tail feathers were visible. A possible third bird with a black head was also observed. In addition, I also observed two young birds in the reed bed, which might belong to the black-headed birds.

Any comments on the ID are welcome!

Samstag, 29. Juli 2017

First impressions of a wader study at the Caspian coast

Text & Photo © Christoph Himmel

Greater Sandplover at Neftcala beach

This blog post will introduce you to a research project about waders in the area of Gyzylagach (southeastern Azerbaijan). It gives you brief insights into the fieldwork and informs about nice sightings and numbers of waders.

The aim of this project is to update the old numbers from 1984/85 by A.O. Shubin. This project covers nearly the whole autumn migration period of waders from July to October 2017. Furthermore, it is planned to catch and equip eastern Black-tailed Godwits with satellite transmitters and search for the Steppe Whimbrel (subspecies N. p. alboaxillaris). For a detailed description please visit:

The journey began on 4 July when I arrived with my friend Stella in Baku. In the first days we were just birding for fun in Shirvan and Gobustan national park, Talysh mountains and Zuvand region. On 8 July Sönke arrived and the team was complete.

Since then we started exploring potential sites for shorebird counts along the coast and also did some additional bush- and steppe birding to get some local breeding birds.

We decided to count on three sites in the Gyzylagach area: a beach near Neftchala, Machmudchala wetland complex and the nearby fishponds and at the beaches of Narimanabad.

Map of the study area
Highlights of the first two weeks of counting were some incredible numbers for western European standards with flocks of at least 1600 Marsh Sandpipers, some nice sightings of Terek Sandpipers, Greater Sandplovers, impressive 43 Caspian Plovers, the second Grey Phalarope for Azerbaijan and a sighting of a Pectoral Sandpiper.

Terek Sandpiper at Neftcala beach
Nice variety of waders in Gyzylagach
Relaxed Caspian Plovers
Wader paradise Gyzylagach
Mixed flock of Black-tailed Godwits and Eurasian Curlews
Grey Phalarope (right) - A true highlight and only the second record for Azerbaijan

Unfortunately, the permission for trapping and tagging Black-tailed Godwits has not been granted so far but I will try to get the permission at least for the next year as long I am doing the fieldwork in Azerbaijan.

But nevertheless, I am quite exited of what the next few weeks will bring to Gyzylagach and the nearby beaches.

Freitag, 7. Juli 2017

Trip report Bird Camp Besh Barmag April 2017

Bird Camp participants and crew © Emin Mammedov/Nature Friends

 Find the trip report of the Bird Camp Besh Barmag here!

Donnerstag, 29. Juni 2017

Documentary of the Bird Camp Besh Barmag

This documentary shows the activities of the latest bird migration camp at Besh Barmag bottleneck in April 2017 and was kindly produced by an excellent team of

Dienstag, 27. Juni 2017

Volunteers needed: Bird ringing at Besh Barmag

© Emil Lundahl & Pia Fetting

The Besh Barmag bottleneck near Siyezen (coordinates: 40°59'N, 49°13'E) has recently been identified as a major flyway, where high concentrations of migrating birds are funneled through a narrow coastal plain between the Greater Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. The existence of a bottleneck was proven in extensive field studies in 2007, 2011 and 2012. These studies mainly focussed on visual field observations, hence, several bird species are often failed to notice. In the coastal plain, a woodland with some freshwater lagoons is surrounded by inhabitable steppe and therefore acts as an ‘oasis’ for resting and re-fuelling migrants.
By using mist-nets, data of elusive species (e.g. warblers), which could not be studied by migration counts, can be obtained. The area is expected to be an excellent mist-netting site, but except from occasional, nevertheless promising short-term ringing, no comprehensive research has been done yet. The method of mist-netting would be quite new to Azerbaijan, thus several new discoveries regarding species composition and phenology, but also new species for the country can be expected.
After a long period of development, bird ringing during the entire autumn season will finally take place this year. To broaden the preliminary knowledge of this bottleneck of global importance, our main target will be to catch and ring as many birds as possible. But temporarily there will also be others doing migration counts and we will have some time for birding as well.

So come to Azerbaijan with me and help to explore one of the least known migration hotspots at the edge of the Western Palaearctic!

This invitation goes to everybody who is interested in bird migration and ringing and has at least some experience in one of these topics. Considering the long journey, you should be able to stay for two weeks at least.

We will set up mist-nets in the woodlands and mainly catch birds. Mist-netting will daily start at sunrise for at least six hours. Depending on the circumstances (number of present people, wheather, migration etc.) this timeframe will be extended. The freetime can be used for bird watching and excursions in the surroundings.

The fieldwork will be between mid August and mid November 2017. This timescale is a minimum; depending on the number of volunteers, weather, migration etc. and it might start earlier/ end later.

Where to stay?
The bottleneck area is quite remote, there is neither electricity nor running water available. On site we will build up a real field camp, sleep in tents and look after oneselves. The site is optimal for camping; the ground is soft and dry, the forest provides fuel wood and the Caspian Sea for swimming is close by. We also will have a car to buy groceries and electricity via a solar panel on its roof.

What to bring?
The participants have to bring all their personal equipment (including a tent and sleeping bag) with them. You need your binoculars and if available telescope and photo camera. Also bring some dishes, a cup etc.

Flights to Baku are coducted for example by Turkish and Azerbaijan Airlines. For the board you should calculate about 40 € per week. Transportation between the airport and the survey area can be arranged by a local travel agency for about 50 €. This agency can also organise visa for about 85 €.


Besh Barmag in September 2016 © Pia Fetting

Sonntag, 25. Juni 2017

Besh Barmag Bird Migration Counts 4-18 November 2017

You have probably heard about Batumi Raptor Count in Georgia, but do you know Besh Barmag in Azerbaijan? Where Batumi is situated at the western end of the Caucasus, Besh Barmag is its counterpart at the eastern end. A bottleneck for migrating birds between the Caucasus mountains and the Caspian Sea that is just being explored, at the easternmost edge of the Western Palaearctic. Join us!
Besh Barmag is situated 90km north of the capital Baku and is one of the most impressive migration watch points in the Western Palearctic but still hardly known to European birders. Millions of passerines, up to 150.000 Little Bustards, tens of thousands of herons, Pygmy Cormorants, waterfowl and waders, thousands of Dalmatian Pelicans and also a great variety of raptors (up to 20 species in a day) pass the narrow coastal plain each season. The site offers great birding possibilities with a wide natural steppe, woodlands full of resting passerines and great views over the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus foothills.
Some possible species in early November: Lesser White-fronted Goose, Pygmy Cormorant, Ferrugineus Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Great White Egret, Dalmatian Pelican, Black Vulture, Imperial Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Great Spotted Eagle, Golden Eagle, Pallid Harrier, Hen Harrier, Saker, Peregrine, Long-legged Buzzard, Little Bustard, Dotterel, Pallas´s Gull, interesting Larus complex, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Calandra Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, White-winged Lark, Oriental Skylark, Richards Pipit, Asian Buff-bellied Pipit, Caspian Stonechat, Moustached Warbler, Mountain Chiffchaff, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Penduline Tit, Pine Bunting. Good chance of eastern vagrants with eg Taiga Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Little Bunting and Isabelline Shrike seen.
Now is your chance to join us for one or two weeks of low-cost birding adventure and exciting migration studies during 4-18 November 2017! We will stay in a small hotel nearby and do daily counts at the watch point and in the process also train young Azeri naturalists in bird identification and counting skills. There will also be additional excursions to other areas like the Greater Caucasus or the famous Shirvan National Park, both of which are a few hours drive away.
You buy your own air ticket (f.ex. Turkish Airlines, starting from 250€ return trip from many European cities, see ) and online tourist visa (80€) and on site we share transport, accommodation and food. Total cost per person an estimated 700€ for one week and 950€ for two weeks.
Interested? Contact leader Kai Gauger and read more about previous birding trips to Besh Barmag at our web

Freitag, 12. Mai 2017

Bird Camp Besh Barmag April 2017

Text © Pia Fetting

Between the 21st and 23rd of April, the meanwhile second larger international Bird Camp at the famous Besh Barmag bottleneck in Azerbaijan took place. Like the last Bird Camp in September 2016 it was again gratefully and excellent organised by NatureFriends Azerbaijan, SOF BirdLife (the Swedish BirdLife partner) and AOS (Azerbaijan Ornithological Society, the Azeri BirdLife partner). The initiative this year was sponsored by the Georgian tour operator Batumi Birding as well as BirdLife Switzerland. The group, composed of 21 Azeris, four Swedes and four Germans, spent three days with camping, bird watching and demonstrations of bird ringing in that indeed very special area. In addition, the bird camp this year was documented by both a reporter/photographer team from Baku Magazine as well as a documentary film crew that will produce a short promotional documentary about the camp. Exciting!

Group photo of the bird camp © Emin Mamedov

The programme was enhanced by talks and presentations on its discovery and recent scientific research of this bottleneck. Furthermore, the bird camp was joined on the Saturday by an AOS-lead excursion and the incoming three bus loads totalling about 80 additional visitors was clear evidence of the high interest among local students in the bird migration research in this area.

Unfortunately, as a result of some rain and strong winds, migration was rather slow during the three observation days. Nevertheless, birdwatching in the vicinity of the camp was much fun and produced a total of 115 species including 17 raptor species. Some 75 Black Kites, 15 Black Vultures and 50 Lesser Kestrel soaring the rubbish dump together with single Steppe and Eastern Imperial Eagles and Pallid, Montagu´s and Marsh Harriers as well as Merlins and Hobbys on migration. Four Dalmatian Pelicans and mixed flocks of waders flew north along the coastline as did a few Citrine Wagtails and Tawny Pipits. In the beautiful green and flowering steppes different subspecies of Yellow Wagtails, Black-winged and Collared Pratincoles and a single male Little Bustard were observed. The colourful species, such as Ortolan Bunting, Hoopoe and European Bee-eaters, were a regular sight joined by a single migrating Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. In the bushes by the camp we saw and heard Green and Menetriés Warbler, Scops Owl and Woodchat Shrike. The rather low results of the migration counts can be checked at (

Despite the slightly unpleasant weather conditions, the bird camp was a happy reunion of familiar faces and a motivating meeting of new acquaintances. The gathering of the many bird enthusiast lead to several discussions and chats about bird migration, bird identification, scientific methods and so on. Also future plans were discussed including the possible construction of a bird watching shelter and the development of this site for bird tourism and the establishment of scientific monitoring programmes. For the coming autumn migration season several projects being planned, so stay tuned!

Blooming steppe in the bottleneck area © Pia Fetting
Full programme during the bird watching weekend © Michael Heiß
Many tents and quite a large field camp... © Pia Fetting, signs for orientation necessary © Michael Heiß
Birding in the vicinity of the camp © Michael Heiß
On Saturday the camp was joined by students of an AOS-lead day trip © Sabina Bunyatova
Crowded camp with more than 100 participants © Rustam Maharramov
Tomas and Micha explaining the importance of Besh Barmag bottleneck for migratory birds © Rustam Maharramov
Pia retrieving a Willow Warbler from the mist nets © Michael Heiß
Common Redstart in the hand © Michael Heiß
Male Red-breasted Flycatcher © Emil Lundahl
Migrating Dalmatian Pelicans © Emil Lundahl
Migrating Pallid Harrier © Michael Heiß
Yellow Wagtails © Michael Heiß
Beautiful male Montagu's Harrier © Emil Lundahl
Ortolan Bunting resting in steppe... © Michael Heiß
...surrounded by photographers © Pia Fetting
Colourful European Bee-eater © Emil Lundahl
Woodchat Shrike © Michael Heiß
Common Redstart © Michael Heiß
Uncommon in Azerbaijan - Pied Flycatcher © Michael Heiß
Enjoying the campfire and marshmallows © Michael Heiß