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

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

Sonntag, 16. April 2017

Crowdfunding for research on waders in Gyzylagach

Text © Christoph Himmel

The western Caspian coast of Azerbaijan is an important stop-over site for migrating waders, with Gyzylagach State Reserve holding the highest numbers of them. Despite the importance of this area it is under-surveyed, as the last counts took part in 1990. According to recent publications, 53% of the wader species of the West-Asian/East-African-flyway have negative population trends.

With this project I want to contribute to the conservation of Steppe Whimbrels, which population is estimated at 100 birds or fewer, and the rapidly declining eastern population of Black-tailed Godwits. I want to use satellite telemetry to identify migration routes as well as wintering- and breeding grounds of these two species.

Additionally I want to conduct several counts of resting waders in the area, to bring the 20-year-old data up-to-date.

Within this project, several conservation approaches are combined. Standard wader counts and species-specific research tasks will reveal an enormous increase of the preliminary knowledge of this area. This will help to understand the threats of the populations of Black-tailed Godwits and Steppe Whimbrels, which will lead to a direct conservation output.

Furthermore, environmental education provides the possibility of long-term conservation efforts in this region.

Your support will help to provide recent data from this under-surveyed area of the Western Palaearctic. You can contribute to the conservation of these charismatic species and even adopt a Black-tailed Godwit or Steppe Whimbrel. By donating the costs of a backpack, you can name a bird and follow its journey. For further information please take a look at the project description and don´t hesitate to contact me.

The waders and I are deeply grateful!

Crowfunding website:

Project description:

Mittwoch, 22. Februar 2017

First record of Long-billed Dowitcher for Azerbaijan

Two Long-billed Dowitchers were discovered on an exploratory winter field trip on 31 January 2017 near Narimanabad (Kizil Agach). This is the first known record of this species for Azerbaijan. The trip was guided by Jos van Oostveen from Kaukasus Plus Reizen.


Long-billed Dowitcher © Jos van Oostveen

Rear view © Jos van Oostveen

Foraging with a Common Snipe © Jos van Oostveen

Freitag, 23. Dezember 2016

Summary of the days before the bird camp 2016

Text © Pia Fetting 

This blogpost covers the time between the 4th and 16th of September before the BirdCamp at Besh Barmag started. During these days Chris and I were in Azerbaijan, later joined by Micha. We mainly did migration counts (the numbers are available on trektellen: at Besh Barmag and went to some other places on excursions.

Dunes at Besh Barmag © Pia Fetting

When we arrived at Besh Barmag in the beginning of September, temperatures were still above 30 degrees celsius and there was not much visible migration going on. Unfortunately, the lagoons were completely dried out, but there were lots of Red-breasted and Spotted Flycatchers, Lesser Whitethroats and several other species of warblers in the shrubs around. For waders and other waterfowl, of course, the conditions could have been better. The rubbish dump of the local chicken factory provided food for numerous gulls and raptors, Rooks and Starlings. Among them we observed up to 20 Black Vultures, some Imperial Eagles and single Black Storks together with several Marsh Harries and Black Kites.

Red-breasted Flycatcher © Christoph Himmel
Field camp © Christoph Himmel
On one afternoon we went for a brief visit close to the village of Shabran. Red-footed Falcons, Lesser Grey Shrikes, European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were roosting on the wires everywhere along the roads and finally we found some waterbirds. Including, 11 species of waders, two first calendar year and one adult Collared Pratincole, 130 Little Egrets, 160 White-winged Black and 30 Whiskered Terns feed and rested on the mud flats of drained fish ponds.

Collared Pratincole © Christoph Himmel
Heuglin's Gull © Pia Fetting
Lesser Kestrel © Pia Fetting
Our main ambition, however, was doing migration counts and numbers of migrating birds and species diversity increased day by day. Before noon Yellow Wagtails, Starlings with still some Rosy Starlings among them, Barn Swallows and Sand Martins were the most numerous species in the coastal plain. In the afternoon we switched to the dunes for seawatching. Here, different species of dabbling ducks (like Shoveler, Pintail, Garganey, Teal) and terns (like Common, White-winged Black, Whiskered, Gull-billed and Caspian Tern) dominated. The most exciting day was on 15th of September (Link: as migration already was great, but we also saw 11 Sociable Lapwings migrating just above our heads.

Seawatching © Pia Fetting
A single Sandwich Tern between Gull-billed and White-winged © Christoph Himmel
Squacco Heron at the beach © Christoph Himmel
Another trip was to the steppes of Gobustan and Shirvan National Park, where we found the anticipated Wheatear – species (Finsch´s, Black-eared melanoleuca, Isabelline) and had close views to some Ménétries´s Warbler. Additionally about 15 Black Francolin showed up in Shirvan NP quite well and even a Purple Swamphen appeared for some seconds at Flamigo Lake.

Finch's Wheatear © Christoph Himmel
Black-eared Wheatear © Pia Fetting
Isabelline Wheatear © Christoph Himmel
Black Francolin © Christoph Himmel
At the Flamingo Lake © Pia Fetting
The day when Micha arrived we drove up to the mountaintop of Besh Barmag, which not only provided a great panorama but also brought new species. On the way up we spotted a late juvenile Woodchat Shrike and a Pied Wheatear welcomed us at the top. Blue Rock Thrushes were around, a pair of Rock Nuthatch displayed in front of us and we saw Egyptian Vultures plus Long-legged Buzzard on eyelevel. Further in the Candy – Cane Mountains at the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus we found tasty figs and surprisingly high numbers of Chukar: in total 36 birds were counted here!

Blue Rock Thrush © Christoph Himmel
Fantastic view from the hilltop © Pia Fetting
Birding in the Candy Canes © Pia Fetting
Chukars © Christoph Himmel
Yummi... © Pia Fetting

Just the day the BirdCamp started temperatures dropped and we had the first rain since our arrival. However, for the arriving participants this was nothing to worry about since the change in weather conditions increased migration. The reports on the BirdCamp can be found in older posts.