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

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

Freitag, 25. August 2017

Pacific Golden Plover and more

Text & Photos © Christoph Himmel 

This is the second blog post about my wader project in Azerbaijan and after nearly two months of fieldwork, I have to say I’m quite overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of waders, especially in Gyzylagach State Reserve. 

After my friends Stella and Sönke had left some weeks ago, I continued my counts and day by day the mudflats and the coast gets more and more crowded.

Many waders at Gyzylagach
Mixed flock of waders...
...dominated by Broad-billed Sandpipers

Especially one day was incredible. On this day I counted Gyzylagach and it was a quite strong wind from northern directions. After I reached the counting site the waders started flying very close by. It was really amazing to stand on the mudflats and everywhere around me were waders flying on eye level 3 meters away against the strong wind. Besides nice photos and a really cool experience, I also observed incredible numbers. During two hours I counted almost 800 Broad-billed Sandpipers, 900+ Curlew Sandpipers and 3200 Black-tailed Godwits. In total, I counted more than 11000 waders on this day. Furthermore, the numbers of Marsh Sandpiper also increased to 4000+ individuals, which was something I never expected to see in my life.

Caspian Plovers are always a pleasure

Besides these great numbers I also got a nice sighting of a rare species. An observed Pacific Golden Plover seems to be the first since more than 100 years for Azerbaijan, when checked with the available literature.

The highlight of the last days...
...a Pacific Golden Plover!

Field work at the Caspian beach

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!