Imperial eagle conservation in Georgia and Azerbaijan

This video says about itself:

8 June 2012

Imperial Eagle pair – five instincts is a documentary film about the life of eagles, which is called by nature lovers – a jewel of the European lowlands. Two filmmakers from Slovakia went on pilgrimage to capture on camera those globally endangered birds of prey.

During three years they were mapping daily lives of these predators, to show us relationships and connections how to survive in their natural environment where man is intensively damaging European lowlands. The shooting did not use animals bred in captivity. Unique footage was filmed from the nature. Specific behavior of the eagles was discovered, which no one captured on camera yet.

From BirdLife:

Impressive Imperial Eagle conservation in Georgia and Azerbaijan

By Guille Mayor and Elchin Sultanov, Tue, 12/04/2016 – 09:07

The Eastern Imperial Eagle is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Its global population estimates range from 3,500 to 15,000 individuals. This embattled bird is a lowland species whose population is globally declining and that has been pushed to higher altitudes by persecution and habitat loss in Europe. In central and eastern Europe, it breeds in forests up to 1.000 m above sea level, in steppe and agricultural areas with large trees, and nowadays also on electricity pylons.

Breeding sites are threatened by intensive forestry in the mountains, and by the shortage of large indigenous trees in the lowlands. Other threats are shortages of small and medium-sized prey species, loss of habitat to agriculture, human disturbance of breeding sites, nest robbing and illegal trade, shooting, poisoning and electrocution by powerlines.

Neighbouring countries Georgia and Azerbaijan are doing their bit to save this species from extinction.

Georgia: Man-made nests against man-made destruction

In Georgia, the species has its main breeding grounds in the east of the country, a vast bushy steppe and farmland area. According to recent surveys, no more than 40 breeding pairs remain in the country, mainly restricted to nesting in riverine forests and electric pylons due to the lack of suitable trees to build nests in throughout the land.

Since November 2015, SABUKO (Society for Nature Conservation) is carrying out conservation activities to improve the status of the Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) through direct conservation measures, awareness raising and education.

Before the start of the project, funded and supported by CLP (Conservation Leadership Programme), several breeding surveys were carried out during 2014 and 2015 to assess the population size of the Eastern Imperial Eagle in Georgia and the locations of the nests. Several abandoned electric pylons were also checked for suitability to install artificial nests, as the species is known to nest in them in some countries in the Balkans.

In November 2015, four artificial nests were successfully built and installed, following the suggestionsi of the Institute of Ecology at Ilia State University, Georgia and MME (Birdlife in Hungary). In the first week of March, an adult eagle couple was seen performing diving flights (a courtship ritual or territorial display) close to one of them.

However, artificial nest installation does not solve the threat of habitat loss. So other activities are also being undertaken. These include the assessment and protection of young forest patches in non-protected areas that can be potentially used by the Eastern Imperial Eagle in the future, as well as of mature forest patches in such areas, where the eagles are currently nesting.

SABUKO is also carrying out satellite tracking of juvenile birds with the help of MME and the Vashlovani Protected Areas Office. To raise awareness among locals, SABUKO is conducting activities such as eagle watchers’ training, talks and presentations in schools, and meetings with municipality representatives, farmers and landowners.

Azerbaijan: Research is conservation’s best friend

Azerbaijan is essential to these and other threatened birds of prey as breeding and feeding grounds. However, there was a lack of comprehensive surveys that give us exact data about their breeding and wintering numbers. That changed with the adoption of the Southern Caucasus Action Plan for the Imperial Eagle in 2006, which stated that a basic assessment of the breeding population of the species was a priority.

In April 2007, the Azerbaijan Ornithological Society (BirdLife in Azerbaijan) started a comprehensive survey of Imperial Eagles in the northwestern part of Azerbaijan. Data collected during this survey were the first and most detailed data about the Eastern Imperial Eagle for Azerbaijan. In nine days, they covered 6.000sq km (7% of Azerbaijan territory, which is 25% of the habitat suitable for the Eastern Imperial Eagle) where they found 25 breeding pairs of Eastern Imperial eagles and a five more active territories. It was estimated that for the studied area, the number of breeding pairs was 35-60.

The results also indicated that the Azerbaijan population of the species may be among the top three in the world and therefore needs to be further researched, including mapping the rest of their habitat. This survey, by providing us with information about current status and distribution of the Eastern Imperial Eagle and distribution model will be our guide for future activities and planning for the conservation of the species and the designation of IBAs.

The action plan has drawn up a list of activities to increase and stabilise the population as well as to improve our knowledge of the Eastern Imperial Eagle. This includes public awareness campaigns on the threats to this species, holding meetings with electricity companies to site pylons in a way that is not a threat to the birds, providing alternative nests to those affected by human activities, and improve enforcement of laws against illegal logging.

Thus, the Imperial Eagle project will provide the chance to learn more about the Eastern Imperial Eagle and improve the conservation of this bird in Azerbaijan with the involvement of the media, local community stakeholders, infrastructure companies and governmental authorities.

Bird Camp Besh 2016 – engaging young people in conservation in Azerbaijan: here.

Stop migratory bird killing in Georgia

This video from the Caucasus foothills in Georgia says about itself:

In September 2014, I was lucky enough to get an opportunity in attending the BRC, Batumi Raptor Count, 2014 and captured some of my experiences and adventures on my camera.

This video shows some of the flocks of raptors we saw, the two counting stations, but also the people involved in the project and gives a little insight into the life you have at your work as a counter at the Batumi Raptor Count.

From BirdLife:

Preserving the Batumi bottleneck

By Brecht Verhelst, Tue, 12/04/2016 – 09:08

Every autumn, millions of birds of prey make their way south from the Russian forests and plains to their warmer African wintering grounds. This migration takes them through high Caucasus, and along the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas, which are difficult to cross. Nowhere is this migration more impressive than in Batumi, Georgia – a 10-km wide corridor between the Black Sea and the Lesser Caucasus mountains – where over a million birds of prey (raptors) are recorded annually.

The phenomenon never fails to impress, both in diversity and in numbers: 36 species of raptors have been recorded here, and on peak days their numbers regularly reach over 100.000 (the all-time record count for the species stands at 271.000 on 2 October, 2014, after days of rain kept the gates of the Batumi bottleneck closed and made migrants accumulate in the north).

Late August sees the passage of virtually the entire eastern population of Honey Buzzards and loose flocks of hundreds of harriers. Bee-eaters are everywhere, and small flocks of rollers add colour to the mix. In mid-September, eagles start to migrate and towards the end of the month, Steppe Buzzards start building up.

Thousands illegally killed annually

Sadly, the abundance of birds during migration has also inspired a local tradition of illegal killing. The green hills are dotted with hides where locals target low-flying migrants, especially raptors. On average, about 13.000 harriers, Honey Buzzards and eagles are killed every year. This is illegal in Georgia, but law enforcement has been limited so far.

The coastal wetlands are also frequented by large herds of hunters. Although most of them have a hunting license, many fire indiscriminately at any birds they see, thereby killing many threatened species. Sociable Lapwing, Great Snipe, Baillon’s Crake and Purple Swamphen are just a few examples of the species that have been found shot in the area.

Moreover, the whole coastal area is threatened with infrastructure development, and huge amounts of money are being invested in the construction of new resorts. The Chorokhi delta – a 500 hectare mosaic of habitats that is home to 266 species – currently does not have any protection status and is under immediate threat.

Saving the bottleneck

The Society for Nature Conservation (SABUKO) in Georgia and the Batumi Raptor Count (BRC) have joined forces to ensure the protection of this unique area. A raptor count in 2008 put Batumi firmly on the map as a prime birdwatching destination and since then, hundreds of birdwatchers have visited Batumi. The guesthouses established in local villages have helped to generate a source of income for the local communities, and have played a major role in convincing them to give up illegal killing and hunting.

Through educational and awareness-raising campaigns, SABUKO has created strong public support for the protection of migratory birds. Responsible falconers have been involved in this work, and many of them have joined a ringing scheme, supported by the Champions of the Flyway, aimed at ending the killing of ‘bycatch’ in their nets.

All of this culminates in the Batumi Birding Festival, which will be held this year from 25 September to 1 October, 2016. During this event, BirdLife will showcase the conservation work done in the Batumi bottleneck.

It is also a unique opportunity to do some of the best birding anywhere in Europe, led by some of the most famous birders and conservationists, including Dick Forsman (a Finnish ornithologist and expert in raptor identification), David Lindo (writer and ‘Urban Birder’), Rob Sheldon (conservationist known for his work with the Sociable Lapwing) and Andrea Corso (a top Italian birder).

By participating in this event, you will help us raise funds for the development of SABUKO into a full BirdLife partner, and to allow BRC to continue its annual raptor counts.

Georgia’s ex-dictator Saakashvili no longer Georgian

This 20 September 2013 video is called Torture Tape Rage: Thousands protest Georgian prison horror.

That scandal of sexual torture in the prisons of Georgia led to the downfall of dictator Mikheil Saakashvili.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Georgia deprives former president Saakashvili of citizenship

Today, 14:36

The government of Georgia has deprived former president Mikheil Saakashvili of his citizenship. The government has done that in its own words because Saakashvili has Ukrainian nationality and Georgians cannot have dual nationality. …

Saakashvili was … president … until 2013. He then went to the United States of America and later to Ukraine this summer where he received Ukrainian citizenship and was appointed governor of the Odessa region.

In his own country Saakashvili is wanted for abuse of power. His Dutch wife, Sandra Roelofs, now has returned with her youngest son to her parents’ house in Terneuzen.

An earlier, 21 December 2013, NOS TV report said (translated):

Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, has left his country, fearing to be prosecuted. His wife, Dutch Sandra Roelofs, said so in an interview with daily Trouw. …

Roelofs herself has remained in Georgia and let the newspaper know that she feels more like being married to the country than being married to her husband. She also criticized the political actions of her husband. He had too much haste and then “you will make mistakes and you will make enemies.” She says that Saakashvili refused to listen when she mentioned criticism she had heard on her travels through the country.

Great horned owl news from the USA

This video from California in the USA is called From Hatching to Release: the story of an orphaned Great Horned Owl.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Savannah Owls on the Horizon

Last year’s surprise season with a pair of Great Horned Owls in Savannah, Georgia, captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of viewers worldwide. In their first year of nesting on cam they successfully fledged two owlets from an abandoned eagle nest near the top of a dying loblolly pine (watch highlights). No one knows whether the owls will return and nest this year, but our partners at Skidaway Audubon have reported seeing the adults courting and making alterations to the nest.

In hopeful anticipation of the owls’ nesting again, we have activated all of the camera equipment added and a second camera for a wide, fixed view of the nest from the west. The cams are streaming live, and it may still be a couple months before the owls begin nesting in earnest (last year’s pair laid their first egg on January 1). Tune in and you may be lucky enough to be greeted by hoots in the distance, or even a pair of wide eyes staring back at you! Watch cam.

Birds of prey migration

This video from Georgia says about itself:

First time 1 Million raptor migration count – Batumi Raptor Count, 2012

20 October 2012

Batumi Raptor Count, 2012. After the count we all met at station 1 to celebrate the 1 million. Apparently drops of champagne are more prefered than the drinking.

From BirdLife:

The migration of soaring birds of prey explained

By Brecht Verhelst, Tue, 08/09/2015 – 06:45

Birds of prey, commonly called raptors, have been persecuted for hundreds of years in Europe and other parts of the world, usually as suspected predators of gamebirds. But these species – which include birds like buzzards, eagles, falcons and vultures – are actually an important way to check the health of our ecosystem (they are often called ‘indicator species’) and keep things in balance.

Based on their flying strategy during migration, birds of prey can be divided into two classes: those who almost constantly flap their wings and can fly over land and water (small, active flyers like falcons and sparrowhawks), and those who rely on the lift of thermal air currents to glide and save energy (these have large and broad wings, like eagles and buzzards). These thermal soarers have to fly mainly over land as water bodies provide no thermal lift during daytime. They must also often avoid high mountain ranges.

These geographical features, especially the Mediterranean Sea, have split up the region into two main migratory routes and led to a concentration of migrants in some locations, called ‘bottlenecks’. Observations here have given us great insight into the migration strategies, population sizes and demographics of many birds of prey species, especially those that are difficult to survey on their breeding grounds.

At some sites, like in Israel, annual migration counts have been organized for decades, so the data can be used to study population crashes (for example those linked to the use of the pesticide DDT) and recoveries.

Because of its many seas and mountain ranges, Europe and the Middle East are exceptionally rich in such bottlenecks – such as Falsterbo in Sweden, the Strait of Gibraltar in Spain, the Pyrenees in France and Spain, Burgas in Bulgaria, the Bosporus and Iskenderum in Turkey, and various sites in Israel and Egypt. A recently rediscovered bottleneck is in Batumi, Georgia. Storks and birds of prey from Eastern Europe, European Russia and West Siberia fly through here, leading to daily bird counts of over 100,000 and season totals of more than a million.

SABUKO, the Society for Nature Conservation  has been cooperating with the Batumi Raptor Count (BRC) to study this bottleneck and raise awareness of its value. Every year, about 30 international volunteers travel to Batumi to take part in the count of migrating raptors. They are joined by an increasing number of tourists, who stay in guesthouses run by local families. The income this generates has played a major role in convincing an entire village to stop killing migratory birds.

These kinds of success stories are few. The illegal killing of birds continues to be a major problem at many migration hotspots. Some observatories at bottlenecks have often set up very effective schemes to raise awareness among the population of the value of migratory birds.

However, campaigns need to be organized to scale up conservation efforts along the whole flyway. Schoolchildren form a great target group for educational drives about the importance of migratory birds – we should make sure that the new generation develops a different attitude towards them, focusing on protecting, not killing. These initiatives can be complemented by ecotourism development, which creates economic opportunities for local communities, generates the necessary income to sustain the conservation effort and gives them an incentive to protect the birds.

Bird migration in Georgia news

This video from Georgia is called Batumi Raptor Count 2013.

From the Batumi Raptor Count site in Georgia, today’s results of the counting of migratory birds at Batumi-Shuamta are:

1710 honey buzzards

3 black storks (one adult, two juveniles)

37 black kites

32 marsh harriers

3 pallid harriers (one male, one female, one youngster)

48 hen harriers

1 goshawk

2 steppe buzzards

2 long-legged buzzards

4 booted eagles

1 osprey

56 bee-eaters