A new plight to safeguard migratory raptors in Georgia

Erwin van Maanen has been invited to speak at the Batumi Bird Festival in 19-23 September in Batumi, Georgia (Caucasus). This is an initiative of the Batumi Raptor Count bringing together ornithologists, conservationists and local hunters to raise awareness of the immense importance of the regional or Adjaria-Imereti migratory bird flyway, previously unrecognized.

Some vultures, hundreds of eagles and thousands of sparrowhawks, harriers, buzzards and honey buzzards traverse the Batumi bottleneck. These are honey buzzards and steppe buzzards circling in a thermal above a hill in the Adjarian mountains, 28 August 2005. By E. van Maanen.

Erwin was instrumental in bringing this voluminous autumn bird flyway to international attention together with Georgian ecologists, whilst doing wetland biodiversity conservation work in 1999. Especially many raptor species pass the coastal plains and mountains of Adjaria and into Turkey through the Batumi bottleneck in tens to 100,000’s; highly spectacular. Erwin studied the problem of hunting associated with the flyway, including the massive and indiscriminate shooting of birds of prey and the trapping of sparrowhawks for falconry. He went into dialogue with the traditional Georgian Falconry Association with the plea to stop the killing and to improve falconry practice to ethical and modern standards. Read more.

The shooting and trapping, however, still continues. After a failed attempt by BirdLife International, partly due to the death of a Portugese ornithologist struck by lightning in the Adjarian hills, a group of Belgian ornithologists is now undertaking deeper study of the flyway and initiatives with bird counts involving birders from around Europe. The upcoming festival is organized to promote migratory bird watching as an ecotourism activity in the economically developing Black Sea region, which may succeed in dissolving the problem altogether if the Georgian and Adjarian governments, and hunters, realize that the streams of raptors provide an economic impulse through eco-tourism, and that killing these magnificent birds will instead keep eco-tourism away and taint the coastal tourism development.

...many to be shot by hunters lying in ambush, like these boys. By E. van Maanen.

Another problem is the conservation of the Chorokhi delta together with the Kakhaberi plain. This is a former Russian military practice area, located between the harbor town of Batumi and the Turkish border. This delta, with respect to cumulative developments and environmental impacts along the eastern Black Sea coast, has now become an important remnant of resting sites for birds variably including a multitude herons, raptors, waders and passerines. The inshore marine zone is important for dolphins. Although classified as an Important Bird Area, the site is threathened by neglect, erosion, pollution, hunting and severely by future jetset coastal development. Initiatives are under way to protect it as a bird conservation site.

Blinded shrikes are used to lure sparrowhawks into nets. By E. van Maanen.

The Georgian Black Sea coast and in particular the subtropical Kolkheti wetland area contains a plethora of ecologically unique wetlands including mires, lakes and rivers. These, for instance, provide key habitats to flagship and conservation species like sturgeon, salmon, otter, white-tailed sea eagle and Dalmatian pelican.

A merlin hunting and resting in the Chorokhi Delta, October 1999. By E. van Maanen.