Category Archives: Ecology

Georgia Bird List

Here’s an exciting list of all the birds I saw in the Republic of Georgia between 1 September and 8 October 2015:

Levant sparrowhawkAccipiter brevipes
GoshawkAccipiter gentilis
SparrowhawkAccipiter nisus
KingfisherAlcedo atthis
Red-throated pipitAnthus cervinus
SwiftApus apus
Great egretArdea alba
Grey heronArdea cinerea
Steppe buzzardButeo buteo vulpinus
SanderlingCalidris alba
DunlinCalidris alpina
Kentish ploverCharadrius alexandrinus
Ringed ploverCharadrius hiaticula
Slender-billed gullChroicocephalus genei
Black-headed gullChroicocephalus ridibundus
White storkCiconia ciconia
Black storkCiconia nigra
Marsh harrierCircus aeruginosus
Pallid harrierCircus macrourus
Montagu's harrierCircus pygargus
Lesser spotted eagleClanga pomarina
Stock doveColumba oenas
RollerCoracias garrulus
RavenCorvus corax
Hooded crowCorvus cornix
quailCoturnix coturnix
Blue titCyanistes caeruleus
Little egretEgretta garzetta
RobinErithacus rubecula
Peregrine falconFalco peregrinus
HobbyFalco subbuteo
ChaffinchFringilla coelebs
MoorhenGallinula chloropus
JayGarrulus glandarius
OystercatcherHaematopus ostralegus
Booted eagleHieraaetus pennatus
SwallowHirundo rustica
Little gullHydrocoloeus minutus
Caspian ternHydroprogne caspia
Red-backed shrikeLanius collurio
Yellow-legged gullLarus michahellis
Broad-billed sandpiperLimicola falcinellus
Bee-eaterMerops apiaster
White/pied wagtailMotacilla alba
Yellow wagtailMotacilla flava
Black-crowned night heronNycticorax nycticorax
Black-eared wheatearOenanthe hispanica
WheatearOenanthe oenanthe
Golden orioleOriolus oriolus
Great titParus major
House sparrowPasser domesticus
Honey buzzardPernis apivorus
Crested honey buzzardPernis ptilorhynchus
CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo
Green warblerPhylloscopus nitidus
Willow warblerPhylloscopus trochilus
Krüper's nuthatchSitta krueperi
Common ternSterna hirundo
Sandwich ternSterna sandvicensis
BlackcapSylvia atricapilla
Ruddy shelduckTadorna ferruginea
WrenTroglodytes troglodytes
BlackbirdTurdus merula
63 species!

Moths!

Back in the UK, I got the moth trap out but forgot my moth book (it’s in Northumberland) and it turns out the camera on my new phone is nowhere near as good as the old one. So just a few pictures of 3 NFS – New For Sarah:

One of the November Moths, a collection of four moths that are notoriously difficult to differentiate:

A lovely Feathered thorn:

And the stunning Angle shades:

None of these are particularly uncommon, but they are all very nice to see. Next month I start a new job on the Cumbrian coast so will be interesting to see what I get!

Bazieri

Here in Georgia, I’m working to monitor the illegal hunting of raptors during the Autumn migration. Alongside the men shooting these raptors, are those practicing the much older tradition of Falconry; called the Buzzeri in the local language. They preferentially take Sparrowhawks, and say that they can have one tame in a matter of days – it’s very interesting when compared to the method for taming hawks in the UK; here, for example, they never hood the bird. My Russian/Georgian isn’t good enough to understand the exact details unfortunately, but it is an extremely well respected tradition out here.

(yes yes that’s a peregrine, not a sparrowhawk)

They use a captive shrike, usually (but not always) hooded by sticking leather or shell over the eyes, tied to the end of a stick and waved about behind an upright net.

When the sparrowhawk stoops to take the prey, it’s caught up in the net, carefully removed, wrapped in a handkerchief and placed in the shade for the rest of the day. At the end of the day, the Buzzeri will select the best bird from the day and release the rest.

The sparrowhawks are used to hunt quail in the Spring, and at the end of the season are released, with new birds caught the following Autumn.

So when we are out monitoring hunting rates, there’s often a local Buzzeri nearby, and, Georgian hospitality being a matter of great pride, they’re always keen to share their lunch and a glass of the local firewater, Chacha, with us!

Chorokhi Delta

A day off today, myself and colleague Aurellie went to the Chorokhi Delta, a wetland area where the Chorokhi river meets the Black Sea. A haven for passing migrants, I’d heard great things about it.

OF COURSE it was a baking hot day and we saw very little. An egret, a kingfisher and a black-eared wheatear, with the heat haze making it too difficult to even get a decent ID on any of the thousands of gulls loafing about. Plenty of cows though.

The sun blasting down, I was jealous of the two lads who took a break in their metal detectoring to strip off and go for a swim. We ended up just siestaing under a tree for an hour and heading home.

I did get to see a load of frogs, including these two, if anyone can ID?

Birds in hand

A group of Dutch researchers visit our survey station at the weekends to do some ringing. This weekend we got a few really nice birds, starting with this tasty looking quail:

A Noisy Nightingale Thrush:

and this very special Green Warbler:

The Green warbler was, until recently, considered a sub-species of the Greenish Warbler, but is now a full species and endemic to the Caucasus Mountains.

It’s great to get to see these birds up close!

Feathers

Yesterday I had an incredible day with Dietrich, a German expert on feather morphology. We hiked for 8 hours through the humid subtropical forest, looking for remains of birds left by hunters, who pluck and remove head, wings and feet when they find something.

Dietrich was amazing to listen to and learn from, and I learned a heck of a lot about feather morphology! We spotted quite a few interesting things, such as the difference in barring on the undersides of these wings, from two different male honey buzzards. Is it an age thing? Or just individual variation?

And here you can see that the central tail feathers have been bleached by the sun

It’s not just big raptors that are shot, they will also take rollers, bee-eaters and golden oriole

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and we found feathers from blackbirds and cuckoos.

The most poignant and incredible moment was when I spotted an injured bird flapping through neck-deep bracken down a steep slope. Dietrich ran after it, and managed to bring it up, a female honey buzzard with a shot wing.

Her gunshot wound:

It was spectacular to see such a magnificent creature up close, but sadly as the local area lacks suitable vets or wildlife rehabilitation facilities, at the end of the day she was carefully and humanely dispatched by Dietrich.

Aggregates

This morning the moth trap had a couple of aggregate species. These are two or more macromoth species which are impossible to differentiate without dissecting the genitals. As I don’t had a microscope and a tiny pair of tweezers, there’s no way of telling which is which so they just get recorded as “agg”.

This could be a Grey Dagger or a Dark Dagger

And this could be a Common Marbled Carpet or a Dark Marbled Carpet

Elsewhere in the moth trap – AAA WASP AAAAAA

Mother of Pearl, which is technically a Micro Moth despite being bigger than a lot of Macro moths. It had me confused for a long time as it looks a bit like a Wave of some type, and I only have a macro moth book. Luckily the #TeamMoth experts on twitter saved the day!

This was another confusing one, he has his wings drawn up next to his body while my moth book only showed it with wings flat. A lovely Buff Arches

A couple of Slender Brindles

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And these two Lesser Broad-Bordered Yellow Underwing having a chat

Full list 14/08/2015:
Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing 33
Large Yellow Underwing 13
Dark Arches 4
Common or Dark Marbled Carpet 1
Brimstone Moth 1
Slender Brindle 2
Dun-bar 3
Riband Wave 3
Sallow 1
Antler Moth 1
Scalloped Oak 2
Small Fan-footed Wave 1
Dotted Clay 1
Grey or Dark Dagger 1
Buff Arches 1
Mother of Pearl 1

A better use for small parks

I took Frank, the German Shepherd, for a walk into town this afternoon. We live a couple of miles outside a fairly bog-standard small Scottish town; it used to be an industrial port but nowadays just has a couple of small ship terminals and not much else. It has a reputation for being a “sh*thole;” sure, the pubs aren’t great, but whenever I walk in, I’m always impressed by the fact that clearly, people love this little place.

There always seems to be someone tending the beautiful flowerbeds, which greet you at the entrance and cheerful flower baskets hang from every railing and shop front. Despite the fact that it’s highly unlikely any tourists come here, there’s half a dozen tourist information boards proudly displaying the history of the town. There’s very little grafitti, and the high street is always full of people chatting and sitting.

This evening, me and Frank enjoyed having a look at a small park that’s been transformed – you know the type, about half an acre of sloping scruffy grass with a tree and dog poo on it, and never really used – into a wildflower meadow. It was beautiful! Such a better use of the space than before, looks gorgeous and, brilliantly, a huge boost to the local wildlife.

 Frank, the wee flower

The intitaitve is by the Council, called Wildfife, turning public spaces, parks and road verges into species-rich wildflower meadows. What a fantastic idea and I really hope it’s maintained for years to come.

I was telling my housemate about the flowers, and she said that she’d been to see them too, and got chatting to an older lady. She told her that the small, grassy park was originally put aside to graze the cattle coming into town for market, and that’s why it never got built upon.

Hotel Lepidoptera

I call the moth trap the “moth hotel” because people assume trapping them means I’m going to kill them, when in fact, they just have somewhere to sleep for the night. Then my housemate started singing Hotel Lepidoptera..

More nice moths this morning – a Light emerald and a Swallow-tailed hanging out together

And this, which was either a Common marbled carpet or a Dark marbled carpet. I’d have to see the underside of the wings to check…

But rather than risk me damaging him, he obligingly lifted them up for me to have a look! Dark marbled carpet, as the middle line has a big kink in it:

The full list:

Mottled beauty;
Light Emerald;
Dark Marbled Carpet;
The Fan-foot;
July High-flyer;
Lesser Yellow Underwing;
Brimstone;
Swallow-tailed Moth.

All moths at the minute, I’ve had very little on my cameratrap although I did see a roe and faun run along our lane yesterday!

Treble-bar

I put the moth trap out last night next to the lovely purple buddleia, instead of the nettle patch, and was rewarded with some gorgeous new species in the moth hotel this morning:

Swallow tailed
Swallow-tailed moth, which usually have eye-spots on the tips of the wings to confuse predators, who peck at those rather than the moth’s actual face. This one has raggedly tails, suggesting the eye-spots have indeed been pecked.


A lovely Scalloped oak



Brimstone moth, I’ve had these before, a very bright and striking moth


This one was interesting – is it a Treble-bar or a Lesser Treble-Bar? Both species are very similar in appearance. Many similar-looking moth species can only be separated reliably by close inspection of other body parts under a microscope. Fortunately, these two can be separated by the shape of the male’s abdomen –

And a careful inspection showed I have a male, with a narrow, pointy abdomen, so this is a Treble-bar moth!

As well as these, I got a handful each of the familiar Light Emeralds and Mottled Beautys, all looking a bit worn out as they approach the end of their season. Different moth species emerge from pupae at different times of the year, and most only stick around for a month or two. One of the (many) wonderful things about moth-trapping is seeing how the composition of species regularly caught changes throughout the year.