BBBMC, Besh Barmag, bird migration, count2022

November, spectacular days at Besh Barmag!

Text © Gabi Caucal

The migration of Little Bustards is a phenomenon that any spotter would like to experience one day. The emotion it brings was as great as the number of groups counted!

At Besh Barmag bottleneck on 6 and 15 November, 11 569 and 11 913 Little Bustards, respectively, were counted.

On 15 November, while a group of nearly 900 Cormorants were skimming the Caspian Sea waves close to the coast, suddenly, onomatopoeias: “Waw waw then waw waw waw waaaaah” claimed by an observer at the time of the full appreciation of the sheet of birds literally covering a large part of the sky between the beginning of the Caucasus ridges and the Caspian Sea! A few moments later, a mass of more than 3000 Little Bustards flew over us, forming successively bubbles, endless lines, thick scarves with straight edge. These formations were sometimes interspersed with spaces, offering to the eyes of the ornithologist a breath in his task of counting, the sound of wingbeats of these thousands of birds and the Nimbo-Stratus as background. These magical moments will remain forever in the memory of the observers present that day.

Several flocks of 2000 and 1000 Little Bustards were regularly observed during these two sessions allowing to reach the total of 28 397 individuals, a number largely higher to that noted in 2018 with only 10 918 Little Bustards.

The first weeks of the month were the scene of very important movements of Great White Egrets, whether over the Caucasus ridges (2373 on 16 November) or over the Caspian Sea on 4 November (2866 birds).  The sudden influx of 1447 birds in 10 minutes around 4 pm on that day will remain the strongest moment for the species this season. 10 804 birds have been counted so far.

Forming huge disordered V-formations with a particularly compact tip; our eyes were often absorbed by these clusters of white flashers.  

Without net movements of finches (only 3613 European Greenfinches against 14 641 in 2018), the Reed Bunting is for sure the passerine of the month, with, in example, this day with 1493 individuals on 11 November. Under a thick layer of Strato-Cumulus and with the Caucasus ridges under the haze, lot of hoarse or whistled calls were heard. Moving indecisively, sometimes in the middle of tens of Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits, sometimes in loose groups of 20-30 birds, Reed Bunting were daily by hundreds during the first 2 weeks (6593 individuals over the whole month).

The Caspian Sea in November offers from time to time deluges of dabbling ducks, especially when the wind blows from the south, many groups flying at very low altitude. During the 16 November session, 26 000 individuals of 7 different species were counted from sunrise to sunset, passing in a continuous stream. This session alone make a good part of the total number of these species (92 000 birds). The middle of the day was fantastic allowing the count of 6713 Pintails and the last two hours just as fabulous with a large amount of the 2242 Gadwalls counted! For these two species, these were the two best days for our monitoring.

The last days of the month also allowed the count of 4180 Shovelers (28, 29 & 30 November), making a good part of the 10 525 individuals observed until then. 

For diving ducks, the day of 30 November alone suddenly allowed thousands of Tufted Ducks/Pochards to be counted in only 2 hours in late afternoon. Passing in a tight line over the horizon against a rosy sky or against the Nimbo-Stratus, more than 1000 Tufted Ducks were counted, reaching the highest total for this bird at Besh Barmag.

The second part of November was overall marked by abnormally high temperatures for the time, both around our station (average of 14 degrees between 16 and 26 November) and generally in Western Siberia. This situation potentially explains the low number of individuals recorded for some partial or late migrants such as the Black-headed Gull (a single session with more than 10 000 birds on 16 November) or the Pygmy Cormorant and its 7723 individuals against 32 322 in 2018 during these same weeks…

This meteorological context has certainly optimized extended stopovers for some long-distance migrants. These late data of Red-backed Shrike (23 November) Reed Warbler (24 November) or Common Rosefinch (19 November) are perfect examples.

Besh Barmag still holds surprises, whatever the conditions. First of all, these observations of Olive-backed Pipit on 3 November and European Serin on 24 November represent respectively the second and first documented data for Azerbaijan.

These last four weeks also allowed to hear and sometimes to see 25 Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit, making the three quarters of the seasonal number (36 individuals).

At last, the north movements of this Red-rumped Swallow (a very rare species in the country overall) on 25 November was the first autumn record for the project.

This season, although already fantastic, has not yet delivered all its promises! The freeze is settling permanently in Siberia, thousands of waterfowl and larks are expected. Thus, to learn more about the extent of these movements, the monitoring will continue until 10 December!

Here the link to see the November totals:

Photos © Elvin Məmmədsoy

Photos © Pia Fetting

Photos © Christopher Stamp

Photos © Patrick Styles

Photos © Tewannakit Mermagen

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