“I have only one question: will we encounter bird shooting while watching birds?” “You will.” J. says. “That’s why you are here, this is a part of the plan.”
It surprises me we, the eager birdwatchers wanting to observe raptor migration in the Batumi bottleneck, famous for HUGE numbers (October 2 2014: 280.000) of birds of prey migrating south, should be prepared for some of that infamous bird shooting, too. While it is clearly forbidden to kill birds of prey in Georgia, one can hear quite a lot of shooting going on in high-lying villages around Batumi (ბათუმი) year by year, we are told.
But what the NGO “Batumi Raptor Count” (BRC) does against it is actually quite interesting: instead of simply criticising, they are conducting survey on the reasons for the raptor carnage occurring on such a large scale. “One of the hunters said if he had a Gameboy he might consider stopping shooting – the others said they did it for food or fun. Those hunters, they are all very friendly and eager to talk about their shooting and the different reasons for it.” R. is our guide in the Mtirala National Park and ready to talk about his research a bit. “So, have you ever been in a very … depressing situation?” I wonder. “Yes, when you see all those birds lying around, dead or dying …” “I see.” I don’t want to think about it too much.
The thing is: BRC has established good relations with local people in many places around Batumi and also brought them new sources of income and pleasure: they are now running guesthouses with full board for visiting foreign birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, eco tourism thus becoming one of the good solutions to the problem.
We stayed at a guesthouse in Sakhalvasho and loved it. Not to mention the food again (*sigh*). Once a local community realizes there’s more money and fun to be had by NOT shooting birds foreigners with binoculars appreciate so much, they (may and do) change their attitude. And for one day, we were supposed to be a part of that plan. Unfortunately though not unsurprisingly, it rained rather heavily that day and we spent some time in a seaside cafe instead, watching birds while seated comfortably, too loud Russian music killing most of the fun, and only later on moved closer to the Black Sea, where I saw my first Honey buzzard ever :-).
It was only the next day we saw a really great number of raptors in the sky above, while hiking, that is: huffing and puffing through the lovely subtropical forest of the Mtirala Park. They are quite a sight, I must say.
Raptors migrate mostly by day, they travel singly and save energy by using thermals – raising air currents caused by the sun, and updrafts – air currents, caused by winds. To put it simply: those majestic birds use air columns provided by the sun and the winds to rise and typically glide from column to column. Which is why they cannot fly over larger stretches of water or high mountains and which is why they choose the Black Sea coast and Batumi. And get killed in the process. 😦