via GT : The Black Sea coast, and namely the area surrounding Batumi, is known as the Eastern Black Sea Migration Corridor, with over one million raptors migrating through it to Africa each year. The migration period runs from approximately August 15 and lasts until October 15, making the Adjara region one of the top places for bird watching in the world, as its raptor migrating corridor is considered one of the biggest at global third place.
The unique topography and climate of the Adjara region is said to be a determining factor in the vast number of annual migrating raptors, bringing more and more popularity to bird watching as an eco-tourism trend and a growing number of bird watching fans, scientists, biologists.
The bird migration can be enjoyed from several specially prepared spots: from the platforms in the villages of Sakhalvasho and Chaisubani (Kobuleti municipality), from the Mtirala National Park and Ispani Sphagnum Peatlands and the Chorokhi Delta in Khelvachauri.
From September 24 to September 30, Adjara is to host its annual International Birdwatching Festival, organized with the support of the Tourism Product Development Agency of the Tourism Department of Adjara. The idea to found the Birdwatching Festival came from international organization Batumi Raptor Count (BRC) back in 2012.
The Birdwatching Festival this year entails a series of lectures and presentations held by foreign and Georgian specialists, with the involvement of Adjara tourist agencies, students and school pupils. Educational excursions are planned to the abovementioned bird watching spots as well as the Kolkheti National Park and Batumi Port. The Birdwatching Festival 2017 is organized by SABUKO (Nature Conservation Society). Alexander Rukhaia, its founder and director, was awarded the prestigious Whitley Award for protecting birds of pray in 2016.
For the festival, Adjara Tourism Department have also established a bird watching platform and a housing infrastructure in Shuamta village, with guest houses in the area ready for visitors and event attendees. The festival is said to be a powerful tool not only for boosting bird watching tourism locally, but also for the conservation of the migrating raptors.
Even if you can’t make it to this year’s International Birdwatching Festival, the bird watching platform at Sakhalvasho village alone is something you’d not want to miss if you happen to be in Adjara at the beginning of autumn, not least for the fact that the view is absolutely stunning, to say nothing of the actual bird migration process. While on a tour there last weekend, we spotted Irao soaring across the sky.
“I’ve been coming here the past three years to spend two or three weeks studying the migration of raptors,” Steen Sogaard, Biologist from Denmark, told us, as we stood among volunteers from all around Europe, gathered on the Sakhalvasho platform.
The story of Batumi Raptor Count started in 2004, when Brecht Verhelst, Stijn Hantson and Nicolas Vanermen travelled to the Caucasus and stayed in Batumi to observe the bird migration and came up with the idea of setting a full-season raptor count with the help of volunteers. It wasn’t until 2008 that the first Batumi Raptor Count was able to be implemented.
“It happened that they were here at the right time,” Aki, a volunteer and a Batumi Raptor Count coordinator from Finland told us.
“Many of the species we see have different migration phenology; they don’t all come at the same time but spread out over this two-month period from August to October,” he said. “We’ve counted more than one million raptors annually since 2012, and we’re expecting to have one million raptors again this year,” he noted.
What makes the raptor migration in Adjara so special is geography, as many birds we see here, Aki told us, avoid crossing the sea, but also avoid crossing mountains: “they squeeze in the area between the both. That’s why we have birds from all around Europe and even Kazakhstan”.
One of the main species counted is the European Honey-buzzard, along with the Steppe Buzzard, Black Kite, Lesser Spotted Eagle, and Booted Eagle. On September 2, 2012, they counted over 170,000 Honey-buzzards. “Sometimes it can be stressful if they come too close, but when you have a good day, it’s really rewarding to get the feedback and you’re proud of the count results and of the team,” Aki said.
There are around 20 people involved in the project from different countries, most of the volunteers staying for two weeks, but some for longer, for one or two months, usually at the guesthouses in the village. We visited one such guesthouse and spoke to owner Nuri Delaverov, frequently host to members of the bird watching community and other tourists visiting the Sakhalvasho area. We’ve are told that the Adjara Tourism Department assists locals to develop their guest houses to meet the fast-growing tourism demand in the region.
Our next stop was the Kolkheti National Park, another spot on the bird migration itinerary, where you can spot species included on the Red List of Georgia. As Emzar Malania, ranger at the Kolkheti National Park said, “The place is getting more and more popular with international visitors, and especially bird watchers”. The park offers bird watching towers and boat tours on Paliastomi Lake to observe the rare species.
Sulkhan Glonti, Head of the Adjara Tourism Department told us that Bird Watching becoming increasingly popular assists in the development of eco and rural tourism, “while at the same time bringing additional sources of income to the local population” as the bird watching platforms are mainly situated in the villages. “We’re doing what we can for the comfort of visitors, tourists, and scientists that come. We regularly retrain guest house owners to help them provide a more comfortable stay for guests, and, in this respect, the Birdwatching Festival is very important,” he stated.
The infrastructure of the existing platforms is to be updated and modernized according to the specific needs and requirements of the visitors, which will be analyzed through a survey to be conducted during the Birdwatching Festival. Glonti also pointed to the fact the tourist season in Adjara can be considered as extremely successful this year, largely due to joint public and private sector efforts and cooperation, and the massive promotional campaigns on different targeted markets of 16 countries around the world.” The region of Adjara has also been in the spotlight of such media outlets as BBC, Euronews and CNN.
If you’re looking to experience something new, thrilling and probably unforgettable, or if you’re a birdwatcher in search of new places to discover, grab your backpack and head to the Adjara region before October 15.