Wednesday 8 May 2024

Azerbaijan Spring 2024- Absheron National Park

We  spent days five and six at Absheron National Park with two main targets; a) to look for Caspian Seal and b) to look for migrants/vagrants. Absheron is a peninsula to the east of Baku that geomorphologically is like Spurn/Portland/Cape Kaliakra i.e. a peninsula promontory that protrudes into the sea on a major migration route. 

We first visited here on previous trips in early Spring while looking for Omid and vowed to return during peak migration time to check it out. It was great to return. Ebird lists HERE and HERE. We recorded over 70 species on both days with highlights including an intergrade Crested Honey Buzzard amongst a trickle of migrating raptors; Steppe Buzzard, Black Kite, Honey Buzzard, Steppe Eagle and Pallid Harrier, up to 120 Red-necked Phalaropes, 65 Broad-billed Sandpipers, 7 Terek Sandpiper, 3 Temminck's Stint, Gull-billed Terns and a good scattering of passerine migrants including 'lutea' Yellow Wagtail (a subspecies lifer), Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Ortolan and Red-throated Pipits. 

Unfortunately no Caspian Seal despite extensive searching, which are becoming less regular here. 

There was a strong north wind blowing for the period we were there that may well have disrupted migration but seemed to be keeping raptors low as they battled in the head wind and also seemed to be concentrating waders in the bay (the wader numbers were very high according to local birders). 

Ebird Trip Report HERE

Adult female intergrade Crested/European Honey Buzzard (above and below). The six fingers, short tail (shorter than width of arm), the partial gorget, indistinct carpal patch and cinnamon colour are all features of Crested Honey Buzzard. However Crested Honey Buzzards interbreeds extensively with European Honey Buzzard in the extreme west of it's range and only fully classic birds should be accepted as pure Crested Honey Buzzard. A classic Crested should appear more broader winged (lacking the bulging secondaries as shown here) and there is a little bit too much dark on the carpal and also the barring on the secondaries does not reach the body (ideally a Crested Honey Buzzard the secondary barring should reach the body). We consulted Dick Forsman who agreed with our conclusion too. There are two records of Crested Honey Buzzard and one record of a hybrid from Az (thanks to Zulfu for info). 

Steppe Buzzards (above and two below). Nice to see these going low in the strong head wind and also to see a good bit of variation with some typically red coloured birds too 

2nd-calender year Pallid Harrier
Steppe Eagle 
Adult summer Pallas's Gull 
Slender-billed Gull 
Common Terns, some of the birds (e.g. three on the left flying) had dark bills, shorter darker legs and darker underparts than the more typical other birds (e.g. right bird flying). Presumably there is a cline from European to Eastern (longipennis) across the Palearctic with these birds representing that variation. Interestingly there were four birds showing these 'eastern' features and they were sticking together in a flock of typical birds so were obviously a distinct little group/population. 
Broad-billed Sandpipers, Dunlins, Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints (above and three photos below) 

Gull-billed Tern- had about 27 of these on this trip
Female Red-necked Phalarope (above) and male and female birds in various states of moult (below, three photos). The 120 we counted in the park was one of the highest counts for the area presumably related to the strong north wind. Many of the birds were extremely tame allowing approach to within a few meters. 

'Lutea' Yellow Wagtail (above and below). Most of the the 250+ Yellow Wagtails present were Grey-headed, thunbergi with some Syke's Wagtails, beema and  7-8 Yellow-headed Wagtails, 'Luteas'. Lutea is similar to the UK flavissima but the head often wears quickly to more concolorous yellow. Even in fresh spring plumage as in this male the forecrown is a deep yellow and there is no eye-stripe and the wing-bars are deep yellow too. 

This female lutea can also possibly be separated from flavissima as it is very bright yellow for a female bird, with yellow wing bars and strong yellow supercilium. Lutea occurs in the Lower Volga and middle Ural region. (Shirihai and Svensson 2018)
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush- a migrant on it's way to the mountains 

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