Kerch Peninsula

Saturday, May 12, 2012: I woke up today to the sound of swifts screaming overhead. After breakfast, we started the day by birding a lake on the road to Kerch, then left the main road for some other lakes in the Batalnoye area.

The new birds started at Batalnoye with a Tawny Pipit before we got to the main lake. The main lake contained a good variety of waterfowl, big waders, and shorebirds. A group of Graylag Geese and goslings stood out. In contrast, the Kentish Plover required a scope to identify. Some of the Dunlin were sporting black bellies, while a transitional Black-tailed Godwit caused some confusion until it flew a short distance. A Common Greenshank worked the shore. Purple Herons popped up for short flights over the reeds while we scanned the lake. A good sized flock of Little Stints fed in various locations, eventually getting to a good distance for study in the scope. Some Curlew Sandpipers were in their showy breeding plumage. A pair of Northern Shovelers landed in the lake, and a Common Snipe was spotted lurking near some rocks. Although I got a better look later today on the shoreline, my life Little Ringed Plovers worked the far side of the lake. A handsome Reed Bunting took a prominent perch in the reeds. As we moved along, we noticed that a Red-necked Grebe on a nest lurked in the reeds behind the one we saw diving. Then there were the stilts, avocets, and other ducks and waders.

A group of European Bee-eaters was out further up the hill. After we turned around and started back, we took another look at one of the small ponds. Just as we left, a bird flew out. My immediate reaction was Bittern — Eurasian Bittern. Unfortunately, it was a brief look and no one else saw it. Immature Black-crowned Night-Heron and Purple Heron are the possible confusion species. It clearly was not a Night-Heron. At the time, I had just seen my first Purple Herons, and was not 100% sure about the immature. After later I gained further experience with Purple Heron, I finally ruled that out too.

We then drove through the steppe to Opgu Mountain and the associated nature reserve. On the way, we found our first Black-headed Buntings. Although vehicle access is limited, Paul had made arrangements that allowed us to drive all the way to the top. We found the first of several Ortolan Buntings near where we parked.

The top of the mountain has some unusual u-shaped earthworks. I wondered at first if they had something to do with the mining that was done there. However, they turned out to be gun emplacements leftover from fighting over nearby Kerch in 1941-1945.

Opgu Mountain is a 600-foot flat-topped hill on the edge of the Black Sea. We walked much of the perimeter before lunch. A number of Eurasian Kestrels were continually flying along the cliffs. At one point, we heard a Saker falcon calling. Turning around to look, we found a pair of them. We continued around, eventually looking out from spot a short distance from the bus. From there, we were able to see a lone Demoiselle Crane flying below.

Although lunch was ready, the Spotted Flycatchers and Ortolan Buntings on the cliff side continued to distract us. Then a Pallid Harrier flew by! We were about to leave when two Red-rumped Swallows flew overhead, a rarity in Ukraine. Finally, we returned to the bus and had lunch.

After lunch we walked the short distance to the bat-cave. The “cave” is actually an old mine (limestone, I think) and the bats are Lesser Mouse-eared Bat (Myotis blythii). The smell was quite noticeable as we approached their roosting area. There were a few hundred bats there. We limited our stay so as to not disturb them excessively. When we came out, we spotted some Bottlenosed Dolphins near the shore, and further scanning turned up some European Shags.

Then we headed down the mountain and took a dirt track toward Kerch. As elsewhere in the steppe, Calandra Larks were continually flying up as we drove along. Today, we also found many shrikes, both red-backed and lesser gray. A Whinchat was new. Then we stopped for another bird sitting next to the track. It was the first of three European Nightjars on the road to Kerch. We stopped to scan the sea, but added nothing new. We also stopped to see some Little Sousliks, a type of ground squirrel.

At Kerch, you can see Russia across the strait. Rather than go through Kerch, we struck on another dirt road to complete a figure-eight loop through the steppe. Most of the birds were the same, until Tracy spotted a Great Bustard. In fact, there were a number of Great Bustards in the area, and a couple of the males were sometimes displaying. We had stopped next to a pond, and Barn Swallows were present on the wires and in the reeds. A Demoiselle Crane stood on top of a distant hill. Then two more flew by, and were joined by the first one. A Great Reed Warbler that had been calling since we arrived popped up on top of the reeds several times. Finally, it was time to go and we headed back to Feodosia.

I saw 90 species today. Of them, 25 were new, including 17 lifers. That brings my trip total to 137, including 79 lifers.

Hotel Lidiya, Feodosia, Crimea, Ukraine