Crimean Steppe

Wednesday, May 16, 2012: We had arrived at the hotel in the dark, and I was surprised to see what it actually looked like. The setting was reminiscent of the American West. Since I was up early, I went birding on the grounds in spite of a little rain. I noticed some birds feeding by the side of the road. I thought they were House Sparrows, but closed in for a closer look just in case. That turned out to be a good idea as it was soon apparent that they were not House Sparrows, but finches. A couple of them were obviously Greenfinches, but I still wasn't sure about the others. Eventually I found Chaffinches and Goldfinches. Then I noticed one feeding in the tree that I initially thought might be a Chaffinch had a huge bill. Moreover, there was black underneath, and the wing patch was wrong for Chaffinch. Yes, it was a Hawfinch! Another bird appeared to be streaky. Could it be a Common Linnet? It disappeared for a moment, but then I saw 5 or 6 Linnets on the ground, including a male. By then, the rain picked up and I headed back to the hotel.

By the time the rain let up, it was almost time for breakfast. I did notice a white-winged Common Redstart near the parking lot as well as a few other birds. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to stay and bird, but had to press on after breakfast.

We headed for the Crimean steppe, but were delayed by traffic police around Simferopol. After a while, it took them a while to decide what was wrong, but they eventually found some pretext to fine us (the traffic police here are basically highwaymen). Shortly after, we dropped off Yura, the ornithologist who had been acting as a local guide. We then continued on to the steppe area around Sari-Bash.

This steppe turned out to be fabulous for raptors. We ended up with 10 species there: Griffon and Cinereous Vultures, Black Kite, Western Marsh-Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Kestrel, Red-footed Falcon, Saker Falcon, and Eastern Imperial-Eagle. The Spotted Souslik colonies are a big attraction for the raptors. We also found two species of wheatear, Demoiselle Crane, and others.

We then traveled to Portovoye, on the Black Sea coast. On the way, we picked up Tracy's daughter, who is in Ukraine with the Peace Corps. At Portovoye, we found a number of waterbirds there, including Little Tern, Great White Pelican, and Ruddy Turnstone. The coastal prairie had displaying Greater Short-toed Larks, while a large flock of starlings included at least a dozen Rosy Starlings. Further scanning of a lagoon revealed a Gadwall. When the rain arrived, we had to get back to the paved road quickly before rain turn to mud into impassible goo.

Our last stop of the day was a freshwater wetland near Krasnoperekopsk. A large number of Avocets were present, as were a number of other species, but nothing new. Again, the rain arrived. This time we were already on the paved road, and we headed off to our hotel at Gola Pristan.

I saw or heard 84 species today, 9 of them new for the trip, including 6 lifers. That brings my trip total to 175, including 105 lifers.

Hotel Chaika, Gola Pristan, Ukraine