The hilltop of Sakhalvasho is an amazing place. It offers a stunning panorama over both Batumi city and the foothills of Kobuleti. It overlooks the sea and the botanical garden on one side, and Mtirala national park on the other side. It has been Batumi Raptor Count’s first count station since 2008. Its strategic location as the highest point in the landscape and exactly where the Colchis Mountains hit the sea, make this an exceptional place to watch raptors and other soaring birds migrating through the bottleneck at its narrowest point. With government support, the flattened hilltop now has a concrete shelter and platform, to serve as an excellent watchpoint. It is located within close reach of several guesthouses, but getting there requires an uphill walk of 10 to 15 minutes. Facilities on the watch-point are basic but include a toilet and shelter. Keep in mind that the sun can burn fiercely, while thunderstorms are frequent and can be dangerous.
Throughout autumn, the migration here never fails to impress. In late August, the honey buzzard season starts, and most years see one or two 100,000+ days. Early in the season, it pays off to arrive around sunrise, when hundreds or thousands of harriers (mostly Montagu’s and Marsh's) pass through. From the second week of September onwards, the migration becomes more diverse, with more and more black kites and booted eagles joining the flocks, and Levant Sparrowhawk and Pallid Harrier adding spice to the mix. Very enjoyable are also the Bee-eaters, with thousands and thousands passing through, filling the sky with their purring sounds. You may be lucky to pick up a blue-cheeked, although this has proven easier in the nearby Chorokhi delta. And then there are the Rollers, displaying their colorful wings when flying over the count station in small flocks. The third week of September is the best time to see one of Batumi’s main highlights: the Crested Honey-buzzard. This rare migrant from east Siberia passes through Batumi in small numbers, and with some luck and the assistance of skilled BRC counters, you may be able to pick one out of the never-ending streams.
Later September brings a very different migration. There are still some honey buzzards around, mostly juveniles, and black kite and booted eagle are still numerous. But the bulk of the migration is now made up of steppe buzzards and eagles. At this time of the year, it is recommended to spend some time on the Shuamta station, which is better for those species with a more eastern migration route, but Sakhalvasho also has some specialties. Red-footed Falcon is almost exclusively seen here. Its numbers are highly unpredictable and very weather dependent, but in some years several thousand have come through on a single day.
A particularly nice aspect of the watch-point is its social side. Here you will meet birders from all over Europe, and the raptor counters of the BRC, who are extremely skilled at picking up the elusive crested honey buzzard or determining the age and sex of an eagle. The raptor count has been taking place for almost a decennium now and has much increased our insight into the eastern Black Sea flyway.