Thursday, March 18, 2021

Amur Bird Project update: no fieldwork, but more publications

Amur Bird Project team at Muraviovka Park, August 2017

Due to the pandemic, no fieldwork was possible in 2020 (and perhaps not even in 2021) for the Amur Bird Project team in Russia. But we have made the best of it and published many of our findings!

In autumn 2017 we (Hans, Benny and Jonas) stayed at Muraviovka Park and spent several nice, creative weeks together. Here we like to remember those inspiring time and the unforgettable birds we saw and ringed. Now, more than three years later, each one of us has published a paper on his “own” project.

Hans, the moult enthusiast of our group, analysed data on the processes and variations of feather renewal of one of the characteristic species of our study area, the Pallas´s Grasshopper Warbler Locustella certhiola. Until recently assumptions on moult patterns for East Asian Locustella species were based on incomplete information. Based on data from six ringing sites situated along the flyway of Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler from its breeding grounds in the Russian Far East to the wintering areas in Thailand detailed study revealed for the first time that in most individuals wing feather moult proceeds from the centre both toward the body and the wing-tip. This moult strategy is known as partial divergent moult (which is rare among Palearctic passerines). We found an increase in the mean number of moulted primaries during the progress of the autumn migration. Moderate body mass levels and low-fat and muscle scores were observed in moulting adult birds, without any remarkable increase in the later season. According to optimality models, we suggest that an extremely short season of high food abundance in tall grass habitats and a largely overland route allow autumn migration with low fuel loads combined with moult migration in at least a part of the population. This study highlights the importance of further studying moult strategy as well as stopover behaviour decisions and the trade-offs among migratory birds that are now facing a panoply of anthropogenic threats along their flyways.

Original publication:

Jonas, always attentive in the fine determination of unknown species, used the whole data set of bird ringing data obtained during several years of fieldwork by the many volunteers of the project to study the sex- and age- specific differences in the phenology of migrating songbirds. These differences in the timing of migration are widespread among animals. In birds, common patterns are protandry, the earlier arrival of males in spring, and age-differential migration during autumn. However, knowledge of these differences stems mainly from the Palearctic-African and Nearctic-Neotropical flyways, while detailed information about the phenology of migrant birds from the East Asian flyway is far scarcer. To help fill parts of this gap, we analysed the bird ringing data from our project to study how migration distance, sex, age, and moult strategy affect the spring and autumn phenologies of 36 migrant songbirds (altogether 18,427 individuals). Sex-differential migration was more pronounced in spring than in autumn, with half of the studied species (6 out of 12) showing a protandrous migration pattern. Age-differences in migration were rare in spring but found in nearly half of the studied species (11 out of 25) in autumn. These age effects were associated with the birds’ moult strategy and the mean latitudinal distances from the assumed breeding area to the study site. Adults performing a complete moult before the onset of autumn migration passed the study site later than first-year birds undergoing only a partial moult. This pattern, however, reversed with increasing migration distance to the study site. These sex-, age-, and moult-specific migration patterns agree with those found along other flyways and seem to be common features of land bird migration strategies.

Original publication:

Benny, with a keen eye for little, seemingly inconspicuous creatures, tirelessly motivated us to catch and collect louse flies from ringed birds. Recently he published the results. This was the first study about the louse fly fauna of the Muraviovka Park. We collected a total of 100 louse flies and recorded 91 breeding and migratory birds of 33 species being hosts. Furthermore, seven Hippoboscidae without assignment to a host were collected. To identify the louse fly species, we used a stereo-binocular microscope, a digital microscope and numerous literature resources. We also used DNA barcoding to explore if we find evidence for cryptic species within our data. Sixteen louse fly species are known from the Russian Far East. In our study we detected six of them, including one species with new taxonomic status, one species as a new record for the region, and two flies with divergent DNA barcodes. Flies of Ornithomya fringillina from Canada, Europe and the Russian Far East are located in the same barcoding cluster. For the most species presented in our study distribution maps are published. These maps show a gap between the Eurasian area in the west, up to the Ob River and Novsibirsk, and the Sichote Alin Mountains, eastern Manchuria, Japan and Korea in the east. The present investigations extend the western boundary of this isolated area in the easternmost part, and in the case of Ornithomya fringillina and Ornithomya chloropus our records suggest a gap closure between the eastern and the western distribution areas.

Original publication:

We thank all participants of the project, our co-authors and especially Wieland for the chance to visit such a special place and are very happy to share our results with you.  

Hans-Jürgen Eilts, Jonas Wobker and Benjamin Meißner


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ornithology in the wild east: successful project meeting

Amur Bird Project annual meeting, 07.12.2019 Münster/Germany, © Anna Korshunova
For the 3rd time our annual Amur Bird Project (the 7th since 2013) meeting took place at the Institute of Landscape Ecology in Münster/Germany. Again, the presentations were very well attended – around 70 participants came from Germany, Russia, Hungary, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Many thanks again to all speakers, helpers and participants!

Zum dritten Mal fand das Jahrestreffen des Amur Bird Projects (das 7. Seit 2013) am Institut für Landschaftsökologie der Universität Münster statt. Wieder waren die Vorträge sehr gut besucht – um die 70 Teilnehmende kamen aus Deutschland, Russland, Ungarn, der Schweiz und den Niederlanden. Nochmals vielen Dank an alle Vortragenden, HelferInnen und BesucherInnen!

// Wieland

Lásló Bozó on the migration of Siberian warblers © Arend Heim
Ekaterina Demidova presenting new results on the ecology of thrushes in Central Siberia © Arend Heim
Marc Bastardot uncovers conservation gaps in East Asia © Arend Heim
Ilka Beermann has collected data on habitat use of the Yellow-breasted Bunting © Arend Heim
after the presentations: a tribute to DJ Dubrovnik © Steve Klasan

Monday, October 14, 2019

Thursday, July 18, 2019

ABP 2019 - Part VI: Vetluga

Yellow-breasted Bunting fledgeling © Marc Bastardot
After a short break in the Polar Ural, Marc and Yulia, a Russian volunteer, met with ornithologist Alexey Levashkin in the Nijni Novogorod Oblast. There we put the last three geolocators of the year on males of the Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola, colour-ringed two other individuals, and did some habitat mapping. And this in less than 3 days! 
Despite the fact that males were nearly not singing, we could easily catch them, thanks to the perfect weather conditions (rainy day and foggy morning). The territories were really easy to find as the chicks were already hatched and the adults were immediately warning as soon as we approached the nesting area. We could also find the first fledgling of the year! 
In these abandoned fields close to the Vetluga river, the density of the critically endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting was really high. It was hard to make 200m without hearing some adults warning. Incredible to see such big and healthy population (at least 20 to 30 pairs) only 400 km from Moscow. 
The other species present in this place were similar to the species that can be found in north-east Germany (River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis, Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis, Garden Warbler Sylvia borin, Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Oriole Oriolus oriolus, Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus, Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus). In addition to these European species, some eastern ones such as Booted Warbler Iduna caligata, Blyth's Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum, Great Snipe Gallinago media and a Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica (which is a rare breeding bird in this area) were observed. 
We would like to thank Alexey for the invitation to this great place and for his help and all the logistics. We also like to thank Olga and Alexey who joined us for a day for their help in the field! Спасибо большое!

// Marc 
Team Vetluga: Marc, Yulia and Alexey © Marc Bastardot
Tagging a Yellow-breasted Bunting with a geolocator © Yulia Sechina
On the way to the buntings © Olga levashova
A net full of tits © Marc Bastardot
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker © Yulia Sechina
Long-tailed Tit © Yulia Sechina
Siberian Grass Snake Natrix natrix scutata © Alexey Levashkin
Russian roads... © Yulia Sechina

Thursday, July 4, 2019

ABP 2019 - Part V: Ural mountains

Siberian Rubythroat with geolocator © Wieland Heim
My last stop on this year´s expedition through Russia were the Ural mountains. Our goal was again to search for returning birds with geolocators, and to start a project on the migration of the White´s Thrush Zoothera aurea. This species is the largest songbird migrating along the East Asian flyway, heavy enough to carry a satellite transmitter - which would allow real-time tracking.
The team met in Ekaterinburg – Leo came from Lake Baikal, Vera from the Far East, Andy from Germany and Anna from Moscow. On the next day Kasper Thorup, head of the bird migration lab at the University of Copenhagen, arrived, and together we travelled north towards the Urals. By using various buses and cars it took us around 12 hours to reach our camp site at the foot of the Kvarkush plateau. Here heavy rainfalls greeted us. The next seven nights we spend running up and down the mountains, working all night from 20 to 10 to search for the thrushes as well as for Siberian Rubythroats Calliope calliope and Bluethroats Luscinia svecica. Unfortunately, we did not relocate any returned Bluethroat, but we were able to retrieved one geolocator of a Siberian Rubythroat – out of only three birds tagged in 2018! We found much more birds compared to the year before, and tagged most of them with new data loggers. Less easy was the work with the White´s Thrushes: to catch them, we had to pinpoint their exact location – and since their song is incredibly far carrying, we had to follow them through the forest for up to 1km. And during the shortest night of the year, they stopped singing completely. Nevertheless, we caught two individuals, from which we will hopefully learn about their unknown migration route.
The Kvarkush plateau is a beautiful place to work, and thanks to the cold and rainy weather we had very few mosquitoes. Among the rarer birds we had Great Snipe Gallinago media, Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus, Black-throated Thrush Turdus atrogularis and Yellow-browed Warblers Phylloscopus inornatus – for many of this species, the Ural is the westernmost border of their distribution. Quite unexpected was the observation of a displaying Pin-tailed Snipe Gallinago stenura, south-west of its known range.
I want to thank the team for their hard work, Johannes Kamp for supporting the project, and Ural Expeditions & Tours for taking care of all documents and transport.

Die letzte Station auf meiner Forschungsreise in diesem Jahr war das Uralgebirge. Auch hier war unser Ziel, beloggerte Vögel aus dem Vorjahr zu finden. Außerdem wollten wir mit einem Projekt zum Zug der Erddrossel beginnen. Die Erddrossel ist der größte Singvogel, welcher von Russland nach Südostasien zieht, und die einzige dieser Arten, welche schwer genug ist, um einen Satellitensender zu tragen.  Mit Hilfe dieser Technik könnten wir das Zugverhalten in Echtzeit verfolgen!
Das Team traf sich in Ekaterinburg – Leo kam vom Baikal, Vera vom Amur, Andy aus Deutschland und Anna aus Moskau. Am nächsten Tag traf dann auch Kasper Throup ein, Leiter der Vogelzugforschungsgruppe der Universität Kopenhagen. Gemeinsam brachen wir nach Norden zum Ural auf. Mit Hilfe verschiedener Busse und Autos gelangten wir nach 12 Stunden an den Fuß des Kvarkush-Plateaus, wo wir von heftigen Regenfällen empfangen wurden. Die nächsten sieben Nächte rannten wir die Berge hoch und runter, von 20 bis 10 Uhr immer auf der Suche nach Rubinkehlchen, Blaukehlchen und natürlich den Drosseln. Leider konnten wir keins der Blaukehlchen aus dem letzten Jahr finden. Umso erfreulicher war jedoch, dass eines der nur drei im Vorjahr markierten Rubinkehlchen zurückgekommen war, und seinen Datenlogger wieder mitgebracht hatte! Insgesamt fanden wir deutlich mehr Individuen als im vorigen Jahr, und die meisten von ihnen konnten mit einem neuen Geolokator ausgestattet werden. Die Arbeit mit den Erddrosseln hingegen gestaltete sich schwieriger: um sie zu fangen, mussten wir die exakte Singwarte der Vögel bestimmen – und da der Gesang sehr weit zu hören und schwer zu orten ist, mussten wir bis zu einem Kilometer querfeldein durch den Wald kriechen, um die Drosseln zu finden. Während der kürzesten Nächte des Jahres verstummten die Erddrosseln dann komplett. Nichtsdestotrotz gelang es uns, zwei Individuen zu fangen, welche uns hoffentlich Einblicke in die bisher unbekannten Zugwege dieser scheuen Art ermöglichen werden.
Das Kvarkush-Plateau ist ein wunderschöner Arbeitsplatz, und dank des kühlen und regnerischen Wetters waren nur wenige Mücken aktiv. Wir freuten uns über Doppelschnepfen, Hopfkuckucke, Schwarzkehldrosseln und Gelbbrauen-Laubsänger – die meisten dieser Arten kommen hier im Ural an ihre westliche Verbreitungsgrenze. Unerwartet war die mehrmalige Beobachtung einer balzenden Spießbekassine, welche normalerweise weiter nord-östlich vorkommt.
Ich möchte mich bei meinem Team für deren harte Arbeit bedanken, bei Johannes Kamp für die Unterstützung des Projektes und bei Ural Expeditions & Tours für die Organisation der Genehmigungen und Logistik.

// Wieland
Crossing the border: from Asia to Europe © Anna Korshunova
Special roads need special cars © Wieland Heim
Our camp in the forest © Andreas Siegmund
Vera in our kitchen © Wieland Heim
Anna preparing for another wet night © Wieland Heim
Can anyone hear a White´s Thrush? © Andreas Siegmund
Finally: White´s Thrush songpost found © Wieland Heim
Kasper with one of the thrushes © Andreas Siegmund
Sunrise over the Ural ridge © Wieland Heim
Leo looking for Bluethroats on a misty morning © Wieland Heim
Andy waiting for the Bluethroat to fly into our net © Wieland Heim
Fitting a geolocator to a Bluethroat © Andreas Siegmund
Male Bluethroat with geolocator © Andreas Siegmund
Black-throated Thrush, female © Andreas Siegmund
Little Bunting © Andreas Siegmund
Olive-backed Pipit in display flight © Andreas Siegmund
Viviparous Lizard, the northernmost occuring reptile species © Wieland Heim
Another Rubythroat gets ringed - hope it will come back next year! © Andreas Siegmund
On our way back to Serov © Anna Korshunova
Total captures, 19.-26.06.2019: 33 birds out of 9 species
Blaukehlchen Bluethroat Варакушка Luscinia svecica 17
Rubinkehlchen Siberian Rubythroat Соловей-красношейка Calliope calliope 6
Rohrammer Reed Bunting Камышовая овсянка Emberiza schoeniclus 2
Fitis Willow Warbler Пеночка-весничка  Phylloscopus trochilus 2
Erddrossel White´s Thrush Пестрый дрозд Zoothera aurea 2
Zwergammer Little Bunting Овсянка-крошка Emberiza pusilla 1
Singdrossel Song Thrush Певчий дрозд  Turdus philomelos 1
Heckenbraunelle Dunnock Лесная завирушка Prunella modularis 1
Rotdrossel Redwing Белобровик Turdus iliacus 1