|Putting up a mist-net amidst the Yenisei river ice and broken trees, June 2021. Photos by Wieland Heim|
Back in Russia, finally! Fieldwork had not been
possible for the Amur Bird Project team in 2020, and so I was really happy when
the unexpected news came that getting a Russian visa is possible again. The
plan was to continue our work on the migration ecology of Siberian songbirds,
with the help of light-level geolocators and new multisensor loggers and in
cooperation with Oleg Bourski and Katya Demidova at the Mirnoye research
station, the Swiss Ornithological Institute, Lund University as well as Tianhao
Zhao and Barbara Helm (University of Groningen).
However, first, one must get there – being
located close to the geographical center of Russia, Mirnoye at the Yenisey
river is not an easy-to-reach destination. Our team consisted of Vera, an ornithologist
and biology teacher from Moscow, Moritz and Johannes, students of Landscape
Ecology at Münster University, and me.
A small propeller-plane brought us from
Krasnoyarsk to the village of Bor, where we stayed for one night in an
overcrowded hostel. The helicopter flight further north was scheduled for the
next day, but one cannot book tickets in advance, and the decision who will be
on the flight fells only a few hours before departure. Luckily, all four of us
got a ticket in the end.
We jumped off the helicopter in the village of
Bakhta, where we had to stay another night, as the waves on the Yenisey river
were too high for the small boat that should take us to Mirnoye research
station. Luckily, the very nice head of Bakhta village (with golden teeth and a
handshake like a bear) offered us to sleep in the office of the village administration
and provided us with mattresses. Cold northerly wind made us wear all the
clothes we brought, which were unfortunately not too many, since we could only
take 10kg of luggage with us in the helicopter.
Birding around Bakhta village is always great,
and despite being already mid-June, migration was in full swing. We could see
lots of ducks in the wetlands near the helicopter landing place, and raptors
such as Merlin, Hen Harrier and Hobby were heading northward.
Flocks of Waxwings, Common Rosefinches and Hawfinches were on the
move, as well as Shore Larks and Yellow Wagtails. We were
especially surprised to meet several shorebird species (2000km away from the sea!)
migrating along the gigantic river, such as Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin,
Common Ringed Plover (subspecies tundrae) and Red-breasted
Merganser. In the taiga forest, lots of Pallas´s Leaf Warblers were
singing, as well as Dark-sided Flycatchers and Olive-backed Pipits.
In the evening, a Short-eared Owl was chasing Temminck´s Stints
and Ruffs, and dozens of Little Ringed Plovers were displaying on
the muddy roads in the village.
On the next day, when the wind had calmed down,
we were picked up by two boats and finally reached Mirnoye research station,
hidden in the middle of nowhere. We immediately started to put up nets in the
floodplain forest. We were astonished to see the extreme damage caused by
floating ice some weeks earlier: the willow forest of the lower floodplain was
completely mown down. According to our local partners, this happens only every
30 years. The lack of standing trees allowed us a nice view on the Yenisey
river, but also severely decimated the habitats for our target species. Furthermore,
stumbling across the countless horizontal stems and the remaining ice shields
made our work not easier. Big thanks to our partners on site, who had already
cleaned a path towards our study area.
Our main target species was again the Siberian
Rubythroat. This year, we equipped only adult males with data loggers, as
they have the highest probability of being recaptured. We were especially happy
to retrieve one geolocator of a Rubythroat tagged in 2019 – with some luck, two
years of data might be stored on this 0.7 g device.
Furthermore, we had light-level geolocators for
Siberian Thrushes and Bluethroats, and our Russian partners had
furthermore received ICARUS satellite tags to study the migration of Common
and Oriental Cuckoos as part of a Russia-wide project.
To get enough individuals of all our target
species, we trapped birds in all nights between 22:00 and 6:00. Being at a
latitude of 62°, nights were never completely dark, with only a few hours of twilight
– the time when our target species would be most active. We used up to 14 nets
simultaneously, including lots of “bycatch” such as Blyth´s Reed Warblers,
Arctic and Dusky Warblers. Among the rarer species, we also caught Tengmalm´s
Owl and European Nightjar. The mixture of eastern and western birds
always amazes me, as the Yenisey river marks the border of the distribution for
numerous species. And so, we caught European Robin alongside Siberian
Blue Robin, found Common Whitethroats close to Brown Shrikes,
and heard singing Chaffinches next to Swinhoe´s Robins.
After one week, we had tagged all the
Rubythroats we needed, and it was time for Vera and me to leave, while Johannes
and Moritz would stay to catch more Bluethroats.
This time, we took the ship – the first
southbound ferry arrives in Bakhta only at the end of June, when the Yenisey
river is finally clear of floating ice and logs. Upstream, its usually a
three-day journey to Krasnoyarsk, most of the time through seemingly untouched
taiga forest – really relaxing. However, due to unusual high water levels, our
ship was late by several hours. We therefore decided to leave the ship already
on the second day at Jeniseissk, the first town connected with a road. From
here, we took the bus to Krasnoyarsk, to be in time for our plane. Many of the
passengers had the same idea, and so the bus was overcrowded. At every small
village, the bus made a short cigarette stop, and countless mosquitoes and
blackflies joined us. How lucky we had been in the north, where the nights were
still bitterly cold and therefore almost free of bloodsucking insects.
What would the second week of the remaining
team in Mirnoye bring? We will report here soon. Many thanks to everyone involved!
|The 2021 team in the "airport shuttle".|
|Yenisei river from the helicopter.|
|Jumping off the helicopter in Bakhta.|
|Wetlands near Bakhta village.|
|Driving through the floodplain forest to Mirnoye research station.|
|Mirnoye research station.|
|Multisensor loggers awaiting their deployment on Rubythroats.|
|Nice bycatch: adult male Red-flanked Bluetail|
|Former floodplain forest, cut down by the river ice.|
|The nights were freezing cold, but luckily there was endless firewood.|
|Siberian Rubythroat with multisensor logger on its back.|
|Ever seen a triple rainbow?|
|Adult male Siberian Thrush with data logger.|
|Boarding the ferry in Baktha.|
|Most relaxing: three days up the Yenisei river.|