Wednesday, December 8, 2021

ABP 2021 - Siberia, Part 2

Bluethroat with colour-rings and geolocator. All photos © Johannes Amshoff/Moritz Meinken

Sooner or later turns up the report about the second week (end of June 2021) in Mirnoye/Central Siberia. After Vera and Wieland left, we (Johannes and Moritz) had a week left to tag 19 Bluethroats. We didn´t have high hopes as we could tag only a total of 4 Bluethroats with four persons the week before. Nonetheless we continued catching at a new spot, the riverbank directly at the Yenisey just south of the station. The location was only accessible by boat, but the team made a safe journey possible. We placed our nets directly at the shore in the few willow shrubs that remained upright. Combined with a muddy and wet surface, it seemed to be a good spot for our target species, which was immediately confirmed by two singing males after leaving the vehicle of our choice. During the first night we could tag three Bluethroats and started to be more optimistic regarding our goal. During the afternoon we followed Oleg to the other side of the Yenisey trying to help planting potatoes and repairing the bridge the best we could. But as hard work often pays off, a surprising Oriental Turtle Dove visited the just prepared field. The second night of catching turned out to be incredible. We advanced our target species by Common Reed Bunting and could tag three of them supporting the nine tagged Bluethroats during that night. Apparently, the density of territories was much higher than expected. The following night we could easily finish the task. Besides Bluethroats we enjoyed the nights with displaying Common Sandpipers, who also found their way in the nets covered by bushy willows. An incredibly beautiful bird in breeding plumage and even more from short distance! They were joined by the display flight of Swinhoe´s and Pintail Snipe as well as Terek Sandpiper. The migration of Pallas´s Grashopper Warbler came in full swing and matched the numbers of Blyth´s Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers caught. Corncrakes were using every blade of grass left in between the horizontal willows to attract a female. As bycatch Red-flanked Bluetail, Brambling, Siberian Rubythroat, Garden Warbler and even a Pallas´s Leaf Warbler, visiting us from the taiga, could be ringed. After dismounting the nets during the third night by the riverside, we enjoyed a bit of free time and slept very well. With two days left, we tried our best to catch Oriental Cuckoos and adding them to the Russian-wide project by using ICARUS satellite tags. The tape lure attracted up to ten different birds in the area, which shows the high density of the species in the floodplains. We didn’t catch even one of them. On our last day we went on a little hike uphill into the Taiga and through beautiful swamps. We enjoyed a totally different species composition with Black-throated Thrush, Eurasian Treecreeper, Greenish Warbler, lots of Yellow-browed Warblers and Mugimaki Flycatcher, while Eyebrowed Thrush, Yellow-browed and Rustic Bunting could only be heard. These last days the mosquito situation started to become more critical, so it felt like we hit the right timing with leaving Mirnoye at 23.06., although we would have liked to stay longer at this beautiful place. With only four hours delay we could jump on the ferry in Bakhta. During the long, relaxing journey we had enough time to test the rich selection of local beers and enjoy the beautiful landscape. We added White-winged Tern and Little Gull to our list. Several times Pacific Swifts and Hobbys flew over the ferry and every time we drove past rocks, Peregrine Falcons were around. We made it in time to Krasnoyarsk airport thanks to our taxi driver who just knew where to drive with 150 km/h and where he had to respect speed limits. It seemed like a little wonder we didn’t take off right there and then on the highway. With a short stop in hot, sweaty Moscow we arrived in Germany sooner than we expected.

//Johannes Amshoff & Moritz Meinken

Yenisey river
Male Siberian Stonechat
Pallas´s Grasshopper Warbler
the new ringing site
Can you guess the species from the tail?
Bluethroat habitat at Yenisey river
Pallas´s Leaf Warbler
Returning from the ringing site in the morning
in the taiga
Yenisey river bank
the vehicle of choice
Male Common Reed Bunting
every year, bridges have to be rebuilt
planting potatoes
Common Sandpiper

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

ABP 2021 - Back in Siberia


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!

// Wieland

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.

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