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Ornithologists of the Daursky Nature Reserve completed crane census in Zabaikalsky province

30 september 2020
As part of the Year for Cranes — 2020, with the support of WWF Russia, ornithologists of the Daursky Nature Reserve completed a two-year census of cranes in Zabaikalsky province. The results are alarming: in conditions of long-term drought and anthropogenic pressure, the number of white-naped cranes in Zabaikalsky province has dropped by more than 2 times over 20 years, and the number of red-crowned cranes over the past 15 years decreased by 50 times.

The most "crane" place in the Amur River basin is the southern part of Dauria, where all 6 crane species keep on the shores of steppe lakes and rivers, and 4 of them have nesting grounds. It is no coincidence that the crane has become a symbol of the Daursky Nature Reserve.

Ornithologists of the Daursky Reserve have launched the crane census in 2019. Then, on a tiny two-seater airplane, it was possible to survey a huge territory of potential habitats of white-naped cranes in the territory of Duldurginsky, Akshinsky, Kyrinsky, Krasnochikoisky, Uletovsky, Khiloksky and Chita regions of Zabaikalsky province. In 2020, the survey was continued using ground-based methods: the Argun River and areas not covered by last year's aerial survey in the Onon River floodplain were explored. The main attention was paid to the extremely rare and endangered white-naped and red-crowned cranes. Along the way, all other cranes were taken into account: gray, black, Siberian Cranes, Demoiselles.

“We managed to carry out census of white-naped and red-crowned cranes in Zabaikalsky province. This is a very important result. Indeed, the previous census of white-naped cranes was conducted in the late 1990s, and red-crowned cranes - in 2004. Back then, the main habitat of white-naped cranes was the Onon River basin and the Torey Lakes, and the Argun River for red-crowned cranes. Current studies have shown that the number of white-naped cranes in Zavbaikalsky province has dropped by more than 2 times over 20 years - from 100 pairs to 50, and the number of red-crowned cranes over the past 15 years decreased by 50 times: from 50 pairs to one ", - says Oleg Goroshko, PhD, deputy director for science of the Daursky Nature Reserve.

Some of the reasons for this decline in numbers are common for both species, explains Oleg Goroshko. First of all, it is a perennial drought that lasted more than 15 years and caused the disappearance of a significant part of crane habitats. Huge damage to cranes is caused by annual spring fires in river floodplains, which burn out the nests with eggs. Argun is especially poor in this respect, most of the floodplain turns into a black lifeless desert in spring. Spring hunting is extremely dangerous as well. Shooting, noise, people and dogs in the nesting sites make cranes leave their nests. As a result, the offspring dies: the eggs cool down, and some of them, left without protection, are eaten by predators. And on the border Russian-Chinese river Argun there are additional serious threats - a large-scale water intake from the river for the economic needs of people and the construction of dams, which leads to the fact that under drought conditions there is almost no water left in the river. And the one that remains is heavily contaminated as a result of human activities.

At the moment, the main habitats of white-naped cranes in Zabaikalsky province are located on the Onon tributary of the Borzya River next to the Daursky Nature Reserve and the Valley of Dzeren Nature Reserve. Therefore, ecologists are making every effort to ensure that cranes can breed here safely, but, unfortunately, this is not easy to do, since nesting sites are located outside protected areas. The main threat for birds on Borza is spring hunting and fires. The staff of the reserve is trying to monitor the fires and extinguish them in advance together with local people. With spring hunting it is more difficult, because cranes nest in hunting grounds of general access. This year, the spring hunt was not opened due to the coronavirus, but in previous years it happened that the overwhelming majority of the offspring of rare birds died because of hunters.

According to Anna Serdyuk (Barma), PhD, senior coordinator of protected areas of WWF-Russia Amur branch: “Ecologists are doing their best to create protected areas to save white-naped cranes in key nesting sites on the Borzya and Onon rivers, because this is one of the most important habitats of these birds in Russia. Their future not only in Russia, but also in the world as a whole depends on whether they can be preserved in Zabaikalsky province. As part of the Year for Cranes — 2020, with the support of WWF Russia, an expedition was carried out to study the territories for the expansion of the Akshinsky Nature Reserve. Scientists and employees of the Zabaikalsky Directorate of Protected Areas examined the territories of the lower and middle reaches of the Uchirka River. These are the Bytev-Uchirka cluster, on the right bank of the river, necessary to preserve the habitats of white-naped and gray cranes, and the Narasun cluster - the left bank, which is a steppe area for bustards and, in part, for white-naped cranes. Small forest areas on the right side of the Onon are important for preserving the nesting sites of black storks. This year, WWF purchased a quadrocopter for the specialists of the nature reserve to count cranes. This technique has strengthened the capabilities of bird watchers and will further greatly help specialists in the annual monitoring of already known key breeding sites. The Working Group on Cranes will analyze data of crane census in the entire Amur basin in November. The analysis will allow assessing the dynamics of populations and identifying strategically important tasks for the protection of species ”.
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