Saturday, April 25, 2009

Week of April 20-26, 2009

Spring in Muraviovka Park not only means the return of migrant birds and the blooming of flowers, but also the threat and out of control wildfires. Wildfires occur in spring as a result of mismanaged "controlled burning" started by locals in preparation for planting crops and grazing livestock. The environmental conditions during this time of the year (dry grasses, low precipitation, and high winds) can cause these set fires to spread uncontrollably and enter into nearby natural areas. Wildfires coupled with a severe drought has drastically altered many parts of the parks ecosystem and remains one of the greatest threats to both the Parks headquarters and the Parks wildlife. In fact, the wildfires had reached several of the storks nests which were occupied by females on eggs. Due to the efforts of the park staff, we managed to control all eight of the wildfires that have hit the park the last week and a half.

If anything good can be said about the wildfires at the park, is that the hazy smoke it puts into the atmosphere has a dramatic and beautiful affect on the sunsets, bringing out the vibrant colors of the spectrum:

Fortunately all the stork nests (we now know of 10 pairs that have begun to nest in and around the park) have been spared from the fires thus far. The storks have continued with their natural habits and have laid the first eggs this week and begun incubation.

We also located the nest of a pair of Red-crowned cranes. The female has chosen a nest site that makes her vulnerable to both fires and people and the park staff is contemplating on the best course of action to ensure that her offspring will survive this year. Red-crowned cranes are particularly sensitive to disturbance and we fear that in this location she may abandon her nest shortly.

At least three nests of the common kestrel have been observed in the park as well:

If you listen very intently in the reeds around the wetlands, you may hear the mating calls of Rana amurensis, our local frog. Many more have made their way to the surface and as the emerge, they breed and lay their large jelly-like egg masses in the shallow waters:

The first of the flowers are beginning to bloom in the fields as well:

I would like to end this week with a picture of a ground squirrel. These creatures can be found in the more northern portions of the park where they live in large communities. I had a chance to visit one of these communities this weekend and was greeted by this friendly face:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Week of April 12-19, 2009

The unpredictability of the weather here at the park really showed itself this week: it began like one would imagine a typical spring, sunny but brisk, but then took a turn for the worst! during mid-week we were hit with a snowstorm and temperatures well below freezing! However, as the week progressed -the weather improved-so much so that today is so hot you do not need a coat!

Despite the sporadic weather conditions, the plants and animals are still behaving in spring fashion. More migrants are arriving from their wintering grounds and the soft cooing of turtle-doves fill the air. Buds are appearing on the trees and I imagine that soon enough, the trees will be green again.

Although the first butterflies began to appear last week, the diversity and numbers have really increased during the latter half of the week.

In addition to butterflies, other insects have also begun to emerge. Some, I feel, will become more of a nuisance as spring turns into summer.

The warm weather coupled with the water in the wetlands beginning to thaw, has brought out a whole new class of animals as well this week - Frogs!! The first sleepy and cold Rana amurensis was located at the beginning of the week at the edge of the wetlands....

The list of migrants that have arrived thus far, joining those hardy species that stay all year long like this long -tailed rosefinch, is growing everyday. I have included a list of all the migrants seen to date at the park for 2009:

Great Cormorant
Gray Heron
Oriental White Stork
White-fronted Goose
Bean Goose
Green-winged Teal
Baikal Teal
Falcated Teal
European Wigeon
Northern Pintail
Tufted Duck
Common Goldeneye
Black Kite
Northern Harrier
Upland Buzzard
Common Buzzard
Greater Spotted Eagle
Common Kestrel
Japanese Quail
Red-crowned Crane
White-naped Crane
Hooded Crane
Northern Lapwing
Far-eastern Curlew
Rufous Turtle Dove
Long-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
White Wagtail
Chinese Great Gray Shrike
White-cheeked Starling
Common Starling
Daurian Jackdaw
Eurasian Rook
Jungle Crow
Carrion Crow
Siberian Accentor
Red-flanked Bluetail
Naumann’s Thrush
Pallas’s Reed Bunting
Rustic Bunting
Snow Bunting
Yellow-throated bunting

I also guess it is worth mentioning that the warm weather has woken up another little denizen of the forest...the siberian chipmunk.

In closing, I would like to wish everyone a happy Easter! Yes you read correctly - Happy Easter! Easter was celebrated today (April 19, 2009) in Far-Eastern Russia; a week later than Easter in the United States.

Friday, April 17, 2009

News Reports from April 2009

From time to time, the events of Muraviovka Park are picked up by the news media. When we obtain a copy of these stories, I will upload them to this site. Here are links to two stories that were published this April about the Park. Click on the link to view the article:

News Report 1

News Report 2

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Week of April 5-12, 2009

Faint honking in the distance signaled the arrival of a new migrant: bean geese! They were the first to greet us at the beginning of this week when a group of 17 birds flew over the visitors center early last Sunday morning.

The warm weather and sunshine has melted away all of the residual snow and slowly but surely the little ponds that dot the landscape of the park are beginning to thaw.

Bean geese were not the only waterfowl to grace us with their presence this week. Glimpses of other waterfowl were seen in the distance but could not be identified. Their location at the park remained a bit of a mystery until a thawed portion of wetland was discovered at one end of the park. A quick survey in this area revealed a mixed group of ducks consisting primarily of green-winged teal, mallards, and northern pintail. But at closer inspection, there were also Eurasian widgeon, tufted ducks, common goldeneye and two very nice species; falcated and Baikal teal.

Along the shores of the pond were hundreds of Northern lapwings....a medium-sized shorebird that can hardly go unnoticed. These birds are quite common and during the breeding season are famous for their fearless protection of their nest on the ground from predators or curious humans. Besides being both brave and beautiful, they have very unique vocalizations which sound like a mix between a siren and some type of childs toy. Among the many other migrants that have arrived this week, was the Hoopoe. The Hoopoe spends the winter in Africa where I snapped this photo last year:

Although all three cranes were spotted in the park the prior week, their numbers have steadily increased over the course of this week. To date, we have observed three pairs of Red-crowned cranes on the property. One pair has been a regular site near the nature center and will most likely nest near here as they have done in the previous years. The other two pairs arrived a bit later and were noted on the southern end of the park where they were feeding together. To the best of our knowledge, there are also approximately 24 white-naped cranes present. This was the largest flock size that has flown over the wetlands. Yesterday, I drove around the property to see what the crane population looks like and in total I have found 7 pairs that have begun to set up territories. A flock of roughly 48 hooded cranes have also been feeding in the nearby fields, and these birds have stayed in a more or less tight flock the whole week.

It appears as of to date, we may have five pairs of white storks that have staked out a nest in and around the park. One of these nests, includes a refurbished nest constructed by Sergei Smirenski after it was destroyed in a previous fire..... Lastly, I want to mention that butterflies have been emerging all over the park giving this week the true feeling of spring.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Week of March 28 - April 3, 2009

This week has been one of the most exciting weeks at the park!!! The tight grip of winter has loosened and the temperature has sleadily rose above freezing! With the warm weather, birds have begun to arrive at the park... Among the first spring migrants to show their face was a pair of Red-crowned cranes and a pair fo White-naped cranes!!! These majestic birds were heard bugling off in the distant wetlands and to the surprise of Muraviovka Staff landed nearly on our doorstep!!! Later in the week, we began to see groups of passerines migrating through including the Rustic bunting:

The park celebrated the coming of spring and the arrival of these migrants with our annual Bird Day festival. This festival serves to educate and inspire the local students of the wonders found in the bird world as well as the rest of nature. This year a group of nearly 50 University students from the neighboring city of Blagoveschensk participated in Bird Day. Bird day began with the reading of a welcome letter to the participants from the Beijing Brooks Education Center in China(BBEC). BBEC has a rich history and connection with Muraviovka Park and cooperated extensively with the park throughout the years to organize international camps. Afterwards we presented the students with an entertaining lecture highlighting some of the facinating aspects of bird biology and behavior, which was followed up by the ceremonial hanging of a nestbox:

Afterwards the students split into groups to go and view some of the birds in their natural habitats. Despite the lingering snow still present on the trail , everyone had a great time walking through the woods and scanning the wetlands for some of Muraviovka's special inhabitants:

As the week progressed, nearly all of the snow has melted within the park. This has exposed long buried food sources and has allowed for travel in the wetland to be much easier. This has given rise to an explosion of animals that haved moved out of the cover of the forest to frolic and feed in the wetlands. Groups of pheasants, foxes, and roe deer can now be seen foraging in the valley below!!