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:

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