Monday, May 25, 2009

Week of May 18-24, 2009

Well the transformation from winter to spring felt as though it happened just yesterday, but now I feel we have left spring and are well into summer! Temperatures at the Park exceeded 30 degrees Celsius and the daylight lasts late into the evening. All the blossoms on the trees have been replaced with leaves. The turtle-dove babies, which were pictured last week, are growing rapidly and will probably fledge late next week.

The stork and crane nests were all surveyed this week and to date the statistics are as follows:

We have a total of 8 known stork nests within the Park. The eggs should be close to hatching based on the timing they were observed sitting at the nests. We had the opportunity to check one nest early in the week and there were three eggs. We lost two nests in the Park this season; one from the fires mentioned in a previous post and another that was lost in strong winds. Another nest was discovered in the park, which had also burned in a recent fire, but it is unclear whether or not this nest was occupied during the fire…

Outside of the Park, we have confirmed another five nests.

The red-crowned cranes that had gone to nest earlier last month lost their nest. The cause for this remains unclear. We have been unable to locate a nest to look for clues. This is odd, given we knew the location of where the nest should have been. A similar situation had occurred the previous year and our suspicions are that this pair may have some type of behavioral issue that interferes with the successful completion of nesting. So, this means no red-crowned crane chicks this year at the Park. As of yet, we do not know of any red-crowned cranes nests outside of the Park.

One pair of white-naped cranes has hatched out chicks. We have been unable to see the chicks in the tall grass, but there is no reason to suspect that there are any problems! We collected data on the nesting site to give us a better understanding of the variables they need to lead to a successful hatch. Two other nests are known of in the Park – one was lost to predators early in the incubation stage and the other nest still only has eggs (see the photo of the female hidden on the nest).

While walking around to check on the status of these nests, I encountered a sad scenario, a female deer had been shot by poachers and it was just about to give birth to twins. Poaching is a big problem in Russia and the poachers not only cause problems for the animals they hunt, but also disturb nesting cranes.

We also had a nice rare migrant pass through the park this week: the little curlews. A group of eight was seen feeding amongst the many golden-plovers that are also passing through at this time.

The week ended with several groups of volunteers who came to help clean debris around the headquarters as well as plant trees. We had a great time with them and as always appreciate their hard work and dedication to the Park.

I wanted to end the weeks notes with a small segment on an animal that has mystified several visitors that have come to the Park….the Siberian sleeper. Much dinner time discussion has been centered around this crazy fish, who, legend has it, hibernates in the ice…(I still need to do my homework on this little guy to disentangle myth and fact!!)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Week of May 11 – 17th 2009

We started the week off by celebrating Bird Migration Day. Bird Migration Day is a day in which we remember and celebrate the birds who have rejoined us in the northland from their wintering grounds down south. Nearly fifty school children from nearby villages joined us for the celebration. The children learned about the amazing feats migratory birds go through to arrive here as well as the biology of migration. The day was filled with games, movie clips, and lectures. The highlight for many students however, was being able to get a close view of a migratory Siberian Rubythroat that was captured just before their arrival for some of our studies. The children were able to appreciate the bird up close before we released back into the wild.

Although the wind was a bit strong several cranes and geese flew about periodically giving those children lucky enough to look up in time a great show….

The park has also been blessed with some of the most phenomenal days that I have experienced as of yet. The weather has been in the high seventies and everywhere you look there are wildflowers in bloom and bird songs fill the air.

In mid-week the night was suddenly alive with the sounds of breeding Mongolian Toads. They have made their way to the surface and congregated in some of the standing water in the wetlands. Their chorus definitely made one realize that Muraviovka Park has reached the pinnacle of its grandeur.

Other amphibians are also out and about in the Amur region of Russia. I encountered several Siberian salamanders on excursion to a nearby forest. Although these animals used to be common at the park, the changing climate has made them very rare within our borders and it is speculated that they may now be locally extinct here.

The highlight of this week however, is that many of the birds have gone to nest!! While many birds are still sitting eggs like this Azure-winged magpie:

Other birds already have babies, like this Oriental turtle-dove!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Special Thank You

Since the beginning of 2009, Muraviovka Park has been blessed with contributions of both time and money from various individuals and organizations that help keep the park going. If it was not for the dedication, generosity, and passion of these people and organizations - the park would seize to exist. With that said, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the people and organizations that have helped the park this year and let them know that their efforts have not gone unnoticed and that they are greatly appreciated.

For their gifts of time, energy, and ideas, we would like to recognize:

Tatyana Kholkina
Elena Kanigina
Elena Korcherga
Elena Kuhorenko
Yura Shpak
Igor Ischenko
Svetlana Ischenko
Natalia Vronskaya
Sergei Gutsan
Nikolai Demidenko

For personal monetary donations:

Eliza Close
Nina Krarechenko
Albina Voropaera

For assistance with our captive animals:

Veterinarian Department of Far Eastern Agricultural University

For guidance with our meteorological station and equipment:

Svetlana Kazachinskays
Olga Efimora

For assistance with the purchase of new farm equipment:
Amur Region Ministry of Agriculture
Legislative Assembly of Amur Region

For administrative assistance:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

For financial support:

Pro Natura Foundation-Japan

The Nature Conservation Society of Japan

Pop-Group Corporation, Japan

Trust for Mutual Understanding

Wallace Genetic Foundation, USA

Chicago Zoological Society

Woodland Park Zoo, USA

Wildlife World Zoo, USA
Association of American Zookeepers, Arizona Chapter, USA

The Wagner Foundation

The Friends of Muraviovka Park including the Korean Branch

George Archibald and the International Crane Foundation

If any readers would like to also contribute to Muraviovka Park and help with its conservation initiative, please contact Elena Smirenski at!!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Week of May 4- May 10, 2009

The strong winds have continued to bombard the park this week. Fortunately, these winds have not brought any more wildfires close to the headquarters. We are still not safe however, from the threat of wildfires this spring because many portions of peat bog are still smoldering and the winds have been carrying the smoke across the wetlands all week, giving the park a hazy overtone. The areas that were burned several weeks ago are now beginning to show signs of renewal. Green grass is sprouting in the charred earth and the park has taken on the look of a golf course.

Among the green grass are various wildflowers.

The birds have also been utilizing these recently burned areas. You can scare up several types of pipits and buntings in these open areas, like this little bunting pictured below:

During the middle of the week, I was out wandering in these burned areas when I stumbled across not one, but two badgers. Both were busy foraging and with the wind blowing in my favor, I was able to approach them within several meters without them being aware of my presence.Galia, another biologist at the park, gave a tour and lecture to a class of visiting University students this week. The students attended the Teachers Training University in Blago.

The frog eggs that were laid in the wetlands several weeks ago have hatched. There are now little tadpoles swimming in the shallower portions of the wetlands! We took several of the tadpoles to the nature center, so that the visiting school children could watch their development.

The highlight of the week, however, had to be the flock of Siberian cranes that came for a short stopover on the way to their breeding grounds. A small flock of Siberian cranes have been noted each year at the park for the last four springs. It is probable that these birds have always utilized the park during migration, but given the parks size and the short stopover time, they may not have been detected before then. This year we were anticipating their visit sometime and mid-May and therefore we remained vigilant. The group of ten birds were seen circling the park during the late morning hours of May 9th.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

April 27 - May 3, 2009

If I had to sum of this week at Muraviovka Park in two words : Strong winds. The day may start off calm and sunny but by nine in the morning you are being blown off your feet. Earlier in the week, there was such strong winds that re-ignited some smoldering peat from a previous fire and the wetlands again were on fire! The strength and direction of the wind made this wildfire a particular danger. It brought the fire to the doorsteps of the park headquarters.....but fortunately, thanks to the work of many fast acting people, we were able to extinguish this fire before it reached the buildings. We were, however, unable to stop a portion of the fire that had spread towards one of the stork nests. The nest was overtaken with flames and the tree collapsed, killing all three eggs that the parents had been incubating for the last week.
On a happier note, Muraviovka is now turning green!

The leaves on many of the trees have began to bud and the park is definitely transforming into its full beauty. We have had scores of volunteers come visit and help get the park ready for summer. People raked last autumns leaves, planted flowers, and prepared the garden. It is truly spectacular to see how the park has united so many wonderful people who love and appreciate nature...

In addition to the volunteers, we also had several groups and schools come to visit the park. We had a field trip of fifth graders and another of third graders, all eager to learn and see about the cranes and the rest of Muraviovka's natural history.

The staff has also been busy keeping track of the straggling migrants who are still making their way north for the summer. We have seen a huge influx in the number of passerine birds including the black-headed bunting, little bunting, stonechats, pipits, japanese reed buntings, and siberian rubythroats to name a few....Oh and several leaf-warlblers!