Wednesday, September 23, 2009

End of September 2009

The fall colors at the Park have peaked in the last few weeks as we enjoyed a wave of beautiful weather during our “Indian Summer”.

We also celebrated our final festival of the year. This festival focused on Birds of Prey. Again we had busloads of visitors come to participate. The visitors were able to go with one of several guides who showed off artwork related to birds of prey, played informative videos, and gave nature walks around the headquarters.

Although the Park is most famous for its cranes, it does have quite a diversity of hawks, eagles, and owls that use the Park for migration and/or breeding. As a matter of fact over 22 species have been recorded at the Park including the golden eagle and pied harrier depicted below. (These are photos I took earlier in the season)

The Park was also involved in a “rescue mission” this week. A local farmer contacted us and said he had a young white-naped crane in his possession. He continued by telling us that his grandson had found the bird near their chicken coop cold, lost and hungry. The boys initial reaction was to shoot the big bird, but the grandfather stopped him and they captured the bird and began calling around for guidance and assistance. The bird was in their care for nearly a month before we were finally contacted to help. During this period the bird was fed mainly bread. We transported the bird back to the Park, where we cared for it for nearly a week before our colleagues at Khingkonsky Nature Reserve came and took the bird (Khingkonsky Nature Reserve has larger facilities and therefore would make a more suitable location for the bird).

We also made a trip out to Amursky Game Refuge, which is located about an hour and a half southeast from the Park. This refuge is also a huge stopover for migrating cranes and we camped one night in the fields so that in the morning we could get an estimate of the number of roosting cranes at the refuge.

Over a thousand cranes were present and I was able to make a short clip of the birds as they flew from their roosts (click play to watch)

Our trip to Amursky was just in time, because several days afterwards the hooded cranes were observed catching thermals and preparing to move further south. At the Park, we have gone from over 1000 migrating cranes to roughly 100.

There has been a huge crop of acorns from the Mongolian Oaks and everyone here is excited to take this opportunity to utilize them in our re-forestation efforts. Every afternoon we take several hours to put them into the ground in areas where they were originally or in areas that they would serve as a good firebreak. This is a time-consuming endeavor, but to date we have planted well over two hundred acorns!

On the smaller scale, I ran across these two interesting invertebrates this past week- yet another colorful and bizarre caterpillar and this spider protecting its egg sac!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mid-September 2009

Temperatures are plummeting rapidly as fall comes into full swing. We experienced our first frost the morning of September 16 and a jacket is definitely a required part of your wardrobe when you go outside in the morning.

The splendid beauty of autumn is apparent all around…the leaves everywhere are now bursting into color.

The baby red-crowned cranes are getting quite large now and I have attached the best photo available at the moment to give you guys an idea of their size:

The red-crowned cranes are not the only cranes present in the park at the moment. Hooded cranes and white-naped cranes have been showing up in the hundreds preparing for fall migration.

To celebrate the arrival of these cranes, busloads of people visited the park when we held our annual crane festival on September 13, 2009.

Visitors were treated with performances, good weather, wildlife lectures, and views not only of the wild cranes but also our captive ones along with some other rather unusual types of “cranes”.

During the past few mornings, we have set out at dawn to monitor the migrating cranes and get an estimate of their numbers. We arrive in the mist-covered fields just at daybreak and hear the sounds of hundreds of cranes in the distance.

Then as the sun begins to emerge hundreds of cranes take to the air and fly towards their feeding grounds.

As they fly by we can count them and also note many other observations. We have seen several injured birds:

This years young with their parents:

And several Eurasian cranes and hybrids:

To date the counts are as follows:

HOODED CRANES: 1095 individuals

WHITE-NAPED CRANES: 255 individuals

We have continued to monitor the small mammals at the park and this week we confirmed another species presence here, the Korean field mouse:

I must say that this time of year has been spectacular at the park….the wildlife abounds, the mosquitoes have relaxed, the weather is cool and crisp, and the sun shows off the fall foliage exquisitely. I hope that everyone else is enjoying their fall as well!!!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

First half of September 2009

There is now a chill in the morning air reminding you that fall is here. Although we have not received our first frost just yet, it still is chilly in the morning with temperatures around 43 degrees F (5 C). The typical fall events are occurring here at the park – like the harvesting of our fields:

And the changing colors of the leaves:

We have been working on several projects for the wildlife in preparation for fall and winter as well… For instance, we have been placing piles of grain to help the pheasants, deer, and cranes to prepare for migration or fatten up for winter.

The insane growing season is finally winding down and it is a good time to remove a lot of grass and shrubs that are near the stork nests. As these plants die, they become huge piles of fuel for the upcoming fires we are anticipating in later fall and spring – and by clearing an area around the stork nests we can ensure that they will not fall victims to the fires themselves – as we saw earlier in the spring… After the brush was cleared we took an added precaution by spraying the trunks of the trees with a fire suppressing solution.

As we visited each of the nests this last week to remove the excess brush, we discovered that one of the nests utilized this year fell victim to high winds…. Judging by our data, this nest toppled over sometime in late-June/early July. We had visited this nest earlier in the season and banded three chicks. Unfortunately, the nest was destroyed before these chicks had fledged and all three perished.

Fall hunting is also well underway and much of the wildlife is seeking refuge close to the headquarters. This is especially true for ducks and the lake which is easily visible from the nature center had over 1000 ducks present this week!!

The bizarre caterpillars, which began appearing in late August are still popping up here and there in the bushes. Here are a few other species I have encountered this month:

September has also been a great month for the herpefauna of the park. It is hard not to see a toad or a frog bounding in front of you on the path and the very elusive treefrogs are also making themselves seen! The big excitement however, is the rediscovery of the Siberian salamander at the park… Once fairly common here, they have not been seen in sometime due to the drought and were presumed locally extinct. But several individuals were found during our monitoring.

In the world of birds, we are seeing an increase in the number of cranes. Upwards of 70 white-naped cranes now regularly fly in to roost below the terrace – There are little hooded cranes thus far with only the scattered group of 3 –7 individuals seen flying overhead. The two baby Red-crowned cranes are growing quite quickly and are a regular sight off the terrace. We were also greeted this week by a large flock of Azure tits… These beautiful birds are not that commonly seen at the park which makes any visit from them a somewhat special event.