Caucasus regional meeting – strengthening the network and developing a strategy to fill in the gaps

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Tbilisi, Georgia, January 2016 (photo by Marina Kipson)

The Caucasus regional meeting took place from 23-25.1. in Tbilisi, Georgia. The meeting was held at Ilia State University, Institute of Zoology, with 16 participants attending during those two days. It managed to gather representatives of organizations from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Eastern Turkey and Russia. The main topics at the meeting were aimed at clarifying methods in collecting data for EBBA2; national capacities for Atlas square coverage and means to fill in the gaps as efficiently as possible; exchanging the Atlas experience among Caucasus countries; attracting foreign birdwatchers to areas where there will be very little or no coverage at all; and strengthening the communication among the Caucasian coordinators.

Caucasus presents one of the richest and most biodiverse regions that will be covered within the EBBA2 scope. At the same time however, the region faces many difficulties in proceeding with the Atlas work. These problems are in some cases shared across the region, and in others can be quite country specific. Therefore, a meeting in order to address these issues and find common solutions was held in Tbilisi, Georgia, from 23-25.1. with participants from all countries of the region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Russia) attending. The agenda was divided into four main sections: (1) an overview of the state of the Atlas work in each country and their specific needs (financial, methodological, human capacities), (2) clarifications on the EBBA2 methodologies and possibility to take advantage of training (either in methods or with data processing), (3) identifying the problematic areas where coverage will be limited and developing a strategy of filling remaining gaps, (4) attracting more foreign birdwatchers into the region and strengthening the communication and sharing the experience within the region.

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The meeting took place at the Institue of Zoology, Ilia State University (photo by Marina Kipson)

Currently, the Atlas work is in different stages across the region. In Armenia, ornithologists were able to collect data from all reachable squares during previous breeding seasons, and in Georgia some squares will have data from the intensive research that ornithologists from Institute of Zoology and Institute of Ecology had been carrying out during previous years. The north Caucasian Atlas squares of Russia are quite well covered in the western regions, but less so in the eastern. In Azerbaijan, Atlas work will only be started in the upcoming breeding season (2016), and it might be a challenge to cover the entire territory within only two breeding seasons. The Caucasus region also comprises some 10 squares on the Turkish territory in the provinces of Kars and Ardahan, from where some data were already provided and further fieldwork was granted to the European coordinators, but other areas so far remain uncovered (eastern part of Ağrı and Iğdır provinces). Altogether, however, national coordinators were positive that they would be able to do as much work as possible in covering most, if not all, squares on their territories. The enthusiasm for doing Atlas work was clearly shared among all participants. This was particularly evident in the prompt organization of Georgian participants to install an Atlas coordination team in their country including the imminent allocation of all accessible Atlas squares in Georgia between three different institutions (Institute of Zoology, Institute of Ecology and NGO SABUKO). Part of the solution for building more capacity for Atlas work within the region could come from MAVA small grants to which all countries plan to apply in 2016.

Alex Abuladze presenting the state of data availability by his team

Alexander Abuladze presenting the state of the potential data for the Atlas that his team has collected during previous years (photo by Marina Kipson)

The meeting provided a perfect platform for participants to meet each other in person and discuss their common problems which will hopefully enable easier communication among them in the future. This was also extremely important for sharing their respective Atlas experience, since various Caucasian countries will face similar problems in gathering and processing Atlas data.

Another conclusion that all participants agreed on was to promote and attract foreign birdwatchers to their countries which could help them in gathering data in squares which would otherwise remain uncovered due to lack of capacities. Therefore, if you feel that you could contribute to Atlas work in this region, please look at our instructions for foreign birdwatchers, where you can also find our Gap tool (by selecting a country name you see the squares marked with different colours – the explanation of each is seen by clicking on a particular sqaure or by reading the description of the Gap tool here) or contact directly the national coordinator(s) of the country.

It is clear that there are many issues to be solved within the Caucasus region, but the will to maximally contribute to EBBA2 is present within all countries of the region. Therefore, we believe that the EBBA2 work is on a good way in the Caucasus and will hopefully continue to flourish within the next two breeding seasons.
Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to all Georgian participants that hosted us at Ilia State University and ensured that the logistics for the meeting ran smoothly.

Caucasus participants

Part of the participants, upper row from left to right: Karen Aghababyan (Armenia), Elchin Sultanov (Azerbaijan), Guille Mayor (Georgia), Hans-Günther Bauer (Germany), Ҫağatay Altin (Turkey), Mikhail Kalyakin (Russia), Sergi Herrando (Spain), Alexander Bukhnikashvili (Georgia). Lower row, from left to right: Alexander Abuladze (Georgia), Alexander Rukhaia (Georgia), Natia Javakhishvili (Georgia), Marina Kipson (Czech Republic) (photo by Marina Kipson).

3.2.2016. Marina Kipson, Sergi Herrando and Hans-Günther Bauer