Located off the Eastern border of the European Union, Moldova is a part of the Black Sea region, where the largest river in Europe, the Danube, access the Black Sea. Although it occupies a small area, Moldova offers a big diversity of habitats. This is particularly due to the geomorphologic aspect of its land, having a great diversity of landscapes, natural reserves and unique geological monuments of European and international value. The geographical location, climate and the landscape have significantly influenced the composition of the flora and fauna. Moldavian ecosystems have over 5000 plant species and about 17 000 animal species, with over 270 bird species recorded.
The interview on the contributing to the European Breeding Bird Atlas 2 and progress on bird mapping in Moldova was provided by Larisa Bogdea, Vitalie Ajder and Silvia Ursul, Moldavian atlas team.
Q1. As a start, maybe you can describe to us a bit more how the landscape in Moldova looks like?
R: Moldova, although a small country, is very diverse with its landscapes. One may admire beautiful wavy hills, springs, rivers, lakes (there are more than 4000!), forests, rocks, and canyons. There is one national park (Orheiul Vechi), 5 scientific natural reserves, 86 geologic and paleontological monuments (including the largest caves in Europe) and 3 Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance).
Q2. What areas would be most interesting for birdwatching?
R: There is a rich diversity of areas and places where a birdwatcher can see birds in their natural habitat. One can see (and hear) a lot of songbirds which nest in the „King`s forest” (the oldest floodplain forest in Moldova) or in the „Plaiul Fagului” and „Codrii” (remnants of the medieval huge woods). Also, the two big rivers of the country (Prut and Nistru) create nice wetlands in the south of the country before flowing into the Danube river (the Ramsar site „Lower Prut Lakes) and Black Sea (the Ramsar site „Lower Nistru”). In addition to this, there are a lot of pastures, grasslands, farmlands, orchards, vineyards were birds have adapted as a response to the decrease of space for wildlife and natural habitats. However, the Moldavian biodiversity is still in good condition due to the continued practice of traditional agriculture which has allowed natural and semi-natural habitats to remain largely intact. In the south of the country there are regions characterized by steppe vegetation, and along the Prut and Nistru rivers there are meadows, flooded pastures, small forests and small gulfs where birds find proper conditions for breeding.
Q3. What is the experience with doing atlas work in Moldova and do you have a national breeding bird atlas?
R: We have published our first national Atlas of breeding birds in 2010. The Atlas was developed by the ornithologists from the Department of Ornithology, with no volunteer/birdwatcher networks being involved at that time.
Q4. Were there any data from your country that were already included in the EBBA1?
R: As is shown on the EBBA1 maps (uploaded on the SOVON webpage), Moldova provided some data for the breeding bird species. Unfortunately, we do not know what kind of data were provided at that time (it was prior to the times when any of us started to be involved in ornithological projects). Also, we do not have anyone to ask about it because the people who sent the data no longer work in this domain. We do believe, however, that the information was based on experts’ opinion and less on fieldwork (because at that time, there were only a few ornithologists so they probably could not manage to cover the entire country).
Q5. What type of methodology are you using currently for EBBA2?
R: For the EBBA2 the Department of Ornithology currently uses the line-transect method inside 25×25 km squares. However, there are also data from the common bird monitoring that Vitalie Ajder and his team are using. For this, they use the point counts method (10 mandatory points inside 2×2 km squares), but also apply more specific methods for different bird groups.
Q6. How many squares are placed within the Moldavian territory?
R: We have 14 50×50 km squares that are completely within the Moldavian territory and additional few that are situated in the border area and are covering only a small surface of the country. In order to provide better mapping for EBBA2, we decided to divide the 50×50 km squares into smaller ones (10×10 km), and so, we currently have 375 of such squares.
Q7. And how many people are participating in the fieldwork?
R: There are 9 people involved in the atlas mapping: 4 of them are employees of the Ornithological Department (Institute of Zoology), 1 ornithologist is from another institution (Vitalie Ajder), 3 ornithologists come from Romania and 1 birdwatcher.
Q8. What are the most problematic areas for mapping?
R: The most problematic squares in which we are reluctant to do field work are in the Transnistria region: 35UPP4, 35TPN3, 35TQM1, 35TQM2. The region is separated from the country by a military border which hinders any cross-border activity, including scientific research, and making it especially dangerous for foreign people.
Q9. Did you had any foreigners that helped you already in mapping?
R: If the term `mapping` refers to `square covering in the field`, then yes – there was a Czech team which came to Moldova in June 2014 (7-10 days). They used the line-transect method along the Prut river bank and provided some data for 9 squares. We were very pleased by their work here and are very happy that they enjoyed their stay and were impressed by the birds seen. You can read their short report about their trip here. They have also produced a small article on birds in Moldova that was published in Ciconia journal.
Q10. So you would be happy to welcome more foreign birdwatchers?
R: We are more than happy to have foreign volunteers coming here in Moldova and willing to help us with the field work for the EBBA2, especially in those places where there is a strong focus on breeding birds. We would like to establish a communication with them prior to their arrival in order to organize a proper experience here in the country. Also, we would like to promote a small guide we designed for the foreign birdwatchers who are interested to come to Moldova – Republic of Moldova – Small guide for birders. Maybe it won`t provide you the answers to all of your questions, but we are sure you will find a lot of useful information there.
Green are the priority squares for mapping in Moldova, red are the squares that should be avoided due to security reasons. Squares without any colour should be covered by national capacities, but any additional data is also welcomed. Please click on the square to see its UTM code and priority explanation. You can find more details on how to contribute as a foreign birdwatcher here.
Q11. What do you see as the biggest issues currently for mapping in Moldova?
R: We face a big and basic problem which is at the root of multiple issues related to the Atlas work: lack of volunteers/bird-watchers willing to contribute with the fieldwork. This is caused by the economic difficulties which everyone faces here. This financial problems are hindering even the scientific community, which struggles to find resources in order to pursue the ornithological research (there is no money to cover the basic costs: transport, bird guides, GPS, etc.).
Q12. Could you describe to us some of the situations that you encountered in the field?
R: Well, as an ornithologist in Moldova, you have a daily portion of funny and challenging moments. Car stuck in the mud – checked; sudden wheel breakdown – checked; extra-curious old ladies looking at you suspiciously while you monitor the place with your binoculars – oh my, checked! Not to mention furious dogs barking at you, people looking strange at you when you show up dirty in a village. And oh, good luck explaining to the policemen that you are in the field at 5 a.m. just to see some birds and not because you ran away from home (as they are guessing).
Q13. Would you like to produce your second national Atlas from the data collected for EBBA2?
R: We plan to use the data we are providing for the EBBA2 for another edition of a future Breeding Atlas here in Moldova. This would be a helpful tool to monitor preferences, abundance and distribution of bird species and their trends during the years. Also, this will help us and future ornithologists to monitor habitat changes, establish conservation politics and facilitate the study of specific protected areas.
Q14. Do you have any take home message for people reading this?
R: Although Moldova is a small country and the work for providing data for the 2nd EBBA might seem insignificant, we still stumble upon problems and don`t manage to keep up with the entire volume of work (especially field monitoring). This is why a foreign input would be extremely helpful. This variety of habitats is home to a big number of species (280), many of which are hard to notice in the Western Europe. This is why Moldova offers to any foreign birdwatchers the possibility to discover new places and new data and contribute to the general success of the EBBA2. Moreover, your contribution will be part of the ornithological history here in Moldova. Let`s make the EBBA2 happen!
P.S.: You can take a look at these photos to see how the daily life in Moldova looks through the camera lens.
Larisa Bogdea is the head of the Ornithological Department at the Institute of Zoology of Academy of Science of Moldova since 2013. Prior to this, she was a PhD student at the same Institute of Zoology, specializing in the ecology and ethology of the Sylvidae family. However, her ornithological activity dates back to 1996, when she was a student at the „Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University from Iasi (Romania) and started showing interest in studying birds. Her current Institute was established in 1961 in order to perform scientific studies in the zoology field. The Department of Ornithology was created in 1967, having several scientific objectives: distribution and dynamics of abundant species in such habitats as gardens, orchards and forests; particularities related to biology and ecology of birds; and protection measures for vulnerable and endangered species.
Vitalie Ajder, is a PhD student at the „Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University from Iasi (Romania) and employee of the Institute of Ecology and Geography of the Academy of Sciences of Moldova, Chisinau. He has 5 years of experience on field activities and at least 3 on database administration. He coordinated several monitoring projects and is active in different parts of project process, from field activities, team coordination, to database records. He is also the national coordinator for Wetlands International.
Silvia Ursul is a junior researcher at the Institute of Zoology (Ornithology Department). She started the ornithological activity since 2013, and done her Bachelor and Master’s degree studying the ecology of birds from several important bird areas. During the years, she was involved in the Important Bird Areas survey and in the International Waterbird Census program as a fieldwork volunteer.
01.03.2016, Marina Kipson