Bosnia and Herzegovina, although one of the smallest European countries by surface, certainly does not lack in habitat diversity. The first associations that come to mind to most people are its prominent mountains and various forest types that can be found there. More than 40% percent of BiH territory is made out of karst, landscape famous for its richness of habitats and biodiversity. In BiH it produces various habitat types ranging from floodplains to stony, xerothermic meadows. Although the sea coast of BiH is relatively small, comprising of only 25km, it is an important stopover for many migratory species.
The interview on the state of atlas work in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was provided by Dražen Kotrošan, national coordinator.
Q1. What species people might encounter when visiting BiH?
DK: Bird species richness corresponds to availability of many different habitats in BiH. Forests host species such as Western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) or different owl species – for example Eurasian pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum) and Boreal owl (Aegolius funereus). Furthermore, various habitat types found here are important for nesting of many bird species, from birds of prey, Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), to Corn crake (Crex crex), and some serve as important migratory stopovers for Common crane (Grus grus) and Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucordia). Finally, it is important to mention water bodies and wetlands, where species such as Pygmy cormorant (Microcarbo pygmaeus) and Ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca) nest.
Q2. Has your country already produced a national Breeding Bird Atlas?
DK: So far, Bosnia and Herzegovina never produced a national breeding bird atlas. Within the last 150 years, very little was published on local ornithofauna and the data come mainly from scientific research. The only monography on birds of BiH, “Ornis Balcanica” was written by an Austrian ornithologist, Othmar Reiser, which was published in 1931. The data on many species are very old, and mainly encompass the geographical distribution, with no estimates of abundance.
Q3. Why do you think that an initiative on producing a national atlas in BiH never came to reality?
DK: Up to the time when the NGO “Naše ptice”, which I am currently running, was established, there was almost no tradition of birdwatching and bird study in BiH. From 1888 till 1992 only two ornithologists studied birds, and birdwatchers were quite scattered and were generally not organized as a group.
Q4. How much experiece do you have with Atlas work?
DK: This is our first experience in doing atlas work and it will be an important milestone to oversee the future issues that might come with this type of data collection. We might say that atlas is a pilot project for us and every data that comes in is extremely valuable.
Q5. Were there any data from BiH that were included in the EBBA1?
DK: During the period when EBBA1 was being published, BiH was in war and probably the data that were included there referred to the territory of the entire ex-Yugoslavia. Data gathered specifically for the territory of sovereign BiH mainly came from different literature sources.
Q6. How does your fieldwork look like and what is most difficult for you to implement?
DK: We try to use all data sources that we can find, from individual observations to data from on-line portals. The teams in the field do mainly point counts and line transects. In the field we adjust to the conditions and do as much as possible according to the guidelines for EBBA2. Our main problem, besides mine fields, is inadequate training of the observers to implement the methodology.
Q7. What is the size of your mapping area and how many people are doing atlas work?
DK: In total, we have 38 50×50 km squares which corresponds to 617 10×10 squares. At this moment, 10 people are actively involved in systematic research, and other 10 are sending in their occasional observations. We also have a smaller group of 5-8 field helpers that do not have enough experience to gather data independently, but occasionally join us in the field. Similarly, a couple of foreign cooperators occasionally send us the data or provide them through on-line portals.
Q8. Which are the most problematic areas in BiH for mapping?
DK: The biggest obstacle for us are minefields, because they are placed within almost every 50×50 km square and we need to approach each area carefully, with up to date information. In general, the most problematic are border regions, where besides the mines, you encounter the problem of unregulated borders.
Q9. What do you see as the biggest issues currently for atlas in BiH?
DK: There are many problems, with some of them troubling us more than others. The first thing we are struggling with is the low number of fieldworkers in BiH, especially the ones that are good in identifying birds and are willing to follow a pre-set methodology. The second big issue is the lack of funding, since we never received any support from our national institutions and the only source of finances come from international projects (e.g. funded by MAVA foundation) and we do them in cooperation with BirdLife International and EuroNatur. Besides these two major issues, we are also struggling with the lack of equipment and limited access to certain areas (besides minefields, we do not have a good cooperation with owners of fish-ponds that prevent us from doing bird study there).
Q10. Besides a lot of problems and issues you are facing, do you have any interesting fieldwork story that you would like to share?
DK: Well, the story is connected with the police check. In June of 2015 we were doing night fieldwork and were mapping the singing males of corncrake (Crex crex) in Livanjsko field, quite far from inhabited areas. All of a sudden a surprise police check came to visit us. For more than half an hour, we were trying to explain who we are, what we do, showing them field determination keys and playing the sounds of birds that are normally being mapped during the night. They were looking at everything in mistrust, made their own field notes where we had to spell them the names of the bird species letter by letter. When they left, our colleague from USA whose visa for stay in BiH just expired was finally relieved cause he was convinced at the beginning that they came with the intention to pick him up.
Q11. So, ocasionally, some foreigners help you in the field with mapping?
DK: The main help we receive from foreign birdwatchers is when they come for a temporary work to BiH or spend their vacation here and place some of the data they collected on-line. Similarly, we have some help from fieldworkers from neighbouring countries when they visit BiH and provide us the data. This help is usually quite sporadic.
Please note that due to the problem of minefields in almost every square in BiH, a consultation with the national coordinator is recommended before going to the field. Green are the priority squares for mapping in BiH, orange are the squares that are also a high priority but most definitely are not completely safe due to minefields. 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.
Q12. What is the biggest challenge for you personally as a national coordinator?
DK: The biggest challenge for me personally is, when you take into account the above mentioned problems (low human and financial capacity, difficulties in mapping due to minefields), to provide and assure good quality of the data and to cover as much as possible of the BiH territory. Furthermore, due to the lack of experience of observers it is often necessary to go through individual reports a couple of times in order for them to be in the right form for the Atlas.
Q13. Would you like to produce your first national Atlas?
DK: Our aim is to produce the first breeding bird atlas for BiH. Unfortunately, complicated political system and inappropriate legislations that are in place for nature protection currently, combined with an increasing demand from development and energetic sector cause bigger pressure on habitats and consequently fauna. At the same time, the lack of human capacity for bird research and connected legal actions does not provide space for local ornithologists to cope with that pressure. The primarily aim of the Atlas would serve as a guidance towards further regulations connected with habitat and bird protection (e.g. NATURA 2000, national protected areas, IBA areas etc.) that will probably be in place in the next 10-15 years.
Q14. Do you have any take home message for people reading this?
DK: We would like to invite everyone who can either help us in the field or support our work in any other way to do so, in order for us to gather high quality data on breeding birds in BiH. Besides contributing to EBBA2 it would bring us closer to publishing the first breeding bird atlas for BiH. Our work at the atlas is primarily driven with the aim to present to the public in our country the scientific work and systematic approach and on the grounds of it, to strengthen our fight for habitat and bird conservation.
MSc Dražen Kotrošan, national coordinator, works as a curator for ornithology at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. By the year 1992, the Museum was the only Institution in BiH that had an employed ornithologist. It is also the oldest and one of the most important institutions for bird study in BiH and holds one of the most impressive bird collections from the Balkan region. He is also leading an NGO Ornithological society “Naše ptice”, which was founded in 2002, and acts on the whole of territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The aim of the society is primarily research and protection of birds and their habitats in BiH and is currently the only NGO that is publishing a journal with expert data on local ornithofauna.
Other Atlas team members in BiH:
MSc Jovica Sjeničić is a long term member of the Ornithological society. Besides this, he is active member and chair of the Society for research and protection of biodiversity from Banja Luka. In his Atlas work, he is in charged for coordination of the team at the territory of Republika Srpska and the analysis of gathered data.
MSc Nermina Sarajlić works in “Naše ptice” society from 2013. She is currently doing her PhD in biology and mainly does research of flora and fauna in urban environment. She is also responsible for the fieldwork, data analysis and raising public awareness among younger audience.
11.3.2016, Marina Kipson