EBBA2 expedition to northwest Russia

Typical mix of bog, lake and forest in Central Kola (photo by V. Keller)

Typical mix of bog, lake and forest in Central Kola (photo by V. Keller)

During 2016, two members of Swiss Ornithological Institute, Verena Keller, the main EBBA2 coordinator, and Niklaus Zbinden have made a trip to Karelia and Kola penninsula in order to collect data for EBBA2. During that time, they have managed to travel and collect data in as much as 28 50×50 km squares, ranging from Kostomuksha to Belomorsk on the coast of the White Sea, and then north to Kandalaksha, along the southern coast as well as central Kola peninsula. At the end of their expedition, they travelled further up north to Murmansk where they left Russia towards Norway.

Squares of the expedition with the number of species mapped

Squares of the expedition with the number of species mapped in each square

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The expedition lasted the entire July. Due to the fact that surveys were carried out rather late in the season, owls and woodpeckers were almost completely missed as well as other early breeders and species that are difficult to record when they are not singing. On the other hand, the observations of bird families provided many records of confirmed breeding. Despite the late season, we judged that the timed visits that we managed to perform can serve as an adequate basis for modelling. Although, the activity of birds was reduced, it was usually possible to record many widespread species within about two hours of timed surveys. However, we could not provide quantitative data per visit. While travelling towards the White Sea, we carried out one timed visit per day in the early mornings, choosing different 50×50 km squares and collected additional surveys along the way.

 

Data collection in Karelia

 

During the first part of our expedition in Karelia we passed through different types of habitats, ranging from forests to lakes and bogs to the White Sea cost with the town of Belomorsk. We started our timed visit at the smaller village of Vygostrov and then covered a range of other habitats: farmland, bushes, deciduous forest, and bog. Notable species that we recorded included Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) and a singing Corncrake (Crex crex) in farmland, as well as Northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) in the bog area.

Vygostrov village was our starting point for the timed visis (photo by Verena Keller)

Vygostrov village was our starting point for the timed visit (photo by Verena Keller)

As we were passing through the town of Belomorsk, we encounted a female Tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) leading the chicks along the street of the town towards the White Sea.

Tufted duck leading her chicks along the street in Belomorsk

Tufted duck leading her chicks along the street in Belomorsk (photo by V. Keller)

 

Kola penninsula

As we travelled along Kola penninsula, we recoded a colony of Sand martins (Riparia riparia) with c. 24 holes close to the road to Umba.

Holes of Sand martins close to the road (photo by V. Keller)

Holes of Sand martins close to the road (photo by V. Keller)

Travelling along Tersky coast

On the Tersky coast, we concentrated on three squares, where we chose different 10×10 km squares for timed visits and searched for additional species in between. In these squares we managed to cover different habitat types relatively well, which is also visible from the overall number of recorded species per square (60, 54 and 64 species respectively).

The first square we visited contains less than 50 % land, the rest being covered by the White Sea. It contains the large village of Umba, which is, however, closed to foreigners.

Typical bog with old pine (photo by V.Keller)

Typical bog with old pine (photo by V.Keller)

The rivers Kuzreka, Umba and others provide excellent habitat for Common merganser (Mergus merganser).

Kuzreka river (photo by V.Keller)

Kuzreka river (photo by V.Keller)

Near Umba, we came across large meadows, that were probably not mown for a few years. We encountered singing  Eurasian skylark (Alauda arvensis), a pair of Whinchats (Saxicola rubetra) and Meadow pipits (Anthus pratensis) feeding their chicks.

Large unmowed meadows near Umba (photo by V.Keller)

Large unmowed meadows near Umba (photo by V.Keller)

In the second square along the Tersky coast, the forests were in general older and more structured than in the neighbouring squares. The proportion of old forests with pine and spruce was relatively high, with a corresponding higher density of Grey-headed chickadee (Parus cinctus) and signs of grouse. We managed to confirm by sightings the Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), Black Grouse (Lyrurus tetrix), and Hazel Grouse (Tetrastes bonasia).

Tetrastes bonasia, seen but sometimes Hazel Grouse confirmed by sandbaths with moult feathers (photo by V. Keller)

Hazel Grouse confirmed by sandbaths with moult feathers (photo by V. Keller)

The road along Tersky coast ends with the river Varzuga. The square is mainly covered by forest. The coast itself is mostly flat and sandy, with Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) and Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) commonly found. The raised beaches are covered with tundra-like dwarf shrubs, where we observed Arctic skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) as probable breeding birds.

The village of Varzuga is famous for its old churcher (photo by V. Keller)

The village of Varzuga is famous for its old churches (photo by V. Keller)

Most of the Tersky coast consists of sandy and stony beaches. The stack near the old Amethyst mine (now protected as geological site “Amethysts of Korabl”) is an exception, providing nest sites for Black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla).

Black-legged kittiwake (photo by V. Keller)

Black-legged kittiwake (photo by V. Keller)

The river mount of Varzuga is dominated by large sandflats and sandy beaches where we observed a male Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) in breeding plumage.

The mounth of Varzuga river (photo by V. Keller)

The mounth of Varzuga river (photo by V. Keller)

Central Kola penninsula

We visited more than one sqaure in Central Kola penninsula, passing near by largely inaccesible habitats, such as mountains and large areas of taiga forests as well as mining areas. The mountain ridge at the picture below reaches 1000 m a.s.l. at the back.  On top, we found droppings and a feather of Rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus).

Central Kola penninsula (photo by Verena Keller)

Central Kola penninsula (photo by Verena Keller)

Similarly, we observed three young Eurasian dotterel (Charadrius morinellus) with an adult bird. Other species we saw there included European golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria), Snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) and Northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).

charadrius morinellus

Eurasian dotterel (photo by V. Keller)

We would like to highly encourage everyone thinking about going abroad to help us collect data for EBBA2 in areas that need it the most.

20.4.2017 Verena Keller and Niklaus Zbinden

In the case you wish to make your own atlas fieldwork adventure and hep us fill the gaps, and gain the opportunity to win one of three Meopta binoculars, do not hesitate to apply for our new challenge!

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