Ukraine – contribution to EBBA2 and a path towards modern European bird monitoring

Yuri Andryushchenko Ukrainian steppe za web

Steppe habitats in Ukraine (photo by Yuri Andryushchenko)

Ukraine is the second biggest country in Europe after Russia. Due to the fact that three biogeographical regions pass through Ukraine, it is comprised of a huge variety of landscapes and habitats. The north of the country is characterized by forest zone with big areas of mires. Going further south, this gradually changes into steppe-forest and then pure steppe. Within Ukraine there are also two big mountain chains – Carpathian and Crimean Mountains. Climate is moderate continental with big differences in winter and summer temperatures. At the southern most part, Crimea, you enter a subtropical zone with climate similar to the Mediterranean. The country is washed by two inland seas at the south, Black Sea and Azov Sea.


The information on the work and progress on the new European Atlas in Ukraine was given by Igor Gorban, EBBA2 national coordinator in Ukraine.


Q1. Could you please present to the readers the diversity of bird species that occur in Ukraine?

IG: Currently we have 430 species on our bird list, however this number is potentially much higher and is  probably underestimated. If we take into account only the breeding species, the list comprises approximately of 282 bird species. The species that could be potentially interesting to western birdwatchers and can be found in forested parts of the country are Ural Owl (Strix uralensis), Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa), Great Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga), and White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopus leucotus). In the steppe part of the country, you might see Great bustard (Otis tards), Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo), and Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra). If you go to the southernmost parts of Ukraine you can observe many interesting species, like Paddyfield Warbler (Acrocephalus agricola), Pallas’s Gull (Larus ichthyaetus) and big populations of Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus), Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis), and Slender-billed gull (Larus genei). We also have a quite big proportion of European population of Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus) and Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola).

Strix uralensis Mykola Skyrpan za web

Ural Owl (Strix uralensis) (photo by Mykola Skyrpan)

Q2. Has your country already produced a national Breeding Bird Atlas?

IG: So far, we only had regional Atlases and we still did not produce a national Atlas that would cover the whole territory of Ukraine. I think that the main reason is the lack of birdwatchers in Ukraine. Professional ornithologists are often busy with their work duties as they are employed at universities or scientific institution. Their work is mainly oriented at their teaching duties and availability for research is limited. Birdwatching movement in Ukraine is still in its early stages of development.


Q3. Could you tell us more about the regional Atlases and the development of bird mapping?

IG: Ukrainian ornithologists started to map the distribution of breeding birds using atlas methodology in early 1980s. However, this work was unevenly distributed across the country. Partly it was caused by the lag in the development of amateur ornithology in Eastern Europe and partly cause, at that time, there were no ornithological societies in Ukraine capable to organize and coordinate Atlas on a national level. Similarly, as I already mentioned, majority of ornithologists were tied up with their pedagogical duties at universities. Furthermore, there were no ornithologists at all in certain Ukrainian regions. The first initiatives of atlas projects started alongside with the active collaboration with specialists from close neighbouring countries (Poland, Estonia, and Latvia) and getting familiar with the atlas methodology. The growing interest in atlas work facilitated the involvement of higher number of people, especially amateurs. Eventually those people created several regional ornithological societies or working groups. Amateurs were those who contributed most to atlas works, but during 1980-1990 development of the amateur ornithology movement was active mainly in west Ukraine, and only after that started to spread to northern and eastern regions. As a result of atlas works during 1982-1986, data on species distribution in eight western regions of Ukraine were successfully gathered and referenced to 25x25km UTM grid.


Q4. Where these results published?

IG: Unfortunately, these maps were never published as separate book and were only used in smaller publications. At the same time data with 10x10km resolution were collected for atlas of breeding birds of the Lviv region. In parallel, work on the Atlas of wintering birds was also conducted in the Lviv region with the same resolution (10x10km) and in the Lutsk district of Volyn region with resolution of 2x2km. These atlases were published.


Q5. Were there any data from your country that were included in the EBBA1?

IG: After first regional atlases the project that people were most enthusiastic about was data collection for the first European Bird Breeding Atlas. This was the first atlas program in Ukraine which aimed to cover the whole territory of the country and provide the full species list of breeding birds. Due to the lack of the observers at that time, we managed to cover only some regions of Ukraine, mostly in the west and east. We provided both qualitative data and data on abundance to the first European atlas. Detailed fieldwork was conducted in many 50×50 squares and in some squares the data were based on expert opinion.


Dnepr Natalia Atamas za web

Dnieper river (photo by Natalia Atamas)

Q6. What is the situation with data collection in Ukraine for EBBA2?

IG: The last wide scale atlas program was performed more than 20 years ago in Ukraine, so we need to collect up to date information on breeding birds distribution and abundance in order to contribute to EBBA 2. For data collection we use basic methodology provided to us by EBBA2 coordinators.


Q7. How do you collect the data?

IG: Data on bird distribution and abundance is being collected within the frame of the EBBA2 50x50km UTM grid. In total, the territory of Ukraine is covered by 294 such squares and within each 50x50km square there are 25-35 smaller, 10x10km squares. Field observers are supposed to do two basic tasks: 1) to create a list of all breeding species for 50x50km squares, providing us with information on highest reliable known breeding status (1-16 status scale) for each species in a given square. There is also additional but not obligatory task to specify amount of breeding pairs according to 6 level logarithmic scale and method used to estimate these numbers. 2) Second task is to conduct 1-5 timed bird surveys in 10x10km squares within each 50x50km square. These timed surveys should last 1-2 hours and comprise only a list of species seen during this time while moving along transect. Numbers of individuals seen on routes are not taken into account. Timed surveys are performed during May and June, when majority of Ukrainian birds are actively breeding. Lists of species for squares 50×50 km are based on data collected in much broader period of year and on data obtained since 2013.


Skyrpan Mykola 11 za web

Ukrainian mountains (photo by Mykola Skyrpan)

Q8. How do your observers choose their timed routes?

IG: In Ukraine surveyors are free to choose the 10x10km squares in which they will conduct timed surveys, and are also free to choose their survey routes. However, we require that squares and routes proportionally present landscapes and habitats on 50x50km squares resolution. After conducting field surveys participants are required to fulfil the final data form and to provide it to the regional or national coordinator via e-mail.


Q9. What is methodologically most problematic in Ukraine?

IG: We use the same basic methodology as many other countries. Main problems come from the lack of the observers and the huge territory that we need to cover. In total we have 294 50×50 km squares, which means that in the entire Ukraine we have more than 6000 10×10 km squares. Therefore we are able to conduct timed bird surveys only in small fraction of 10×10 km squares, from 1 to maximum of 5 squares per one 50×50 square.


Q10. How many people are contributing to your Atlas work?

IG: Current Ukrainian Atlas program relies mostly (~70%) on professional ornithologists who work at universities, scientific institutions, nature reserves and only on several experienced local birdwatchers. It is not that we do not take seriously data provided by birdwatchers, but unfortunately, their numbers in Ukraine are too small and only a few of them have experience in taking part in bird surveys. In the period from 2013 to 2015, in total 45 people participated in data collecting.

Skyrpan Mykola 8 za web

Wetlands in Ukraine (photo by Mykola Skyrpan)

Q11. What are the most problematic areas for mapping?

IG: The most problematic issue is that ornithologists and birders are not distributed evenly across the country. Majority of them are concentrated in western, north-western and eastern parts. Also, along the coast line. In some central and northern parts of Ukrainian steppe zone this problem is especially noticeable. In these big areas, comparable to areas of some European countries, only one or few ornithologists are working on atlas and sometimes even nobody. Therefore squares from these regions are gap spots on our atlas map.


Q12. What do you see as the biggest issues currently?

IG: Among problems that we faced during Atlas works in 2013-2015 most crucial was the lack of the observers in some regions and very limited financial capacities of volunteers caused by recent political and economic events in Ukraine. Financial problems were partially solved by support from the EBCC, but the lack of the observers is still an issue. Recently another problem has aroused – restricted access to territories in Eastern Ukraine where there is military conflict. Fortunately, a lot of the data there were collected during 2013, so these regions will be quite well represented in EBBA2. Furthermore, the experience of Ukrainian ornithologists and birdwatchers is not equal. Some people so far did not had a chance to participate in such wide scale project as atlas and they sometimes misunderstand methodology. But we are actively working on this issue and I believe that we will be able to solve it.


Q13. Did you had any foreigners that helped you in mapping?

IG: No, so far data for EBBA2 were collected only by Ukrainian volunteers. There is no need in external help in well studied parts of Ukraine, like Western regions or coastline of Black and Azov Sea. Due to recent events, we would not recommend visiting Lugansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine because the conflict with Russian Federation is still ongoing. Therefore we strongly recommend birdwatchers not to visit conflict zones and adjacent regions, and unfortunately, also Crimea peninsula. All the rest of the territory is safe and friendly for foreigners. One of the problems that foreign visitors may encounter in Ukraine is language barrier – majority of Ukrainians do not speak English or German. Probably foreigners that have a basic level of Ukrainian and Russian would be able to travel around the country more comfortable. Attitude to Russian language in Ukraine is very friendly, as it always was. Therefore, I believe that ornithologists from Belarus, Russia or Baltic countries would feel themselves very welcomed here.


Green are the priority squares for mapping in Ukraine, 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


Q14. What is the biggest challenge for you personally as a national coordinator?

IG: I suppose that the biggest challenge is to persuade some people to participate. Many ornithologists are quite pessimistic when it comes to Atlas in Ukraine because of our limited capacities. I have spent an enormous amount of time in negotiations with them and trying to involve as many people in data collection as possible.


Q15. Would you like to produce your first national Atlas?

IG: Yes, sure we would like to. But this strongly depends on whether we would be able to receive fundings. So far, publication of our national Atlas is only in plans. I hope that, if we publish national Atlas, interest of local people for atlas methodology and data collection would increase in future.


Q16. Do you have any take home message for people reading this?

IG: First of all, I would like to thank EBBA2 coordination team because they helped us a lot in organization of atlas work in Ukraine. Also many thanks to those enthusiasts who found time and opportunity to participate in Atlas field works in our difficult circumstances. I would also like to encourage birdwatchers from abroad to visit Ukraine and other Eastern European countries in the next field seasons in order to help in data collection. We should all realize that the quality of second European Atlas strongly depends on its coverage in Eastern Europe which, if taking Ukraine, European Russia and Belarus together, comprises half of the European continent and supports huge proportion of bird populations.


Igor Gorban za webIgor Gorban has 40 years of experience in ornithology and is currently working for the Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Birds (USPB) as national coordinator of Atlas works in Ukraine. The USPB is a NGO that was founded in 1994, and it is local BirdLife partner in Ukraine. Most projects of USPB are related to nature conservation areas, which harbour rare, vulnerable, or decreasing in numbers bird species and their habitats, and are focused on conservation and protection of birds and nature in general.



Skyrpan Mykola 1

Ukrainian atlas team

17.3.2016, Marina Kipson