Slovakia, located between the Western Carpathians on the edge of Pannonian basin and Eastern Carpathians, has a very diverse landscape and is therefore covered by many diverse habitats. These range from foreststeppes, to marshes in lowlands, through Oak and Beech forest in lower mountains, following by coniferous forests in Central Slovakia, reaching alpine meadows and subnival habitats in the highest mountains. Due to this habitat diversity, the number of bird species breeding in Slovakia is among the highest in all of Europe (BirdLife 2015). Distribution of birds during breeding season and in migration and wintering period was recorded in the last most comprehensive Atlas in 2002 (Danko et al. 2002).
Nevertheless these diverse habitats have undergone many changes in the last years similar to other countries. One of the main drivers of these changes was fast economic growth of Slovakia and political and economic changes after Slovak accession to European Union in 2004. Amount in funds available for agriculture increased significantly and together with bad settings of common agricultural policy in Europe led to rapid decrease of grasslands and pastures in lowlands. Similarly, construction of new industrial zones in lowlands and new tourist resorts in mountains damaged other habitats. Result of these and other changes is disappearance of breeding Rollers in Slovakia, decreasing numbers of Capercaillies and changes in numbers of other species. Due to this changes Slovak ornithologists decided to start the work on a new bird atlas in 2014 to cover the present state of bird distribution and numbers.
Fast changes in bird populations in Slovakia together with other reasons led to the decision to start the work on a new Slovak bird atlas. One of the most important reasons was also the start of the the work on a new European bird atlas. Therefore work on both Atlases in the same time would bring higher effectivity in the field work and also higher motivation for ornithologists and birdwatcher participating in this work as their activities would bring two nice publications instead of one. Our field methodology was also changed in order to be compatible with the European standards. Instead of old network of squares used in previous atlas (12×11 km), for present field work we use a different network of squares 10×10 km (ETRS). This network is used also for present national atlas work in neighbouring Austria. We have also developed a website for writing down the data, which is immediately actualising partial results on result distribution maps. That tool helps participants in selection of squares for next field work and helps to cover gaps in knowledge (“white areas”), which were problem in previous atlas (a lot of effort was needed to cover these gaps at the end of field work before 2002).
Atlas work started with null trial year of field work in 2014, with full start of work in 2015. The actual season is only the second breeding season in which atlas works are conducted (end is expected in 2018 or 2019). Nevertheless, atlas work already brought first interesting data in Slovakia. Evaluation from first years 2014-2015 brought data on breeding of 203 bird species (overall in Slovakia 222 breeding species are known including all historic data and publications). Until now, only species that are missing are the ones which perhaps disappeared in Slovakia as breeding species (European Roller, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Rock Thrush and others). Also, some methodically more difficult species are also missing, e.g. very rare breeding species and species that breed in difficult accessible areas (Wallcreepers). On the other hand, data on some species already show state near to real distribution and present data may not change at all in the case of these species (Mediterranean Gull, Common Tern). In the case of common species, present data reflect more the distribution of active ornithologists and gaps where field work should be focused in the coming years. Despite these gaps in knowledge, in the case of some species we can conclude that the atlas brought first partial data on new breeding species in Slovakia (Goosander) and new data on range shifts (European Bee-eater recorder breeding in more northern squares and in higher altitude in some river valley and basins).
First atlas data already brought interesting results (in cooperation with organization SOS/BirdLife Slovakia, Raptor protection in Slovakia, Institute of zoology and Institute of forest Ecology of Slovak Academy of Sciences, Forestry Faculty of Technical University in Zvolen, Nature Sciences Faculty of Commenius University in Bratislava and Initiative Birding Slovakia), but a lot has to be done. In this aspect, there is a lot of potential contributions that can be done by visitors to Slovakia from other countries. Therefore, if you visit Slovakia and have some casual records, it is possible to send them to atlas directly by online database http://aves.vtaky.sk/index/ and if you are interested in more detailed work, then contact for the technical coordinator of atlas work Jozef Ridzon: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jozef Ridzon, 27.6.2016
Slovak Ornithological Society/BirdLife Slovakia
Preliminary maps of the next Slovak breeding bird atlas: