Record-breaking 120,000 ruffs in Belarus

This May 2016 video is about the the ruffs of Turau Meadow in Belarus. The video is by Dmitriy Yakubovich.

From BirdLife:

8 May 2017

Record-breaking 120,000 Ruffs counted in Belarus

Birdwatchers were delighted by the thousands of Ruffs that gathered at the end of April in Turau Meadow, Belarus. While the area is usually an important stopover for the species, this time the impressive numbers broke records in the country.

By Victoria Tereshonok & APB team

Despite the cold weather, bird migration is in full swing. Millions of birds have started moving from their wintering grounds in Africa, stopping over in the cold tundra of Eurasia.

At this time of the year, Turau Meadow in Belarus becomes a paradise for nature lovers – as many as 150,000 Eurasian Wigeon Mareca Penelope and 20,000 Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa can gather in these plains, sometimes in a single day.

But this year, it’s the Ruff Calidris pugnax that gave birdwatchers the most joy, when thousands of these long-necked birds blanketed the skies.

While this site is currently the largest stopover site for the species during their spring migration across Europe, this year the numbers were a surprise to everyone.

A group of ornithologists, including researchers from APB (BirdLife Belarus), registered a record number of 120,000 Ruffs in a single day, which hadn’t been reported since the observations began in Turau Meadow back in 1997.

Turau Meadow is an open floodplain in the middle of Pripyat River and one of Europe’s most essential nesting and stopover areas for more than 50 migratory wading bird species such as Black-tailed Godwit, Great Snipe Gallinago media and Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus – the three of them classified as Near Threatened by BirdLife for the IUCN Red List. And these species don’t only stop there – this is where they nest.

For this reason, the floodplains were categorized as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife and, since 2008, it has been recognized as a locally significant wildlife sanctuary by the Belarussian authorities.

This recognition has helped Ruff populations, whose range and populations have shrunk significantly in Belarus in the last 30-40 years. While listed as Least Concern by BirdLife, global populations are thought to have been decreasing as a result of habitat loss, intensive agriculture and climate change. It comes as no surprise then that they have been added to Belarus’ Regional Red List, which means the species is excluded from the list of huntable species and their nesting area needs to be protected by the government.

Banding data shows that these birds nest across a territory that spans Scandinavia to Yakutia. Migration is often a difficult time for all birds, and stopover sites such as Turau Meadow, where they can relax and gather energy, are critical so they can reach their final destination.

Unfortunately, stopovers like this meadow are now few and far between in Europe. Birds are reportedly staying in the floodplain for up to a month, taking the opportunity to feed on the invertebrates and grain available on the surrounding fields – almost doubling their weight in the process. This energy is vital for them to continue their journey to the next site.

Seeing how many birds depend on this habitat along the Pripyat River remind us of how important it is to conserve these vital ecosystems so we can save these birds from disappearing.

“The Pripyat River floodplain is such a vital place. It’s important to protect it and leave it unchanged,” says Pavel Pinchuk, Head of the Belarusian Center for Bird Ringing.

Since 2007, APB rents the area of Turau Meadow and has created a management plan for the local authorities. Both parties agreed on how to best safeguard this unique landscape and every year APB organizes volunteer camps to clean the area of overgrowing bushes while also managing the closing of the hunting season within the floodplains. They also participate in the surveying of the area and record bird population trends.

In March 2014, ornithologists recorded the largest number of birds in Turau Meadow ever. As many as 200,000 birds were counted within one square kilometer of the sanctuary. A similar number of migrating birds had not been recorded anywhere in Belarus up to that point.

With continued protection, we expect the area will continue to surprise everyone with record-breaking numbers of birds for many years to come.

This 2017 video shows an aerial view of the meadow at the beginning of April, preceding the mass arrival of the Ruff.


Crane feeds like woodpecker in Belarus

This video says about itself:

Common Crane. Unconventional way of feeding

One very cold April morning, when the water and the earth froze in the marsh, a flock of cranes began to look for food in very unexpected places – under the bark of dry trees, like woodpeckers!

19.04.2017. Belarus, Grodno region.

Especially a young crane (no red on its head, unlike adults) feeds like a woodpecker in this video.

Mistle thrushes eat rowan berries, video

This video shows mistle thrushes (and redpolls, and a jay, and a crested tit) eating rowan berries, in the 2016/2017 winter in Belarus.

Beautiful birds in Belarus

This video, recorded in May – June 2016, shows song thrushes, a blackbird, a chaffinch, a grey heron and other beautiful birds in Belarus.

Restoring peatland in Belarus

This 2013 video is called BELARUS — NEW PEAT BOGS.

From BirdLife:

Belarus to restore over 1000 hectares of peatland

By APB BirdLife Belarus, 5 Dec 2016

A huge restoration project led by APB BirdLife Belarus (BirdLife Partner), the National Park authorities and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) is taking place in Białowieża Forest National Park, to recover invaluable habitat for raptors, owls and woodpeckers.

Between the border of Poland and Belarus lies the impressive Białowieża Forest, one of Europe’s last primeval forests and one of the few remnants of the vast woods that once covered most of the continent. This exceptional habitat is a Natura 2000 site, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, inhabited by a total of 250 bird species including Great Snipe Gallinago media, Greater Spotted Eagle Clanga clanga and the Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola.

Sixty years ago, a large open fen covering an area of over 7000 ha at the eastern edge of Białowieża Forest (known as Biełaviežskaja Pušča in Belarusian) was drained as a result of a large scale wetland reclamation campaign in the Soviet Union. A new conservation project started last week to seek to restore an area of 1163 hectares of National Park. One of the largest fen rehabilitation projects in Europe, the project aims to construct 112 natural dams by the end of December.

While the peatland restoration project is taking part in the central part of the Białowieża Forest, its positive impact will even cross borders. The so-called Dziki Nikar mire is the source of the Narevka River, one of the main water arteries feeding the Polish part of Białowieża Forest. The dams will make the water level rise to the surface for the benefit of wildlife in both countries.

Why are peatlands so important?

Peatlands are a type of wetland with a thick organic soil layer made up of decaying plant material. While peatland is a more general term, APB BirdLife Belarus is here restoring a particular, wet kind of peatland called fen: a flat mire that collects water from rainfall and surface water.

Peatlands are unique ecosystems, essential to mitigate climate change because of their ability to store carbon. In fact, they store twice as much carbon as forests in a tenth of the area. They also store such large quantities of water that they help in flood protection and clean water supply.

Belarus is currently taking the lead in peatland restoration in Europe. APB BirdLife Belarus is playing a key role in the process, being a partner or implementing organisation in many such projects.

Over the last decade, up to 50,000 hectares of degraded peatlands have been rewetted in Belarus. Most of them are depleted through peat extraction, which makes restoration of the original mire a complicated and lengthy process. But this project is unique: after Dziki Nikar was drained for agriculture it was used for a relatively short time, thereby enhancing prospects for successful restoration of the original vegetation.

“Water – a key element for all the ecosystems of Belarus. Most of our rare species are associated with water but have become rare due to water shortages. If we restore the peatland, we will bring back these species. We will wait for the return of the Great Snipe, Greater Spotted Eagle and the Aquatic Warbler”, said Alexander Vintchevski, Director of APB BirdLife Belarus.

First results should be visible in the next two or three years. However, it will take at least another 30 years for the ecosystem to be completely restored.