Friday, January 12, 2018

ABP 2017 & 2018

ABP spring team 2017 with Russian friends at Muraviovka Park © Arend Heim

2017 was a very successful year for the Amur Bird Project at Muraviovka Park. We managed to keep the ringing station running during both spring and autumn season, and more than 10.000 birds were trapped. 9969 individuals of 131 species were ringed – a record year. We can use the collected data to answer diverse questions regarding migration ecology. For example, we analysed potential flight ranges of Yellow-browed Warblers Phylloscopus inornatus, with the results now published in Bird Study. But more important, we can use the annual numbers of ringed birds to estimate population trends of migrant songbirds, as we collect the ringing data in a standardized way – first results were published here.
One bird, infamous for its sharp decline, is the Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola – one of our target species, and recently uplisted to Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In spring 2017, we mapped more than 150 territories in and around Muraviovka Park, and collected data on habitat use and niche overlap with co-occuring bunting species. First results were presented during the conference of the European Ornithologist´s Union in Turku/Finland and during the annual meeting of the German Ornithologists´ Society in Halle/Germany.

Yellow-breasted Bunting with geolocator returned to Muraviovka Park © Arend Heim
 Furthermore, we were able to re-trap several Yellow-breasted Buntings equipped with geolocators in 2016. Three devices were recovered, containing valuable information about their autumn stop-over sites and wintering areas – a publication is currently in preparation. We also recovered three geolocators carried by Siberian Rubythroats Calliope calliope, and our manuscript containing details about their spatio-temporal behaviour is now under review. 86 more birds of six species were equipped with data loggers in 2017, and hopefully many of them will return in 2018.
Another hot topic are the annual fires in the wetlands at Muraviovka Park. We continued our studies  on the effects of fires on bird and plant diversity in 2017, and first results were presented at the “Ecology across borders” conference in Gent. But not only fires have an impact on threatened birds: we were able to show that crane populations at Muraviovka Park depend on regular flooding – published in Waterbirds journal October 2017. Unfortunately, recent dam constructions will limit the natural floods in the Amur river valley.
Another threat is the agricultural intensification - huge areas of fallow land were converted recently to crop lands. In 2017, we were shocked to see that former wet meadows were ploughed - even inside the protected area of Muraviovka Park!

Participants of Muraviovka Park´s Bird Ecology Summer School © Arend Heim
To raise awareness among local people, the staff of Muraviovka Park organized two camps for local schoolchildren in 2017 – one of them lead by us, the Bird Ecology Summer School. All participants visited our ringing station and learned about bird migration and nature conservation. In total, several hundred visitors came to our ringing station in 2017, and we visited a village school in June 2017 to reach an even greater audience. To my opinion, showing the beauty and explaining the value of their surrounding nature to the local people is one of our most rewarding and most important tasks.
In May 2018, our field studies in Far East Russia will start again, and we hope to continue our educational program as well.

I want to thank Sergei Smirenski and the staff of Muraviovka Park for their long-lasting cooperation and for hosting us since seven years.
Many thanks also to all members of the field team in 2017 – a total of 21 volunteers and researchers from 9 countries took part: Carmen Azahara, Isabelle Berner, Nils Bigalke, Laszlo Bozo, Erna Bozone, Hans-Jürgen Eilts, Euan Ferguson, Mickael Fivat, Arend Heim, Ramona Heim, Tim Korschefsky, Jennifer Leung, Benjamin Meißner, Sissel Sjöberg, Alexander Thomas, Mikkel Willemoes, Jonas Wobker, Tom Wulf, Anna Zimin and Sean Zimin.
Furthermore, I want to thank all private donors, sponsors and supporters, especially the German Ornithologists´ Society (DO-G e.V.), the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, NABU RV Erzgebirge e.V. and Zeiss Sports Optics.
Further thanks go to Aleksey Antonov, Vassili Dugincov, Norbert Hölzel, Johannes Kamp, Lykke Pedersen, Dmitriy Matushevich, Yuriy Shpak, Anders Tottrup, Kasper Thorup. Additional thanks go to Avtoluxe Blagoveshchensk.

2017 Highlights:

  • standardized bird ringing during spring & autumn: 10.000 birds of 131 species trapped
  • recovery of three geolocators each from Yellow-breasted Buntings and Siberian Rubythroats
  • continuation of breeding bird counts
  • studies on habitat use of buntings and fire impacts on birds and plants
  • discovery of new sites for Swinhoe´s Rail
  • bird ecology summer school for local children
  • 6 articles published, 4 of them in international peer-reviewed journals (see here)
  • 12 contributions during 3 national and international conferences

Höhepunkte 2017:

  • Netzfang an der Beringungsstation im Frühjahr und Herbst: 10.000 Vögel aus 131 Arten
  • Rückfang von je drei mit Geolokatoren ausgestatteten Weidenammern und Rubinkehlchen
  • Fortführung der Brutvogelzählung
  • Studien zur Habitatnutzung von Ammern und zum Feuereinfluss auf Vögel und Vegetation
  • Entdeckung neuer Vorkommen des Mandschurensumpfhuhns
  • Sommerschule für Kinder aus umliegenden Dörfern
  • 6 Artikel publiziert, davon 4 in renommierten internationalen Fachzeitschriften (siehe hier)
  • 12 Beiträge auf nationalen und internationalen Tagungen


six more Swinhoe´s Rails were ringed at Muraviovka Park © Alex Thomas/Tom Wulf

Saturday, December 16, 2017

New publication in Bird Study

Yellow-browed Warbler ringed at Muraviovka Park © Arend Heim
Yellow-browed Warblers Phylloscopus inornatus are common migrants in East Asia, and have been recorded in increasing numbers as "vagrants" in Europe. However, little is known about their migration routes and behaviour. In our newest study, published yesterday in Bird Study, we quantified fat loads of 2125 Yellow-browed Warblers ringed during autumn migration at Muraviovka Park within the Amur Bird Project. Flight ranges of 660–820 km were estimated for the fattest individuals, suggesting that they would need to stop for refuelling at least six times to reach their wintering areas in South East Asia. If you are interested in the article, feel free to contact us through ResearchGate or via email.

Gelbbrauen-Laubsänger sind häufige Durchzügler und Wintergäste in Ostasien, und werden immer häufiger auch in Europa festgestellt. Tatsächlich ist aber sehr wenig über ihr Zugverhalten und die Zugwege bekannt. In unserer neuesten Studie, welche gestern in Bird Study veröffentlicht wurde, haben wir die sichtbaren Fettanteile von 2125 Gelbbrauen-Laubsänger quantifiziert, welche wir während der Herbst-Zugzeit im Muraviovka Park im Rahmen des Amur Bird Projects beringt hatten. Die fettesten Individuen könnten nach unseren Berechnungen bis zu 660-820km ohne Stop zurücklegen. Die Mehrzahl der Vögel muss also mindestens sechs Mal stoppen, um aufzutanken, bevor sie ihr Winterquartier in Südostasien erreichen können. Bei Interesse ist die Publikation über ResearchGate zugänglich, oder auf Anfrage per E-Mail.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

ABP2017 @ ILÖK Münster - our largest project meeting ever

ABP meeting at ILÖK Münster - the largest ever © Martin Freitag
On Saturday, 9th of December 2017, the annual meeting of the Amur Bird Project took place at the Institute of Landscape Ecology (ILÖK) in Münster, Germany. More than 45 participants, including guests from Kazakhstan and Russia, listened to 12 presentations in three sessions. A wide range of scientific topics based on the data collected at Muraviovka Park and Far East Russia´s Amur region covered diverse aspects of ecology, habitat use, fire impact, biodiversity and conservation as well as parasites, population trends and migration of birds. Furthermore, additional results were presented on eight posters. This was the 5th meeting of its kind, the largest one so far and the first one to take place in Münster. I want to thank Norbert Hölzel, Johannes Kamp and the staff of the ILÖK for making this meeting possible, and many thanks to all speakers, the Amur Bird Project team and all visitors for their contributions resulting in a great and successful meeting.

Am Samstag, den 9. Dezember 2017, fand das Jahrestreffen des Amur Bird Projects am Institut für Landschaftsökologie (ILÖK) in Münster statt. Mehr als 45 Teilnehmer, inklusive Gästen aus Kasachstan und Russland, besuchten 12 Vorträge in drei Themenbereichen. Es wurden Ergebnisse aus der laufenden Forschung im Muraviovka Park und dem Amurgebiet im fern-östlichen Russland vorgestellt, welche ein breites Spektrum zu verschiedenen Aspekten der Ökologie, Habitatnutzung, Biodiversität, Feuereinfluss und Naturschutz als auch zu Parasiten, Bestandsveränderungen und Zugwegen von Vögel abdeckten. Dies war das 5. Treffen dieser Art, das bisher größte und das erste in Münster. Dank gilt Norbert Hölzel, Johannes Kamp und den Mitarbeitern des ILÖK für die Ermöglichung dieser Veranstaltung, und natürlich allen Vortragenden, dem Amur Bird Project Team und allen Gästen für ihre Beiträge, welche die Tagung spannend und erfolgreich gemacht haben.


Martha Maria Sander estimated potential flight ranges of leaf warblers © Wieland Heim
Food, drinks and time to talk between sessions in the foyer of the ILÖK © Wieland Heim
Martin Frommhold gave insights into habitat choice of Amur Falcons © Arend Heim
Poster presentation © Wieland Heim
Ramona Heim explained fire impact on birds and plants © Arend Heim
Diverse reactions on Benjamin Meißners photos of parasitic louseflies © Arend Heim
Presenting newest results of our bird tracking studies with geolocators © Ramona Heim

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Yellow-breasted Bunting uplisted to Critically Endangered

Colour-ringed Yellow-breasted Bunting at Muraviovka Park, June 2017 © Arend Heim
For the very first time, a once super-abundant and widespread songbird species is included in the highest threat category on the international red list of the IUCN. The Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola was considered "least concern" until 2004, but since the population has declined dramatically, the species is now regarded as "critically endangered". The Amur Bird Project will continue to monitor the species´ population in Far East Russia´s Amur region in 2018 and study its migration and ecology to enable future conservation measures.

Pressemitteilung der Uni Münster (auf Deutsch):


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Amur Falcon nests and creative support for the Amur Bird Project

Amur Falcon at Muraviovka Park © Arend Heim
The Amur Bird Project still depends 100% on the commitment of volunteers. More than 50 people from 10 countries have worked with us at Muraviovka Park so far. Our main goal is to investigate the threatened avifauna of the Amur region, to identify conservation needs and to raise awareness. Therefore, we regularly present our scientific results on congresses. Some weeks ago a team of us took part in the annual meeting of the German ornithological society (DO-G e.V.) in Halle/Germany. More than 400 bird watchers, conservationists and scientists gathered for the 150th meeting of the society. The Amur Bird Project presented two talks and six posters. I would like to show one of the posters here (in German, see English summary below).

Das Amur Bird Project basiert nach wie vor zu 100% auf dem Einsatz von Freiwilligen. Mehr als 50 Volontäre aus 10 Ländern haben bereits mit uns im Muraviovka Park gearbeitet.  Unser Ziel ist es, die bedrohte Avifauna des Amurgebietes zu erforschen, um geeignete Schutzmaßnahmen identifizieren und Publik machen zu können. Aus diesem Grund besuchen wir auch regelmäßig Tagungen - so auch die 150. Jahresversammlung der Deutschen Ornithologen-Gesellschaft in Halle/Saale. Das Amur Bird Project Team war hier mit zwei Vorträgen und sechs Postern vertreten. Eines davon soll hier nun vorgestellt werden:

Martin Frommhold studiert an der Uni Potsdam und hat sich mit der Nestwahl des Amurfalkens beschäftigt. Er interessiert sich jedoch nicht nur für die Natur, und möchte das Amur Bird Project auf kreative Weise unterstützen:

"Ich hatte im Frühjahr diesen Jahres die Chance an der Uni Potsdam die Aufnahmen für dieses Album einzuspielen. Seit etwa 19 Jahren spiele ich Klavier und das Songmaterial stammt aus verschiedenen Ideen der letzen 6 Jahre. Inspiriert wurde ich zudem durch meine Auslandsaufenthalte in Kanada (Vancouver Island, Northwest Territories) und Skandinavien  und den Wanderungen vor Ort. Die Musik soll die Zuhörer mit auf Reisen nehmen und den Character verschiedener Orte wiedergeben; die Rauigkeit der See, die Tiefe der Wälder,  die Weite der Landschaft umgeben von Stille und doch voller Lebendigkeit. Es befinden sich 6 eigens komponierte Stücke auf der CD mit dem Titel 'Places and Inner Tales'. Die Klänge laden ein tief Luft zu holen und zu träumen.
Für das CD-Cover hatte ich die einmalige Chance mit einer Künstlerin aus Colorado zusammen zu arbeiten. Sie hat nach ein paar Anregungen ein sehr passendes Motiv entworfen und fängt die Atmosphäre der Stücke wunderbar ein.
Die CD's und die Poster in 40 x 40 cm des Coverartworks sind nach dem Prinzip 'pay what you want' zu erhalten auf Konzerten oder nach persönlicher Anfrage. Die Einnahmen der Poster gehen zu 100 % an das Amur Bird Project, hinter dessen Bestrebungen und Bemühungen ich ebenso sehr zu 100 % stehe."

Martin Frommhold is studying at the University of Potsdam. He is analyzing the nest requirements of the Amur Falcon Falco amurensis. This species was heavily hunted on its way to South Africa during migration in India, but it seems that the trapping pressure has decreased. However, we still do not know much about its ecology. Martins aims to fill some of gaps in our knowledge. 
But Martin is not only into birds. He is a musician since 19 years and has now produced a new album, where he expresses his experiences in nature. One can buy his music and the artwork - and the gains of the posters will be 100% donated towards the Amur Bird Project! You can find his music by clicking the links above and contact him at

Thank you very much, Martin!

English poster summary:

The knowledge about the breeding ecology of Amur falcons Falco amurensis is very sparse. Little is known about criteria to choose suitable nesting sites and habitats. First results from the analyses regarding this fundamental process within their life cycle are presented using data from the floodplains of the Amur river, Muraviovka Park. More than hundred magpie nests (n = 117) were sampled and nest-site specific variables were assessed. 38 nests were occupied by Amur falcons. A recently developed habitat classification map was used to further determine habitat specific variables as much as landscape metrics for the probable effect on habitat selection within their home range. The influence of the assessed variables on nest-site scale and landscape scale were examined using multinomial logistic regression. A variety of machine learning classification methods were tested to see which variables are suitable for predicting the occurrence of Amur Falcons in the area. Results suggest that Amur falcons are relatively opportunistic in their choice of nest-sites, but prefer nests with a domed roof and are able to tolerate breeding neighbors such as Hobby Falco subboteo and Magpie Pica pica similarly to those nests occupied by Amur falcons. Additionally a certain proportion of soil and distance to wetlands show an effect on the occurrence of the species within their home range. These areas might be used for foraging since they mostly depend on an insect diet. There is no evidence for choosing a certain nest height or tree species, neither do the results show an effect regarding the proportion of other habitats such as grassland and shrubs or the distances to streets or settlements. Since Amur falcons can be seen as gregarious and colonial nesters, their nest selection is relatively little affected by habitat proportions and distances. Performance varied between the different machine learning algorithms and classification methods. Random Forest shows the highest accuracy in predicting the probability of occurrence compared to other classification methods using a set of preselected variables. Further monitoring and data assessing will help to deepen an understanding of the nest-site and habitat selection of this insectivorous species.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Amur Bird Project Meeting 2017

Seven years in Russia! 
Our annual project meeting will be held 9 December 2017 in Münster/Germany.

// Wieland