FULL REPORT (compiled by Alexander Solokha)
Summary of gap-filling survey reports from Armenia and Uzbekistan
Following the outcomes of Gap-filling and Monitoring workshop for Central Asia and the Caucasus (Tbilisi, 13-16 March 2008) and further selection of proposals for priority surveys, two field projects were supported in 2008. One project in Armenia and another in Uzbekistan were implemented to collect waterbird and habitat data from presumably important wetlands which were not covered by IBA and IWC monitoring before.
In Armenia, a team of Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds headed by Mamikon Ghasabian investigated Akhuryan Reservoir on the western border with Turkey. Akhuryan reservoir is located in the mid reaches of River Akhuryan, in the mountain steppe at an altitude of 1,440 m above sea level. Covering the area of more than 4,000 hectares, it is one of the largest artificial water bodies in Armenia. Restricted for visiting due to border regime, this reservoir has never been surveyed by experts to a full extent. However, being linked geographically with other important wetlands, such as Chaldyr Lake in Turkey, the Sevan and Arpi lakes in Armenia, and Javakheti lakes in Georgia, the Akhuryan Reservoir also looked like a significant stopover for waterbirds.
The 2008 was water-scarce year in the region. Due to comparably low snowfall, early-season but less rainy spring, and increased withdrawal of water for irrigation, the water volume of the reservoir in September was 30% less and the surface water area was 3 - 3.5 times less than usually estimated.
Overall, 9 waterbird counts were conducted in September, October and November 2008 with intervals from 4 to 10 days. Altogether 70 waterbird species and 15 species of raptors were identified. The total single counts varied from 1,186 to 11,343 individuals, increasing from mid-September through mid-October, and sharply decreasing from the end of October. The peak number (11,343 birds) was recorded on 9 October. These results can indicate the dynamics in the passage of waterbirds through Akhuryan Reservoir.
Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Garganey, Armenian Gull and Gadwall were the 5 most numerous species. High count of Ruddy Shelduck with 2,100 birds on 23 October exceeds the 1% level for geographical population (i.e. 500 birds) in many times and therefore supports the relevant criteria on identification of Ramsar sites and Important Bird Areas. Altogether 9 globally threatened and near threatened species of waterbirds and raptors were recorded: Dalmatian Pelican, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Ferruginous Duck, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-winged Pratincole, Pallid Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle, Imperial Eagle and Lesser Kestrel. All these data prove the importance of Akhuryan Reservoir for migratory waterbirds and raptors and can suggest its designation as Important Bird Area and Ramsar site.
Additional funds for field work were provided by the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds.
The second gap-filling survey was conducted in Karakalpakstan, Republic of Uzbekistan, in the zone of ecological disaster around the southern coast of the Aral Sea. Until 1970th this area was very rich in wetlands and supported huge numbers of breeding and migrating waterbirds. But later, owing to irretrievable large-scale water diversion from the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers for irrigation and other developments, the Aral Sea has severely shrunk, causing the desertification of the whole area. However, provided the implementation of some wetland restoration projects, the local experts suggested to explore this remote and poorly studied area and try to identify important sites for waterbirds in migration season. Two field trips were conducted between 15-29 October and 18-29 November 2008. Headed by Gulara Matekova, the project team consisted of experts of Karakalpak Institute of Biology and Ecology of Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan and workers of Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds.
Counted sites were the Muynak Bay, Sarbas (Fisher’s) Bay, the Makpalkol & Kyzylkeme, Domalak, and Koksu-Shege interfluve lakes. Although visited some years ago and being the IBA, the Sudochie wetland was also counted partially (West Karateren, Taily and Collector KKS) to check its current status. All sites were artificial ponds and reservoirs that have been established for purposes of fishery, agriculture and recreation instead of dried out Aral bays and Amudarya deltaic lakes. Except of feeding by drainage water Sudochie, the lakes were being supplied with Amudarya inflow through the canals and their parameters depend on availability of river water in particular year.
The survey found most of the water bodies in poor conditions as a result of low-water situation in 2008. Besides largest in the region Sudochie and Sarbas Bay, the others were nearly dried and therefore lost their values for waterbirds.
Waterbirds were not abundant both in October and November and mostly occurred in Sarbas Bay and Sudochie. Altogether 40 species of waterbirds were found. High total counts for Sarbas Bay and Sudochie were recorded in October: correspondently 5,730 birds on 25 October and 17,360 birds on 21-22 October. The Coot was the most numerous in these congregations comprising 75% and 54% of total numbers correspondently. The other sites supported relatively few waterbirds – from 28 on Muynak Bay to 701 individuals on Makpalkol & Kyzylkeme.
No data on globally/near threatened species were reported from principal project sites, and just Sudochie has brought some information about Ferruginous Duck and White-headed Duck. Two Ferruginous Ducks were counted on 21 November in West Karateren Lake. White-headed Ducks were recorded three times: by 15 birds on 20 and 22 October on West Karateren Lake, and 8 birds on 22 November on Taily Lake. The data on both species are relatively negligible and therefore troubling, especially on White-headed Duck. Given that in 1999-2005 the Sudochie reported about up to 4,000 White-headed Ducks on passage (IBAs in Uzbekistan 2008), our data, although not complete, can suggest the sharp decline in staging White-headed Ducks.
The survey has provided new, but rather disappointed information about status of waterbird habitats on southern coast of the Aral Sea. All available water bodies are now the artificial reservoirs with highly deviating water level and changeable quality of aquatic habitats due to irregular water inflow from Amudarya or drainage systems. Situation is aggravated in the low-water years, e.g. in 2000, 2001, 2007, and 2008, when most of the water bodies dried out.
The report has shown the lack of efforts on restoration and sustaining of deltaic and coastal wetlands in situation when water resources of Amudarya are being increasingly and often wastefully used in the up- and midstream areas. Continuation of such poor practice of water management will likely to cause the further degradation of wetland habitats and biodiversity in southern Aral Sea area.
The field survey was co-financed from the International Fund for Aral Saving (IFAS).