Yellow-breasted Bunting Workshop

On January 28-29, before the opening of the first All-Russian Ornithological Congress, a workshop "Status and conservation planning for Yellow-breasted Bunting in Russia" was held in Tver. In addition, on February 3, within the framework of the Congress, a round table was held to discuss and finalize the resolution of the meeting. 

The workshop was attended by more than fifty ornithologists from all over Russia, as well as experts from Germany, the head of the leading ornithological organization of Japan – the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology  - Kiyoaki Ozaki, and one of the leaders of the Asian branch of the BirdLife International Simba Chan. The meeting was held at the Tver branch of the University of Humanities and Economics.

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Johannes Kamp presentation

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from Johannes Kamp presentation

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from Aleksander Mischenko presentation 

Wiland Heim presentation

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from Vladimir Melnikov presentation 

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from Renat Bekmansurov presentation

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from Kiyoaki Ozaki presentation

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from Yaroslav Redkin presentation

23 reports were made at the meeting. Most of them were reports about the state of YBB populations in different parts of the area: in the center of the European part of Russia, Arkhangelsk region, upper Volga, Perm region, Central Siberia, Baikal region, Primorye, Amur region and Khabarovsk territory, Sakhalin, Kamchatka, Chukotka, and Japan. The geographical range of observations made it possible to characterize almost the entire nesting area with varying degrees of detail. 

In addition to regional reports, a number one's were presented on various aspects of ecology and taxonomy of the species, for example, an overview of different views on the YBB subspecies taxonomy, and the first data on migration routes and wintering sites of YBB nesting in the Muravyevka Park of the Amur region. 

Some regional features of YBB ecology surprised most of the participants – for many it was news that in Kamchatka, the territory where YBB still maintains a high population, this species inhabits not only floodplain meadows, but also nests in sparse birch forests.

Almost the entire nesting area of YBB is located on the territory of Russia, and all wintering - in Southeast Asia. The way from wintering to breeding sites for those birds that nest in Eastern Siberia is much shorter than to European sites. The flight route repeats the history of the settlement of this species from the East to the West, and the history very recent. YBB began to settle down in Europe about a hundred years ago. Expansion to the West became possible due to favorable conditions in areas where birds spend the winter, reducing bird mortality and increasing the number of young birds who had to develop new breeding sites. In the European part of Russia at this point due to the expansion of agricultural areas, namely hayfields, there were many suitable places for the YBB habitat. The coincidence of these two factors led to the fact that in the middle of the XX century this species became so common and then numerous that it seemed an integral part of the russian floodplain meadows. When in the late 1990 history turned back, noticed it not immediately.

First YBB disappeared in the West – in Finland, in the early 2000s it decreased greatly in the North-West of Russia, and ten years later it became clear that this was not an accident, but a general trend that covered the entire breeding area. Negative trends are most clearly manifested in the European part of the area, while in the East – on Sakhalin, Kamchatka, there are still stable populations. However, in Japan YBB also began to reduce the number. According to Simba Chan, the Japanese bird monitoring system first noticed this in the 1990s, and by 2017 there was only one nesting site left in the whole country.

The total  YBB population has decreased by 84.3 – 94.7% over the last 30 years. The status of this species in the IUCN Red Book was also rapidly rising: undeterred in the late 1990s, in 2004 it was designated as close to a vulnerable position, 4 years later as vulnerable, six years later as endangered, and in November 2017 the Red Book YBB status was raised to the most alarming – in critical condition.

Why this happened? In search of an answer, a meeting was convened. Each region has its own problems. Speakers from the European part of Russia pointed to the depression of agriculture, which reduced the area of agricultural land, and with them - and places suitable for YBB. But in Siberia and the Far East, where habitats have not changed, there are also fewer birds. Admittedly the participants, major reasons for the reduction of the YBB number are associated with the wintering grounds and migratory stops for this species. One of them lies on the surface – is catching YBB for food. In China, YBB is highly valued, they are credited with healing properties and called "flying ginseng". The advent of cheap nylon mist nets, made hunting of YBB are available to any poor man. Successful catching contributes to the fact that they stay overnight in large flocks. China does not deny this problem. In 2017 the law on nature protection of China banned the use of protected species in food. In the list of protected species, not yet published, YBB will be given the highest status, and Chinese environmental organizations are involved in the protection of this species. Mist nets for catching birds there are in free sale, and it is not possible to establish control over illegal catching of birds yet.

But the fact that this is the only negative factor, ornithologists doubt. And maybe not even the main one. In the last 20 years, China has been able to solve the food problem through high rice yields. YBB in the winter associated with rice checks, it is called in China "rice bird". Crop protection farmers used herbicide, the insecticides used are toxic to birds fertilizer, and for the crop protection from the birds-agricultural pests used even poisons, all of this could have bigger consequences than net fishing. However, there are still no direct studies of the extent of YBB deaths in rice fields, nor estimates of the capture and market entry of their carcasses. During the meeting, it was clearly determined that the data is still very, very insufficient, and all countries within its range should work on it.

Foreign colleagues said that the fate of YBB is concerned in many countries of South-East Asia. The international ornithological community first spoke about the problems of this species in March 2015 at a seminar on monitoring birds of land landscapes in Jeju South Korea. The following year, in November 2016, YBB Working Group was established at a meeting in Guangzhou, China. More than fifty participants from 10 countries came to the meeting and they agreed on the need to develop an international action plan for the YBB preservation. In Hong Kong YBB declared a bird of the year in 2018. In Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar scheduled seminars on this species in 2018-2019.

By decision of the Convention on migratory species, Birdlife International has started to prepare an International Action Plan for the YBB conservation. Coordination of its preparation in Russia is carried out by BirdsRussia, which initiated this meeting, and earlier began the implementation of the YBB project in Russia, aimed at clarifying its status and research on the development of effective protection.

Four main problems were identified in the European part of the breeding area. This succession - overgrowing meadow habitats, frequent fires that do not allow to recover grassy and shrub vegetation, plowing meadows and illegal catching for commercial sale and keeping in captivity. When YBB was numerous, catching birds for cell keeping did not affect the population. But in the present circumstances, the disappearance of even a few individuals may be irreplaceable. And even in places where the status of this species as well, YBB need protection.

During the discussion of the reports identified common challenges. Priority areas of research were: 1) analysis and consolidation of information already collected by ornithologists, but not published, primarily long-term data on changes in the YBB population; 2) conducting large-scale express-accounting to clarify the current area of distribution; 3) organization of a network of monitoring in places of reproduction and migration stopovers; 4) the study of the demographic structure of different populations; 5) the study of flight paths using geolocation sensors; 6) determination of the degree of genetic isolation of different populations for differentiated planning of measures for their protection.

Taking into account the high role of agricultural land in the maintenance of nesting habitats of YBB, ornithologists have to develop a list of recommendations for agriculture in areas key to the reproduction of this species. Fire as a natural disaster is a destructive factor, but controlled burning of grass and shrubs in the recommended ornithologists time period and in certain places, can protect the meadow from overgrowing and maintain it in a condition suitable for the habitat of these birds. However, in the russian legislation, controlled fires are not provided for, they are severely punished, as for the usual arson. Therefore, ornithologists will apply for the permission of preventive annealing of vegetation in the optimal time in the key specially protected natural areas according to specialized plans of scientific research.

The meeting repeatedly expressed the view that Yellow-breasted Bunting is the" first swallow " among the species of passerine birds of East Asia, which showed such a sharp drop in the number, and it is followed by other species of Buntings and possibly other families of the order of passerine.




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