The current waterbird census is the twelfth census in Armenia and is held across the entire Central Asian Flyway.
The census was held on different dates throughout January of 2014. All days of the census were favored by good and fair weather which made it possible to organize counts in the right timeframes with very small deviations.
Like in the previous years, the counts were held in the Lake Sevan basin (capturing the entire water body), at Armash fish farming ponds in the Ararat plains and across the Metsamor River System. The census was run by Mamikon Ghasabyan (IWC Coordinator in Armenia), Artak Sargsyan (Lake Sevan IBA Caretaker), the staff of the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds (ASPB) Luba Balyan, Edard Ghasabyan and ASPB volunteers: Nshan Margaryan, Vardges Hakobyan, Mikhail Voskanyan, Artyom Hakobyan, Vahan Hakobyan and Suren Hayrapetyan.
During the counts the weather at Lake Sevan was sunny, windless but crisp and cold. The ice cover along the shoreline was not visible, except for a small section at Lchashen bay. This was perhaps due to the fact that the water in the lake was not too cool while the weather in the first half of January was very windy.
Just as in the years before, motorized fishing boats were causing certain difficulties during the counts. Fishing and crayfish trap nets were spread all along not far from the shore and the boats rowed to the nets very early in the morning, starting from dawn and lasting until midday. The boats which constantly cruised the lake from shorelines to trap nets and back kept disturbing birds which swam to the shores overnight, mainly to the mouths of rivers flowing into the lake to feed, but then had to fly away deep into the lake the following morning. Such an active movement of boats has pre-defined the number of ducks and gulls which remained unidentified.
Numerically, the total number of counted birds has decreased. If in the last year the total number of counted birds was 43,707 birds, in 2014 this number went down to 29,623 which is approximately 68% of the total recorded last year. Similar to previous years, the most abundant waterbirds counted at the lake were coots, 17,302 birds (vs. 26,838 counted last year). However, in terms of percentage, their ratio to the counted total has not changed significantly.This figure was 37% last year, while in the current year it is 35%.
Small changes in the percent ratios in relation to the total number of birds have been also recorded inLarus. In 2013 their numbers made up 2,6%, while in 2014 it has reached 3,3%. Notable changes in the numbers were observed among Anas. In 2013 their numbers were 15,406, in 2014 – 10,916. But just like in case with coots, their percent ratio in relation to the counted total underwent little changes: 35% in 2013, 37% in 2014.
Interesting population changes were observed with the two members of Anas wintering at the lake. If in the last year the total number of Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) made up 13% of the total counted waterbirds, and Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) was 1%, in this reporting year Red-crested Pochard totaled 3% and Common Pochard – 11%.
Other interesting records at Lake Sevan include Smew (Mergus albellus) and Scaup (Aythya marila).
Counts held in Metsamor River System were not very promising.
As we already noted in recent years, the area has lost its importance completely as a wintering ground for most of the waterbirds. The pressure exerted by hunters in the hunting season and irreversible changes to habitats throughout the system resulted in complete impoverishment of waterbird fauna. To illustrate, during one of the count days, 970 or 81% of birds out of counted total - 1192 representing 16 species were White Storks, which winter here every year, regardless of how cold winters get.
An even sadder picture was observed on the territory of almost entirely frozen Armash fishery. A total number of 510 birds from 14 species were recorded here: this number represents only 30% of the total counted last year. In the past, during warm and snowless winters birds counted at Armash fish ponds exceeded 10,000 birds making up 35 species.
Summarizing the results of the Armenian midwinter counts we conclude that the total number of birds counted in all count sites of Armenia comprise 31,325 birds belonging to 33 species. Of these, 94.6% of birds making up 28 species have been recorded at Lake Sevan. Birds counted along the Metsamor River System comprised 3.8% representing 16 species. The lowest total both in terms of abundance and species diversity were counted at Armash fish farming ponds: 14 species making up 1.6% of all birds recorded in the country.