Results of the International Waterbird Census In Armenia (January 2013)

This is the 11th waterbird census in sequence which is held across the entire central Asian flyway and took place on a range of dates of January 2013. As the weather conditions were favorable at the time of counts, the census was successfully completed with little deviation from assigned schedule.

 

This year just like in the previous years, the waterbird counts covered the Lake Sevan basin (the entire water surface), Armash fish farming ponds in the Ararat plains and the Metsamor River System. The census was run by the staff and volunteers of the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds (ASPB) and the IBA Caretaker at Lake Sevan.

The weather at Lake Sevan during counts was unstable, mostly sunny, but occasionally when clouds closed in it would get very windy. The wind speed at times reached 15-18 meters per second which sometimes prevented normal counting because it took a lot more time to identify the birds which were covered by high waves. Additionally strong winds made it even difficult to count groups

of birds sitting on the water. Another difficulty that hampered our counts was a certain number of fishing motor boats that were busy catching crayfish. Unlike in previous years, the boats cruised mostly in coastal parts of the lake which scared away the birds and the latter always had to move away and stay in the center of the lake. However along with the negative impacts, the presence of boats in coastal areas had a beneficial impact as well, because birds stayed undisturbed in the central part of the lake. In the past a high number of boats that cruised the lake caused much disturbance to birds by moving them around all the time, thus prevented comprehensive counts of waterbirds and were the key disturbing factor for birds in the lake. Factors that benefited the conditions of the census included the absence of ice along the lake's shorelines which was due to strong winds and a somewhat warm weather not typical of this site during this season of the year. All of the above factors determine the number of counted waterbirds in the lake.

There was a very high number of Coots (about 26,838) and Red-crested Pochards (5,853) recorded. Along with this, species that are bound to coastal habitats such as grebes and herons/egrets have been less in number. Interesting observations at the lake include sightings of Common Shelduck, Smew, Jack Snipe and Slender-billed Gull. And again just like in the previous year no Ruddy Shelducks have been observed.

Surveys held in the area of Metsamor river system put up a sad picture again. As it was noted in previous years, the area has lost its importance as a wintering ground for a large diversity of waterbirds. Out of the total number of birds (1,130) counted during the census, 788 have been White Storks.

 

Counts held at Armash fish farming ponds did not please us either. If in the past year more than 10,000 birds making up 30 species have been counted in this site and areas adjacent to this, this year produced a total counted number of 1,487 birds which is 27 species. It should be observed and taken into account however that the majority of ponds this year were covered with ice. Small patches of open water were found in areas mostly close to artesian springs and at confluence sites of water feeding the ponds from canals. Coots and Pygmy Cormorants comprised the largest number of counted birds. If more 6,000 birds from 10 species of ducks and teals have been counted last year, this year was marked with only 260 birds from 8 species. A total number of herons counted last year was 1421, while in this year this number made up only 103.

Summarizing the results of the Armenian midwinter counts we can confirm that the total number of birds counted in all count sites made up 47,745 individuals which exceeds the number of birds recorded last year. However, the species composition which made up 35 species in 2013 was lower as compared to the previous year (39 species). 94.4% of the total number of counted birds (47,745) representing 28 species were counted in the Lake Sevan basin. Unfortunately, due to high distances and fog over water about 4,000 species of ducks and teals and 350 Larus sp. have not been identified, but were included in the list of birds counted at Lake Sevan. The percentage of birds counted at Armash fish ponds made up only 3.2%. The number of waterbird species recorded here made 26 species and the least number of birds, both in terms of species diversity and number of individuals was counted in the Metsamor river system - 2.4% of all birds counted in three areas and making up 14 species. Low abundance and the lowest number of waterbird species recorded here, just like in the previous years is a direct outcome of intense human pressure exerted daily on the local avifauna across the entire Arax River valley by hunters in the hunting season.

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