Re-establishment of breeding Ciconiiformes avifauna in the Lake Sevan basin

The problem of Lake Sevan has always attracted the attention of ornithologists, as before the reduction in water level, the Lake with its surrounding small lakes and wetland patches used to provide critical breeding grounds for wetland dependent birds in Armenia.

Water bodies richly overgrown by dense reed stands with abundant aquatic forage plants and diversity of invertebrates had created excellent breeding conditions for most Ciconiiformes. The reduction in water level of the lake has eliminated most of the wetland habitats along lakeshores. Yet another part of wetlands, including a complex system of lakes known as Lake Gilli, has been drained through a series of drainage works. As a result of these changes, breeding grounds for many waterbirds in undisturbed and food-secure habitats of Lake Sevan have been lost and remained un-recovered for many years.

The trend towards the solution of Sevan problem and recovering stability in the lake's water level offers a glimmer of hope in restoring the bygone waterbird diversity. Beginning 2000, the recovering water level in the lake and multiple shallow wetlands emerged in SW and SE shores have begun to attract many waders outside the periods of migration and winter.

P1190767From 2005 onward we observed small flocks of Glossy Ibis, Black-crowned Night-herons, Eurasian Spoonbill, Squacco and Little egrets in summer, i.e. in the nesting season. Their nesting however was not confirmed at that time. In April of 2008 a group of waders, seen at Norashen village near the Gull Island, foraged mudflats along shores during the day and returned for the night to the island. Nest building began in late April / early May. Nests were built in dense stands of sea buckthorn. Nesting of glossy ibises, black-crowned night-herons, squacco herons and little egrets was in full swing already in mid May!

Although nesting of spoonbill was not observed, one pair of birds was regularly seen feeding in muddy shores next to the main colony. In July a nestling feeding with parents was observed in same mudflats.

In spring 2009 small flocks of herons and egrets were seen again at village Noratus, near the Gull island. Refurbishing of old nests and construction of new ones by black-crowned night herons and little egrets began in May in the sea-buckthorn bushes of the Gull island. Unlike the previous season, glossy ibises built nests in the sea buckthorn bushes surrounded by reeds stands near Hayravank. Two pairs of foraging spoonbill were seen on a regular basis in May in shallow mudflats near Noratus and Hayravank. In June they were still observed but in singles and would fly out in different directions. Apparently one of the pairs nested near the Noratus peninsula and the other pair nested near Hayravank.

The entire research at Lake Sevan would have never been accomplished without the unique contribution of the Lake Sevan caretaker, Artak Sargsyan!

A slow but steady increase in the lake's water level and formation of many new shallow mudflats along shores instill hope that species that once bred here will return to their former nesting grounds and will breed again rather than just pass over the lake. Let us hope that the government will keep the policy to restore the ecosystem of Lake Sevan and will be able to withstand the pressure of some pro-rich (oligarchic) groups who built palaces along the lake's shore. Provided the scenario, we will enjoy the spectacular beauty and diverse sounds of birds inhabiting the lake, rather than bulky and awkwardly built fences and facilities that continue to swallow up picturesque shores of Lake Sevan which belongs to Armenian people.

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