International Waterbird Census held in January 2017 was the 15th in Armenia. This year, like in the previous years, the census was conducted in the basin of Lake Sevan, Armash fish farms and along the Metsamor river system, which includes several small, artificial and natural ponds, as well as irrigation channels and swamps adjacent to the study area. As in the last year, it was again decided to include Yerevan reservoir in the waterbird counts this year. In January of 2017 the weather was snowy and frosty; daytime temperature was -8 C -13C, while during nights it would fall down to -15C -25C degrees. The entire Ararat valley, ranging between 1,350 – 1,450m above sea level, was covered with a dense layer of fog, which still persists from December 2016.
Participants included ASPB staff members, volunteers and Lake Sevan IBA Caretaker.
During the census at Lake Sevan the weather was crisp and sunny at the same time, but very windy. Impulses of a wind sometimes could reach 10-15 meters per second and that resulted in the appearance of waves in the water and made it difficult to conduct observations and records of birds. In some parts of the west and south west coast of the lake, coastal strip of water was covered with ice in width from 500 meters to one kilometer. As in past years, multiple motor boats engaged in catching fish and crayfish presented difficulties in conducting surveys. From early morning boats cruised the coastal part of the lake and scared birds away. Also, several boats with hunters at the southeastern part of the lake made it difficult to count the birds on the given site.
As in previous years, the highest number was observed in Common coots - 39.600 birds. Compared with last year there was a significant increase in the number of Common Pochard 5.950 and a sharp decline in the number of Red-crestedPochard, if there were 5,065 individualsin the past year, only 130 birds were counted in a given year. However, a slight increase was observed in the numbers of Mallard and numbers of Gadwall decreased. It should be especially noted that just like the last year, strangely the days of surveys revealed a complete absence of herons, both Great White Egrets and Gray Herons, in spite of the fact that in December there were about two hundred of them. Unlike last year, when it was counted 3 individuals of Great Cormorant, during the January 2017 census its number was 132. In recent years, in the basin of Lake Sevan, there is a stable increase of their numbers in the winter, and during the breeding period. Interesting records at the lake include Smew, Greater Scaup and Common Goldeneye. At Lake Sevan we also observed a decline in wintering Pallas's Gulls and a slight increase in the numbers of Armenian and Black-headed Gulls, compared to the previous year.
The surveys carried out on the territory of Armash fish farms, as well as last year, confirmed the correlated between the presence of birds and the degree of frozen open water spaces. During the surveys the surface of all 20 ponds (99%) was covered by a thick layer of ice. Only a handful of channels and small water bodies were free of ice sheet, which were mostly located at the confluences of channel waters flowing into ponds and rare artesian sources. In total, 269 birds belonging to 15 species were counted on the farm and in its immediate vicinity. From all records the most abundant birds were Pygmy Cormorants (71 individual). The second largest number has had Common coots (65 birds). Great White Egrets (12) and Gray herons (21) were observed only on the open canals. Based on the results of this survey, we may conclude that the total diversity of bird species recorded on the farm was only half of what was seen last year and only 13% of the total bird numbers estimated last year.
The surveys carried out on the territory of the Metsamor river system once again confirmed that the area lost its importance as a place of "wintering ground for wetland fauna". There was frozen 90% of the area suitable for their habitat. From the total number of recorded birds (1245), 645 were White Storks. Also out of 323 Armenian gulls observed here, 278 were counted in the landfill of Masis town. A small number of Pygmy Cormorants and Little Grebes recorded in this area have been noted only in the rivers Hrazdan and Metsamor. Many spent cartridges from shotguns and meeting armed people clearly showed the pressure from hunters on wetland fauna on this territory.
The surveys carried out on the almost completely frozen Yerevan Lake gave the following results: a total of 723 birds from 11 species were recorded; the most numerous were Mallards (520 birds); the next largest number was Common Teals (120 birds). An interesting observation was that of a Dalmatian Pelican on the reservoir, as this species we were never recorded here.
In summarizing the winter waterbird census, it can be stated that the number of recorded birds in all territories in Armenia was estimated at 58.060 individuals belonging to 30 species. For them 96.14% counted birds, represented by 21 species, were observed in a basin of Lake Sevan. At Armash fish farms only 0.46% of total counts were recorded. Species composition of birds recorded here comprised 15 species. On the territory of Metsamor River System 2.14% of the observed birds was classified among 14 species. Finally, the territory of Lake Yerevan produced 1.24% of birds representing 11 species.
The most numerous of all birds recorded in Armenia in 2017, as in the last year, were the Common coots - 39.709 individuals, representing 68.4% from all recorded in winter wetland fauna, and ducks were represented by Common Pochard - 5.955 or 10.3%. The greatest number of gulls was recorded in Armenian gull - 870 or 1.4%. Species composition of birds recorded in the country, compared to the previous year, decreased by 11 species or by 27%, and the number of birds also were decreased by 5,947 or 9.3%.
We look forward to the next year to make it count again!