Starting of the farmland bird monitoring in European Russia

In the conditions of huge territories and a variety of landscapes of the European Russia, at the restricted amount of professional ornithologists and very insufficient modern financing of ornithological and conservation researches, it is extremely difficult to obtain enough exact data on farmland bird trends.
Now there are essential changes in the Russian agriculture, which directions are variously in different regions of Russia. In southern regions and in the Volga District the intensification of agriculture gradually begins, whereas in northwest and northern regions recession of agriculture and abandonment of farmland proceeds. An absence of long-term monitoring in Russia is significantly risky for some farmland bird populations. Without long-term monitoring we have no opportunities to notice the beginning of numbers decrease, and to accept preclusive measures for protection of some species. It is very serious, because Russian populations of some birds are the largest in Europe. They can be considered as the important reserve for additional charge and restoration of local (regional) populations in some European countries. In this connection, starting of the farmland bird monitoring in European Russia and its accession to the Pan-European Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBM) is extremely important.

Yellow Wagtail in the hay meadow near Ryasan, photo by A. MischenkoIn 2006 we could begin monitoring of farmland birds in the European Russia due to financial support of the Dutch embassy in Moscow. Russian coordinator of this program is Alexander Mischenko.

Basis of the farmland bird monitoring in the European Russia are experienced volunteers, circles of young ornithologists and some professional ornithologists, who agree to participate in the monitoring voluntary, in addition to their basic work.
After wide dissemination of the information about the probable beginning of the Farmland Bird Monitoring in Russia via the magazine of RBCU “World of birds” and the web-site of the Russian Bird Conservation Union (RBCU) we have received the offers on participation in the monitoring from 36 volunteers, some from them can cover several census routes.
Thus we plan to cover more than 40 census sites. They are enough widely distributed on the territory of the European Russia (from Komi and Karelia republics in the north taiga zone to Dagestan Republic near the Caspian Sea; from the Kaliningrad Region on coast of Baltic in the West to the Volga basin in the East).

The objectives of the work are:

  • Making the network of volunteers, participating in bird counts, attraction their attention to problems of the biodiversity conservation in farmlands.
  • Including the European Russia into the PECBM scheme, producing relative national indices and trends on the standard PECBM methods in the nearest years, first of all for the indicator farmland bird species.
  • The wide information about results of the first stage of monitoring in the European Russia in the magazine and the web-site of the RBCU and some other magazines, with the purpose of money search for continuation of the farmland bird monitoring the next years, increase in number of voluntary participants and amount of census plots.

Beforehand, prior to the beginning of field works, the detailed guidelines and special standardised survey forms were dispatched to all participants of the monitoring. The experience obtained during the voluntary based Corncrake Monitoring in European Russia (2002-2005), was critically analysed and used. After receiving of the guidelines, participants sent many questions, which the coordinator constantly answered by e-mail or by mail.
In connection with that in Russia is impossible to cover the territory with systematic survey squares (1×1 km) now, census routes will be selected freely by observers: participants of monitoring will choose places of their summer vacations, vicinities of summerhouses (dachas), areas of basic field works, biological stations, etc. We have decided to use the method of routing counts in the length of 2 km, developed by Jury Ravkin (Ravkin, 1967) and widely used by Russian ornithologists; with registration of birds on a distance from the surveyor. Application of this method will allow using earlier data, available in some regions for comparison. However, the census plots should be typical for regional farmland. Data on bird numbers will be collected annually by the censuses on transect routes 2-kilometer length. Observers will make three visits to selected sites, the first to record habitat types and to set up a suitable survey route, and the second and third to record birds that are seen or heard while walking along the route. Their terms will vary a little, depending on latitude.
For motivation of volunteers an annual newsletter will be issued, in which participants of monitoring can publish short notes on results of the work. Also gifts for the most active observers are supposed (binoculars, t-shirts, field guides etc.).

Expected results
We suppose that the main result of the work in the first year will be starting of the farmland bird monitoring in the European Russia. It will be the first step to yearly provision of bird species indices in Russia by the national coordinator. In the next years these data can become an important part of the Pan-European Bird Monitoring Scheme.
In 2006 volunteers will do surveys only in different types of farmland, not mentioning forest sites and others habitats, because we did not manage to find money by the beginning of woodland bird monitoring. But nevertheless, by way of experiment, we have decided to try to carry out counts in several wood sites, also with application of volunteers, on the similar methods.
We are planning actively search money for the continuation of monitoring of all common birds (in farmland and woodland habitats) in the next years. In this case European Russia can be integrated into the PECBM. We hope that in the next years Russian data will enable to calculate more correct indices and trends of the farmland birds for Europe as a whole.
Contact: Alexander Mischenko, Russian Bird Conservation Union, e-mail:

Alexander Mischenko