Recently it has been discovered that Black Larks, living on the Eurasian steppes in Kazakhstan, transport dung to their nests to build large 'pavements' . Weird and almost dirty behaviour, but what is the use of it? This spring a team of researchers from the Universities of Wageningen and M√ľnster and the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan (ACBK) will try to answer this question, doing fieldwork in the Korgalzhyn area in Kazakhstan. On this blog we will post on our findings and adventures.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Already at 50% of the target

We first want to kick of with the good news: we already found 49 nests and with 100 being the target this is almost the half. However, nest finding becomes harder and harder as the vegetation grows very quickly and the temperatures are in general rising. In general, because we unfortunately lost three nests due to frost in the night, very sad but it happens. The females of these nests will try it one or two more times. The same holds for all the nests that are predated, which is very common. About 50% of the nests are currently predated and we haven't had a succesfull nest yet, but that might be expected tomorrow. This is somewhat later than usual, but this year is an unusual wet and cold year.

We have two main study areas around Korgalzhyn and it means that we drive for about 80 kilometers over the steppe tracks each day, the scale is quite coarse here. We have an old Soviet state farm map where all tracks are drawn. It looks like a normal agricultural infrastructure, however the fields are 3 by 3 kilometers large. We use a Lada Niva from the ACBK for our fieldwork, a great car for the steppe! Although we sometimes have to tweak it a bit to make it work, it does a great job on the bumpy field rides.

A few days ago we dug 80 pitfalls in the two study areas. We do this to see if the dung around the nest is collected is beneficial to the amount of insects (mainly beetles) around the nest. If this is the case, females don't need to leave the nest for a long time and far distance to (shortly) feed. Therefore we paired the pitfals: one in a existing dung pile and one 5 meters away from that dung pile in the bare soil. In 2 weeks we will collect the pitfalls and count, indentify and weigh the insects.

And then, we are not always in the field and sometimes we are unable to go onto the steppe due to rain. In that case we spent some time birdwatching in the village or the near surroundings. Currently the Siberian Chiffchafs are replaced by Greenish Warblers (very numerous) and we see many many Lesser Whitethroats. Already for a few days there is massive migration of White-winged Terns and we had one day of massive migration of Black-winged Pratincoles. Everything is a bit late, but that doesn't matter to us, we have the time. This morning we saw one of the predators of the nests: a steppe polecat, we often see foxes as well. We also see many birds of prey, mainly Pallid Harriers, but also quite a few Short-eared Owls and sometimes Steppe Eagles. This year seems to be a good year for voles, which is good for the harriers and owls.

Male Black Lark

Chicks of about 6 days old

Female stays on the nest for only the last moment. When she flies of she will try to fool us by pretending if she is hurt. Just like many waders.

Tulips make place for Lillies. In the background our Lada Niva

Pallid Harrier, photographed from the car at 40 km/ph. It seemed to play with us!

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