Russia

11th May 1991 - 2nd June 1991 

11th & 12th May.

Flight from London to Moscow and a drive into the city for an overnight stay. The following morning in Moscow, then a drive back to the airport for an overnight flight to Vladivostok.

13th May.

Arriving in Vladivostok I was met by BBC producer Nigel Marvin, cameraman Richard Kirby and assistant/interpreter Andrew for the start of a filming and sound recording trip for the Russian Far East programme, called Born of Fire, in the series Realms of the Russian Bear. At the airport I saw Swallows, House Swifts now split from Little Swift, Tree Sparrows and several Magpies. New birds for me will be in bold. On the drive into the city I also saw Lapwings and Black-tailed Gulls.

At the hotel that Nigel and Richard had been staying, we loaded all the equipment into the vehicle and drove to the harbour. We took a ferry across the Peter the Great Gulf on the journey seeing Stejnegar's Scoters now split from Velvet Scoter, Caspian Terns, Cormorants and more Black-tailed Gulls.

From the western side of the gulf we drove inland to Kedrovaya Pad, to an area on the reserve by the Kedrovaya River, on the way seeing 2 pairs of Mandarin Ducks and several Large-billed Crows. At our base we only had time to unload the equipment and for me to put up my tent.

Photos: Black-tailed Gull.

14th May.

Our base was by the Kedrovaya River in an area of mixed forest, with the riverside habitat made up of decidious trees and thickets, only a few kilometres from the Chinese border.

Our accomodiation was a wooden lean-to at the end of a forest building, which was cramped for 3 with equipment, so I was glad I brought the tent!

Spring migration was in full swing, with new birds in and passing through the woodland every day, new birds for me will be in bold.

In the tall trees behind the buildings were Large-billed Crows and several Azure-winged Magpies now split from the ones in Spain, also in this area I saw 2 White-backed Woodpeckers.

The woodland alongside the river was alive with bird song, most noticably from Eastern Crowned Warblers, Great Tits, Oriental Greenfinches, Oriental Cuckoos, Pale-legged Leaf Warblers and Black-faced Buntings. Also there were Nuthatches, a Grey-headed Woodpecker, Chestnut-eared Buntings, Marsh Tits, Yellow-throated Buntings, Tristram's Buntings, Asian Brown Flycatchers, Long-tailed Tits, Yellow-breasted Buntings including some stunning males and a Red-bellied now called Brown-headed Thrush.

Along the river there were White and Grey Wagtails, 7 Blue-and-white Flycatchers and 3 Brown Dippers, and I also saw a Shrenk's Rat Snake.

By midday the chorus had ceased and many birds had moved through. Nigel had to go to Bezverkhovo, a village to the south, to make arrangements to film there. So, we all went with him, on the way we stopped at a large lake with extensive reedbeds. We only had time to view from the road, but still saw 2 Grey-backed Thrushes, a Green Sandpiper, Grey Heron, Black-tailed and Black-headed Gulls, Mallard, Teal, 3 Wood Sandpipers, a Temminck's Stint, 2 Kentish Plovers, a Long-toed Stint, Yellow Wagtails, a Japanese Reed Bunting, Sand Martins, Swallows, a Scaup and several Baer's Pochards.

Kedrovaya River, Russian Far East.

Accommodiation at Kedrovaya Pad, Russian Far East.

 

 

1st summer male Yellow-breasted Bunting.

Male Baer's Pochard, Slimbridge, 19-4-18.

Female Baer's Pochard, Slimbridge, 19-4-18.

15th May.

A full day in the forest at Kedrovaya Pad, seeing White-cheeked Starling, Cuckoo, Oriental Cuckoo, Tree Sparrow, White Wagtail, Great Tit, a superb male Siberian Blue Robin, Long-tailed Tit, 2 Brown Dippers, Grey Wagtail, Large-billed Crow, 4 Blue-and white Flycatchers, Tristram's Bunting, a Dark-sided Flycatcher, Chestnut-eared Bunting, a Chestnut-flanked White-eye, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a White-backed Woodpecker, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Grey-backed Thrush, an Eye-browed ThrushHill Pigeon, a Daurian Redstart, Yellow-throated Bunting, an Asian Brown Flycatcher, a Stub-tailed Bush Warbler and heard others, as well as Eastern Crowned and Pale-legged Leaf Warblers. There were also several Azure-winged Magpies and a female Siberian Rubythroat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow-throated Bunting. 

16th May.

Another early start to record in the woodland and along the river, not as busy as previous days, but I saw Azure-winged Magpie, Large-billed Crow, Oriental Greenfinch, Great Tit, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Black-faced Bunting, 2 Long-tailed Rosefinches, a Daurian Redstart, Eastern Crowned Warbler and 2 Brown Dippers.

Later, we drove to Bezverkhovo again, but didn't have time to stop at the lake on the way. In the village, while the others were filming, I had a walk around seeing Black-tailed and Black-headed Gulls, Large-billed Crows, around 100 Pacific Swifts flying overhead, 2 Yellow-billed Grosbeaks and Tree Sparrows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Dipper. 

17th May. 

Today I took advantage of the use of Richard's hide to record calls and song of Brown Dippers, as I crossed the river on the way there I noticed a yellow coloured animal by the side of the water, it was almost golden in the bright, early morning sun, I learned later it was a Siberian Weasel.

From the hide I saw 3 Brown Dippers and got some good recordings without too much water noise. Also seen today were Tree Sparrow, White Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Azure-winged Magpie, Blue-and white Flycatcher, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Great Tit, Marsh Tit, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Grey-backed Thrush, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Tristram's Bunting, Nuthatch, Brown-headed Thrush, another male Siberian Blue Robin, a Two-barred Greenish Warbler and a black phase Red Squirrel.

Later, I joined the others who were filming Oriental Fire-bellied Toads in a large tank, they occur here, but I didn't see a wild one even though they did make a distinctive sound.

 

 

Right & below: Brown Dipper. Below right: Oriental Fire-bellied Toad.

18th May.

All day in the woodland at Kedrovaya Pad, fewer migrants today, but I still saw 2 Brown Dippers, 3 Oriental Cuckoos, a Striated Heron along the river, Great and Marsh Tits, Eastern Crowned Warblers, Large-billed Crows, Tristram's Bunting, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tits, White and Grey Wagtails, Black-faced Buntings, Yellow-throated Bunting, a Besra Sparrowhawk, Oriental Turtle Doves, Chestnut-eared Buntings, Azure-winged Magpies, Pacific Swifts and more Two-barred Greenish Warblers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tristram's Bunting. 

19th May.

Our last day at Kedrovaya Pad and there was an increase in bird numbers in the woodland. The first bird I heard and then saw was a Lesser Cuckoo, also seen were Azure-winged Magpies, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Yellow-throated Bunting, Great and Marsh Tits, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, a male and a female Mugimaki Flycatcher, a Grey-streaked Flycatcher, 6 Yellow-billed Grosbeaks, a Yellow-browed Warbler, a Brown Shrike, more Two-barred Greenish Warblers, a Grey-headed Woodpecker, 2 Brown Dippers, Grey Wagtail, Large-billed Crow, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Tristram's Bunting, 2 Mandarin Ducks, an Oriental Cuckoo, Tree Sparrows and Oriental Greenfinches.

Later, we loaded up the open-backed vehicle and made our way out of the reserve, I was in the back with the equipment and as we were driving over a wooden bridge, still in the forest, I saw an odd looking male Goosander in the river below, I called to the driver to stop, but by the time he did and we got out, the bird had disappeared, later refering to the bird guides and talking to local experts it could only have been a Scaly-sided or Chinese Merganser, rare even at this time.

We continued to the ferry and while waiting to board 2 Purple Herons flew over, on the way back to Vladivostok the ferry was followed by several Black-tailed Gulls.

20th May.

Almost the whole day in Vladivostok, Nigel had arranged a boat trip around the harbour and south to view some islands from the sea. There were lots of Black-tailed Gulls but not much else, until we got towards the islands where several groups of Grey Herons flew over, 21 in total, then good flight views of 2 White-naped Cranes. Later we departed from Vladivostok Railway Station on an overnight journey north.

 

Black-tailed Gulls.

21st May.

We had said goodbye to Richard and Andrew in Vladivostok, Nigel and I were now on a 20 hour train journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway north to Khingansky, it took this amount of time because of the number of stops and the slow, almost walking pace of the train in places. From the train only a few birds seen including Oriental Turtle Doves, Daurian Jackdaws, Carrion Crow, Large-billed Crow, a Black Kite and a Buzzard. We arrived at our destination late in the day, then had to travel to the Khingan or Khingansky Crane Reserve for a three night stay. 

22nd May.

At Khingansky Crane Reserve, in the morning the first bird we saw was a rescued, tame Red-crowned or Japanese Crane, I did see 3 wild ones on the reserve.

Around the lake and out on the reserve I saw 2 White-cheeked Starlings, Grey Herons, 2 Hoopoes, 3 males and a female Falcated Ducks, 3 Garganey, a male and female Pied Harrier, Black-faced Buntings, 3 Roe Deers, a Far Eastern Curlew, a Shoveler, a Mallard, Swallows, Oriental Greenfinches, 3 Snipe, 4 Grey-streaked Flycatchers, a Taiga Flycatcher now split from Red-breasted Flycatcher, an Asian Brown Flycatcher, 2 Eastern White Storks, a Merlin, a Forest Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipits, Yellow-breasted Buntings, a Rustic Bunting, Sand Martins, a female Narcissus Flycatcher, Chestnut-eared Buntings, 3 Radde's Warblers, a Hen Harrier, Oriental Turtle Doves, Long-tailed Tits, lots of Yellow-browed Warblers, Siskins, a Short-eared Owl, 

6 Pale Thrushes, a Long-tailed Rosefinch, Grey Wagtail, a Common Tern, a White-tailed Eagle, a Sparrowhawk, Cuckoos, Pheasants, a Tiger Shrike, a Dusky Warbler, a Little Gull, a Japanese Grosbeak and a Black-browed Reed Warbler.

Red-crowned or Japanese Crane.

Lake and habitat at Khingansky Crane Reserve.

Park HQ and accommodation at Khingansky Crane Reserve.

Male Yellow-breasted Bunting.

Red-crowned or Japanese Crane.

Falcated Ducks at Slimbridge, 19-4-18.

23rd May.

Today it was my turn to be harassed by the 'tame' Red-crowned Crane! not as much as the visiting local artist which the crane really didn't like. 

By the HQ I saw a suberb male Narcissus Flycatcher, also Asian Brown and Grey-streaked Flycatchers. The bushes on the reserve were alive with birds, mainly possibly 100's of Yellow-browed Warblers, I also saw Radde's and Dusky Warblers, Great Tits, White-cheeked Starlings, Yellow-breasted, Chestnut-eared and Black-faced Buntings, 3 Japanese Grosbeaks, 6 Yellow-billed Grosbeaks, Cuckoo, Oriental Greenfinches, 5 male and 2 female Pied Harriers, a Sparrowhawk, Grey Heron, 3 Red-crowned Cranes, Black-browed Reed Warblers, Mallard, Garganey, Grey Wagtails, Brown Shrike, Large-billed and Carrion Crows, Oriental Turtle Doves, Far Eastern Curlews, 2 Eastern White Storks, Olive-backed Pipits, Chestnut Bunting, a White-throated Needletail, Taiga Flycatchers, a male Siberian Rubythroat, a Kingfisher, Snipe, Lapwing, much better views of Eastern Yellow Wagtails, a Siberian Chipmunk, Swallows and Red-rumped Swallows, Eastern Siberian Stonechat now split, House Swifts and Eastern Stock Doves.

 

 

 

Me and crane. 

24th May.

We left the Khingansky Crane Reserve and travelled by train eastwards to Khabarovsk, where Nigel and I spent the night. We had time for a walk around the town seeing Asian House Martins, Magpie, Siskins, a Kestrel, a Common Tern, Black-headed Gulls, Red-rumped Swallow, a Radde's Warbler, and towards evening, the trees along one of the main roads were full of hundreds of Arctic Warblers.

25th May.

This morning we took a flight from Khabarovsk north to Magadan, on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk. By the time we got to the hotel there was only time for a quick visit to the shore, where I saw White Wagtails, Tree Sparrows, Wood and Common Sandpipers and Slaty-backed Gulls.

26th May.

Leaving the hotel in Magadan we drove to the airport where we pulled up by a line of 6 huge Russian helicopters, disturbingly the one we boarded was the only one working.

We flew out over the Sea of Okhotsk and soon a tiny island came into view, this was Talan Island, our home for the next few days. There to greet Nigel and I was cameraman Ian McCarthy who had been on the island for a couple of weeks, with him the seabird scientists who we would be working with.

After unloading and me setting up my tent, it was time to explore, there were hundreds of thousands of seabirds arround the island, the commonest was Crested Auklet with over a million pairs, then Tufted Puffin with 70,000 pairs, Horned Puffin 30,000 pairs, Parakeet Auklet 10,000 pairs, Least Auklet 20 pairs, there were 50,000 pairs of Guillemots and Brunnich's Guillemots, 300 pairs of Slaty-backed Gulls and 1,000's of Kittiwakes.

I saw 2 adult Steller's Sea Eagles which had a nest on the other side of the island and there were upto 15 immature birds around the island.

There were lots of White and Yellow Wagtails around and I also saw a Short-eared Owl. On the sea with the auks there was a female Scaup. 5 Harlequin Ducks 2 males and 3 females, Pelagic Cormorants of which there were 180 pairs, a Red-necked Phalarope and 2 Pacific Fulmars now split from Northern Fulmar.

Helicopter taking off from Talan Island

My accommodation

Crested Auklets

Talan Island

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffins

27th May.

An early start to record the thousands of Crested Auklets leaving the island to feed off-shore. Many more were left guarding their nest sites between boulders on the slopes, which on the upper parts still had snow.

It took sometime to get close to record individual birds, as it did with the Tufted Puffins. Horned Puffins were more spread out and a lot more difficult to get close to and Parakeet Auklets I only saw on the sea.

After most of the early activity had reduced, a Steller's Sea Eagle appeared overhead and that caused a huge reaction from the auks, with plenty of sound as large flocks took flight and wheeled around over the cliffs. During the morning I saw 4 different eagles hunting over the island.

Later, on a walk along the shore I saw a Red-necked Phalarope, a Rustic Bunting in the beach vegetation, a Spotted or Largha Seal, at least 4 Spectacled Guillemots of which there are only 30 pairs on the island, a Grey-tailed Tattler, lots of Kittiwakes, Vega and Slaty-backed Gulls, 2 Ravens, a Peregrine and a flock of around 60 Whooper Swans flew over.

Towards dusk we were taken by one of the scientists to a spot along the coast to see Ancient Murrelets coming in off the sea, we saw at least 20 birds before it got too dark, out of a population of 10,000 pairs on the island.

 

 

 

 

Crested Auklet. 

Crested Auklets

Spectacled Guillemot

Nigel, scientist and Ancient Murrelet

 Ancient Murrelets.

28th May.

More auk sound recording today, one of the highlights was seeing a white phase Gyr Falcon flying over carrying an auklet. 

I also saw 4 Steller's Sea Eagles and 6 Ravens, thousands of Tufted and Horned Puffins, Crested and Parakeet Auklets, as well as Pelagic Cormorant, Slaty-backed Gull, Guillemot, Brunnich's and Spectacled Guillemots, Kittiwake, Red-necked Phalarope and 51 Whooper Swans.

In the Dwarf Pine on the top of the island there was a Yellow-brested Bunting.

Later, towards dusk I returned to the area below the high cliffs to watch the seabirds coming in to roost, seeing 2 Black-headed Gulls, then 2 Least Auklets among the mass of other auks. As it got dark I saw a shearwater flying in, passing close to me, it landed by some large boulders at the top of the beach, in torchlight I found it in a crevice and could see it was a Short-tailed Shearwater.

Steller's Sea Eagle

Steller's Sea Eagle

Parakeet Auklets

Horned Puffins

29th May.

Another day of sound recording and seeing most of the birds seen on previous days, including 5 Steller's Sea Eagles, Ravens, Tufted and Horned Puffins, Crested and Parakeet Auklets, Pelagic Cormorant, Guillemots, Brunnich's Guillemots, Slaty-backed Gulls, Kittiwakes, Black-headed Gulls, Red-necked Phalaropes, White and Yellow Wagtails and a male and female Yellow-breasted Bunting.

Pelagic Cormorant

Red-necked Phalarope

Brunnich's Guillemots

Kittiwakes

30th May.

Our last morning on Talan Island, I only had time for a quick look along the slopes and beach before the helicopter arrived.

Seeing much the same as before and savouring my last views of Tufted and Horned Puffins, Crested and Parakeet Auklets, watching Pelagic Cormorants and Slaty-backed Gulls and seeing the female Scaup again.

The helicopter took us back to Magadan where I said good-bye to Nigel and Ian, they were flying home from here.

I was taken around 20Km northwest of Magadan, where the helicopter almost landed in a small clearing amongst a huge Larch Forest. The ground was too soft to land on, so I had to jump off, then be handed all my equipment, luckily I was met by the research scentist and his assistant who helped unload.

Then we carried everything across the boggy ground to a small hut in the forest, which was really only big enough for the two of them, so I pitched my tent outside, but, I didn't have time to settle in, before I left with the scientist to walk some way into the forest, with my recording gear, to a make-shift hide in which I was to spend the night.

Olive-backed Pipits were everywhere and there were lots of Siskins and Willow Tits, I also saw a Siberian Rubythroat.

The hide was only made from branches placed around the trunck of a tree, looking out onto an open area. The scientist told me there had been a Brown Bear about, but he was pretty sure it had moved out of the area, that didn't reassure me!

Leaving me to set up the sound equipment he returned a short time later with my big coat and sleeping bag, as the nights here still dropped down to freezing. He left and I settled in for the night, it was very cold, dark and I didn't get any sleep.

Then, just before dawn there was the amazing sounds of lekking Black-billed Capercaillies, it was difficult to tell how many there were in the half light, as I could only see shaddows. The calls went on for around 20 minutes and as it got lighter I had a good, but brief view of a male.

The sequence is in programme 5, The Frozen Forest.

 

 

 

 

 

Larch Forest. 

Slaty-backed Gulls

31st May.

A day exploring the Larch Forest, for safety the assistant came with me, seeing Brambling, Siskin, 2 Black Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Olive-backed Pipit, Siberian Blue Robin, a Siberian Chipmunk, 4 of the thin billed race of Nutcracker, a Dusky Thrush, Rustic Bunting, Willow Tit and Taiga Flycatcher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assistant and hut in Larch Forest. 

1st June.

A repeat of the previous day, but going a lot further out of the forest, seeing Brambling, Olive-backed Pipit, Willow Tit, Nutcracker, an Arctic Warbler, Siberian Chipmunk, Yellow-browed Warbler, 2 Grey Wagtails, 2 White Wagtails, a Common Sandpiper, an Eastern Siberian Stonechat, 2 Rustic Buntings, a Black-faced Bunting and Ravens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taiga and Larch Forest. 

2nd June.

My last morning in the Larch Forest, before the helicopter arrived to take me back to Magadan. Only time for a look around the forest near the hut, seeing Olive-backed Pipit, Taiga Flycatcher, Nutcracker, about 35 Yellow Wagtails, Siskin, Arctic Warbler, Willow Warbler, Raven and finally I saw 2 Siberian Jays, which I had spent a couple of days in other areas looking for.

Larch Forest

Willow, Salix saxatilis in forest

© 2014  Nigel Tucker. All rights reserved.

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