Galina GUBKO, (c)
by Galina GUBKO, Cand. Sc. (Technology), deputy director, Ilmen National Park
Our sanctuary, 303 sq. km large, has mountainous relief with deep lakes, bogs and cool streams. Such rugged terrain abounds in land patches remarkable for most different conditions, be it sunlight, humidity and slopes, steep and not so steep. Hence a peculiar microclimate, a peculiar medium for plant and animal life here and there. It's colder and windier up on mountain tops that down in the valleys, and the snow cover stays longer over there. The variety of soils, relief and microclimate makes Ilmeny a natural laboratory of sorts with diverse flora and fauna otherwise found in forestlands, plains and as far north as the tundra. We are having all that.
When Ilmeny gained the status of a national sanctuary (park), the populations of its animal kingdom were an all-time low because of man's predatory practices. During their spring and autumn migrations the emaciated animals became an easy prey for so many trigger-happy hunters. In these seasons wild goats and elks were the coveted bag, and they were killed off in great numbers. So at the end of the 1920s very few goats were still there, while elks disappeared altogether.
The fate of the Alpine (blue) hare, the native of our forests, was sad indeed. Some gamehunters would shoot and kill as many as 30 or 40 animals each to sell cartloads of carcasses on the markets of nearby towns. The lot of wild fowl-of the wood grouse, black grouse (blackcock) and hazel grouse (hen) - was just as bad.
It was important to reverse this dire situation. As soon as Ilmeny became a natural preserve, work began to acclimate and re-acclimate certain animal species. First and foremost, the elk, the king of the Ural woodlands, was to make a comeback. And it did come back-at any rate, already in the early 1990s one could often encounter this handsome, robust breed near swamps or in the woods bordering on ponds.
The population of wild goats showed a much higher increase by the turn of the century, to as many as 300 individuals. These slim, graceful animals are larger in size than their kindred farther east, in Siberia and Yakutia. With the advent of winter Ural goats cross Ilmeny on their way to forested plains in the east. True, the booming city of Miass now stands in the way of their migration paths (only two now remain of the former five), which has a negative effect on their numbers.
The silka deer of the Far East is yet another representative of the artiodactyls. It is an immigrant, this animal. Way back in March 1938 twenty seven deer were brought in from the Far East and set free near Lake Bolshoi Ishkul. In 1944 their population numbered 94, but then it declined unfortunately, and not because of the poaching or the increasing number of wolves. There came, several winters in succession with too deep snow which blocked the deer's paths in search of food. The natural conditions of our land are very different from those in the Far East, and have proved no good for the silka deer. They have actually disappeared by now, according to annual registers.
But owing to our sanctuary status and thanks to the unremitting efforts of our workers, the animal colonies are showing a steady increase. This is also true of the endangered and even extinct species. Thus, wild boars staged a comeback already in the 1970s.
The wolf is our largest predator. It occurs but rarely now. Hunted down in nearby districts, wolves flee to Ilmeny for asylum. In their turn, however,
wolves prey on elks, wild boars, goats and hares. The "big bad wolf is not squeamish about mice either, and now and then he will eat up hazel hens, blackcocks and wood grouse spending nights in the snow. With the coming of spring the hungry wolves devour the eggs and fledglings of fowl nesting on the ground.
Living in Ilmeny is another predator that is craftier and more insidious than the wolf is. This is the lynx. The first encounter with it here took place in 1941. Knowledgeable people say the lynx crossed into our parts from the Ural mountains to become an unwelcome visitor. Wherever this cunning and merciless beast shows up, all the other animals should beware. The lynx hunts hares, goats and deer, among other game.
The other animals in our sanctuary belong to the family of martens. The badger is the biggest of the lot. We know of more than ten burrows where it holes up. Old badger males add up to as much as 30 - 35 kg in weight by the autumn season as, getting ready for hibernation, they build up fat. The badger is a nocturnal animal. In the warmer time of the year it hides in its hole in the daytime, and steals out for hunting at night. With the onset of the cold season this animal stays dormant all through the winter. It is omnivorous, eating up roots, berries, fruits and even some of the plants; it consumes worms, insects, frogs, lizards, snakes and mice; it ravages bird's nests on the ground. Destroying cockchafer's larvae which it digs up, the badger does a lot of good in protecting forests.
Related to the badger is the pine marten, rather numerous in the southern Urals. This little animal shows up now and then both in winter and in summer, though not every year. It must be visiting us from the neighboring Uraltau. The other members of the marten family (polecats, both the steppe and the Siberian ones, ermines and weasels) are our permanent resi-
dents. They prey on murine rodents for the most part, though sometimes attack larger animals like the hare and the wood grouse.
In the 1980s the raccoon dog spread far and wide all over this country; and it swelled our ranks too.
The beaver, now a rare animal, is one most remarkable migrant with us. In July 1948 twenty-three beavers were brought in from the Voronezh sanctuary and set loose into Ilmeny lakes. The landscape of our land (lots of rivulets, lacustrine streams) proved good to these rodents who could find plenty of food here. So they stayed put, building up dams and huts to live in, and digging a far-flunged network of ditches to bring food to their homes. Damming Lake Maly Kisegach, the beavers had its level raised by 70 cm, which increased the intake of water by 1.5 mln. cubic meters. The colony of this relict animal grew 30 fold.
The muskrat is yet another immigrant at Ilmeny. On June 18, 1954, six muskrat males and five females were
brought to us to be let out in Lake Argayash and in a pond at Gudkovo. Like the beaver before it, the muskrat acclimated well in our lakes and ponds.
As to the native rodents, the woodland species prevails, such as the blue hare, the squirrel and its stripy "smaller brother", the chipmunk. Also, you may see the flying squirrels, voles and birch mice. The flying squirrel (Pteromyidae) , a night- time animal, occurs but rarely. Jerboas and related species are found in our forests as well, and so are animals inhabiting open expanses-plains, meadows and fields: gophers, hamsters, gray hares, field-voles, and so on.
On warm summer evenings bats leave their homes to reconnoiter in the surroundings. Brown and red bats, clinging to house structures and trees, are the commonest. Such places are also the haunt of long-eared bats. Night and water bats are fond of woodlands and lakes. Bats are doing a good job by destroying swarms of gnats, moths, bugs and many other pests. So they need special protection. *
We have but few reptiles in our national park, for one, the common (viviparous) lizard, quite small in size. The sand lizard, which is a larger representative of the genus, is much less frequent. The adult males of this lizard are green in color. The slow-worm is a third reptile species. It looks like a snake (has no limbs) and crawls on the belly, wriggling. Its body may be a feet long.
Danger lurks in the scenic Ural mountains and their forests. Beware of vipers! Watch out when you tread mountain paths or while sitting on rocky banks! But grass or green snakes are no menace, they occur the oftenest in valleys or on bare mountain slopes.
The class of amphibia is rather poor in numbers. Now and then in spring
* See: V. Bolshakov and O. Orlov, "They Roost in Ural Caves", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2001. - Ed .
you can hear the croaking of rain frogs close to lakes, streams and swamps. Larger grass frogs and gray toads are even fewer in number, and so are the newts.
We cannot boast of the species-specific variety of insectivores (insecteaters) either. The common hedgehog is the largest representative of the lot. The king of the underground world, the mole, and its next of kin, the water mole (desman), show up occasionally. Next to lakes and streams you may encounter the water shrew, and you may also come across several species of common shrews.
Although insects are most populous on earth, they have not been studied well enough, if at all. Something like 10,000 species are thought to be inhabiting Ilmeny. So far only 3,133 species have been identified, including rare ones that have been entered in the International Red Data Book and in Russia's Red Data Book, in particular, the apollo butterfly of the ambrax family, blue-ribbon moths of the noctuidae family, and so forth.
Seven fish families occur in our lakes and ponds: the white fish, the pike, the carp, the loach, the cod, the perch and the gudgeon (goby). You can find ids, breams, golden and crucian carps, burbots and eel-pouts, ruffs and prickle-backs. Our sanctuary is inhabited by the white fish of Lake Chudskoye, acclimated way back in 1929, as well as by Siberian roaches, better known among the local population as chebaks.
Our "feathered world" is quite rich and varied, represented today by 165 species (but there were as many as 183 back in the 1920s). Our venerable forestry expert, S. Ushakov, a man of versatile parts-zoologist, ecologist, phenologist and taxidermist (that is, skilled in the art of stuffing dead animals and birds) - who, for many years, had been in charge of research work in our sanctuary, registered 199 bird species in the 1950s.
Our specialists point to several causes behind the downtrend in the bird
population. This is above all landscape modification, lakes including; the ageing of forests and the diminishing population of certain bird species (the trumpeter swan, the golden eagle, the osprey, the gray goose, the loon, the black-throated diver). Man's economic activities also tell on, for one, the expanding city of Miass with ever new enterprises being built, and much heavier vehicular traffic. As a consequence, a number of rare avian species have disappeared, such as the peregrine falcon, the spotted eagle, Montagu's harrier, merganser (Mergus merganser) , thirty one species all told; the population of 15 species mark a tangible decline. True, six new species are now in, namely coccothraustes, rustic buntings, greenfinches, moor hens, wood warblers and common blue tits.
Roosting in moor- and boglands, are the wary common crane (Grus grus) and the marsh owl. Over there, in the reed and sedge thickets, nest coots, mallard ducks, teals and wigeons, together with tufted and red-headed ducks. Gray herons prance to and fro across wetlands flanking lakes. The long-eared and the scops owl likewise roosts here.
But sparrows (Passeres) are the most populous lot. Our residents include crows, magpies, orioles, several species of tits (tomtits), swallows, warblers and woodpeckers. The goldcrest is the smallest birdie with us, weighing just 3 to 5 grams.
Most of the birds of passage roost next to bodies of water. On the floating mats of big lakes there occur large water fowl the size of a goose-black-throated divers and smaller birds, the shelldrake and the eider; these two birdies resemble ducks, but have narrow pointed bills. In spring and summer their heads display big tufts of particolored feathers.
During warmer seasons the natives of our sanctuary are joined by other fowls of the air: chaffinches, buntings (yellowhammers), wagtails, warblers, orioles, thrushes, swallows, nightjars (goatsuckers), martins, cuckoos, ducks, gulls, loons, shelldrakes, stints, sandpipers, buzzards, among many others. In spring and in autumn swans, geese, brants and some duck and sandpiper species fly in for brief a stay.
Spaces in between boulders are the favorite haunt of fish ducks. Amidst tussocks and knolls in boglands, hide tufted and red-headed ducks, mallard ducks, teals and wigeons; over there, in the lush brake of sedge and reeds, these birds hatch their offspring. Nesting quite nearby are coots, together with songbirds, reed buntings and warblers. But sand bars and banks attract sandpipers, yes!
A black kite hovers above the smooth mirror of lake waters, looking out for dead fish. But once this bird of prey spots a brood of ducklings, he folds his mighty wings and plumps down onto the poor things. The white-tailed sea eagle, who is a larger bird of prey, is a rare visitor, though.
Nearly all wintering birds hibernate in the woods for the most part, the wood grouse among them. In winter it prefers pine forests and feeds on pine needles, and stays on in the springtime for the mating season. In summer the fledgelings of this big bird venture into deciduous forests, glades and wetlands
to treat themselves to berries, weeds and insects. In the fall we can often see wood grouses perching on forest roads in search of pebble which they swallow up to get their gizzards to grind the coarse feed. The blackcock would rather live in groves to feed on birch buds and catkins.
In winter snowy and hawk owls fly in, together with Tengmalm's owl and the waxwing (a lovely tufted sparrow, with a shade of .grayish-brown and having a golden stripe on its tail). Flocks of roving snow buntings, adorned with dark spots, can be seen near roads. At the close of winter all of this "feathered kingdom" migrates northward, to the nesting grounds.
The ringing practices at our sanctuary date back to the year 1937. Ringed birds can tell us a remarkable lot about their habitats and wintering grounds, their migration paths, and so forth. Thus, one ringed snipe was shot down by a hunter in the northern Lebanon, while just an ordinary starling, having flown across Europe, fell prey to another hunter over the English Channel.
Now we know that tufted ducks, flying across Kazakhstan, winter on the southern coast of the Caspian, on the Apsheron Peninsula. The greater-spotted woodpecker- believed to be a regular "stay-at-home" - has proved to be quite vagabond. Ringed by our people, one tramp like that was discovered 60 km away, on mount Urenga.
The picturesque Ural localities are a dreamland, attracting visitors from all over the world. Where else could they see graceful wild goats hopping on hillocks of semiprecious stones and an eagle, the king of the feathered world, hovering above?
Опубликовано на Порталусе 14 сентября 2018 года
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