The migration of Siberian Rubythroats

November 04 2019

#Travel experience #Conservation programs #Bird watching

The migration of Siberian Rubythroats

My ears are trembling. I am on board a helicopter on the way to the tiny village of Bakhta. A few hundred people live here, in the very heart of Siberia, on the shore of the Yenisei river. There is no road that leads to this place, and the ferry from the city of Krasnoyarsk arrives only during summer, when there is no more risk of ice and floating logs on the huge stream.


A small boat takes me to the Mirnoye research station. It is hard to imagine a place more remote than this. But Oleg Bourski and his team are working here since decades, monitoring the population trends of Siberian taiga birds. They know exactly about arrival dates and survival rates of all of the species that dwell here – a very important information for my migration studies.




Birds from central Siberia migrate during winter to Africa, India or South-East Asia. We are at a crossroad for global bird flyways. But no one knows, where exactly all this species spend the non-breeding season. This is unfortunate, since the population trends observed in the untouched Siberian wilderness are dependent on the situation in the stop-over and wintering sites. Illegal hunting and habitat loss have decimated many Asian songbirds, but disentangling the involved factors is hard due to our limited knowledge of their whereabouts during the annual cycle. However, this is going to change!

Last year we equipped 30 Siberian Rubythroats with geolocators, tiny devices that record data on the migration routes of these beautiful birds. Now I have to search for returned birds, after one year of waiting, to recapture them and to download the data. To do so, I have to work all night – Rubythroats love the dim light during the “white nights” in the north.




Other animals seize the night, too – like bears. To avoid those, we are urged to make constant noise. And so I find myself singing loudly while crawling through very dense and wet floodplain forests in the middle of the night. Is this worth it? Oh yes.


After only a few nights, eight geolocators have been retrieved, and data has been downloaded. For the very first time, we can now proof that Rubythroats make a detour to East Asia, before migrating southward to their wintering grounds on the Indochinese peninsula, thereby circumventing the deserts and mountains in central Asia! Two more species have been equipped with data loggers this year, and I am looking forward to learn about their migration next summer, after returning to the heart of Siberia.


About the author:

Wieland Heim started birding as a child, and the passion for birds and their conservation remained the driving force of his life. As a bachelor´s student, he started the Amur Bird Project in the Russian Far East, and more than 100 volunteers from all over the world have worked with him since then to study birds and engage in environmental education.

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