Record numbers of Endangered White-headed ducks counted in Kazakhstan

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More than 20 000 individuals of the Endangered White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) were recently recorded whilst on migration at the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn lake system in the Akmola region of Kazakhstan. This number of birds exceeds all the previous historical records and is greater than the existing global population estimate.

The Tengiz-Korgalzhyn region is a key site for both breeding and migrating White-headed Ducks of the Central Asian sub-population and is believed to be a “bottle neck” for Russian and Kazakh bird en route to their wintering grounds. Most of the important habitats for White-headed Duck are presently covered by the Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve with the highest level of protection according to national law. Regular monitoring of this site was implemented in 1999 and until this year the highest counts on migration were in the region of 6000 individuals. These recent observations exceed previous counts by at least three times.

Counts of migrating birds in the Korgalzhyn region are usually implemented from mid-August to mid-October. The peak of migration is usually observed in the first week of September when birds concentrate at several most important lakes. This year, 90% of birds were concentrated on two lakes – Lake Essey (up to 8000 birds) and Lake Saumalkol (up to 10 000 birds). Other White-headed Duck flocks were spread across eight other locations, all of which are designated as Important Bird Areas (IBA) in Kazakhstan.

To prevent the likelihood of double-counting during these peak concentrations we made simultaneous counts at the main locations using two monitoring teams. It is worth noting, that in some cases only adult males were counted due to the lower probability of detection of females and 1st year birds. So, if anything, our counts are likely to be an underestimate of the number of White-headed Ducks present!

The surveys were undertaken in the framework of the ACBK project “Monitoring of key sites for White-headed Duck in Kazakhstan” implemented since 2013 with the support of the Committee of Forestry and Wildlife of the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, the Conservation Leadership Program (CLP), and the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia (OSME).

ACBK would like to thank all the project participants, especially Alexander Fedullin and Alexey Koshkin, who first located the record-breaking flocks. Albert Salemgareyev, Vera Voronova, Alyona Koshkina, Artyom Koshkin, Steffen Zuther and Alena Krivosheyeva were part of the monitoring team.

Alyona Koshkina,

Research Fellow, ACBK

Footnote: OSME have been delighted to support ACBK’s White-headed Duck research and survey work in Kazakhstan through several grants from the OSME Conservation and Research Fund. In 2015 some of this work was jointly funded with the Oriental Bird Club.

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