IRAN Waterbird monitoring in 2009

In January 2009, a group from Foundation Working Group International Waterbird and Wetland Research (WIWO) and the Iranian Department of Environment (DoE) took part in the International Waterbird Census to count birds in the most important wetlands in Iran. The 2009 census covered eight of the 30 provinces of Iran and produced a wealth of information, and the counters were lucky enough also to find the first Amur Falcon Falco amurensis for Iran. The full results have been published by Amini & van Roomen (2009 Tehran/Zeist 520pp) and summarised by Winkel et al (2010 Dutch Birding 32: 171–188). Prior to the fieldwork, a workshop covering counting methods and identification issues was held, together with the opportunity for a fieldtrip in the south-central province of Fars. Around Persepolis a wide range of species were seen including Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis, Eastern Imperial Eagle A. heliaca, Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula pallida, Radde’s Accentor Prunella ocularis, Finsch’s Wheatear Oenanthe finschii, Hume’s Wheatear O. albonigra, Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarus longirostris, Eastern Rock Nuthatch Sitta tephronota dresseri and Desert Finch Rhodospiza obsoleta. A visit to Dasht-e Konar in the south of Fars produced Macqueen’s Bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii, Asian Desert Warbler Sylvia nana, Plain Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus neglectus, Seesee Partridge Ammoperdix griseogularis, Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus bogdanovi, Eurasian Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus harterti/indicus, Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus, Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis, Greater Hoopoe Lark Alaemon alaudipes doriae, Radde’s Accentor, Graceful Prinia Prinia gracilis and Levant Grey Shrike Lanius lahtora aucheri, Pygmy Cormorants Phalacrocorax pygmeus, White-tailed Lapwing Vanellus leucurus and a juvenile Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentillis (rare this far south). A search for Pleske’s Ground Jay Podoces pleskei at Bahram-e Gur in the east of Fars produced just brief views of one.
After the workshop, the group split into nine groups to cover eight provinces (two teams covering Hormuzgan). In Gilan, in the north, 263 350 waterbirds of 71 species were recorded, with Anzali wetland proving to be the most important area. Within Gilan, there were impressive numbers of Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus (1298), Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus (5530), Common Teal Anas crecca (67 452), Gadwall A. strepera (36 335), Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (620), Black-eared Kite Milvus lineatus (440) and Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga (40). Two Sociable Plovers Vanellus gregarius were the first winter observation in northern Iran. Mazandaran, along the southern coast of the Caspian sea, is the most important province for waterbirds, in terms of both total numbers and species found. An aerial survey was carried out over Miankaleh and Gorgan bay areas and produced large flocks of Eurasian Coot Fulica atra (778 970), Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus (52 710), Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus (14 755) and Smew Mergellus albellus (4880), the latter mainly at sea. Elsewhere, counts of raptors were impressive with 252 White-tailed Eagles Haliaeetus albicilla and 573 Western Marsh Harriers. At Fereydon Kemar Damgah there was a sighting of the last wild Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus of the western population, accompanied by a female from the Russian re-introduction programme.
In Golestan, in the northeast of Iran, many of the sites had suffered the effects of drought over the last two years and in January 2009 only 174 000 waterbirds were counted (c230 000 in a typical winter). Eurasian Coot (78 484) and Greater Flamingo (45 461) were the most numerous species. Also of interest, nine White-winged Larks Melanocorypha leucoptera and two wintering Chinese Shrikes Lanius arenarius were at Bibi Shirvan fish pond (rare this far north). Three White-winged Grosbeaks Mycerabas carnipes were found in Golestan national park.
In Sistan Baluchestan, in southeast Iran, 36 549 waterbirds were counted. Numbers are lower due to few suitable habitats. There is a large wintering population of Dalmatian Pelicans (1523) which is about 11% of the estimated world population. There were also important counts of Great Black-headed Gull Larus ichthyaetus (4501), Crab Plover Dromas ardeola (82) and Great Stone-curlew Easacus recurvirostris (54). The first Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris for the province was also found. The best bird was undoubtably a first-winter Amur Falcon seen on 24 January at Lipar seasonal marsh; the first record for Iran. Counts in central Hormuzgan, in southern Iran, produced an actual count of 87 000 waterbirds and an estimated count of 154 000 waterbirds (69 species). One of the most important findings was the number of Broadbilled Sandpipers Limicola falcinellus (848 counted, 3621 estimated) which confirms the importance of especially Khouran strait as a key wintering site. Also of interest were the numbers of Crab Plover (7222), Lesser Sand Plover C. mongolus (3539 counted, 19 407 estimated) and Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinerea (3271 counted, 9480 estimated).
In east Hormuzgan, a total of 72 248 waterbirds of 69 species were counted, plus 22 raptor species. The most numerous were Slender-billed Gulls Larus genei (9068), Caspian/Barbara Gull L cachinnans/barabensis (8833), Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata (4731), Heuglin’s Gull L heuglini (4337) and Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo (4115). Important numbers of Dalmatian Pelican (2255), Terek Sandpiper (2018), Crab Plover (1262), Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica (282) and Broad-billed Sandpiper (121) were also found. Away from counting waterbirds, six Oriental White-eyes Zosterops palpebrous were found (at Khoor-e Azini and Khoor-e Neyzei), 29 juvenile Socotra Cormorants Phalacrocorax nigrogularis at Khoor-e Kuh Mobarak (rare winter visitor), Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica at Jask and a Masked Booby Sula dactylatra c 1km off the coast of Khoor-e Chal (third for Iran). Bushehr, in southern Iran, yielded 54 000 birds. Most numerous in 2009 were Great Cormorant (13 000), Dunlin Calidris alpina (12 000), Common Teal (3700) and Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii (3000). A flock of 26 Macqueen’s Bustards were at Mond protected area.
In Khuzestan, just over 100 000 waterbirds were counted, compared with nearly 500 000 in 2007. Only Greater Flamingo had higher numbers than in 2007 (14 236 versus 1986). Other numerous birds were Eurasian Coot (18 391), Common Teal (12 614) and Common Pochard Aythya farina (9634). At Bennynameh, 153 Marbled Ducks were counted. Seven Spurwinged Lapwings Vanellus spinosus at three different locations were notable (rare in Iran). In Fars, only 42 980 waterbirds were counted compared with almost 180 000 in 2007. The reduced counts, as in many areas, were presumably a reflection of the extreme drought. A group of 14 Greater White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons on a lake behind Sivand dam was a notable record.

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