Blog by Ruslan Urazaliyev, Scientific fellow, Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK)
10 years ago, for the first time, I saw the RSPB logo - a square with a memorable shape of an Avocet. At that time, I had finished the first year of the university and I could not imagine that this "acquaintance" would become a start for a series of events, which later became significant in my life.
Since my earliest childhood, I have been interested in wildlife, and in an elementary school, I decided to connect my life with biology. And people from the RSPB played a significant role in the formation of my career. With their help and their full support I went from being the field assistant to the National Coordinator of the Sociable Lapwing project.
I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the people from the RSPB, whose advice and knowledge help me build my career in nature conservation of Kazakhstan.
Paul Donald is the person from whom my real acquaintance with the RSPB began. At the end of April 2008, I was invited to a training organized by Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) for biology students on methods of bird census. Paul was a trainer at this event and explained serious scientific things in very interesting and easily accessible way. It was then that I realized that ornithology was what I wanted to do in the future.
At that time ACBK was promoting birdwatching among students of five Kazakhstani universities and this program was supported by the RSPB. After this training, I took the initiative and organized an ACBK Birdwatching Club in my university in Astana, and became its first leader. Thank you, Paul, for being the first who opened doors for me to the scientific world of ornithology!
Photo: Paul Donald giving lecture on bird census (April 2008)
In June 2008, a month after the training, I was invited to join the international Sociable Lapwing project as a field assistant. There I met with two more people from the RSBB, Johannes Kamp and Rob Sheldon. Johannes and Rob were part of a large team of researchers, where there were also Kazakhstan specialists and students. Together we travelled thousands of kilometres, ringed hundreds of chicks, and drank litres of tea by the fire with pleasant conversations. My career truly began (and still continues!) with the sociable lapwing. Now I am the National Coordinator for the project in Kazakhstan. Thanks Johannes and Rob for helping me to find my bluebird of happiness!
Photo: Field team of Sociable Lapwing project (June 2008)
In March 2009, I visited the UK for the first time thanks to the support of the RSPB. I arrived to take part in a Student Conference on Conservation Science in Cambridge (which I have then attended 5 years in a row!). I had always dreamed of visiting this famous university, and finally my dream had come true. At this conference I met more RSPB scientists, including Professor Rhys Green. He gave me valuable advice on how to properly present the results of my scientific work at international conferences and I remember his advice every time when preparing presentations! By the way, he also has something to do with the sociable Lapwing project: with him we tagged 11 birds with satellite transmitters in 2013 and 2015. Thank you, Rhys, for the relevant and valuable advice that helps me to this day!
Photo, from right to left: Rhys Green, Ruslan Urazaliyev and Alexander Putilin with a tagged sociable lapwing (August 2015).
I also want to express my gratitude for the knowledge that Martin Davis (project planning and management) and Geoff Welch (management of protected areas) shared with me! Thank you very much!
Now I work as a scientific fellow in ACBK. For 13 years our organization has been fruitfully cooperating with the RSPB. Together we conduct high-quality work on the conservation of biodiversity of Kazakhstan. Any activity must have a source of energy, and in the work of ACBK and the RSPB it is Stephanie Ward (RSPB Central Asia Partner Development Officer). Thank you, Stephanie, for your enthusiasm and positive attitude with which you charge us!
You can learn more about the results of the joint work of the ACBK and the RSPB by visiting the UK Pavilion at EXPO 2017 in Astana from August 16 to 18, 2017.
Photo: ACBK representatives and Stephanie Ward at Astana EXPO-2017 (June 2017)
Guest blog by Georgia Longmoor, Project Puffin Intern, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science
After four very busy months, we are finally coming to the end of our Project Puffin internships! We have been working hard to figure out why puffin numbers are declining and why they’re now as vulnerable to extinction as giant pandas, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
If you’ve been following our blogs throughout the project, you’ll have read about the different approaches we’ve been using –a puffin census in Shetland, GPS tracking and puffarazzi, our citizen science campaign. We have achieved so much, and I want to give you a quick update about our results so far and how we hope they’re going to help puffins in my final Project Puffin blog.
Counting puffins in Shetland
We counted puffins in 31 different colonies in Shetland, to increase our understanding of puffin numbers since the last national seabird census was carried out in 2000. 18 days, 53 transects, and at least 64.5 km of remote Shetland coast later, we now have a better idea of the puffin population in several key colonies. We counted how many birds were on land, in the sky flying past us, in puffin ‘wheels’ where they fly around in loops, and swimming on the sea.
Right now we are analysing our census data, writing reports and getting advice, and we hope that our results could be the first step towards making a change for puffins.
Photo: RSPB Intern Georgia during a puffin census in Shetland, by Oliver Prince
Where are puffins going for their fish?
Our tracking team travelled to Mary Island in the Shiants, and Hermaness in Shetland to catch, tag, monitor and GPS track puffins - using puffin-friendly methods of course. We always have puffins' safety and wellbeing in mind during our research. During the internship one of our interns, Chris Cachia-Zammit, has even been testing out a new method of GPS tagging, with an even lighter, smaller tag than those we use already.
We wanted to find out where puffins were going to find fish for their pufflings, which included monitoring their behaviour to check their behaviour was as natural as puffins which didn’t have tags. Our results so far show that a big difference between the puffins in Shetland and the puffins in the Shiants, with the puffins in Shetland appeared to be facing more problems than the Shiants puffins. They had to travel much further to find their food, and the food they did find was not as good – their fish loads were smaller, and more of the fish were larval (very young).
Photo: Examples of our tracking maps (6 birds from each colony). Each line represents an individual puffin’s journey. You can observe longer, farther away journeys in Shetland than the Shiants
There was also a difference in the puffin’s behaviour - in Shetland they visited their burrows less and when they were observed there, they were displayed less social behaviour. It’s important to understand the feeding behaviour of these puffins, as it could help us to figure exactly why they are declining. If there is a problem with the local food source matching a decline in puffin numbers, the reason could be a lack of nutritious fish close by.
We hope to have the complete results from our GPS tracking soon. There will soon be a tracking map published on our website, put together by Tessa Coledale, RSPB Scotland’s senior data manager, where you can follow the tagged puffins on their travels in Shetland and the Shiants!
Photo: A tagged puffin being released in Shetland, by Oliver Prince
Your Puffarazzi snaps
We’ve been overwhelmed with the response to our call for Puffarazzi citizen scientists! People from all over the UK from the Channel islands to Shetland and Lunga to the Isle of May have been sending us really high quality photos of puffins with fish in their bills, to help us find out more about puffin diet.
To date, we have been sent 1314 images from over 400 volunteers, and the photos have been submitted from 36 different areas in the UK. We have been using a fish ID guide created by one of our interns, Sian Haddon, to figure out what type of fish puffins are taking to their chicks, how big the fish are, and how many fish the puffin is carrying.
We are finishing off our analysis in this final week of the internship, and we’re excited to be able to share what we’ve found soon. For now, the most unusual (and largest!) species we have seen in a puffin’s beak is a squid, however it seems that our UK puffin’s favourite fish is the sandeel!
Photo: An example of the fish one of our tagged puffins in Shetland was carrying, by Georgia Longmoor
Next steps for Project Puffin
At the moment we are gathering the data from our GPS tracking work, figuring out how puffin numbers have changed in Shetland since the last puffin census in these colonies in 2000 and finishing off our analysis of the puffarazzi images. We hope to publish our results soon on the Project Puffin website. We’re sure that our efforts as interns, the efforts of the whole team and the efforts of the more than 400 citizen scientists will make a real difference to puffin conservation in the UK!
Photo: A puffarazzi photo by one of our interns, Oliver Prince
Project Puffin is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland. I’m grateful for the amazing team I have been a part of during the project – all of the puffineers, Ellie Owen, Robert Hughes and the RSPB media, communications, fundraising, technology and policy teams!
Thank you for following our progress, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our work as much as we’ve enjoyed doing it.
If you want to find out more about our results and get updates about the teams progress, go to our website www.rspb.org.uk/projectpuffin, and if you’re on twitter follow the hashtag #ProjectPuffinUK
Guest blog by Stephanie Ward, RSPB Central Asia Partner Development Officer
RSPB and its BirdLife partner in Kazakhstan, Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), gathered for the second time in July in the British Pavilion to engage Expo-goers with the theme of Nature as Energy for a Nation – our fresh twist on the Expo’s Future Energy theme. On 16, 17 and 18 August we will be back in the Pavilion showcasing our work once again in the final month of the Exposition. One attendee said: “this is the most interesting part of the whole Expo. I have really learned something, thank you!”
Over the course of those two three-day stints, we spoke with close to 20,000 people and received much positive endorsement of our work. We set up our exhibition in such a way as to make it almost impossible to walk past without engaging with us. We had four plinths in the centre of the room showing key pieces of equipment from the fieldwork we support ACBK to carry out in Kazakhstan - satellite collars to track the movement of animals, specifically saiga antelope and wolf (we had an enquiry from a woman asking whether she could put one on her husband!); Longworth small mammal traps to enable the humane capture and monitoring of the little critters so essential to the functioning of the grassland food pyramid; satellite tags for birds that enabled us to discuss a key conservation story from the Central Asian region - that of the critically endangered sociable lapwing; and finally, two versions of camera trap that are currently being used in the Western Tien Shan mountains in Kazakhstan to try to estimate the national population of the critically endangered snow leopard.
Photo: Representatives of ACBK and RSPB at 2017 World Exposition
In general people were interested and intrigued, firstly to understand the link between such exciting Kazakh conservation work and the UK. This enabled us to speak about the global BirdLife International partnership, a network of 120 partners within which RSPB represents the UK and acts as a supporter partner to ~25 other partners in the network. Our relationship with ACBK has been in existence for 13 years and RSPB’s role is to build the organisation’s institutional and scientific capacity, eventually phasing out support and leaving a strong and independent national organisation. One man exclaimed: “Wow, I never knew the wildlife in my country was so important!”
In addition to our exhibition, we held a business engagement event in the VIP area of the Pavilion. The event was entitled: Business and Biodiversity in Kazakhstan and was aimed at companies already working and intending to work in Kazakhstan. We had a reasonably good turnout with some enthusiastic interest in some of the future opportunities for conservation work we presented. Specifically we intend to support ACBK in the creation of a City Nature Reserve on the 13,000 hectare wetland on the edge of Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital. This exciting project will bring nature to the heart of this new and modern city.
Come and see us in the Pavilion in August, and learn something new about Kazakhstan and the organisations working hard to protect its rare and unusual nature. As one Expo-goer said, “thank you for your work, we really need more people like you doing this for the world.” You can join the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK) as a member and be part of this movement for Kazakhstan by emailing email@example.com
Photo: Visitors to the British Pavilion find out about our conservation science work with ACBK