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Olga Mihaleva

Bird Crazy

Pigeons. Lots of pigeons. And a random sparrow here and there. That was the extent of my bird list before I became interested in birdwatching. There's no real equivalent to birdwatching in Russian. We just imported the English word, and pronounce it as: "byirdvotchink". It just means that you like to observe birds in the wild, in their natural habitat. Watching birds is quite popular in Europe and America. It is also gaining momentum here in Russia. You can try to catch a glimpse of one through your kitchen window—or you can go all out, and travel around the world in search of a rare species. There are no restrictions for the true aficionado. For some, it's a kind of sport combined with a true love of nature.
Рябинник на декабрьском Байкале
Каменка на Хамар-Дабане
Голубая сорока — иркутянка
To be honest, I don't quite understand how or why I originally got involved with this pursuit. Maybe it was when I spent a year in Portugal, volunteering with a local environmental group—helping them by, amongst other things, monitoring a local species of plover, and by banding stormy petrels out on the rocks by the ocean. When I returned home to Siberia, and saw a white wagtail right out the window, it was a real eye-opener for me. It turns out that we have birds too!
Some 8 years have passed since then, and I find myself totally immersed. With a pair of binoculars and several guidebooks in hand, I can now easily distinguish birds from a distance. I still have a way to go to recognize all their bird-songs, of course. But I've gotten quite good at drawing and photographing them.
Much of my Instagram account is devoted to telling everyone about what birds are out and about here in the Irkutsk region. My bird list is now much larger — I've encountered 304 species so far. I even volunteer at a local bird-banding station. In my spare time I also lead programs for children, often taking them out on walks into nature. And when I travel out of town, I try to find some local wetlands near every city that I visit, mainly to see new birds. I'm now "drowning in birds" as my local friends jokingly like to tell me.
Мониторинг морского зуйка в Португалии
На станции кольцевания птиц Байкальского заповедника
Спасение крохаля из рыболовных сетей
Birdwatching has turned out to be a godsend for me during the pandemic. Like many, I lost my main job; and prospects for the near future were not great. But birds became my incentive to get up at 5 am, and head out to the nearest park and do my thing. A few days ago I spotted the first incoming migratory birds (for them, fortunately, the borders are not closed). I enjoyed listening to them flutter about while the surrounding city was still asleep. When there was enough light, I'd take a few pictures; and by 8 am I was back home. These walks in the fresh air totally lifted my mood, and kept away some of the sadder thoughts of the day. Birds literally helped me survive this difficult time.

Birds are really a constant delight. They are incredibly beautiful, particularly when you see them close up. Plus the way they fly every which way is truly something that we can only dream of. Some weigh less than a 5-ruble coin (about 6 grams, or less than quarter of an ounce). Yet they can fly thousands of kilometers, over vast seas and mountains, to their nest here in the Siberian taiga forest. Then they just pick up and leave for their winter homes "in the south!"

Like real fashionistas, they will change their outfit for the winter, try a new one in summer, and yet another one for mating season. They are also some of the best "builders" in nature. You can see them rearranging an old gopher's burrow to make a fine nest, or throw lots of twigs together at the very top of a tree, or somehow construct a hanging nest that looks like a kind of shaggy mitten. They're not bad at acting either, often pretending to be lame or sickly, so as to divert attention from their little chicks. There are birds that like to bomb dive you, while others will dance pirouettes far above in the sky.

So you can easily see why I am hooked, and why I would want as many people as possible to learn about birds, and how amazing they are.
Орнитологическая прогулка для детей и взрослых. Фото Е. Шариповой
Мини-определители птиц, которые Ольга очень мечтала сделать. И сделала.
Рабочий процесс. Рисунки акварельными карандашами.
One last thing I have to admit is that I am not a professional birdwatcher. I do not write scientific articles or conduct research projects. Nevertheless, I help collect important data with my observations. Sometimes my observations even fall into scientific articles or other leading journals on migratory birds. And so it was this last year, when I saw a very unusual species for Irkutsk — a spoonbill of all things — in a region where it was last spotted way back in 1974. Sadly at that time they decided to shoot the poor bird, to provide physical proof of their sighting. (Thank goodness everyone now has their own phone cameras!). Another time I came across a black crane, a rare bird that's listed in the Red Book of Russia. It's because of people like me, who like to "celebrate" their encounters with birds on various websites (such as ebird.org, iNaturalist, or sibirds.ru), that scientists now can gain access to a wealth of data. In some ways it's a form of citizen science that we're performing. Even schoolchildren can participate, by putting out feeding stations, and then spotting birds to post online.

My question for you: Do you think you might be interested in joining our citizen birdwatching teams? If so, then please do come and join us some time!

Автор статьи — Ольга Михалёва. Авторский блог Ольги о птицах — https://www.instagram.com/birdwatching_irkutsk/
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