The last lonely Siberian Crane returns

March 7, 2011 - 0:0

The most extraordinary day, not like any other, at dawn of a cloudy 25 October 2010, the Siberian Crane already thought as “Never-Returning” amazingly was sighted by local trappers in Mazandaran.

The news of the first sighting of the crane spread like wild fire, proving the significance of the fact that “one Siberian Crane can make a difference”, often repeated by Ellen Vuosalo Tavakoli, an old observer of the area. The Siberian Crane took two months to fly the great distance of 5000km from Uvat in western Siberia to Fereydoonkenar Damgah.
Damgahs are structures built in rice paddies for harvesting wild ducks in autumn and winter, by farmers whose unique way of managing the Damgah finds its roots back in old traditions. Regarding the origin of Damgahs, by hearsay this technique of harvesting has been handed down from generation to generation for some 200 years, although no written documents are known from that long ago.
“What a wonderful day, full of hope”, said Mr. Peyvasteh an elder Damgah keeper, in whose paddies the very first photos of the newly arrived Sibe were taken, and suggested “Omid”, meaning “hope”, as his name.
Not having a band on his legs proved that the sighted crane is not a captive one, further substantiated by Director Emeritus of the International Crane Foundation George Archibald by email, adding: “It is perhaps the last wild crane from the west Asian population. Several captive-reared cranes that were color-banded were released with the wild cranes at Fereydoonkenar in recent years. They migrated north but never returned to Iran”.
Generally all types of migratory birds congregate in particular wintering areas, which creates an ideal chance for birdwatchers to see many species at once in such places as the Damgahs. The keener specialists observe birds also in their nesting areas, which however are more difficult to find, because nesting areas are often few and far apart, as each species requires a specific niche for rearing their young. One Siberian crane couple, for instance, claims about 100 sq km nesting territory in the wilderness of the vast uninhabited Siberia, in order to have enough food to rear their chicks in summer from birth on to becoming strong enough to fly thousands of kilometers all the way from Uvat to northern Iran for the winter.
The Damgah keeper throws his trained ducks in a savvy way out to the field to entice wild ducks to fly back to the Damgah. At once he sends one duck as a luring ‘escort’ towards a hidden “triangle-pond”, actually a trap. The trained ducks land in the pond before the wild ones and quickly swim toward the margins as the trapper immediately pulls a rope for the net to drop on the wild duck, while the collaborating tame ducks, having tricked the wild one, make the final happy sound of success, in the absence of any other sounds around.
Maintenance of silence constitutes the dominant rule in the Damgah. Moreover, with the camouflage structures, comprising natural materials such as reeds, bushes and planted trees that contribute to the uniqueness of these discrete wintering shelters, Damgahs attract more birds than all other nearby existing unsheltered wetlands.
There are only three of these remaining sites in Mazandaran Province called Sorkhrood, Ezbaran and Fereydoonkenar. The Mazandaran Crane Conservation Association (MCCA), led by Tavakoli and her colleagues, started project activities in 2003 by focusing on restoring old Damgahs in Sorkhrood to prevent these vulnerable areas from fading away. This led later to building a ‘New Damgah’ by local initiative with project support from Finland. The international project activities in co-operation with the Iranian Department of Environment (DoE) resulted in declaring the Fereydoonkenar area as an International Wetland Ramsar Site, acknowledging the important role of the local people.
This site is comprised many small Damgahs managed by local farmer-trappers, who feed all the migratory water-birds over the winter. They catch only ducks and geese; if they accidentally trap an endangered or unknown bird, they call specialists to study or to release it after ringing with the help of DoE. On 19 December 2009 local members of (MCCA) reported sighting a Sibe over the Sorkhrood and EzbaranDamgahs, but this short sighting was not substantiated by some officials of DoE. The Siberian crane is easily distinguishable by the local Damgah keepers who monitor the wild waterfowl through night and day. They recognize the Sibe better than most other “experts” and they know the habits and behavior of the birds as well. When they observed how this returning Sibe knew its old habitat, arriving on the usual date even landing at the usual time at dawn, at the usual place, they recognized that this was the same last lonely Sibe of the past years. On 4 March 2011 at 10 AM, this lonely crane, now named Omid, flew off from Ezbaran and Sorkhrood, belonging also to the International Ramsar Site of Fereydoonkenar Damgahs, towards Gilan and Dasht-e Moghan where it may have a short stop before heading via Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to Uvat in Siberia. And the Damgahs are still here in Iran to return to next fall.
The article edited by Bahram Tarah and Ellen Vuosalo Tavakoli