Chukotka Autonomous Okrug

Chukchi birdwatching: nature reserves for wildlife lovers

How to see and love a tundra swan at the edge of Eurasia

20.09.2022// Birdwatching is an amateur ornithology that is increasingly gaining popularity as an outdoor activity. Hundreds of tourists travel enthusiastically to the tundra, climb aboard an icebreaker or speedboat to see the bird colonies and take pictures of the brant goose or white-fronted goose. Chukotka has much to offer to fans of birdwatching—its unique conservation areas are home to hundreds of rare bird species.

Avtatkuul Sanctuary

The area of the sanctuary includes the Russkaya Koshka Spit, Avtatkuul River basin, Geka Spit, Onemen section and Alyumka Island. The sanctuary spans over 360,000 ha. Here are vast marsh meadows and seaside tundra. Countless marshes and lakes make convenient resting spots for waterfowl during the migration and nesting period. The birds are what nature lovers really come here to see. Pintail, wigeon, white-fronted goose and bean goose can be seen in the reserve. Nesting places of three species of swans (whistling swan, Bewick's swan and whooper swan), emperor goose, brant goose, Sabine's gull, sandhill crane, spoon-billed sandpiper and other migrating birds are protected.

The Bewick's swan is a subspecies of the whistling swan common in the Russian tundra. It is smaller than a whooper swan, about 115–127 cm, and has a wingspan of 170–195 cm. It feeds on aquatic plants, invertebrates and small fish, sometimes eating grass or berries. The Bewick's swan prefers open water and is at ease in Chukotka.

According to ornithologists of the Institute of Biological Problems of the North, the sanctuary is the largest extant breeding area for geese from the Indigirka River to the Bering Strait. In the Avtatkuul Sanctuary and the adjacent Tumansky, 18 bird species listed in the Red Book of Russia have been spotted. The area is protected by international agreements concluded between Russia and Japan, and also Russia and the USA, 'On Conservation of Migratory Birds and their Habitats.'

Ust-Tanyurersky Sanctuary

The reserve is located on the left bank of the Anadyr River, from the Vesnovannaya River to the section opposite the Krasneno Channel. The reserve was established in 1974 to protect migratory birds. Its area is 415,500 ha, dominated by moss-grass sedge-grass tundras, as well as sphagnum cranberry swamps, lakes and mesophilic meadows. It is a place where waterfowl and waterbirds come to nest, rest or feed. The bean goose, white-fronted goose, many species of ducks and the sandhill crane can be seen. Swans (whooper swan and Bewick's swan), ducks and sandpipers are numerous.

There are about 350 plant species in the reserve, including several unique and rare ones (Claytonia tuberosa, ragged robin, reddish potentilla, etc.).

Wrangel Island Reserve

This small island is located in two hemispheres of the Earth at once! The 180th meridian splits it almost down the middle, one half belonging to the eastern hemisphere and the other, to the western hemisphere. In 2016, a memorial sign was erected on the south shore of the island, upon the meridian. Also, Wrangel Island as a whole is located in the northern hemisphere, in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, 140 km off the coast of Chukotka. The island is washed by the waters of the Chukchi Sea to the east and the East Siberian Sea to the west.

Wrangel Island is also called the 'maternity home' for polar bears. The Arctic carnivore population is around 400, and a record 589 bears were recorded in 2017. Birdwatching enthusiasts will also have plenty of choice here—the main species are pelagic cormorant, glaucous gull, kittiwake, guillemot, Brunnich's guillemot, horned puffin and tufted puffin. The island's feathered inhabitants form numerous and multi-voiced bird colonies, clearly visible from a liner or ship in summer. A total of 169 bird species are found on the island.

The island is located in a hard-to-reach Arctic region and there is no regular communication with it. It is therefore only possible to access the island by prior arrangement with the reserve administration. There is a simpler way: buy a tour to Wrangel Island from one of the tour operators who run annual cruises on seagoing ships across the Bering Strait to the island from mid-July to mid-September.

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