After nearly 66 years, the gray crane returned to Bulgaria. The good news was announced by the BALKANI Wildlife Association.
The rare species of protected bird settled in Dragomansko blato, which was her home before, the organization specifies. The establishment of the gray crane took place after long observations by the ornithologists of the company.
In order to create a comfortable habitat for the whooping crane, experts have made numerous efforts to restore the wetland after it dried up in the 20th century. They report their work as “successful”.
Presence of adult birds during the nesting period in the area of the Dragoman marsh established several times over the last five years, which allowed us to assume nesting of the species. This establishes a team of ornithologists at SDP Balkans, led Dr. Petar Shurulinkov. Scientists have been tracking the return of the crane since 2010.
In the course of their work, they draw several conclusions:
- in the summer of 2022, a family group of 2 adults and 2 young birds was registered, which are returning this spring.
- In May, the young birds disappear and the adults are increasingly difficult to spot, which is normal when the pair is guarding the nest, eggs and young.
- On June 11 this year, experts documented the first newly hatched gray crane chick in Bulgaria since 1957.
According to Dr. Girgina Daskalova, conservation of the protected bird is an extremely big challenge, as cranes are very sensitive to human presence and activities. She explains that the nest is built on the ground from grass, among masses of reeds and, less often, poplar, and the young are nest runaways, i.e. they leave the nest immediately after hatching.
“This makes the eggs and young vulnerable to terrestrial predators, fires, etc.,” explains part of the research team. “We are turning to the general public with a request for understanding and support in order to preserve the Dragomansko bog, its biodiversity and an emblematic bird such as the crane,” explains Daskalova.
As the main reason the gray crane to leave the country, from SDP Balkani point to the destruction of wetlands. It is they who provide suitable conditions for feeding and raising offspring. 20 breeding pairs were last seen in the Batak Swamp before it was flooded by the construction of the Batak Dam. Gray cranes disappeared from the Dragoman marsh in the period 1900-1907.
“The proof of nesting in the country is a huge conservation success and is the result of the ongoing conservation activities for the restoration and maintenance of the Dragoman Swamp by SDP BALKANI, supported by the scientific knowledge and methods of leading ornithologists,” says Simeon Gigov, part of the team that documented the return of the cranes in Bulgaria.
The organization recalls that in The 90s pumping station that drains the Dragoman marsh, stops working and the natural territory starts to retain water again. Since then, SDP BALKANI has been working to restore the marsh and improve the nesting conditions for a number of marsh species such as the great water bull, the great white heron, the rusty patched heron, the reed warbler, the white-eyed plover, the whiskered tit, etc. The association buys part of the land in and around the marsh and concludes contracts for the sustainable use of the meadows where the cranes feed.
In 2011, the “Dragomansko blato” karst complex was declared a wetland of global importance according to the Ramsar Convention.
The work on protection of the wetland continues at the moment, as the activity of SDP Balkani together with WWF is supported by the international project WaterLANDS (funded under the EU program “Horizon 2020”), which aims to restore six wetlands across Europe. Renovation of the burnt-out visitor infrastructure of the Dragomansko blato is among the planned activities, but complicated bureaucratic procedures are delaying the process. The two conservation organizations are working together with the municipality of Dragoman to restore the incline path.
Threats to the Dragoman marsh and species, to which it is home, unfortunately, do not decrease, they are worried about SDP Balkans. It still has the status of agricultural land, which hinders the measures to restore and manage the marsh, complete the water cycle of Dragoman Municipality, and last but not least harms the owners of lands in the marsh. Another serious problem is the lack of a treatment plant in the town of Dragoman and the inflow of waste water into the wetland without any treatment.
“Solving these pressing issues requires joint efforts from all interested parties – the responsible institutions in the form of the central and local authorities, environmental protection organizations, experts in various fields and from the community,” says Petko Tsvetkov from SDP BALKANI. “We expect the Ministry of Environment and Water to lead the process of ensuring adequate protection of this incredibly valuable territory, which includes declaring it a water body.”
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