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The 2021 Siberian Crane Autumn Migration in Eastern Russia
The 400 miles of tundra between the deltas of the Lena and Kolyma Rivers in eastern Russia are the breeding area for the majority of the world’s Siberian Cranes. In autumn and spring, the cranes migrate almost 3,000 miles between where they breed in Russia and winter in China. During the first 400 miles heading south in autumn, they fly over two mountain ranges before reaching the Aldan River that flows from the south and provides a pathway and resting areas for the cranes.

Okhotsky Perevoz (OP) is a tiny village of just over 100 residents that borders the Aldan River. Before modern transport came to eastern Siberia, OP was the region’s link to the outside world. “Perevoz” in Russian means “trail.” And “Okhotsky” was named after the Pacific Ocean’s Sea of Okhotsk. The city of Okhotsk borders the sea. For hundreds of years, sturdy Yakutian horses transported furs and Mastodon ivory along a 400-mile trail from OP to Okhotsk and returned with goods from Asia. As roads and rails from the west replaced the horses, the population of OP declined. In contrast, in recent decades following the protection of the migration resting areas and the wintering areas in China, the Siberian Crane population has increased from perhaps fewer than 1,000 cranes to around 4,500. Some years, the majority of them fly over OP.

Alexi and Rosa Zelepukhina, now in their 70s, live across the Aldan River from OP. Alexi is a retired farmer and ranger, and Rosa is a retired meteorologist. During the past 20 autumns, Rosa has counted Siberian Cranes that follow the Aldan. In recent years, she has been helped by professional ornithologists for more comprehensive counts. I had the privilege of joining Russian colleagues to help Rosa count the cranes in 2017 and 2019. From late September through early October of this year, Dr. Maria (Masha) Vladimirtseva and Dr. Elena (Lena) Ilyashenko hope to support Rosa, Alexi and volunteers from OP to count the cranes.

Oct 21, 2021 07:00 PM in Central Time (US and Canada)

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George Archibald
Co-Founder @International Crane Foundation
Maria Vladimirtseva
@Institute for Biological Problems of the Cryolithozone
Elena Ilyashenko
Research Associate @International Crane Foundation