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A shift of the winter ground took a male Redbreast to Hungary

On 5th December Hungarian colleagues have observed a colour ringed Redbreast marked in Bulgaria out in the fields of Hortobagy National Park. The adult male Redbreast, ringed with yellow plastic ring “ZZ” by the Life 09/NAT/BG000230 "Safe Ground for Redbreasts" Project in February 2013 in the SPA “Shabla Lakes complex”, was observed feeding the Hortobagy National Park in Hungary amongst other geese species. This comes after in November this year a record influx of Red-breasted Geese reaching up to 2000 birds raised speculations amongst Hungarian colleagues for a possible start of a split in the wintering population of the species. So far in Hungary only small numbers up to 200-300 birds were recorded mostly in Hortobagy NP, but this year number reached a historical record peak, while very small numbers were recorded in the traditional wintering grounds in Bulgarian part of Dobrudzha.

The male was in a mixed grazing flock of about 15.000 Greater White-fronted Goose, 300+ Red-breasted Goose, 3 Bean Goose, 1 Barnacle Goose and 1 Brent Goose at the site called Nagy-szik, near Balmazújváros (Hortobágy National Park). The site was restored in the framework of LIFE NAT07/H/000324 "Sodic lake habitat restoration in the Hortobágy" project. Observation was made by four colleagues - Dániel Balla, Márton Molnár, Tamás Zalai and János Tar.

Recent intensification of goose research and study in Bulgaria and tracking work both in Hungary and Bulgaria have revealed linkages between wintering geese population in the two countries. First of this was the observation of colour marked Whitefront which was marked as a sub adult bird near Tyulenovo village. The bird with black neck band coded “BAB” was observed next winter on 15th Novmber in 15th 2011 in the Tomorkeny part of the wetland complex “Nagy Seg To Csaj-to”, in the Csongrad region of Hungary. So definitely there is some exchange between wintering geese populations in the two countries, though they fall in different flyway boundaries. According to the flyway delineation the Whitefronts wintering in Bulgaria belong to the "Ponto-Anatolian" flyway population, while the Hungarian goose are assigned to a different one – the "Panonic" flyway population.

Some experts already wonder what is going on in the traditional wintering grounds that might be driving these birds westwards. Well in recent years the negative impact of investment development like windfarms in Dobrudzha both in Romania and Bulgaria, along with strong disturbance during hunting season might be impacting and making less favorable the “traditional” wintering grounds, but it is too early to speculate about a shift. We are all looking forward to see how the wintering season develops this year and next January when the usual big concentrations in Bulgaria and Romania occur. What we know now for sure that at least some birds of the big flock in Hungary have previously wintered in Bulgaria and this winter they headed for a new ground…

© Nicky Petkov/BSPB
© Dániel Balla
location of the observation in the eastern part of Hortobagy National Park
release of the ringed Redbreasts in February 2013 - © N.Petkov/BSPB