In 2002, a project called New Odyssey was launched to succeed African Odyssey, a well-known project which used telemetry to monitor the migration of black storks from the Czech Republic to their wintering grounds in Africa. The aim of the new project is to acquire information about the migration and wintering grounds of black storks (Ciconia nigra) in the Asian part of its nesting area. The information should improve the knowledge about this species, help understand the general mechanisms of bird migration, and help improve the protection of migrating birds on their migration paths and wintering grounds in Asia. At the same time, the project aims to educate the public and popularise science, especially by radio broadcasts and its internet presentation. The project is organised by the public service Czech Radio and the Zoo in the town of Chomutov, in cooperation with the Czech Academy of Sciences.
The New Odyssey project is aimed at long-term monitoring of the migration of different populations of black storks from different parts of the Asian part of their nesting area - from Western Siberia to the Far East. In the first year, in July 2002, three storks from the Novosibirsk region in Russia - more precisely, the bank of river Ob in the Suzun district - were ringed and equipped with transmitters. They were nesting birds from three different nests - two males (Petr and Roman) and a female (Katerina). Besides aluminium and readable plastic rings, they received VHF transmitters of a total weight of ca 70 grams (which is less than 2.5 % of the weight of a stork). One of the males (Petr) was equipped with a solar-powered satellite transmitter which had an operating cycle of 8 hours of activity and 24 hours of inactivity. The other two birds received battery-powered satellite transmitters programmed to transmit every day during the presumed migration period. The satellite monitoring itself was carried out by the company CLS Argos.
Although data for 2002 have not been fully processed yet, we can say that there have been some surprising findings as to the basic directions and travelling speed as well concrete migration paths (see map).
The migration of male Roman could be described as a fast flight on short distance. He left his nest on September 6. Eleven days later, he was in eastern Turkmenistan. Originally, we had thought it would be just a stop on his journey but we were wrong. Roman was staying in eastern Turkmenistan until December when his transmitter went silent. Unlike Czech black storks that have to travel 4500 to 7000 kilometres to their wintering grounds in Africa, Roman needed to fly just a little over 2500 kilometres (we can compare him with Czech male stork David which used to spent the winter in southern Spain, less than 2400 kilometres away from home). This may be one of the reasons why Roman could fly so fast: on September 10, he travelled 565 kilometres! Roman chose an agricultural, intensely irrigated area around the town of Bajram-Ali and Mara for as his wintering grounds. He kept travelling between several quite remote places - some of them as far as 170 kilometres away. His wintering strategy was completely different than that of birds from the Czech Republic that were monitored in the African Odyssey project (for more information see e.g. http://capi.internet.cz/docs/cz_wintering.rtf).
Another stork Petr also flew to Turkmenistan, although his route was longer and winding and included three long stops in Kazakhstan. It took him 44 days, including the three stops of 10, 12 and 6 days, respectively. On November 1, after two weeks in the east of Turkmenistan, Petr set off for the south and having flown two hundred kilometres, he stopped deep inside the Afghani territory. He turned back though and returned to the north, wandering along river Amudarya in the border regions between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. On November 19 he eventually ventured to cross the Afghani mountains to the South (to Pakistan or India?). Unfortunately, he probably died on November 21 for unknown reasons.
Unlike Roman and Petr who flew to the south-west, Katerina headed straight to the south in August and stopped only after reaching the Dzhungar Basin in north-western China. From there she headed west-southwest. On September 9, she found herself in a "cul-de-sac" between high peaks at Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan. She backtracked in the following days and then rested in south-eastern Kazakhstan for almost three weeks - and then set off for Lake Issyk-Kul again. This time she decided to fly on and in two days of September 30 and October 1, she crossed Tian-Shan. At the same time she changed direction and reached the Tarim Basin in western China. She stayed in this area until December 14. She spent more than 10 weeks in the Tarim Basins, where temperatures drop to -10 °C. However, in the last three or four weeks she kept flying form place to place all around the Tarim Basin, probably seeking a food-rich location with milder climatic conditions. (According to Chinese zoologist Ming Ma, a small number of black storks winter in the Tarim Basin, in a few places near hot springs. She came close to the Kunlun Mountains at the southern edge of the basin twice. She crossed the mountain ridge at the third attempt on Saturday December 14, reaching the Khunjerab Pass (4730 metres above sea level) in the Karakoram mountains. Another message from her transmitter on December 17 made it possible to localise her in the Indus valley in northern Pakistan (near Nanga Parbat) - she crossed over from the Tarim basin to the Indian sub-continent. Unfortunately, soon after that she was probably killed in the densely populated valley. Pakistani WWF staff are trying to find out more as we send this article to print. What we learned in the first year of the New Odyssey project enriched our knowledge about black stork and could help contribute to better protection of this and other species with similar migratory habits and ecology. Besides, a surprising migration pattern of one of the monitored female storks encourages discussion about navigation mechanisms in black storks, the principle and degree of fixation of their migration paths etc. In 2003, we are planning to use a cutting-edge technology to monitor storks from the Novosibirsk area again. The aim is to further our findings about migration paths and location of stops on the route and wintering grounds of this population, find out about wintering strategies in different locations (Turkmenistan, Pakistan, India), and, if possible, to study various aspects of migration in the area of the world's highest mountains which is in a way a natural laboratory making it possible to test various hypotheses on migration.