Thursday, November 15, 2007

Last Day in Vladivostok

Today (November 15) is my last day in Vladivostok on the Fulbright. It is hard to believe I have been in Russia for almost 10 months now! Today is a beautiful, crystal clear and cold Thursday, not a cloud in sight, and with the thermometers showing a brisk minus 4 degrees C at noon, Vladivostokians have donned their hats in acquiescence to the undeniable fact that for today, at least, winter is upon us. The wind that is so characteristic of this city is whipping with an icy fierceness through the streets, up and down the hills, making whitecaps on the royal blue waters of Amur bay. But the air is fresh and clean, and the brilliant sunshine makes everything here look bright, from the new condos downtown to billboards and fresh campaign posters. (Russia has elections for the national legislature on December 2.) Despite the cold -- and cold, after all, cold is Russia, the state that seems most natural to this country, perhaps, the state in which Russia is at her best...It is lovely here today.

I can’t believe I am leaving already! But I hope that soon I will be back.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Visit to Kedrovaya Pad (Oct 22 - 28, 2007)

At the end of October I went to visit Kedrovaya Pad Zapovednik (nature reserve), which is located across the bay from Vladivostok. Founded way back in 1916 (!), Kedrovaya Pad is a very small, nearly circular-shaped reserve on just 18,000 hectares, about 15 km across. Although Kedrovaya Pad was initially envisioned as (and historically has been) a "floral" zapovednik (the plants and trees here are very well studied!), it is most famous today as one of the very few places on Earth inhabited by the Far Eastern leopard, the world's most endangered cat. While most leopards live further south, in India, Africa, Asia, there is one sub-population in the Russian Far East. Unfortunately, the latest statistics indicate there are only about 30 of them left in the wild. They inhabit a small zone between Vladivostok and the Chinese border. Although the leopard has been severely endangered (30-40 individuals) since the 1970s, only recently has this animal become a major subject of Russian and international attention. This means Kedrovaya Pad, too, has been in the spotlight.

These first two pictures are the Kedrovaya River. The zapovednik is in the Kedrovaya River Valley. The reserve includes the river's headwaters, but not the mouth -- the zapovednik boundary is 3-4 km from where the river flows into the Amur Bay. The river is home to only one salmon species -- cherry salmon, found only in Russia and Asia (not North America). Poaching is a big problem every August, when salmon enter the river to spawn. Reserve rangers estimate they removed 70 nets from the mouth of the Kedrovaya River this year! (And this river is only about 20-25 km long.) Imagine that that is the case for every river in the Russian Far East. Except usually no one is removing the nets.

This was the house I stayed in at the reserve. There are a 10-15 little houses like this just inside the reserve, and many reserve staff live here (about 15 staff of 30ish total). It's almost like a big family. Of course, they must go in to town for groceries, supplies, anything -- here there is nothing but their houses, firewood, and some chickens they keep -- with hills and the zapovednik on all sides. It is literally a little village in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps a quaint idea, but also hard. And there's also a banya here, of course. Baths on Saturdays!

Here is my room in the house. I stayed in the so-called "Aquatic Ecologists' House," because aquatic ecologists from the Institute of Biology and Soil Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences stay here when they conduct research in the reserve. Until fall of 2006 Kedrovaya Pad was part of the Institute of Biology and Soil Sciences. (Now it is independent.) Kedrovaya Pad is one of only 5 zapovedniks in Russia that is not under the Ministry of Natural Resources. Instead it is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Reserve office and library.

Another house and firewood shed.

The little dots on this blue wall are ladybugs. Like my visit to Khingansky Zapovednik will probably always be associated with the caterpillars that crawled all over me and Slava during our first hike, my visit to Kedrovaya Pad will always be associated with ladybugs. They were everywhere! Actually in the days after I took this picture even more appeared. I found it very amusing when one day, sitting in the reserve office reading some scientific literature, I came across a paragraph that began, "Visitors to the reserve in the late fall will be amazed at the number of ladybugs."

Frost on the leaves in the morning. We could feel that fall is almost over here. Although it would warm up by around 11 or noon in the daytime, at night and in the morning it was usually pretty chilly.

Although most trees in Vladivostok still had their leaves in late October, at Kedrovaya Pad they were mostly gone already. Only the brilliant red maples were still in full fall colors. They really stood out.

The staff at the reserve were really wonderful, which seems to be a trend in the zapovednik system. Recently in my research on the Russian nature reserve system I came across a quote that I really liked. Since Kedrovaya Pad was the last reserve I will visit while on the Fulbright, I'll give that quote here, as a summary of sorts:

In view of the recent past it would not be appropriate to propose an extravagant toast to our present 'great and mighty' zapovednik system; yet in it labours a multitude of remarkable people who are enthusiastic about nature protection -- and that is the main thing. (Feliks Shtilmark, A History of Russian Zapovedniks, 1895-1995)

In my experience this could not be more true.

One of the reserve's scientists, Vadim, took me on my first hike in Kedrovaya Pad. We climbed up one hill for a view of the Sea of Japan.

On the hike with Vadim we also saw a great stone birch. Its wood is so heavy it sinks in water; it does not float like almost all (or perhaps all) other trees.

The science director at Kedrovaya Pad, Yuliya, studies bats (among other things that she is even more specialized in). Here I am holding one of her subjects, who is a little lethargic after a very chilly night.

It's hard to photograph bats. Yuliya's husband Denis is quite the photographer, and here is one of his pictures of a bat, for a better view. Kedrovaya Pad is home to 9 species of bats, which is considered not very many. Maybe Yuliya will discover some more.

Yuliya and Denis took me on a good hike to a cabin in the middle of the zapovedik. (It's 7 km away from the little village where the staff all live.) Reserve scientists and rangers sometimes take a break here for tea or even spend the night if on long hikes through the reserve. Here are Yuliya and her and Denis's 8-month-old son, Seva, at the beginning of the hike. Seva is a very cute and happy baby. When he wasn't sleeping on the hike, he talked to us almost nonstop.

Seva and Yuliya are picking barberries (барбарис) to make tea with.

The white on the bottom of this stem is ice! I have no idea how it forms this way. These fragile wisps of ice were on lots of plant stems.

Denis is trying to get a better shot.

Although I didn't see any leopard tracks in the reserve, we saw plenty of signs of bears and tigers. There used to be a beehive in the trunk of this tree, until an Asiatic black bear (гималайский медведь) got hungry.

A tiger made this hole in the leaves -- he pawed the ground here after taking care of some business. We saw a lot of these marks, called poskryoby in Russian. The were at least a foot and a half long.

The scratches (задыры) on this tree trunk were made by an Amur tiger about 3 weeks before I took this picture. I'd estimate they were a little over 2 meters up. Either the tiger was marking his territory, or just expressing his emotions (for real).

More tiger scratches, but these are older. This tree really got laid into. There are no tigers living permanently on the territory of Kedrovaya Pad Zapovednik (it's too small for them -- tigers have big territories), but they do pass through. They compete with leopards for food. If prey is abundant and there are enough deer and wild boar for both cats, they can live together in the same area. If not, the larger tiger will push out the leopard. (Leopards weigh only 30-50 kg, while tigers weigh 100 (females) - 200 (males).) Leopards are also territorial, but the territories they occupy are smaller. Kedrovaya Pad is big enough for one adult male leopard and two adult females, plus cubs.

A tigress and her cubs scratched up this tree at all levels. The white stuff is sap or resin (I forget which).

Very funny. I'm being a tiger.

These scratches are already really old, made by a bear or tiger. Ok, yes, obviously I thought all these scratches were really cool, as you've guessed by the number of pictures.

Denis estimated that this fir tree (пихта) is 600 years old. About 13% of the territory of Kedrovaya Pad is primary forest (mostly spruce and fir forest -- елово-пихтовые леса -- but with Korean pipe and other slow-growing giants too) that has never been logged or destroyed by fire. Even in the very sparsely populated Russian Far East, such areas are very rare.

Pretty view of the Kedrovaya River.

Here's the hut where we took a break for a snack and tea. In the 1970s a local journalist came here with a reserve inspector. She really wanted to see a leopard, so the reserve joked that sure, of course she would see one -- never believing it themselves. After all, there were only about 30-40 leopards in the wild at this time, and leopards are not animals that like to show themselves. But at the hut they in fact did see a leopard! Except that the journalist got so scared she locked herself in the hut and did not come out for hours, even after the leopard was long gone. Oh well.

We also made an interesting trip to a nearby stream, about 1 km long, that flows into the Amur Bay. Chum salmon spawn here in the hundreds in the fall. The stream is protected by a local citizen, Nikolai, who does it just because he thinks it is important. It's all on his own initiative, and he doesn't get paid, of course for being this kind of "public inspector."(And he himself is very poor.) This kind of thing is very rare! Nikolai himself kicks poachers off this territory when salmon return to spawn. His hope someday is to get a permit to do a small volume of local fishing at the mouth of the stream, bringing in a small sum and thus making conservation profitable. Of course, a lot of fairly expensive paperwork is necessary to do this. (There are so many fish here that there is not enough room to for them all to spawn, so some could be harvested without detriment to the population.)

Nikolai is explaining his work and goals to Anatoly.

Anatoly estimates about 200 chum salmon were in this 1 km stream when we were there. We saw plenty of them -- but they get scared when they see people and swim away very fast (so I couldn't get any good pictures).

Grasses, the Amur Bay and the peninsula on which Vladivostok is located in the background. We could see Vladivostok from here. This spot is about 3 km from the Kedrovaya Pad Zapovednik border. (The reserve border is 3 km inland.)

Looking back toward Kedrovaya Pad from near the coast.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Первый снег

У нас во Владивостоке идет первый снег. Хотя мне казалось, что прекрасная, теплая и солнечная осень никогда не закончится, вот листья только начинали падать... а в четверг очередной циклон уже подкрадывался к нам, температура резко упала, ночью начался дождь, утром поднялся ветер, и к ужину в пятницу наблюдались первые снежинки. Сегодня (в сууботу) утром всё вроде стихло, но после обеда снова пошел снег. Вот вид из моего окна.
Прощай, лето!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New Neighbors, New Doors

In mid-October I got new neighbors. They bought the apartment next door to me. The biggest effect so far is that we got new doors on our hallway! (Really, those who have lived in a Russian apartment building may understand my excitement at any household improvements.) My hallway has 2 doors leading to our floor's 2 elevators (one working, one eternally out of order) and the stairwell. Apparently the new neighbors were very disappointed with the hallway's appearance generally and the draft situation -- it gets very cold in the winter, as the hallway is not heated, plus there are cracks in the windows, and the doors blocking off the hallway from really cold places like the stairwell don't close well. So, they paid to have new doors put in! They are really spiffy and look super.
This is one of our new doors, leading from the elevator to our hall. It even has a peephole. It isn't squeaky or rusty or anything.

This used to be our door. And this is the door on the other hallway on my floor -- what our door used to look like. Since people almost always own their apartment in Russia, and don't rent, there isn't one person (a landlord) who looks after the building. So that means common areas like hallways, doors and windows in hallways, elevators, stairwells, etc. often aren't in great shape. It is certainly very rare for an individual apartment-owner to pay out of pocket to improve these areas.

Fall continues to be beautiful in Vladivostok! This is a view of the Amur Bay (Pacific Ocean) and the First River area, including where I live, from the hills above.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Conferences, Dinosaurs and a TV Appearance

From October 1-10 I went to two conferences. The first was the 8th annual Conference on Russian Far East Zapovedniks (nature reserves), held outside of Blagoveschensk in the Amur Region. Presentations aside, the best thing about this conference was that I got another chance to see some of the wonderful people I've met while visiting some zapovedniks in the Far East. It definitely made the 34-hour train ride worth it -- and I say that even considering that the guys in my car spilled beer all over me about halfway through the trip. (Although they tried to make up for it by asking me to marry them, that didn't save my jeans.) This first picture is me after the conference with a number of reserve scientists, from Khingansky Zapovednik (Irina, Tatyana, Marina, Alyosha and Slava), and on the end is Misha from Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik.

The conference was held at a little Soviet-era resort, Mukhinka, and there was a little lake and beautiful forest all around. The fall colors there were just amazing, and walking in the woods here was really delightful. The river in the background of the second picture below is the Zeya, a large tributary of the Amur.

During this conference I also made my first (in Russia or the U.S.) TV appearance! The local news service came out to the conference one day, and since I was the token foreigner, of course they had to interview me. Unfortunately I didn't get a copy of the recording, which is too bad, as I actually have the ability to sound rather intelligent in Russian these days. However, here are pictures of me with the cameraman, and a very blurry picture of me on "Vesti" (the news) on TV, with my name up there and everything (click on picture to enlarge).

Oh, and the Amur Region is also famous for dinosaurs! In the area near the capital, Blagoveschensk, in the 20th century scientists discovered 10 new species of dinosaurs (6 plant-eaters and 4 carnivores). Below is me with a duck-billed plant-eater, Olorotitan arharensis, who lived in the area more than 65 million years ago, but just got dug up and put together in the last 8 years.

The second conference, Sosnovka, was outside of Khabarovsk, about halfway between the first conference and Vladivostok. Every year this conference brings together a number of Russian environmental NGOs, from Moscow to Kamchatka, and I got to see some old friends, meet some new people I'd been long hoping to meet, and even meet some people whose names I'd seen on articles before, but who I never expected to meet in person! It was a really cool experience to get to go and hear discussed a number of issues facing the environmental community, from oil and gas to forestry regulations to mining and hydropower. (Obviously an extractive industries theme running through Russia's development plans, unfortunately.) Sadly I did a very poor photography job at Sosnovka, and the best part was the guitar playing and singing anyway, which you need video for.

This sign reminds vacationers at the Mukhinka resort to "take care of nature!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Terney, Tiger Day and Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik (Sept 20-27)

At the end of September I finally made a trip to the largest federal-level nature reserve in the Primorsky Region, Sikhote-Alinsky Zapovednik. Founded in 1935, it is one of the oldest nature reserves in all of Russia, and it is also one of only 8 UNESCO World Heritage nature sites in Russia. Sikhote-Alinsky Zapovednik is best known for the endangered Amur tiger: the reserve is estimated to be home to 30-40 of them. Since 1992 the reserve has been working with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) on a project to radio-collar and track tigers in the zapovednik. Unfortunately my trip was much too short, and I didn't see even any tiger tracks. However, WCS did fit a tigress with a new radio collar just last week, on October 8. Pretty amazing.

The zapovednik's headquarters are located in the little village of Ternei, on the Pacific coast and near the border of the reserve, a 10-hour (minimum) drive north from Vladivostok. I stayed in Ternei at WCS's research center, which was really nice. Ternei is a town of about 4000, and at this time of year, with the wonderful fall weather, it seems something close to paradise. These first two pictures are views of Ternei.

While I was in Ternei 4 scientists from the zapovednik and an American graduate student were doing field work to test a model that should predict the composition of forests in the area. They let me come out to two of their field sites with them, which was great. If the model accurately describes the forests in the zapovednik now -- which is what they're trying to test -- then it may be a good predictor of how forest composition here might change in the future (due to factors such as climate change, etc.). In this picture Nancy is explaining a technique to Lena.

Overall the forests in the Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik are very unique -- truly one of a kind today, as similar forests have already been lost (i.e., logged) all around the rest of the world. Here Misha is measuring tree height in a secondary forest.

Sveta is measuring diameter.

We worked in 30-m diameter circular plots (counting trees and species, measuring diameter, height, etc.), and we measured off sectors in each circle using measuring tape.

Misha is measuring diameter, and Galina is recording. Misha, Lena, Galina and Sveta were just wonderful. Much like the science staff at Khingansky Zapovednik, they are quite literally too nice for words. Misha, Galina and Sveta have all been working together at Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik for more than 20 years -- so they are also quite the source of information.

An old cabin at an old ranger station near one of the reserve's research sites. This reminded me of something like Shenandoah. We stoked the stove to make tea.

This is the Pacific Coast in the zapovednik.

More coastline.

There are literally dozens of seals lounging on these rocks. Sveta counted over 200. This part of the ocean is also part of the reserve.

Mmmm...mushrooms. Mushrooms and mushroom-hunting are a very important (and delicious) part of Russian culture, and September is mushroom season out here. But these mushrooms, although edible, were in the zapovednik, so you can't pick them.

I was also lucky to be in Ternei on Tiger Day. This holiday is celebrated throughout the Primorsky Region in September, in a number of different towns and cities. It started in Vladivostok back in 2000. The main and original sponsor is an environmental organization in Vladivostok, although a number of groups are always involved in planning. In Ternei the participants included WCS, Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik, a local environmental club, Uragus, local schools in the Ternei District and more. The holiday started inside with a number of performances (dances, skits, etc. -- not all tiger-related), and then there was a parade around town.

At the parade. Each group (club, school, NGO, etc.) had its own banner and its own cheer about tigers.

This is Volodya the Tiger. He's the hero of the day.

One thing about the Far East is that there are amazingly beautiful and pristine areas, like Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik, right next to areas of near environmental disaster. This is a mine in the town of Dalnegorsk, not far south of Ternei. The mine is no longer operating, it seems -- or at least ore is not being trucked out of town anymore -- but a whole lot of decaying Soviet-era equipment and crumbling factories have been left behind here, and it's hard to imagine it being cleaned up soon.

Environmental news stand in Terney.

Chickens! This picture is for you, Mom. Well, and for Dad and Dan. There were plenty of chickens on the side of the road in Terney.