Majestic nesting golden, steppe, and white-tailed eagles are among rare and endangered species finding sanctuary in this virgin forest-swamp steppe territory. This 50-square-mile (130-km2) U.N. Biosphere Reserve in the mid-Russian uplands, only six miles (10 km) from Kursk, preserves the world’s last intact chernozem, a broad strip of deep rich humus known as “black earth”, a yard or more deep.
Mostly converted to agriculture, here it is home to more than 800 species of butterflies, more than 200 bird species, and 46 kinds of mammals, including moose, roe deer, wild boars, red foxes, badgers, Siberian polecats, and blind mole-rats. Living entirely underground, these bizarre creatures with no tails or ear cavities, their eyes closed under a layer of skin, emerge only once in their lives, to burrow a new den.
A succession of brilliant wildflowers burst into bloom from early spring on—purple pasqueflowers, golden-yellow cowslips and pheasant’s eyes, blue forget-me-nots, rare, shimmering azure feathergrass and fernleaf peonies, rose daphnes and a succession of wild fruit trees—cherries, apples, pears, blackthorn prunes.
Flutelike songs of European golden orioles float through the canopy in summer, contrasting with screeches of quarrelsome corncrakes. Brilliant Eurasian (European) rollers, aquamarine with bright chestnut backs, nest in hollow trees, as do hoopoes with showy Indian-chief crests. Black kites sometimes re-use nests of other large species such as northern goshawks and common buzzards. Other rare nesters are peregrine and Saker falcons, long-legged buzzards, and Levant sparrowhawks.
Greatest problem is layout of this preserve in six separate tracts vulnerable to encroachment and poaching from surrounding villages. A system for linking corridors is in planning stage.
ALSO OF INTEREST
In addition to zapovedniks found in Southwest Russia there are a number of important national parks, among them Nizhnyaya Kama, 100 square miles (261 km2), particularly good for raptors, including white-tailed, golden, short-toed, and imperial eagles, and Saker and peregrine falcons.