Lynx, preying on mountain hares, roam this ancient boreal forest, one of Europe’s last stands of virgin spruce woodland. Great brown bears in one of the densest populations anywhere of these half-ton mammals consume fare ranging from small rodents to wild boars, moose, and a bountiful berry harvest in this 272-square-mile (705-km2) reserve halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Located on the Great Russian Divide between the Volga, West Dvina (Daugava), and Dneiper Rivers, its waterways drain into three seas—the Baltic, Black, and Caspian.
Rare golden eagles and black storks make homes in tree hummocks amid swampy muskeg formed by thousands of years of undisturbed isolation, essential habitat for many, including small tree pipits, yellow wagtails, and whinchats. Of more than 200 bird species, 42 are permanent residents and at least 137 nest—in spruce forests, chaffinches, wood warblers, and wrens; in mixed forests, chiffchaffs, goldcrests, willow tits. Open swamps work for common shrikes, northern lapwings, and Eurasian curlews. Willow ptarmigans, common cranes, and great gray shrikes nest on muskeg bogs. Capercaillies dance on 37 courtship leks in nearby sphagnum forests, 25 or more cocks gathering in each to strut and show off their fancy tails, unmindful of greater spotted eagles, merlins, and red-footed and peregrine falcons that scout these same places.
Furry raccoon dogs hunt along rivers and in swampy meadows. Pine martens weave in and out of fallen trees after rodents. Tiny common weasels dart into mouse holes to seize their prey. Tall, lanky wolves pursue moose and wild boars. River otters are everywhere there’s water. The dense bear population is due in part to efforts of a dedicated biologist, Dr. Valentin Pazhetnov, who for years has saved cubs orphaned when mothers were killed by hunters and rehabilitated and released them here.
Over 250 butterflies in the reserve include beautiful peacocks and mourning-cloaks.
Primary problems are logging and wetland drainage close to reserve borders, which upsets sensitive hydrology of muskeg bogs, a threat that will remain until the entire muskeg receives (as proposed) protected status.
ALSO OF INTEREST
In addition to zapovedniks are a number of national parks in northwest Russia. Among them are Kenozersky, 537 square miles (1,392 km2) including 81 square miles (234 km2) of lakes with elk, brown bears, wolves, beavers. Also Yugyd Va, 7,304 square miles (18,917 km2) on the western side of the Urals with numerous glaciers, spruce and white birch woods. Elk, sable, martens, brown bears, and wolves are common, as are reindeer. Raptors include golden and white-tailed eagles and fish hawks.