After more than 50 years of absence, the Glossy Ibis has once again returned to breed in the Obedska Bara wetlands in Serbia.
This was confirmed earlier this month by ornithologists Dr Slobodan Puzović and Loránd Vigh, whose survey of the breeding grounds found four pairs of Glossy Ibis and 6-8 pairs of Eurasian Spoonbill, which have also not been seen in the area since the 1990s.
Obedska Bara, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and Ramsar site located on the banks of the Sava River some 30 km west of the capital Belgrade, was once considered a European stronghold of these species.
During the late 19th and beginning of the 20th century, up to 4.500 breeding pairs were spotted congregating there during breeding season, according to research.
“However, since then, habitat conditions began to rapidly worsen, bringing total exctintion of Glossy Ibis [in Obedska Bara] as a breeding bird in 1960s, and Eurasian Spoonbill in 1990s. We wanted to have them back, and it finally happened in 2016,” Puzović adds.
But the road has not been easy. The habitat restoration process began in the 1990s. An international habitat restoration camp called Return of the Ibis was initiated in 1992 and has been organised annually since then. This was followed in 1997 by series of measures to restore habitats, including restoration of wet meadows and former pastures within the alluvial area of Obedska Bara.
Meadows and pastures have occupied almost 3000 ha of land here in the first half of 20th century. Since then, most of meadows have been turned into dense herbaceous bushes and woody vegetation due to the decrease of intensity of grazing of domestic cattle, changes in flooding regime and silting of the Sava River sediments.
Actions were carried out at six former pastures and wet meadows, from where dense bushes and trees, many of them invasive, were removed. These areas are being maintained by regular mowing, mulching and cattle grazing. More than 220 volunteers from 25 countries and 100 locals, officials and companies from from neighboring villages took part. They were led by the Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province, Young Researchers of Serbia and Provincial Secretariat for Urban Planning and Environmental Protection of Vojvodina Province, who are also conducting further research into the area.
The plan was to increase the extent of wet meadows and pastures from 50 ha in 1995 to 250 ha (2.5% of protected area). As of 2016, 200 ha of land has been restored, making therefore (and finally) favorable feeding sites for Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill and many other waterbirds.
Similar restoration activities have been conducted at ponds and marshes within this wetland complex. These habitats, which once occupied 3500 ha, had now shrunk to 1200 ha due to euthrophication, accumulation of mud, peat and other sediments as well as overgrowth of trees and bushes.
These actions have benefited local inhabitants as well. The discarded wood is being used by them for fuel, and the amount of grazing areas has also increased.
However, there is still a long way to go to consider the project a success. The area of the habitat needs to be increased and the habitats need to be better connected and maintained. This, combined with the improvement of the water regime is key to the long-term sustaining of habitats for these two and other breeding species along the Sava River.