We’ll start the description of the world of birds in the Baikal region from one very interesting comparison provided by S.A. Gurulev in his book “Mysteries of Baikal”. In his opinion from the great height the ditch of the Baikal and its “sisters”, twin cavities of Kosogol, Tunka, Barguzin, Upper Angara, Muy and the Baikal Ridges resemble a big bird Phoenix. The body of the bird is the Baikal itself, it is bent to the southeast, stretching its shoulders to the northwest, towards the direction of its flight. The wings of the bird are stretched from the feather grass steppes of Mongolia to the mountain gorges of Vitim and Olekma. Developing this creative metaphor we want to hope that throughout the history the Baikal will be as long living as the bird Phoenix; and it always just like the bird will revive in its magnificent glory with the help of people.
The names of birds as well as the names of animals are wide-spread on the map of the Baikal region. And we’d like to start our review with those representatives that, unfortunately, can be hardly met around the Sacred Sea now, though once they used to be common in these places. We mean the gannet that used to be called the marine raven. The fact that this bird was widely spread in the Baikal region is proved by the names of the Gannet Island in the Chivyrkuisky Bay, the Gannet Capes in the middle and southern part of the lake, the Gannet Stone Rock near the Peschanaya Bay, the Gannet Lake not far from Posolsk. There is one of the versions suggested by S. Ustinov that explains the bird extinction. In the 50s of the XXth century with the emergence of a great quantity of motor-boats in the region the inhabitants of the surrounding villages started to visit the isles of the Baikal more and more often; and they gathered eggs of these birds for their needs. “Here is the brightest example of the negative influence of the technically equipped but environmentally non-educated man”.
Seagulls and some other birds were luckier. The Seagull Islands are situated in the north of Goryachinsk and in th Istoksky Sor; there is the Chirkovsky Bay in the Chivyrkuisky Bay, in the inflow of River Irinda in the northeast of the lake there is River Urbican, translated from the Evenk language as “a duck”; the cape near the Olkhon is called Harsagay, translated from the Buryat language as “a hawk”. There are a lot of other bird names in the nearby territories.
The attitude of people who live in the Baikal region to some kinds of birds is special; that is explained first of all by the fact that aborigine people have numerous myths and legends that show the deep kinship between the man and the bird. Here is one of such legends, still living in the minds of the Buryat people.
“Once Horidoy wandered around the Island of Olkhon and saw three swans flying down. They descended on the shore of the lake and turned into three young maidens that began to swim. Horidoy stole one of the maidens’ dresses. The two heaven maidens after swimming turned into swans again and flew to the heaven; but the third one couldn’t find her swan-dress, so she had to stay a human and get married to Horidoy. She gave birth to eleven children, who became the ancestors of eleven Khorinsk Buryat families. When Horidoy got old his wife asked him to try on her old swan-dress. The old man permitted her to do it, because he thought that they had lived together for a long time, they had many children, so his wife would not wish to leave the family. But Horidoy made a bad mistake. The moment she put on her swan-dress Horidoy’s wife turned into a swan and flew to the heavens through the hole for smoke in their yurt. Since that time Khorinsk Buryats have a tradition to splash tea and milk up when a hawk or a swan flies by”.
The Buryat poet N. Huduguev wrote the poem “Winged Mother of My Ancestry Tree”, in which the following lines are repeated:
How often I dream
My mother, a swan,
It is a fairy- tale,
So magic and ancient.
How often I dream
A white bird,
The mother with wings
Of my ancestry tree.
To continue the legendary and poetic ideas about birds we want to speak about the largest feathered predator of the Baikal region, the wingspan of which can be up to 2 – 3 m, and the weight – 6 kg. The Russian name orlan (comes from the word oryel meaning “an eagle”, orlan is a sea eagle) depicts the accessory of this bird to a specific genus, different from that of eagles. Sea eagles live near rivers, wetlands and sea shores. The greater part of their catch is fish and waterfowls. This “nearby water” way of life has determined the specific feature of the sea eagle appearance – the absence of feathers in the lower part of its legs that contrasts with “feather pants” reaching dactyls. In Scandinavian countries it is called the sea eagle, in England – the white-tailed eagle. In many countries of the world the sea eagle is added to “The Red Book”. In the 70 – 80s the European scientists and environmental groups took measures to preserve the population of sea eagles. In Scandinavian countries people organize feeding of wintering white-tailed eagles by the fish from eco-lakes. Those who make harm to white-tailed eagles are severely penalized; some nests are under the constant care of enthusiasts. On the Rum Island (Great Britain) a special project for the destroyed population of sea eagles recruitment; nestlings are brought from Norway, then fed there and let go to the wild nature. Thanks to these measures it was possible to stabilize the population of these birds in Europe. In Russia there is some growth of their population in the Lower Don.
Unfortunately, in the Baikal region situation with these birds is quite opposite. Fifty years ago one could find the sea eagle in any part of the Middle and North Baikal. On the isthmus of the Sacred Nose Cape the sea eagle nests were placed very close to each other, 2 – 3 km away from one another. In 1950 – 1960 the well-known connoisseur of the Baikal O.K. Gusev observed 18 nests of sea eagles. The result of the second observation in the 1970s was 5 nests only. During the next years the population of sea eagles is running down steadily; and nowadays on the western shore of the lake there are only 305 pairs that nest, on the eastern one even less – 10 – 15 of them.
Today about 40 pairs of the eastern imperial eagle inhabit the Baikal region. And 50 years ago their population numbered 300 pairs. During the last 10 – 15 years the population of these birds began to run down rapidly. The scientists of the Baikal Park have been studying this problem for a long time. The head of the science department Vitaly Ryabtsev wrote a book about the eagles of the Baikal region. According to his words it is still impossible to say why the eagles disappear. The places they usually inhabit are not occupied by people; there are neither pesticides nor predators there. Despite this there are less and less eagles there. V. Ryabtsev reported that the analysis of the eagles’ eggs shows the adventory of pesticides in them. The birds could be infected only in the places of wintering, but the ornithologists didn’t know for where the birds wintered. In this it was the Japanese Birds Protection Society that helped a lot. They presented the scientists four satellite transmitters that were fixed on young eastern imperial eagles. It was found out that the birds wintered in the southwest of China.
The eagle by its nature and as people recognize, is a very proud bird that reigns not only over the majority of its feathered brothers, but also over many animals. And it tries to prevail even over a human, especially an ignorant one. Let us prove it by several tragic lines of the poem “The Eagle” by Alexander Yashin:
From behind a cliff,
As if from behind a corner
The eagle was savagely shot.
He then leisurely leaved its stone with honor
Not glimpsing at the one who shot.
And as always sweeping wide circles
He flew to the clouds turning into a spot.
For a quail, but not for an eagle at all?
Or maybe shooter’s hand had quivered?
And the body of the shotgun shivered?
No, the shot was done,
The heart was wounded…
The eagle fell,
But in the cliffs
He did not let the enemy
Observe and glory over him.
For a long time a gambling, not calm or indifferent, attitude to the shooting of birds was characteristic for the Baikal people psychology, because of the wide-spread Russian stereotype that “we have a lot”, “it is enough for everyone”. Now and then in the places of nesting and flights of birds that used to be in a great quantity on the Baikal they organized “bird-shooting places”; it is very difficult to judge this fact today. Not to sound proofless, I will use the description of my countryman, a poet and a writer, A. Rumyantsev: “The talks about the great hunting for wildfowl in the delta of River Selenga were heard throughout half of Siberia. It is hard to imagine from what far away places people came here in early autumn and late spring! As for the Baikal people they were still green but took guns. In every house there were guns, very rarely one, mostly two or three; on the outskirts, on the river bank or the lake shore, there was “a fleet” the size of which was close to the state one with punts of all sizes and types, and it waited for the hosts. In the morning and evening there was a cannonade so deep and roaring. The only person who risked to be unlucky could have been a novice who being inexperienced took a gun by a wrong end. But even he could have gathered the whole sack of the others’ catches in swampy bogs; gambling hunters did not want to drag out the catches from heavy bogs.
I didn’t exaggerate it when I said “a sack”. The catch was brought home not in a bunch as it is shown on the classical pictures, but in sacks. If two or three man went hunting for several days, usually they returned with a boat filled with soft swag up to the upper die. The best hunters were chosen not by their fine baizes; in their houses till Easter women prepared roast geese, cranes, scoters, mallards, not to mention something like little teals”.
Of course, there’s some exaggeration in these words, not all the hunters in all villages were so lucky in hunting. But still A. Rumyantsev depicted the psychology of the Baikal hunters and (what is more) of the whole population of the 50s, 60s and even 70s of the XXth century very brightly; when the nature at its last gasp still could offer the human something that was “in abundance”. And we cannot condemn the hunters as that was their lifestyle that was hardly limited by any laws or prescriptions. And nowadays this practice is not possible due to numerous objective reasons, and it must meet resistance, firstly of the local people.
In the people’s comprehantion the images of birds have a metaphorical character. It is very well depicted by one of the Baikal-Yakut legends in the verses devoted to Yokseku, the heaven triple-headed bird that has three faces, “the first face is the past, the second is the present, the third one is the future; and they are all united in a flight”. The time-bird is proof against years, and only the human can hurt it.
There, where there is the ancient sun in the sky
A wonderful bird makes a nest,
It is neither an eagle nor a brant,
It is immortal memory of ancestors.
A century is just like a moment for it.
It is not afraid of thunderstorm, frost or storm,
All the far away lands are in its power,
And the world’s end is easy to reach for it,
But only three evils can bring it to fear:
And indifference that are evils of humans… “.
It is symbolic that mythological, heaven and real birds are afraid of the same moral illnesses of humans for which they cannot be commited for trial. The pains of heaven birds are the pains of humans.
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