You may well already be familiar with "New Odyssey", an on-going project supported by Czech Radio, using satellite to monitor the migration routes of black storks as they head south for warmer climates every autumn. When the project first started ten years ago, our colleagues followed the progress of black storks here in Europe, as they made their way to Africa. But for the last three years, the project has moved east, mapping the migration of storks from Siberia and Mongolia to India and Burma. This year's attempt to tag the annual epic journey of three birds - using satellite receivers known as "backpacks" - is just getting under way. Project zoologist Lubomir Peske:
"This year we visited Mongolia where we spent about three weeks. That's just about the amount of time you need to catch three birds. The black stork is a very, very shy bird which is difficult to catch. So, in a short expedition like this one it was a race against time to catch all three birds."
Ultimately the team was successful. They named their newfound wards after words or important figures from Mongolian history: Kublaj after Kublai Khan, Marko after Marco Polo, and Erdenet, meaning 'gemstone'.
Now the team is ready to map whatever routes the birds may take.
"We have already followed birds in previous years so we already know that storks reached Myannmar, formerly Burma. We suppose that they will fly almost directly to the south. And, because these nests are situated more to the west of Ulan Bator we expect they may even fly over the highest mountains, the Himalayas to India. But, we'll have to see: at this stage they haven't yet left. They are still at their nests."
Once they do set out, the elusive black storks will once again teach researchers much about their behaviour as well as much about the dangers birds face. Unusual behaviour is also noted: a past Odyssey expedition, for example, learned that one stork flew an incredible 675 kilometres in a single day: the usual average range is closer to 200. But, the news has not always been positive, and on occasions tragedy has struck: some listeners may remember two years ago, when two of the three storks the Czechs were monitoring were killed by hunters. But even this disaster had a positive side, says Lubomir Peske.
"In Pakistan when they shot Katarina this event was used by the local branch of the Worldwide Fund for Nature as a very good educational tool. Because, when you have a real bird with a real name that was shot, it's a real story and it's quite powerful. When you tell people something 'real' rather than just talk in general terms."
Now Peske, along with members of the New Odyssey team as well as countless Czech Radio fans, will be looking to follow the journeys of the new storks - if not in person, then at least on satellite and on the internet. For now the birds are still nesting. But once they set out, the zoologists and others will be keeping their fingers crossed: that Kublaj, Marko, and Erdenet all make it safely across the Himalayas.
For more information and for maps that will update storks' routes you can visit www.rozhlas.cz/odysea.
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