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In forest thickets

Source:  Baikal: the wonderland of live nature. - Ulan-Ude, 2001. - P.35-76.

«land of the taiga and lakes, and steppes...» these well-known in Buryatia words from a song, are born of a filial love to the Transbaikal country where steppes exist side by side with tundras, desert solonchaks ‑ with forest, and frozen ground ‑ with sandy areas burnt out by the sun. However, it's the forests that occupy a special place in the diversity of this wonderful land, and not only due to the vast territory they cover. They are the embodiment of the beauty and power of the part of Siberia, stretching along the Baikal shoreline, its greatest wealth.

The Baikal region is subdivided into three climate zones. In the southern, continental part of the watershed, i.e. in the Selenga uplands mostly, the forest consists of pines and Siberian larches. In the extracontinental part of Northern Transbaikal the leading species is the Dahurian larch. The Scotch pine is less common in North Transbaikal forests than in the South of the region, as it is not adapted to the severe conditions of permafrost, while the Dahurian larch thrives in cold and well-moistened grounds. In the humid and less continental conditions of the Baikal country, the forest vegetation is richer, comprising dark coniferous forests with cedar pine, spruce and fir. Here, especially along the shoreline, of great importance are small-leaved forests consisting of birch and aspen. The soils are rich enough for them here, and the climatic conditions are milder too.

Large areas in the driest and hilly south-western part of Transbaikal are under forests, but they are not varied. Outstanding among them are pine forests with some taiga herbaceous species. The undergrowth comprises such bushes as oriental spirea, Dahurian rhododendrone, black-fruited cotoneaster and prickly rose. Common in the grass cover, alongside with the meadow-steppe species (spreading pasque-flower, clustered bell-flower, prairie junegrass, tansy-leaved cinquefoil) and forest species (May lily, snowdrop anemone, willow-weed), are the taiga species: shinleaf, fox-berry, etc. The moss cover is very scarce in such forests.

In the low part of the forest belt, on northern slopes, very common are rhododendrone pine forests covering stony mountain slopes with frequent rock outcrops: plate granitoids and gently rounded basalt rocks. Abundants in the grass cover of these pine forests are petrophytes - plants favouring stone habitats, such as fetid meadowrue, yarrow woodbetony, Baikal hogfennel and aizoon stonecrop. The pine forests are especially attractive early in spring, when Dahurian rhododendrone is in full bloom and the mountain slopes are enveloped in a lilac haze.

The pine forests of the mountain forest-steppe are of special type. The grass cover is so steppe-like that turf grass-prarie junegrass prevails in them. There are many accompanying species too, to name but a few: sedge (Carexped-iformis), speedwell (Veronica incana), cinquefoil (Potentilla acaulis), Alpine aster, etc. Still more desolate are litter lichen coniferous forests with ptarmigan berry in the shrub layer. Such lichen pine forests grow on sandy soils in the North of Transbaikal.

Forests in the frozen-soil regions of the North Baikal country and in the high mountain belts consist of Siberian and Dahurian larch. Siberian-larch forests are virtually mountain forests covering brightly-lit slopes, often stretching down into warm valleys with soft soils. Covering the slopes at the altitude of 1000‑1450 meters, higher up in the mountains they are ousted by cedar forests.

Motley-grass larch forests form two types of landscape combinations. In the mountain forest-steppe they cover the shady (northern) slopes, but in the taiga forest belt they are ousted to the warm southern slopes. Under the canopy of larch forests, sprinkled occasionally with pines and birches there is an undergrowth of low bushes: black-fruited cotoneaster, willow-leaf spirea, prickly rose and different species of willows. Besides high grasses (reed-grass, oat-grass) and a homogeneous cover of sedge (Carex macroura), breathtakingly blooming are such forest species as monkshood, superb pink, low vetching, Russian iris, peony - Maryin koren, different geranium species, bell-flowers, wind-flowers, etc.

Motley-grass foxberry larch forests cover most of the gentle southern mountain slopes in the lower part of the forest belt. In the scanty underwood, quite common are sweetbrier and oriental spirea. The grass-shrub cover is thick, consisting of almost homogeneous patches of fox-berry combined with different species of meadow-forest fescue, tall reed-grasses, homogeneous lawns of Siberian meadow-grass, sedge {Carexmacroura) sprinkled with different species of bright, blooming motley-grass: meadow and low vetching, vetch (Vicia unijuga), lupine clover, Siberian geranium, etc.

Dense larch forests cover both southern and northern slopes in the small river valleys all along the taiga belt. The underwood is scanty, the low-shrub layer consists of fox-berry and ledum. Common in the grass cover are bergenia, oakfern, stone-berry, shinleaf, May lily, etc. Different species of moss thickly cover up to 80 per cent of the ground.

Dahurian larch forests predominate in the North of Transbaikal. Ecological conditions in the frozen-ground regions of the Vitim plateau and in the Stanovoy upland are the most severe. In these forests especially great is the role of underwood, a well-developed shrub layer with predominant Dahurian rhododendrone, marsh tea, mountain-pine thickets and different species of dwarf birches.

In rhododendrone larch forests common is a well-developed underwood consisting of Dahurian rhododendrone reaching 1.5 meter in height. Such forests make the colourscheme of our taiga forests brighter, especially when the vegetation is in full bloom. The underbrush is abundant with evergreen heather species: ledum, ptarmigan berry and foxberry. Common here are low shrubs: blueberry and alder shrubs. Only sometimes does the more or less homogeneous coyer of mosses and lichen alternate with grass patches of vetch, low vetching, meadow horsetail, sedge (Carexglobularis), shinleaf, etc.

Ledum larch forests favour river valleys and slopes of wide hollows, where the high humidity is the result of slow thawing of the frozen layer's upper part. Upon the whole, these are the coldest habitats, where cold masses of air remain stagnant for a long time and the snow cover melts very slowly in spring. The underwood is, therefore, very scanty and is represented by lonely growing alder shrubs, willows and Dahurian rhododendrones. As for the grass-shrub layer, it is very dense and is dominated by foxberry and ledum. Notable in the scarce taiga low grass-stand are Ilyin's sedge (Carexglobularis), oakfern, shinleaf, majan-themum and star-flower. The moss cover is thin.

Prevailing among the forests of the North Baikal country are yernic larch-forests, favouring low parts of slopes and river terraces with small-grained, damp, sometimes swampy soils. The underwood consists of dwarf birches, rhododendrones and mountain pines. Here, you are sure to come across thickets of ledum, blueberry, crowberry and foxberry. Grass species are not numerous, mainly sedge and reed-grass. Green mosses with fruticose lichen complete the vertical cut of the forest.

Mountain-pine larch forests fall into two landscape types, the first being forest covering summit slopes of the Alpine tundra belt growing on stony substrates at the altitude of 1200‑1600 meters, and second - forests in cold glens, covering thick loose deposits on the ancient terraces and moraines at the altitude of 400-600 meters. Well-developed in the latter is a thick underwood of mountain pine sprinkled with ground birch and alder shrubs. Prevailing in the herb-shrub cover is foxberry with patches of ledum. Herb species are not numerous, but green mosses are plentiful. It is they that determine the complex inner structure of these forests.

Peculiar are the Baikal country dark coniferous forests. The most humid and warm enough regions in the mountain ranges surrounding Lake Baikal can be readily identified by their distribution, these being chiefly the windward slopes of the Sayans, the Khamar-Daban, the Ulhan-Burgasi and the Bargusin ranges, with precipitations reaching 1000 millimeters and the average temperature of the warmest season rising up to +15-20 °C. The deep and stable snow cover ensures high and stable air humidity throughout the vegetation period. Formed under such conditions are mixed coniferous forests with predominant spruce, cedar and fir. Not infrequently, on the steep slopes, especially in the upper parts of the forest belt, there develop homogeneous dark coniferous forest stretches 01 cedar and spruce, more seldom (in river valleys) ‑ hr forests. Dark coniferous forests are generally represented by the blueberry, foxberry and billberry thick green types. Prevailing in the cedar forests are tall grasses, in which they resemble the famous communities of the Kamchatka tall grass-stands.

Deciduous forests, both along the Baikal shoreline and in the continental part of its watershed, are formed by birch and aspen. Other species (Siberian elm, Mongolian poplar, chozenia and Pallas's apple) occur sporadically and cover very insignificant areas.

Birch groves with Asian white birch are mainly of secondary descent, developing in places where coniferous forests have been destroyed by felling or by forest fires. However, stretches of native birch forests reminiscent of the West Siberian plain white birch forests are also quite common along the Baikal shoreline. Underwood in these forests is formed by the bush species similar to those of the plain type: black-fruited cotoneaster and prickly rose. In the grass cover, there is Russian iris, sedge, spreading pasque-flower, hautboy strawberry, etc. The role of the taiga species in secondary birch forests is always significant. Inherited from the times, when the locality was covered by the taiga, are not only such bushes as alder, le-dum, rhododendrone, but a number of grass species too: shinlief, star-flower, majanthemum and even low foxberry shrubs with patches of green mosses.

Aspen forests grow where there used to be coniferous forests before the fire destroyed them. Aspen needs warmth, humidity and rich soils more than birch, therefore aspen forests are actually absent in the North Transbaikal regions with frozen ground. Their variety is not very great, but notable among them are forests with tall-grass cover including reed-grass and Brachy-podium, as well as forests with motley-grass cover with horsetail. Very rare are grass aspen forests with foxberry and other species of the taiga motley-grasses, the latter testifying to the secondary nature of these forests: taiga larch or pine forests.

Baikal forests are a gigantic natural laboratory, constantly forming an enormous biomass, enriching the atmosphere with oxygen. The role of forests in this colossal work is by far more important than that of other ecosystems, and it is not by chance that they are called 'the lungs' of our planet.

There is no doubt that forests are the most notable of all the other landscapes for their great variety of animal life. Small and big, crawling, running and flying, gray and brightly-coloured, silent and loud creatures of different descent find here shelter and plentiful food. They all, as parts of one common organism, are connected with each other by thousands of invisible ties. In spite of the great variety and the seeming state of chaos, there is a distinct interdependence, each of the species occupying its own peculiar place determined by the hundreds of years of its evolution.

The most common of the reptiles to be met in the forests is the viviparous lizard. At first sight it, as well as all of its relatives, seems unpleasant, but as soon as you come to know it better, your opinion will change. Its lustrous eyes, its mobility, its curiosity, its interest in you and its yearning for contact will make you treat it with respectful attention. One clumsy movement on your part, and it instantly disappears in the thick grass or litter, only to appear in a fraction of a moment elsewhere again. Viviparous lizards do not like to stay long in their cover. In warm weather they relish in sunbathing, sitting or even sprawling on a stone, a stump or a fallen tree. In spring, after a long winter sleep, they spend the whole day in the sun. On cold days, they become sluggish. Our lizards are wonderfully adapted to breeding under severe Siberian conditions.

For the eggs to develop quite normally, the female bears them in the overduct until hatching. That's why it is called 'viviparous'. After their birth the young are left to their own devices. They learn to hunt different insects very fast, and in autumn, quite grown up, together with the adult Uzards they fall into the state of hibernation.

Dwelling in mixed coniferous forests along the Baikal country and Central Transbaikal streams is one of the most beautiful snakes ‑ Russian ratsnake {Elaphe dione Pall.). Its head and the upper parts of the body are decorated with different patterns. This agile snake crawls up and down trees and bushes and doesn't find it hard at all to get to birds' eggs and nestlings, but still, it likes to hunt small rodents more. It needs warm places to breed, which makes it stick to hot springs. There, in the most secluded places, it lays up to 20 eggs, from which in three or four weeks there emerge young snakes. Hot springs are frequented by people who because of their instinctive fear of snakes fail to remember, that these snakes are not venomous and are therefore harmless for people. The thoughtless and hasty desire of man to kill any snake, that comes his way, has resulted in a dramatic decrease of the population of these snakes too. Now they are under special protection and have been entered into the Red Data Book of the Buryat Republic.

The two reptiles can be referred to the forest species, while the rest of snakes (e.g. copperhead - Agkistrodon halvs Pall.) can be met in the forest only rarely, preferring open-space habitats.

As for the birds, even if you fail to see them in the forest, you are sure to hear them. Late in spring and early in summer, in any forest, coming from all the directions are voices of gray and motley, large and small birds. It's hard to single out any particular bird in the discordant hubbub, each one singing beautifully. About a third of our birds are forest birds. There are more than ten species of birds of prey. Among them, the most closely connected with the forest is the Golden eagle ‑ the largest of our eagles. It can be seen in the forest in any season. It's the only non-migratory bird of all the eagles. If the food is scarce in winter, it has to fly away to other places. Golden eagles become more conspicuous late in March and in April during the period of courtship displays. The mating pair flies up high into the air performing different pirouettes. The birds are chasing one another taking sharp turns up and down, to the right and to the left. Suddenly one of them rockets up and then drops from above, having put both wings together and aiming at the other one, the other trying to escape it nimbly. Then they swap their roles. And they do it so beautifully and with such ease, that one can't help admiring their perfection and power. Seeing their nest for the first time is a striking experience too. The huge construction made of thick boughs is three meters in diameter and up to two meters in height. Eagles build their nests on rocks or in high trees. Not every tree can bear such weight. The parents feed their 1‑3 nestlings during three months, treating them to hares, marmots and different game. The family stick together till next spring. These beautiful and powerful birds are not numerous. In winter many of them perish getting into traps. Some hunters kill them to avoid competition on their part. To preserve the Golden eagle a ban to hunt it has been put, and it has been entered into the Red Data Book of this country.

Other birds of prey are common in the forests too: hawks, buzzards and falcons. They all stick mainly to forest fringes, open spaces and glades. The terror of small and middle-sized birds are the Northern goshawk and the Eurasian sparrowhawk. These hawks are readily identified by their plumage, for their underparts looking like a sailor's vest are covered with narrow bars. Nature did male hawks, as well as males of other birds of prey, out of their share in size and power. They yield much to their female mates in it. And yet, being different in size, the mates hunt without competing. For instance, if for the big Eurasian sparrow hawk female, it is easy to hunt a dove, to pursue a small bird in the bushes is difficult. And on the contrary, for the male it is easier to hunt small birds than large ones. Thanks to it their young get diverse food. Isn't it wise of Nature?

Much has been written about falcons, but most of the literature is about the Peregrine falcon. This predator is beautiful and is an absolute champion. No bird can beat it in the speed of flight. While pursuing its prey, it can develop the speed up to 300 kilometers an hour at a short distance. It feeds exclusively on birds. Having risen up higher than its prey, it swoops down at it and, hitting it with its leg, knocks it down. Generally, peregrine falcons catch middle-sized birds: crows, doves and gulls, the male hunting small birds too. Specially trained by hunters, falcons attack even such large birds as herons and geese. Peregrine falcon's close relations: saker falcons, merlins, red-footed falcons and Amur falcons inhabit, mainly, forest islands amidst the steppes, in river bottom-lands and prefer diverse food. Their rations include birds, but the share of different birds is different. The Saker falcon relishes in marmots, the Red-footed falcon likes big insects and the Merlin more often than not catches small birds. All of these falcons are rare in our fauna and have been entered into the Red Data Book of Buryatia and Russia.

At night, day birds of prey are replaced by owls, setting otT to hunt. These birds are wonderfully adapted to the nocturnal way of life. Their hearing is so well-developed that cases have been reported of blind owls successfully hunting rodents. People, who seldom find themselves in the forest at night, are dumbfounded by the strange sounds emitted by owls. Sudden peals of the Eagle-owl's laughter heard from the dark of the forest make one's flesh creep, frightening even an experienced man, but in a novice they arouse a feeling of horror. Northern eagle-owls are rare in the Baikal region. In some places the pair can live all the year round, if not disturbed.

In mountain deciduous and mixed forests, there thrives the Ural owl, and in overmatured forests there dwells its closest relative ‑ the Gray owl. These large birds are non-migratory. In spring during the mating season the birds emit different toneless sounds. They fly out to hunt at dusk. Most of them watch for their prey while perched on a twig. The prey is usually rodents and, more rarely, birds.

If you are happy enough, you may see a Northern hawk owl perched on the top of a dead tree in the forest fringe. It got its name for its heavily barred, like that of a hawk's, belly. Unlike other owls, it often hunts for prey in the daytime and feeds on small mammals.

Thriving in coniferous forests is a small owl ‑ the Boreal owl. It stays hidden and is rarely seen. But the bird, looking very much like it. the smallest owl of our fauna, the Eurasian pigmy-owl, can often be seen in coniferous and mixed forests . The owl is very unsuspecting and lets a human being come very near. Taking her time to fly away. she will look at you for some time with those round eyes of hers, wagging the tail. In mixed forests, more often in forest 'islands', there dwells one more small bird ‑ the Eurasian scops-owl, locally called 'splyushka', which means a sleepyhead. At dusk it calls melodiously and sadly several times 'splyou-you' (I'm sleeping). That's what it has got its name for. All our owls are referred to rare birds and have been included into the Red Data Book of the Republic.

One is often happy, when meeting a capercaillie. Two of their species dwell in the forest: the Western capercaillie, and the Black-billed capercaillie. Hunters readily identify both by the colouration of their bills: the Western capercaillie has a white bill, while the other is black-billed. Western capercaillies favour old high-pine and larch forests, while black-billed capercaillies prefer larch forests. Everyone who loves Nature is looking forward to seeing the Capercaillie's mating ritual. To kill a capercaillie during the courtship show-off one must have a heart of stone. What a pleasure it is to see the 'beauty' against the background of the brightening sky and to hear him emit his original mating display call, proud and distinct. Modest gray females sitting aloof, hiding and admiring the cavalier-capercaillie, are stunned by him.

In spring, early in the morning in the forest fringe or on a glade, collecting in flocks are northern black grouses. The cocks, taking their seats right at once, and in the show-off postures, with their tails fanned, embark on their song. Their muttering and unique sounds, resembling 'shuff-shee', are heard from a long distance. The females watch the foppish males closely and choose the most active of them, those, which usually perform in the centre of the mating grounds. A young male is also eager to draw the females' attention and tries to get a place in the centre, but the old cocks have no intention to give in and a fight starts. Very often the young cock fails to attract any female and has to wait till next spring. After the mating season the males fly back to their nesting sites and take no part in rearing the young. It is the hens who have to carry the parental burden all by themselves. The number of capercaillies in the Baikal region has dropped considerably. Quite a common species in the past, it is now scanty and even rare. The species demands special attention and in some places hunting must be prohibited.

In summer, walking along a mountain-stream glen, you are sure to hear northern hazelhens whistle. That's the way the birds call to one another and, in general, their songs, as well as other sounds they emit, consist of whistles. Hazelhens are monogamous. The male and the female rear their young together, but in autumn, more often than not, the family breaks up. With many amateur hunters the Northern hazelhen is a favourite object of hunting. Its delicious meat may be the pride of any festive meal.

The first calls of the Eurasian cuckoo herald the coming of summer. Everyone knows it by its voice, but very few are aware of the existence in our fauna of another representative of the cuckoos ‑ the Oriental cuckoo, both looking very much alike. They are twin species too. But the oriental cuckoo can't 'cuck-coo', emitting instead a monotonous 'do-do-do'. The Eurasian cuckoo lays her eggs in nests of skylarks, pipits and buntings, while the Oriental cuckoo lays hers in the nests of warblers. The cuckoo watches small birds for a long time to spot somebody's nest. If her attempts to do so fail, the cuckoo flies low above the ground to scare a hatching bird off its nest with her hawk-like colouration. Having found a nest at long length, it checks it to make sure that it is not empty and that the hatch is fresh. And one day, when the masters are away, the female cuckoo, quite unobtrusively, lays her egg into the nest, having thrown one of the original eggs overboard for the owner not to spot the difference in the number of the hatch. Never again does the cuckoo come back to the nest, laying her next egg in another nest. Thus, during the summer, the female uses more than ten of somebody else's nests. A young cuckoo, in the first two days after hatching, follows the strongest instinct of throwing everything it finds away from the nest. Having thrown overboard the eggs and the nestlings of the step-parents and having found itself quite alone at last, it calms down. The adaptability of the young cuckoos to the step-parents' rations is most striking. They usually feed on insects, but there were cases, when they got seeds in the nest of bram-blings and fish from crows. In our forests cuckoos are a unique example of one bird species parasitizing on another. Woodpeckers are represented in the Baikal region by seven species. They all, except the Eurasian wryneck, have strong bills, capable of drilling hollows in tree-trunks. Woodpeckers inhabit different forests. The Black woodpecker ‑ a large black bird with a red crown and nape, sticks to the mountain dark-coniferous taiga but does not avoid pine and mixed forests either. Northern dark-coniferous taiga is also favoured by the Northern three-toed woodpecker. The Whitebacked woodpecker favours light deciduous forests. In bottom-land mixed forests there thrives the Lesser spotted woodpecker. In aspen stands the most common is the Gray-headed green woodpecker. The Great spotted woodpecker prefers to nest in mixed forests but to winter in pine forests. In the fringes of coniferous forests and along bottom-lands, quite common is the Eurasian wryneck. Woodpeckers are so closely connected with-the forest that outside of it they seem clumsy. Thanks to the peculiarly situated legs and stiff tail feathers serving as a lug, they climb up and down tree trunks very nimbly. Their ability to identify sick, insect-infested trees and to find larvae hidden under the bark is amazing. They nest solely in tree hollows drilled by themselves. Many other birds and small animals dwell in hollows too. The number of some species of birds nesting in hollows depends to a great extent on the number of woodpeckers. These birds ‑ forest-cleaners, dwelling-builders, sowers of seeds of many forest plants, are one of the major links in the forest bio-cenosis.

In the forests, there are about sixty species of various small birds belonging to the order of sparrows. Entering a dark coniferous or a mixed forest, you are sure to hear, coming somewhere from the top of the highest fir tree, a ringing song with modulations and whistles. No matter how long you look at the tree in the hope of detecting the singer, all your attempts will fail. It's only by chance that you can spot a very small gray bird which, carried away by its own song, takes no heed of you. It is the smallest (the Goldcrest not taken into account) bird of our fauna ‑ Pallas's warbler. You are stunned to think that such a clear, heard from far away song can be sung by such a small bird. Other species of this order ‑ and dwelling here are seven of them ‑ are wonderful loud-voiced singers too.

Forest singers are one better than another. Now and again from forest fringes and glades of the Baikal country, a tree pipit rockets up into the air, and in Transbaikal, in similar places the same is done by an olive-backed pipit. They sing their songs merrily and with a gusto. Remind-

ing of its presence in the taiga bushes, sings its song the Siberian blue robin. Though yielding to the Thrush nightingale, it is one of the best forest singers nonetheless.

Jumping from branch to branch from morning till night, examining each needle and each leaf, are tits. There are several species of them: the Great tit, Marsh tit, Willow tit, Siberian tit, Coal tit and Azure tit. The willow tit drills its own hollow, choosing for the purpose rotting birches or aspens to suit its weak bill.

There are several species of buntings in the Baikal counry fauna. In a pine forest fringe, you are sure to be welcomed by a somewhat monotonous song of the Pine bunting. Bottom-land forests are inhabited by black-faced buntings. Thriving in mature mixed forests is the Chestnut bunting, and if there is a coniferous underwood, the forests are favoured by the Yellow-browed bunting. They all are migratory birds and during the migration season their big flocks are to be seen in open spaces.

The largest of the sparrows are corvids and the smallest are warblers.

Dwelling in the forest litter are the smallest animals ‑ shrews. These surprisingly voracious animals spend almost all their time foraging for food, usually different insects and other arthropoda. But sometimes they attack larger rodents of the mice species. They can survive but a few hours without food. Shrews, common shrews, least shrews, pigmy shrews, etc. look very much alike with their long muzzles and brown, velvety fur.

In the night sky one can see bats. Easily finding their way among the trees, they catch different flying insects. All the bats look alike in the dark, but actually there are seven species, five of them being night bats (whiskered bat, Brandt's bat, Ikonnikov's bat, waterbat, Amur bat), long-eared bat and Northern bat. They are all rare and have been entered into the Red Data Book of Buryatia.

The Alpine hare is quite common in our forests. The doe-hare, scouring the forests, will feed any young hare she will meet on the way. She succeeds in having two breeds during one season, but the rate of survival of the young is high only in case the conditions are favourable. The quantity of hares is subject to great fluctuations.

The forests are inhabited by a great variety of rodents, different in size, appearance and mode of life. And among them is the volant squirrel. Thanks to the coriaceous membrane between the extremities, it can glide in the air, covering the distance of several dozens of meters. The squirrel uses its tail very skillfully while jumping, and in cold weather the tail is used as a warm blanket. A curious chipmunk, seeing a human being, is sure to wonder, what he is doing here. In winter it usually falls into the state of hibernation, its stocks (and its larders contain dozens of kilograms of the best of cedar nuts) being used only in the spring.

Mice are commonly represented by the Northern red-backed mouse, large-toothed redback vole, Asian field mouse. Rare are forest lemmings and birch mice. These animals are good food for many birds and beasts of prey. In the forest they are prey for the Siberian ferret, ermine, weasel and sable. Increase of the quantity of rodents' population is followed next year by the increase in the quantity of predators. The exception is the ermine, whose population increases in the same year with the increase in the quantity of rodents. It happens because the young, and yet half-blind females, still in the nest reach the state of sexual heat; and grown up males, in the years when the food is plentiful, inseminate them then and there, i.e. the female breeds in the first year of its life.

Dwelling along mountain streams rich in fish is the Common otter, one of the rarest mammal species in the Baikal country. It swims and dives very well, but on dry land its movement is not easy.

The Brown bear is called the 'master' of Siberian taiga. Things are hard for this large animal in the years when food is scarce, when cedar-nuts crop is poor and it can't accumulate a sufficient layer of fat, and instead of sleeping from late autumn till midspring, it starts roaming the country, foraging for food. The weakest of the species die of exhaustion. During the state of hibernation a she-bear produces one or two cubs, who are so little that the mother is capable of feeding them, until they leave the den, without any extra food. Lately, owing to the increasing demand for bear bile, poaching has become very common. It's time controlled shooting of bear in the region should be introduced.

Beautiful indeed is the forest giant ‑ the Elk. No less beautiful is the Red deer represented in our region by two subspecies: the Siberian stag and the Altai wapiti, locally called 'Izzubr'. Dwelling in the forest-steppe stretches is their smaller brother ‑ the Roe-deer. All these species of deer are the main game animals of the Baikal region. Roe deer is being exterminated more often than the rest, its quantity having dropped dramatically in many regions.

Roaming the Transbaikal mountain taiga in the most favourable years are herds of wild boars. In the years of crop failure and in the years, when the snow cover is very thick, young animals suffer first hand, most of them perishing. The quantity of the boar population is therefore subject to fluctuations.

Upon the whole, hoofed animals in the Baikal region are very few in number. The state of the population is influenced by the severe natural conditions and insufficient control of hunting.

Forests do not only beautify the earth and make it more healthy, they sustain life on the whole planet. It's hard to imagine what could happen on the Earth should we loose this invaluable gift of Nature.



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