Raffael Aye

The Sistan Scrub Sparrow Passer (moabiticus) yatii  is a taxon endemic to the Sistan basin on the Afghan-Iran border. We searched for Sistan Scrub Sparrow in the wetlands on the Iranian side of the Sistan basin during a visit to Iran in December 2010. At least 300 Sistan Scrub Sparrows were found in the dry basin of the Hamoun-e Saberi lake. No Sistan Scrub Sparrows were found at the Chah Nimeh water reservoir, along the River Hirmand on the Afghan border and at an irrigated site near Zahak.

The species was found in a dry reed-bed with tamarisk bushes (about 5% coverage for tamarisk estimated). Reed Phragmites was still present with high coverage, but completely dry. All but a few reed stems were broken at heights of mostly 0.3 to 1.0 m above the ground. At the time of the visit, the reed-bed was being grazed by sheep and goats. The birds were feeding on some parts (the seeds?) of the tamarisk bushes Tamarix gallica and apparently also on dung on the ground and on seeds of reed. The Sistan Scrub Sparrow depends year-round on the habitats of the Sistan depression, which has implications for the assessment of potential threats to this taxon.

Two large water reservoirs were constructed on the Afghan side of the Sistan catchment area in the 1950s. It has been claimed that the drying-up of the Sistan lakes was caused by these two reservoirs. However, data on water use in the catchment area of the Sistan wetlands is very sparse and satellite images do not show an increase in the surface area of irrigated land in Afghanistan (UNEP 2006). Moreover, the large Chah Nimeh reservoir south of Zabol is also supplied by the Hirmand River and thus also uses water that previously flowed into the Sistan wetlands. One of the objectives that the Ministry of Energy of Iran states for Chah Nimeh reservoir, besides providing a reservoir for drinking water, is to allow continued survival of animal and plant species (Najafi & Vatanfada 2011). However, our observations and interviews showed that the basins have bare shores and are therefore not a suitable habitat for the Sistan Scrub Sparrow and other key species of the Sistan wetlands listed by Scott (1994). If the Ministry of Energy wants to achieve its objective, steps have to be taken to allow suitable vegetation to grow both along the edge and also submerged in the water or, alternatively, the water should be directed towards more suitable areas for such vegetation, for example the Hamouns.