Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Rüppell's Vulture Film

Short film of the Rüppell's Vulture from the 29th September 2009, feding on a carcass. The Rüppell's Vulture is the bird feeding on the dead cow's tongue!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Rüppell's Vulture photos

We had a great ay out watching the migration today. It was a slow start with a visit to Playa de Los Lances at Tarifa watching Audouin's Gulls with Ole Jørgen Hansen and his wife Tøne from Norway. Hirundines, particularly Sand Martins and Red-rumped Swallows were passing low across the sprawling 11 kilometer beach, long before the kite surfers had time to set up their brightly coloured kites. Half a dozen or Short-toed Eagles had attempted the crossing but by half-nine they were heading back to Spain, blown by a light easterly or 'levante wind that had drifted them along The Strait from Pelayo to Tarifa.
We checked out the migration observation points at Trafico and Cazalla but there wasn't much to see close at hand for Ole to photograph, so we continued down to Huerta Grande at Pelayo where we came across a newly fallen cow that had attracted fifty or so Griffon Vultures and one Rüppell's Vulture. We managed to get quite close and both of us took lots of photos.

There was a slope on the other side of where the carcass lay with a lot more Griffs and another possible Rüppell's just out of view.
I also made a small film of the bird taking first place at the feed and opening the mouth to eat the tongue of the dead cow. The Rüppell's was the most aggressive bird there, even although it is slightly smaller than most of the Griffs.

Showing a lot of aggression and determination the Rüppell's asserts it's authority!

Feeding on the cow's tongue

Resting before going back in again

Which end is the best..... always a tricky descision....

Thursday, 24 September 2009

They Just Keep on Coming...

A late inclusion yesterday are some photographs I took of this juvenile Bonell's Eagle that I too on the way home on the western edge of La Janda. I had some fantastic views of the bird doing a 360o turn overhead! What a treat!

A powerful medium sized eagle - The Bonelli's Eagle that takes duck, partridge etc and unfortunately is persecuted by gamekeepres here on the Iberian peninsula just the same way birds of prey are in the UK when they prey on grouse or pheasant

Hundreds of Yellow Wagtails were in La Janda yesterday (23rd Sept 09) and Maria, Jim and I saw the first Bluethroat of the Autumn

As the bird migration continues, the fast ferry that runs between Tarifa and Tanger keeps up a tight schedule while overhead Short-toed Eagles, Honey Buzzards, Goshawks, Sparrowhawks, Booted Eagles and Black Kites stream across The Strait of Gibraltar

Tarifa old town taken from Cazalla, one of the migration watch points

As the wind strength increases during the morning a lot of juvenile raptors and storks attempt to cross to Morocco. Note the white caps in the centre of The Strait, where the wind is at it's strongest. Most of these birds returned back to Spain to wait and try again in more favourable conditions. This is when you get this wonderful 'stcking phenomenon' where hundreds of the one species fly up and down the coast or like two weeks ago the Egyptian Vultures take time off and roost in the Alcornocales forest. It's just magic!

A young Sparrowhawk passed overhead. There were lots about yesterday and they come in a great speed and disappear from sight so quickly!

Another bird interested in migration, this time it's the crew of this Spanish Coastguard in their Casa aircraft, bristling with electronic equipment, sweeping the narrow Strait of Gibraltar around Tarifa for illegal migrants

We watched him go out.... then back again!

Here he is, tired but still looking fantastic in the early morning light, the Short-toed Eagle

I've been scanning the countryside for any vagrant Desert Wheatears that may have come North without success. Loads of the beauties though, the Northern Wheatear

Looking across to the Moroccan coastline as a tanker glides slowly out into the Atlantic Ocean

In the afternoon we travelled the short distance down to my neck of the woods to La Janda where a few juvenile Montagu's Harriers were still passing through, again feeding on dragonflies. More Juvenile Marsh Harriers are now in the area

Small flocks of Honey Buzzards are passing through but most sightings are of individual ones like this ver dark, juvenile bird which was calling as it passed overhead

We didn't see any Rüppell's Vulures yesterday which was a pity as the skies were clear all day and the morning and evening light was just superb for flight photography. The more commoner 'heavyweights', the Griffon Vultures were out in force and I couldn't resist taking this flight shot.
(Patty says ' Why do you take so many Griff photos, don't you have enough?" - I answer "I can't help it.
He made me do it...! Looking around quickly and pointing at someone else)

Back at La Janda and the Glossy Ibis are up and down, up and down with the presence of the larger Marsh Harriers quartering 'their' territory.

A small freighter bound for the Port of Barbate passes Cape Trafalgar lighthouse

This bulk carrier heads west through The Strait with the city of Tanger in Morocco clearly visible yesterday morning.

Back and forth goes the sea-cat

Now, we had some excellent views of the lovely Booted Eagle. There were some cracking examples flting close by. Isn't that lovely?

A ark form of the smaller Booted Eagle often confuses birders at first glance eapecially in this profile where the wings are stretched to their utmost giving the appearance eof a much larger raptor. Click on this or any of the other images to see the larger picture

A juvenile Black Stork on Southwards Migration

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Hundreds of Short-toed and Booted Eagles

Most of the Egyptian Vultures from last week have crossed to Africa and only a few stragglers will pass over The Strait in the coming weeks.
Yesterday it was again another full onslaught of Short-toed and Booted Eagles crossing from Southern Spain to Morocco. It was a dream day for anyone witnessing yet another raptor day in the sun!

Short-toed Eagle

Below are some of the Booted Eagle shots from yesterday

Dark form of Booted Eagle

Sunday, 13 September 2009

An Amazing Sight - 300+ Egyptian Vulture Roost!

This was one of those very special birding days where the strong Easterlies or Levante winds had been blowing for over a week, resulting in a 'stacking' of migrating Egyptian Vultures (and other raptors of course), in one concentrated area in Southern Spain. The birds had no choice but to await a change in strength or direction. Over 300 Egyptian Vultures were found roosting in a small valley of cork-oak forest!

I was leading a LimosaHolidays/Travelling Naturalist tour group on The Strait, watching the fantastic Autumn raptor and stork migration spectacle. The waather was overcast and we'd had some showers. Stacks of Egyptian Vultures had been seen the previous day and more Egyptians and other raptors were again visible, wheeling and circling close to the southern most tip of the Iberian peninsula at Tarifa. I decided to back-track in the mini-bus along a small woodland dirt road where I thought we'd have a better chance to see the birds a bit closer. After finding a lovely Firecrest we came across this incredible sight of masses of Egyptian vultures below us, in the tree-tops, on ledges, in the air. There were so many and naturally I and the others started photographing this rare spectacle.

Here are some Wikepedia facts:
The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is a small Old World vulture, found from southwestern Europe and northern Africa to southern Asia. It is the only living member of the genus Neophron.In Southern Asia this species is called the Scavenger Vulture.

The Egyptian Vulture has a wingspan of between 155-170 cm

There are three recognised subspecies of the Egyptian Vulture:

  • N. p. percnopterus, the nominate subspecies, has the largest range, occurring in southern Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the north-west of the Indian subcontinent
  • N. p. ginginianus, the smallest subspecies, occurs in most of the Indian subcontinent
  • N. p. majorensis, the Canarian Egyptian Vulture, the largest subspecies with by far the smallest and most restricted population, is found only in the eastern Canary Islands

The adult Egyptian Vulture usually measures 85 cm from the point of the beak to the extremity of the tail feathers and 1.7 meters between the tips of the wings. It weighs about 2.1 kilograms.The adult plumage is white, with some black feathers in the wings and tail. Due to its habits—stalking around carcasses on usually dusty ground to wait for its turn—the plumage dulls quickly, and birds before moult are beige rather than pure white. Also, individuals occasionally seem to "paint" themselves with soil containing iron oxide, as Lammergeiers do, turning their plumage a pinkish buff; hence the German name Schmutzgeier ("dirt-vulture"). Its facial skin is yellow, turning orange during nesting periods, and is devoid of feathers. The tail is diamond-shaped, so it is easily distinguished in flight.The nestlings are dark brown and gradually become light until they reach adulthood at the age of five.

Egyptian Vultures are quite widely distributed and may be found in southern Europe, in northern Africa, and in western and southern Asia.
They are partial migrants, depending on the local climate. If an Egyptian Vulture can endure the winter, it usually will not migrate. The species is not well adapted for cold weather due to its rather small size (see Bergmann's Rule).

The Egyptian Vulture is one of the species that are known to use tools. It uses small rocks to crack thick-shelled ostrich eggs by lifting a stone with its beak and hitting the egg in a strong swing of head and neck. Presumably, this is culturally learned, by observing others in the social group. This is very effective in survival for the Egyptian vulture.

Egyptian Vultures are scavengers, mainly feeding off carrion, but they also prey on small mammals and eggs. Due to its relatively small size, it needs to wait until other scavengers (such as the larger Gyps vultures, hyenas, and lions) finish their meal before it may start feeding. Its head and beak are well fitted for this situation. As with other vultures, it is believed that the bare skin prevents food from sticking to it. Using its long beak, an Egyptian Vulture can tear off small pieces of meat left by larger scavengers. The thin beak also can fit through narrow spaces between bones to get food that large-beaked vultures cannot reach.

The Egyptian Vulture reaches sexual maturity at the age of five and breeds in the same manner as most other birds of prey. They mate for life. The nests are built in areas of cliffs and slopes on inaccessible ledges or niches in rocky walls. Both the male and the female take part in the nest construction. They use branches for the frame and upholster it with garbage and food remains (skeletons of small mammals, turtle shells, etc.). They carry the nesting materials in their beaks, unlike most other raptors, who use their talons instead. The nest is reupholstered continually during the nesting and brooding period. The female lays two white eggs with dark brown spots (94 grams, 65×55 millimeters) with a few days' interval between them. This usually occurs between the end of March and the end of April.

The Egyptian Vulture is declining in large parts of its range, often severely. In Europe and most of the Middle East, it is half as plentiful as it was about twenty years ago, and the populations in India and southwestern Africa have collapsed entirely. In the case of India, this apparently is attributable to the widespread use of the NSAID Diclofenac in veterinary medicine, which enters the food chain of the species; the drug is extremely poisonous to vultures. Consequently, this species was uplisted from Least Concern to Endangered status in the 2007 IUCN Red List.

Cultural significance

In Ancient Egypt, the vulture hieroglyph


was the uniliteral sign used for the glottal sound (3) including words such as mother, prosperous, grandmother, and ruler.

In Egypt it is called the Pharaoh’s Chicken for two reasons. It looks somewhat like a scruffy white chicken in fresh plumage, and the relationship to the pharaoh is because this bird was the symbol of perhaps the oldest deity of southern Ancient Egypt, Nekhbet, who was considered the protector of the pharaoh, royalty, and Egypt and always shown with her extended wings. They referred to the bird as the Mother of Mothers, who hath existed from the Beginning and creator of the world. This vulture always was seen on the front of the pharaoh’s crown. After the unification of Egypt both she and Wadjet (another early goddess in the Egyptian pantheon who had the same role in northern or Lower Egypt) shared the location of the protecting deity on the new double crown that was worn by the pharaohs of every dynasty thereafter. The nurturing behavior of these vultures while rearing their young led to a view of them as model parents, and their lack of sexual dimorphism led the Ancient Egyptians to think, mistakenly, that they were all female and reproduced through parthenogenesis.

An adult bird wheels effortlessly over the Cork-oak canopy in the Alcornocales, Parque Natural in Andalucian Spain. This is the largest natural Cork-oak forest in the world

Threats This species faces a number of threats across its range. Declines in parts of Africa are likely to have been driven by loss of wild ungulate populations and, in some areas, overgrazing by livestock. Disturbance, lead poisoning (from gun shot), direct poisoning, and electrocution (by powerlines) are currently impacting upon European populations. Within the European Union, regulations introduced in 2002 controlling the disposal of animal carcasses have greatly reduced food availability (notably through the closure of traditional "muladares" in Spain and Portugal. Antiobiotic residues present in the carcasses of intensively-farmed livestock may increase the susceptibility of nestlings to disease. Avian pox has been reported as a cause of mortality in Bulgaria. It appears that Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) often used for livestock, and which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses, is driving the recent rapid declines in India. NSAIDs are reportedly toxic to raptors, storks, cranes and owls, suggesting that vultures of other genera could be susceptible to its effects. It seems plausible that this species previously had less exposure to the toxin owing to competitive exclusion from carcasses by Gyps spp. vultures. In 2007, Diclofenac was found to be on sale at a veterinary practice in Tanzania. In addition, it was reported that in Tanzania, a Brazilian manufacturer has been aggressively marketing the drug for veterinary purposes and exporting it to 15 African countries. In Morocco at least, the species is taken for use in traditional medicine. Competition for suitable nest sites with Griffon Vulture significantly reduces breeding success.

Egyptian Vultures, preening and just waiting for the wind strength and direction to change. This happened the next day (Sat), and we watched a slow procession at first light of birds crossing The Strait of Gibraltar, heading for Morocco.

A juvenile Egyptian Vulture

Range & population Neophron percnopterus occupies a large range with isolated resident populations in the Cape Verde and Canary Islands in the west, through Morocco and parts of West Africa. A small resident population persists in Angola and Namibia. The bulk of the resident population occurs in Ethiopia and East Africa, Arabia and the Indian Subcontinent. Migratory birds breed in southern Europe, from Spain in the west, through the Mediterranean, the Caucasus and central Asia to Pakistan, northern India and Nepal. These birds winter within the resident range, and in addition throughout the Sahel region of Africa. Global population estimates for the species are crude, but combining figures of 2,600-3,100 pairs in Europe, <2,000>50% over three generations). Similar declines are reported from the Middle East, e.g. 50-75% in Israel, although in Oman the population is apparently stable and 1,000 birds are resident in a stable population on the island of Socotra. The resident populations within Africa also appear to have declined, including those in Ethiopia and Djibouti, and Angola and Namibia (where just 10 pairs remain). Across much of Africa residents are outnumbered by migrant European breeders. Most critically, the species has undergone a catastrophic decline (>35% per year) since 1999 in India, where numbers detected on road transects declined by 68% between 2000 and 2003.

Conservation measures proposed
Protect nest sites where persecution is a problem. Research the causes of current declines across the species's range. Coordinate monitoring to assess trends throughout the range. Relax the European Union animal hygiene regulations in relation to necrophagous birds. Establish supplementary feeding sites where appropriate. Raise awareness amongst pastoralists in Africa of the dangers of using Diclofenac for livestock16. Effectively reduce risks of poisoning through strict enforcement of poison-bait ban and education. Lobby for the banning of Diclofenac for veterinary purposes throughout the species's range, and support the enforcement of this ban where it has been adopted. Where applicable, establish the impact of wind turbines, and lobby for effective impact assessments to be carried out prior to their construction. Where appropriate, reduce disturbance by guarding nests.