Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Rüppell's Vulture - Photo Identification

Compare size: Griffon Vulture on the left and Rüppell's Vulture on the right

Rüppell's Vultures in Cadiz province, Andalucia in southern Spain were first recorded in the 1970's. In recent years much more information has been recorded of their occurrence in Euroope, notably in Andalucia. This has come about due to the increased numbers of travelling ornithologists and hobby birders together with better field guides and the ability of many people to have travelled to African countries where Rüppell's Vulture's can be seen and compared with Griffon Vultures.
Rüppell's Vultures are distributed throughout Africa from Senegal on the Atlantic coast through much of the equatorial zone to Sudan in the east to Ethiopia and down to Tanzania.
Most Rüppell's Vultures are juvenile birds that arrive in Spain around August with returning Griffon juv's and non-breeding birds that have partially migrated south to Africa each November

The juvenile bird seen at the Military Zone 27th/28th September 2010
All the shots are of the Mil. Zone bird over the two days. Some shots were taken late afternoon as well at first light the following day - hence the bright colours in some of the photos.
Photos regarding another juvenile Rüppell's Vulture feeding at a fallen bull last autumn (2009), can be seen on this blog here

How many birds? A conservative estimate would be seven different Rüppell's Vultures but this may be way out as no organisation has attempted an survey on their autumnal presence or even established the possibility of hybridisation between Rüppell's Vulture and Griffon Vulture.
Andalucia is huge and Cadiz province is so rugged with vast areas that are difficult to access and any survey to count nubers of different individual birds would be difficult. There are greater numbers of people watching during migration times particularly during the autumn passage, this is why we get so many sightings from different individuals as well as from the observers from Migres and COCN

The commoner Griffon Vulture shows a clear two-tone contrasting brown colour underneath especially with younger birds that show very dark, almost black fight feathers. The lighter wing band is broader and shows more white width and fragmented white patches
Juvenile Rüppell's Vulture is more uniform dark brown underwing with a very thin almost white wing band and slightly light streaking on the body and inner wing. Wing shape, uniform colour and the thin band are crtitical for a positive ID.
Note: All of us at one time or another have jumped to the wrong conclusions when we have seen what looked like a Rüppell's in the sky...Beware! Many dark looking Griffons can look very similar to Rüppell's!

Flight Underside: For identification purposes the easiest way to separate the Rüppell's from the Griffon is the more uniform dark colour on the underside and the more bulbous width of the seconaries which give it a much more wider wing with greater lift. The Rüppell's body is slightly larger with a heavier rounded breast.

On the Ground: Although slightly smaller, on the ground the Rüppell's squat, low centre of gravity and great fitness make it a real fighter at a carcass and it always seems to control the pecking order and take first place.

Take-off flight shot. A typical 'falling' launch after a few powered running steps, allows air to lift the bird into the air.
This early moring shot shows the streaking pattern on the breast and almost white of the thin wing panel. The neck would normally be lighter than this bird which has clearly been feeding at a carcass with subsequent red blood-stained head and neck

Opening the wings and with a few flaps to increase speed there is enough lift to keep the bird aloft

Wings open for another downward flap or two (See the uniform brown colour - unlike the Griffon)

The force of the wingbeats bends the long primary feathers upwards as lift increases with the bird's speed

Moving quickly away from me, but we can now see the detail streaking of the flank and part of the underwing. The structure of the bird is squatter, more sturdy than that of the slightly larger Griffon Vulture

The next few shots shows the breadth of the wing, particulary with the secondaries

Another takeoff shot, this time from behind. You can see the loss or damage to the left wing at the secondaries. Flight shots in the second photo down from the top of the page show the underside in greater detail.
The mottled back is also visible and you can see this in the very top photo, showing the side view, nicely lit up by the moring sun

Coming in to a carcass. Just look at the photo sequence below to see how the Rüppell's Vulture takes control of the situation. Although slightly smaller, on the ground the Rüppell's squat, low centre of gravity and great fitness make it a real fighter at a carcass and it always seems to control the pecking order and takes first place.

Coming in to land at a dead cow carcass. See how the Rüppell's Vulture uses it's strength and much more aggressive behaviour to it's advantage

close overflight to assess the opposition...



stands on tip-toes...

threatens again...

more posturing...everyones hissing and crowing now...

...moves towards the carcass with a few open-wing hops...

no real other challenges to speak of from any of the surrounding Griffons..

round to the other side and threatens once more to the stronger Griffons with wings wide open and of course the obligatory hissing...

...starts to fold in it's wings and begins to feed... What was all the fuss about?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Raptor Watch - A Spectator Sport

With Black Storks and lost of other raptors still congregating all along The Strait, let's see what's been happening this last week

Black Storks and a Shrot-toed Eagle circle above our raptor watching group
This season's raptor and stork migration has been quite outstanding in every possible respect. The spectacular views and volume of birds, the excellent company I've had on day tours and longer group holidays, peppered with good humour and laughter and great weather have all made it memorable for most who have witnesses this annual breathtaking spectacle on The Strait of Gibraltar. From Cape Trafalgar (above)...
...past San Bartolome, an often overlooked limestone slab on the road to Bolonia and Sierra de La Plata...

...down to where The Strait narrows to a mere 12km
....Then follow the coastline into The Mediterranean Sea and around the bay of Algeciras to Gibraltar you have the area where the concentrated raptor migration actually takes place
This whole 70km stretch of what can only be described as the 'Crown Jewels' European Raptor Migration with bird passage essentially all along the Cadiz coastline.

A Booted Eagle flies past the observation a watchpoint near Tarifa

Another tests the wind strength and pssibly his own power against the 'Levante' or easterly wind

A young Honey Buzzard passes below us and we watch it go to roost in a small eucalyptus grove, where there were already some Black Kites, Booted Eagle and more Honey's
Across the political area know as La Janda, (which takes in Conil on the western coast, to Medina-Sidonia in the north and down to Tarifa) White Storks and Eurasian Spoonbills feed on Red Signal Crayfish in the rice-fields

Walking in the woods for passerines and insects

...raptor watching the other side of Betis

Huge numbers of Glossy Ibis are still around and visible on the public areas of La Janda's rice-fields

Glossy Ibis on Parade.
Sounds like a Randy Newman song title
Feeding, flying, landing, it goes on

Three species drying their legs

Stone Curlew at La Janda

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron at dusk

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Rave Review...

Lots to do...Lots of photos to sort through. Meanwhile, Birdwatching Mag in the UK had this to say about Andalucian Guides photoblog! Praise indeed!

If I were me, I'd read it too... Follow the blog!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Moving on...

Black Storks pass along the coastal limestone sierras on their way to cross The Strait at Tarifa

A breeding Egyptian Vulture from Europe glides and flaps overhead, It's full crop is clearly visible

Another busy week with my own Raptor Migration Tour this week and boy has it been a fantastic trip!
We started the first day off with a real bang, with Osprey almost on top of us and a first calendar year Spanish Imperial Eagle! It was great company for me and we had some good laughs as well as some very special birding moments. Thanks you all for your friendship and appreciation and of course booking with Andalucian Guides...

It was a changeable week weatherwise. Thousands of raptors patrolling up and down the coast hunting, watching the white horses lap and flick in the middle of The Strait, knowing that winds were even stronger at six kilometers out. Knowing the dangers that exhaustion brings. Regardless, lots of juvenile birds test themselves against the elements and take on the Levante winds howling out of the Mediterranean Sea, where the Atlantic Ocean begins at the town of Tarifa.

A first year Booted Eagle heads across to Africa with the fast ferry from Tanger to Tarifa throwing up a huge wake as it nears Europe's southernmost mainland town

There are huge numbers of White Storks feeding up in areas like La Janda. Many will stay on until the rice harvest in October/November, some will leave after this time but thousands stay on for the winter, obviously finding enough food to eat during our cooler months

Black Kites numbers are thinning out. This remarkably successful species can forage and find food in any habitat. A real survivor and a tough medium sized raptor

This week we had a flock of about 100 Lesser Short-toed Larks. This unprepossessing 'little brown job', can often be overlooked at this time of the year especially with the birds perfect camouflage against the dried and burnt out grasslands and open meadowland vegetation along the south coast. We also had a huge flock of over 200 Calandra Larks!

We've seen increasing numbers of Red Kites passing this week. Honey Buzzard are still passing albeit in singles and two's and three's now. Lesser Kestrels can be found fairly easily, lots have departed Europe but still good numbers can be seen feeding in the countryside. Sparrowhaws are still dashing past and a few Goshawks are around. We also had a couple of Atlas Long-legged Buzzards and early Hen Harriers. Alpine Swifts came whizzing past and a Little Swift added to our list.
Out a sea Pom and Bonxies are now patrolling The Strait with many Gannets diving off the coast. We watched lots of Cory's Shearwaters and a few Balearic Shearwaters from Los Lances where the Audouin's Gulls are usually present in good numbers at this time.
Unfortunately inconsiderate people still allow their dogs to put up the flocks of gulls, terns and waders at this protected area. Kite surfers too believe that they can practice on the shallow lagoon and the horse riders that disturb birds in the area. I loose a lot of energy each time I confront these people and explain that this is a protected area and clearly signposted as such.

Ospreys too have been passing in single figures each day this week. Our group had one land on a rocky outcrop on the coast near Zahara de Los Atunes, and on stopping the mini-bus to watch we all had a great views of this lovely raptor before it flew off only meters away

A dark form of the compact Booted Eagle

Short-toed Eagles were passing in huge numbers this week...

As were Booted Eagles of course...

Looking down on a Booted Eagle that was hunting below our group. We had some outstanding close views of this species as well as many other raptors

Egyptian Vulture. Some views of an immature 3rd year bird. The yellow face is starting to come in and the paler body shows its age from 1st and 2nd year birds. The tail is also lighter in colour as is the underwing and its paler, browner back.

Egyptian Vultures have a fairly fast wingbeat, reminiscent of buzzards and they hold their wings in a drooped fashion. Their pointed face, diamond-shaped tail makes this species pretty unmistakable in silhouette

With a wingspan of 165 - 175cm and a body length of 63-75cm they are quite an impressive sight to watch on migration

Another Booted Eagle showing its underwing moult. Click on the photo to enlarge and see what new feathers are coming through

Male Scarlet Darter

La Janda is still busy with lots of birds. Increasing breeding colonies of Glossy Ibis over on the Coto Doñana and in Cadiz province make this an easy bird to watch nowadays.

Lots of juvenile Marsh Harrier winter with us each year

For comparison: Short-toed and Booted Eagles together on migration

The bright yellow iris and the other colours of this adult male Montagu's Harrier make it such a stunning bird of prey. Their departure heralds our mild autumn season and the start of cooler days and nights on The Strait of Gibraltar