Friday, 26 September 2014

Rüppell's Vulture Sightings in Europe

Rüppell's Vulture takes a peck at a Griffon Vulture

25th September 2014. Cadiz province, Andalucia, Spain

After watching a huge flock of Griffon Vultures circling over the evergreen cork-oak canopy of the vast Alcornocales Parque Natural we eventually saw many birds descend down to the ground and out of sight. We could hear their hissing and squabbling and immediately knew that the birds were feeding at an animal carcass of some sort. Off the track the land fell sharply down a steep slope and with the noise coming from the birds we knew that they weren't far off so we worked our way through the maze of small goat tracks through the boulders, linking our arms around trees holding on to the soft cork bark and we slowly approached the feast.

Stopping and scanning through the forest we eventually saw thirty or so Griffons spread out in a grazed field where there were smaller groups near a dead cow. The carcass was lying in water from a fresh stream and wasn't dried out as it would have been if it had died out on the parched earth. For the vultures it was quite fortunate as the water was keeping the carcass moist and still soft for the birds to work at it day after day.

Some of the birds walked off as we sat back to watch the spectacle and we could see one juvenile Rüppell's Vulture in a group of four Griffons, two first year juveniles and an older adult. This group was closest to the carcass and after a few minutes the Rüppell's Vulture took the lead and walked slowly then bounded to dead cow. (The cow was a Retinto breed, raised in Andalucia famous for their quality meat).
The Rüppell's Vulture moves into position
Other Griffons followed the Rüppell's Vulture and started to feed mainly from the rear of the beast. Realising that more birds are coming in the young Rüppell's then started to open its wings in a threat posture at the first Griffon. After some flapping, pecking as well as doing a lot of hissing the Rüppell's managed to clear all the others back from the carcass and feed at both front and rear positions. The eyes and tongue were already taken and the bowel had been removed. As the Rüppell's fed slowly the others came in to see if any tender pieces could be taken.
It was interesting to watch a smaller vulture take on so many Griffons of all ages and hold it's own as king of the carcass!

Rüppell's Vulture straddling the carcass

Rüppell's Vulture and Booted Eagle

This was another photo (above) of a different bird in flight from the last few days at Algorrobo observation watch point. Speaking with my friends at the observation stations it's thought that this year has seen possibly ten different juvenile Rüppell's Vultures flying on the Spanish side of The Strait of Gibraltar since their arrival from Western Africa since late summer. Most of the Rüppell's head back to Africa from early October.
There have been a few sightings of Rüppell's Vultures in Portugal with one adult thought to have been an escaped bird from somewhere in Europe. White-backed Vulture which is also an African species has also been seen in both Portugal and Spain although it's occurrence is very rare on the Iberian peninsular.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Autumn Migration, Spain to Morocco

Black-winged Kite
Here's a few recent shots from Andalucia that I have managed to get since the weekend. 
I am leading a photo tour specializing in the southbound migration and have been working in tricky light conditions for the last few days although I have to say that it's been interesting as well as lots of fun. I've also posted some of the other birds we have come across and these have been equally pleasing after setting ourselves up at good locations to get into position for taking flight shots.
Black-winged Kite
Black-winged Kite
Juvenile Booted Eagle
 We have covered a lot of ground around La Janda and The costal stretches of The Strait, looking up many old haunts as well as known roosts and favorite feeding areas in particular for specific raptors. I'm pleased that some of the Monty's have been so cooperative and as you can see below we managed to photograph a splendid melanistic Monty's, undoubtably one of my favorite raptors and not an easy bird to see.
Booted Eagle
Juvenile Egyptian Vulture 
Harris Hawk
A falconer has lost their Harris Hawk which has been seen on several days around the coast on The Strait. With such long jesses it may well get tangled up somewhere.

Escaped Harris Hawk chasing Spotless Starlings in Spain

Harris Hawk still with jesses

A first calendar year (1cy) Montagu's Harrier

A few storms are still passing and the rain although heavy has been very localized with some areas still quite parched after the long hot summer.
The lack of 'Levante' or easterly wind has prevented any build up or concentration of migrating birds particularly with birds of prey and both the White and rarer Black Storks. Usually with such easterlies the wind strength between the two continents is so strong that the majority of birds have to what until the wind direction changes or the 'levante' dies down. Thousands of birds can then be seen hunting and cruising along the coast and inland as well as roosting in huge numbers in the vast Alcornocales forest. The westerlies or southern winds have dominated the migration recently with light to moderate winds on The Strait seeing large numbers of birds crossing at considerable height to Morocco without any major build up.

Upper side of a 1cy bird
A Melanistic Montagu's Harrier
A male Montagu's Harrier hunting dragonflies

More news and photos soon….