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Blog posts after 1 Feb 2018 about Steppe eagles tracked from Oman can be found at the Steppe eagle blog

Monday, January 6, 2020

Egyptian vulture work in Oman - a history

by M. McGrady and B.U. Meyburg

An adult Egyptian vulture ready to be fitted with a satellite tag in 2018.

Egyptian vulture is globally endangered, and faces a wide range of threats including, poisoning, electrocution, persecution and hunting for belief-based medicine.  Most vulture species in Eurasia and Africa are of conservation concern, being either endangered or critically endangered.

Since 2012 Egyptian vulture research has been conducted in Oman.

2012 - surveys of breeding Egyptian vultures on Masirah supported by the Environment Society of Oman (ESO) find it to be the second most dense population in the world,  The result of that survey are published.

2013 - Waheed Al Fazari conducts vulture surveys for 1.5 yrs at the Muscat municipal landfill. Results are published.

2014 - the ESO supports wider surveys at dumpsites on the mainland.

2015 - Waheed Al Fazari and International Avian Research capture and tag with a satellite transmitter the first Egyptian two vultures to be tracked in Oman

2016 - two more vultures fitted with satellite transmitters by International Avian Research

2018 - 12 adult Egyptian vultures are trapped at the Muscat municipal landfill and fitted with transmitters.  This work funded by International Avian Research and the Bernd Meyburg Fund for Raptor Conservation and Research.  Be'ah, the waste management company in Oman, joins the conversation about how best to manage waste in Oman to benefit both scavenging birds (like vultures) and humans.

2019 - Surveys for breeding Egyptian vultures in the eastern Hajar Mountains by International Avian Research and the Bernd Meyburg Fund for Raptor Conservation and Research find many more breeding vultures than estimated.  Oman seen as a global stronghold.  Results of on-going surveys by ESO on Masirah, results of tracking and identification of Oman as a stronghold published in three different papers.  Artwork by Violet Astor raises funds for more work by ESO on Egyptian vultures.

So, at the end of 2019 we have 8 satellite tags providing data on movements of territorial adult Egyptian vultures (7 in Oman, one in southern Iran).  These birds have been tracked for two years now, and we plan a first effort at analysing those data in 2020.  Also, with funds from the Astor artwork, we will initiate field work and public conservation education efforts with Egyptian vultures as a focus.

Apart from the organizations mentioned, the work was undertaken with permission from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA). Be'ah and its contractors helped by providing safe access to their landfill sites.  Be sure to visit our other site about tracking scavenging birds in Oman: http://steppeeaglesoman.blogspot.com/

Sunday, October 13, 2019

171326 a change in home range.

by B.-U. Meyburg & M. McGrady

Most of the Egyptian vultures we captured and fitted with satellite transmitters in January 2018 were apparently settled territory holders.  From the very beginning tracking has showed them to move between their territories and the dumpsites and landfills that they regularly visit for food.  However, a few were not settled, and presumably were "floaters", birds that had no fixed territories (and no mates).  171326 appeared to be such a bird.

Below are maps of the last 20,000 locations and last 5,000 locations of  Egyptian vulture 171326.  As can be seen, this bird was spending almost all of its time north of the eastern Hajar Mountains, but then shifted SW, and has more recently settled into an area south of Sayq and has made forays out toward and beyond Birkat al Mous and even visiting Jebel Shams.

The last 20,000 locations of  an adult Egyptian vulture (171326), up to 13 October 2019. Click on map to open in a new window for easier viewing.
The last 5,000 locations of  an adult Egyptian vulture (171326), up to 13 October 2019. Click on map to open in a new window for easier viewing.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Vulture Awareness

by M. McGrady and B. -U. Meyburg

International Vulture Awareness Day is on Saturday 7 September.  As a warm up to that, below is a animation of the movements of some of the Egyptian vultures we are tracking in Oman.  In case you have not been following the blog, we tagged 13 Egyptian vultures in 2018, thinking that the large increase of vultures at dump sites in Oman was the result of migrants arriving from farther north.  To our surprise all the tagged vultures except one stayed in Oman (one hopped over to southern Iran), and most of them seemed to be territory holding birds.  This led us to believe that the resident population of Egyptian vultures in Oman was in fact much larger than suspected  (click here).  In spring 2019 a field team confirmed this by finding over 60 vulture breeding territories in a restricted area south of Muscat, indicating that Oman truely is a stronghold for globally Endangered Egyptian vultures.

Below is a short animation of a few weeks of movements by some of our tagged birds.  What it shows is that birds are dwelling on their territories most of the time, making almost daily trips to the landfill (pink triangle near the middle), and every once in a while they wander more widely.  The animation was assembled by John Burnside at the University of East Anglia (Thanks, John).  John is working on McQueen's (houbara) bustard.  You can learn more about his work here https://www.sustainablehoubaramanagement.org/ and on Twitter  @SustainHoubara  https://twitter.com/SustainHoubara?s=17

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Ranging by 171325 during August 2019

by M. McGrady and B.-U. Meyburg

It's been about 1.5 months since we last posted anything about the vultures we are tracking.  During that time most of the vultures have been spending time on their territories, making regular visits to the Al Multaquaa dump, and only occassionally wandering more widely.  Although we do not have information on productivity from the vultures, judging from the tracking data, it seems that some birds actually raised some offspring.  It certainly would be nice in future years to confirm this, and start to understand how productive the breeding population of Egyptian vultures in Oman really is. 

The map below is typical of what the territorial birds have been doing.  The map is of the last 500 locations for vulture number 171325.  It has a territory inland from Yiti and As Sifah.  It makes regular trips to the landfill at Al Multaquaa, but also made a long trip to the rubbish dump outside of Ibra.  This behaviour is actually in line with what we found for non-breeding immature  (McGrady et al. 2017) birds in that this vulture makes regular visits to a source of abundant food, but also seems to keep tabs on more distant food sources.  This type of behaviour provides a hedge against the loss of the nearby source.  Of course the Egyptian vulture has no way of knowing that the Al Multaquaa landfill is likely to be a reliable source of abundant food for a long time.

McGrady M.J., Karelus, D.L., Rayaleh, H.A., Sarrouf Willson, M., Meyburg, B.-U., Oli, M.K., Bildstein, K. 2019.  Home range and movement of Egyptian Vultures in relation to rubbish dumps in Oman and the Horn of Africa.  Bird Study 65: 544556.

GOOD NEWS FROM PORTUGAL:  A national action plan for necrophagus birds has been published https://www.4vultures.org/2019/08/22/portuguese-action-plan-for-the-conservation-of-necrophagous-birds-finally-published-in-di%C3%A1rio-da-rep%C3%BAblica/?fbclid=IwAR1TiPg3U2AR5Y-v434Cmz3X8ifbavXqICCEcHiZzDWmLyjsoYmnD5JyW38

Last 500 locations from an adult Egyptian vulture (171325) up to 28 August 2019.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sunday morning movements

by B.-U Meyburg and M. McGrady

Below is a map which shows the last 1000 locations of Egyptian vulture 16095.  We are collecting data at a high rate (maximum 1 location/sec depending on solar power constraints).  The map shows that this bird spent earlier parts of the morning at the Al Multaqa landfill. It then started soaring over the landfill and gained altitude, then flew in a straight line about 2 km to the south, circled once more to gain a bit more altitude, then perched.

Analyses of such data can allow us to understand the flight behaviour of vultures in relation to weather information, topography and location of food resources.  Such understanding can help conserve vultures by enabling us, for example, to better understand the risk of collision at wind farm sites, and adjust turbine placement accordingly.

Movements of an adult Egyptian vulture during the morning of 7 July 2019

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Scavenging birds are important waste managers in Arabia

 Click on the link to see a recent opinion paper by M. McGrady, T. Al Amri, and A. Spalton


Human waste managers at Al Multaqa Engineered Landfill outside Muscat with their vulture colleague.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Its the breeding season for Egyptian vultures in Oman

by M. McGrady and B. -U. Meyburg

In January 2018, when we caught the vultures we are currently tracking, we assumed that most of them were from migratory populations and that they would leave Oman during the breeding season.  However, to our surprise NONE of the birds we tagged were migratory, and that suggested instead that the breeding population in Oman is much larger than had been estimated (100 pairs, Jennings 2010), especially given the large increase we had recorded on Masirah (Angelov et al 2013)

In February-March of this year, a multi-national team (Ivaylo Angelov-Bulgaria; Clémentine Bougain-France; Michael Schulze-Germany) spent three weeks in Oman trying to determine whether the vultures we were following were indeed breeding, and to find other breeding pairs.  To do this they used tracking data to identify the territories of tagged birds, which they visited to confirm occupancy.  Then, using that as a framework, searched for signs (faeces at perch and nest sites, and attendant birds) of territorial pairs in the vicinity.  This was not always easy work because much of the area is in difficult terrain with few roads, and the nests are sometimes not in places where they can be easily observed.

Searching for signs of territorial Egyptian vultures. Photo by the EV Team.
Nonetheless, the team were able to confirm apparent breeding by most of the tracked birds, with some birds apparently starting to incubate eggs by the first week in March.  They were also able to find over 80 apparent breeding territories of Egyptian vulture within about 40 km of the main Muscat municipal landfill at Al Multaquaa, and they estimated there might be around 200 pairs in total in that area.

An Egyptian vulture inspecting a possible nest site, March 2019. Photo by the EV team
So, although it has been almost two months since our last positing, it is not the case that nothing has been happening... For their part Egyptian vultures in Oman have started breeding.  Once they lay eggs, they will need to incubate them for about 42 days, then the nestlings will remain in the nest for about 70-90 days (so an egg laid on 10 March would produce a fledgling in July).  We will continue to track vultures fitted with tags (below is an example of the movements of a vulture during March, showing that it has a territory located near Quriyat, but that it makes regular visits to the rubbish dump at Ibra).  We are also analysing more closely the results of the Feb-Mar breeding survey, and aim to publish that in the coming months.

Movements of a territorial Egyptian vulture during March 2019.
The team saw many more interesting things during their surveys; in the coming days we will try to post more information, so come back to the blog or follow us via email.