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Friday, November 18, 2016

At the rubbish dump...

Over the last week the radiotagged vulture has spent some time at the Al Amerat/Al Multaqa Landfill site.  In the map below you can see it spent time (on 12, 17 and 18 November) where the new rubbish was being dumped.

Al Multaqa is one of the most modern land fill sites in Oman.  Good waste management need not be incompatible with conserving scavenging birds.  In fact, good waste management that includes separation of hazardous material benefits scavenging because it lessens the risk of inadvertent poisoning. Scavengers can actually help in the safe disposal of biological waste, by removing food waste that might serve as a vector for diseases that might affect humans, domesticated animals and other wildlife.  Oman is upgrading its waste management on a national scale.  Due consideration of scavengers when implementing new waste management practices will be a win for humans and a win for wildlife.

Locations of radio tagged Egyptian vulture at the Al Multaqa Landfill in mid-November 2016.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Early November 2016

Over the past 2 weeks the Egyptian vulture that we have been tracking has been mostly in the area around Al Multaqa landfill site, south of Muscat.  Some nights it roosts in the steep cliffs of the Wadi Sareen Nature Reserve, but it seems to be roosting many nights on the pylons south of the landfill.  See map below.

Movements during 29 October-12 November.
The regular use of pylons by the vulture can be seen in the image below.  Locations of pylons are circled.

Location of an Egyptian vulture showing use of high voltage electricity pylons.  Pylon locations are circled.
As we know, electrocution of large birds happens in Oman, we just don't know at what scale.  In other countries, the power providers team with bird conservationists to reduce risks. This is a win-win for both because fewer birds are electrocuted, and the power company has to respond to fewer outages, thereby saving money.  Just last week, the Hungarian power company, Mavir, hosted a conference on the issue, which attracted people from all over Europe, Africa and North America. Click the logo below to access their web site.  Proceedings should be available in due course.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mid-October 2016

One feature of the movements of this vulture has been that from time to time it moves from one area of concentration to another.  This was seen in other birds we tracked, too (See earlier blog posts).  It is not clear why this happens because many of the locations from which they move have a super-abundance food in the form of large municipal landfills.  One possibility is that this scavenger also keeps tabs on the food resources within its range, and so visits different landfills to confirm that food is still there.  Knowledge of the distribution of food resources within the vulture's home range may be important to the vulture's survival when food availability declines.  It should be noted that in Oman and many other countries, increased urbanisation, changing waste management practices and increased amounts of food waste are probbly making food availability more reliable for vultures.  So, although this behaviour of checking on food resources may be the result of evolution within an environment of unreliable food, today in Oman it may not be so important to survival.  Much could be learned about this by tracking more vultures in Oman and working with MECA and Be'ah to understand how vultures move between and use rubbish dump sites.  Such information would be useful when trying to conserve Egyptian vultures, particularly in places where it is seriously declining (which means almost everywhere else).

The map below shows that on 16 October our vulture left Tahwa landfill (south of Sur) and flew almost directly at about 50 km/hr to the Al Amerat landfill (south of Muscat).

Movements of satellite tracked vulture during 16 October 2016.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Article in Oman Observer

There was a nice little article in the Oman Observer yesterday about Egyptian vultures.
http://omanobserver.om/egyptian-vultures-population-thrive-al-amerat-landfills/  As with many stories, space restrictions meant that important information was left out.  Here is more information that should give you a more complete picture.

Although the global population of Egyptian vultures is in severe decline, Oman appears to be a stronghold for this globally endangered species.  It is both a home to an apparently healthy resident population and a wintertime destination for migrating birds that breed farther north and their offspring.   The population density of breeding Egyptian vultures on Masirah is the second highest recorded in the world, and the Muscat municipal rubbish dump at Al Amerat is a real hotspot, especially in winter.  While adult Egyptian vultures are white and black and have a bright yellow face, the juveniles and subadults are brown or mottled in colour.

Image result for egyptian vulture
Image from http://what-when-how.com/birds/egyptian-vulture-birds/

Egyptian vultures are scavengers, and in Oman many feed at municipal and village rubbish dumps. Oman is in the process of upgrading its waste disposal system, including improving landfills like those at Al Amerat, Quriyat, Tahwa (near Sur) and Barka.  This may have effects on vultures and other scavengers, but the effects need not be entirely negative.   The upgrading will result in fewer rubbish dumps, and they will be distributed differently than they are now.  Also, separation of particularly toxic waste will improve and that should be beneficial to all.

We,  International Avian Research (IAR), have teamed with the Environment Society of Oman (ESO) and The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) to do research and promote conservation of Egyptian vultures and other scavengers in Oman and worldwide.  The tracking the Oman Observer article mentions is the tracking reported on this blog, and we are working with our partners to extend that research, initiate public education activities and undertake direct conservation work.

Oman is trying to diversify its economy, and become less reliant on oil and gas for income.  Tourism is a big part of that diversification, and Oman is an extremely attractive destination.  Birdwatching tourism is an important sector of the overall tourism industry, and aims to tap into the many, many people who watch birds.  In the US alone it is estimated that there are 46.7 million bird observers that spend $32 billion on birdwatching related activities annually (that's about 45% of Oman's GDP!) Also, birdwatching is the fastest growing outdoor pursuit in the world, and attracts people of all ages, so there is a promise of sustainability.

Tagged vulture update:  Our tagged vulture is still at Tahwa.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Early October 2016

In the last couple of days the vulture we have been tracking has moved south and east and is back foraging around and at the Tahwa Landfill, which serves Sur.  Quite a bit of time is being spent roosting on the high voltage power lines that run by the landfill.  High voltage power lines are typically not as dangerous to soaring birds as medium-voltage power lines because the distance between the live wires and any grounded part of the pylon is much greater than the wingspan of a vulture.  Soaring birds are electrocuted when they simultaneously touch a live wire and a grounded element.

Over the last few weeks this bird has "disappeared" for a few days at a time suggesting it is spendings some time in areas where GSM coverage is poor.

Egyptian vulture movements during 4-9 October 2016

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Early September 2016

During the last two weeks the vulture we have been tracking has spent most of its time in Wadi Sareen and near Ibra.  It has spent almost all of the summer moving in these areas.  We have had a few periods when it has "disappeared", when it is moving away from the GSM network coverage.  Pretty soon vultures from farther north will be migrating, and the numbers in Oman will increase.
Vulture movements during 1-18 September.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 2016

During August our tagged Egyptian vulture spent most of its time in Wadi Sareen Reserve, but made regular trips out of the reserve to known rubbish dumps, villages and to roost on power lines.  It gave us a bit of a scare around the middle of the month when we went four days without hearing anything, but gratefully it popped up again and uploaded the stored locations. Apparently it spent much of the time while missing in the steep valleys and wadis of the Wadi Sareen Reserve, where the gsm signal must be poor.

Movements of tagged Egyptian vulture during August 2016. (Click on image to enlarge)
In the last week of August the vulture has ventured south, spent time in Ibra (where it spent much of its time in late spring), and on 31 August was moving south and east of Ibra in the area between the Hajar Mountains and the Wahiba Sands.

Movements of tagged eagle during 24-31 August 2016. (Click on image to enlarge.)