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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