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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Commuting Vulture

by Mike McGrady and Bernd Meyburg

It's been almost a month and a half since the last blog.  Part of the reason for this is that the vultures have mostly been doing what they have been doing since their capture (No news is good news!).  Most have moved around rather restricted areas...most of the time.  These areas are most likely their territories, though the vultures have not yet started nesting.

Obviously, territories are needed for breeding, and require a good nesting site.  For Egyptian vultures a good nesting site is a hole or crevice in a cliff that provides shade for most or all of the day.  In much of Oman, especially the Hajar Mountains, there is an abundance of good nesting sites, and therefore many potential territories. Although a nesting site is important, so is access to sufficient food for survival, and to fuel any breeding effort.

Vultures are adapted to take advantage of food that is normally relatively sparse and widely distributed, and will forage over huge areas.  In modern times, as humans have become more settled, rubbish dumps have sprung up around villages, towns and cities, and these are places where vultures can regularly find food; the foraging behaviour of vultures reflects the spatial pattern of food availability.

As a result of the desire to hold a territory and have a nest site in order to breed, and the need to be well-fed to survive and breed successfully, some of the vultures have become 'commuters' between their territories and the rubbish dumps at which they feed.  In the example below, the locations are from a vulture with a tag ID of 171328, and have been collected during 31 October - 12 December 2018.  This bird spends most of its time on what appears to be a territory just south of Quriyat, but makes regular trips to the Al Hamar rubbish dump, just north of Ibra and about 65 km away to the SW, and the occasional trip to the Muscat municipal landfill near Al Hajar (about 50 km away to the WNW).

Presumably, this bird would have made fewer trips to Ibra, when the Quriyat rubbish dump was in operation, but it has been closed for some time now.  The closure of Quriyat may not have had any measurable negative effect on 171328 or other vultures with territories nearby because vultures are well-adapted to cover even very large distances to find food.

During the last month it seems that this bird also spent a good amount of time in Wadi Sareen Reserve.  There it would have found plenty of shade, and was willing to leave its territory during this, the non-breeding season, when it may not be so important to defend the territory from intruders.
Movements of an adult Egyptian vulture, 171328 during 31 October-12 December 2018.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Movements of 171318 during January-October 2018

by Mike McGrady and Bernd Meyburg

In January 2018 we fitted satellite transmitters to 13 Egyptian vultures (12 adults and 1 juvenile) at the Muscat municipal rubbish dump at Al Multaquaa.  This blog has given occasional updates on the movements of those birds (and that two may have died).  Back in January, we thought that Oman was likely an important destination for vultures migrating from farther north.  However, because none of the birds we fitted with transmitters actually migrated, we now think that the large number of vultures at Al Multaquaa in winter are actually resident birds, indicating that Oman's vulture population is probably much larger than estimated.  See https://egyptianvultureoman.blogspot.com/2018/10/summer-2018-to-october.html

As mentioned, none of the birds we tracked migrated.  All except one settled into home ranges in NE Oman, roughly between Ibra, Samail, Muscat and Sur.  However, one bird, 171318, moved up and down the north Oman coast during Jan-April, then hopped across the Straits of Hormuz, and settled on Qeshm Island and the adjoining mainland.  It has been there ever since.  You can look back at blog posts about its movements https://egyptianvultureoman.blogspot.com/2018/04/a-little-migration.html

John Burnside of Sustainable Houbara Management and University of East Anglia has kindly animated the movements of 171318
@SustainHoubara  sustainablehoubaramanagement.org (Have a look what they are doing, and the movements of the Houbara bustards that they have tracked.).

It's fascinating that this bird travelled up and down the coast, covering about 19,000 km before crossing to Iran.  In total since January, 171318 has covered almost about 30,000 km! (Double click on the image below or click on the full-screen option in bottom right of image to show in full screen.)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Summer 2018 to October

by Mike McGrady and Bernd Meyburg

As you may remember, we fitted 12 adult Egyptian vultures with GPS telemetry back in January 2018, thinking that at least some of them would be from migratory populations farther north.  It turned out that we were wrong.  All the birds stayed in Oman, except one, which just hopped across to Iran.  Below is a map of locations over the summer of 11 of the birds we have tracked, each bird has a different colour.  You won't be able to make out the locations of some of the birds because their locations will be buried under the others... we have tens of thousands of locations all together.  Despite that, the map tells the main story - Oman, especially the eastern Hajars, appears to be a real stronghold for resident vultures.  This is real news because in almost all other locations in their huge global range (Iberia to Central Asia, south to India, Arabia and sub-Saharan Africa right across to West Africa) Egyptian vultures are declining and under severe pressure.

We, along with co-authors from the Environment Society of Oman and be'ah, the national waste management company, will be presenting these and other results at international conferences in the coming months.

In the coming days we will be updating you on the movements of the bird that went to Iran, so revisit this site.

Locations of 11 adult Egyptian vultures tracked between January and October 2018.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

171318 Still in Iran

By Mike McGrady & Bernd Meyburg

Of all the Egyptian vultures we fitted with transmitters in January 2018, only one left northeastern Oman.  Until mid April, 171318 moved back and forth between Sur and Musandam, then finally crossed to Qeshm Island.  Since then, (and as of today) it has remained on Qeshm Island, and the nearby mainland.  The first map below shows the movements of 171318 during June-September 2018.  The second map shows what it did during 27 September, and the third map zooms in on that showing that the bird spent much of its time perched on pylons (one can see the shadows of the pylons on which the bird is perched located at about 11 o'clock from the cluster of locations).
Movements of Egyptian vulture 171318 during June-September 2018

Movements of Egyptian vulture 171318 on 27 September 2018

Clusters of locations for Egyptian vulture 171318 on 27 September 2018.  The shadows of pylons on which the bird is perching can be seen at about 11 o'clock to the clusters (click on image to enlarge).

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Catching up... Djibouti

Sorry not to have posted anything on the Egyptian vultures over the summer.  Over the next few blogs, I will try to get us back up to speed with what the vultures are doing.  So as to make a soft start, I have the pleasure of reporting that the Egyptian vulture that we tagged back in 2013 in Djibouti has been transmitting, albeit intermittently.  Below is a map of its movements during the time it has been tracked.  It has turned out that this bird is a resident (not migratory).  The most recent locations are from June 2018, and were from near Obock.  The reason this tag is not transmitting regularly is not known, but may be because the long feathers on the neck are partially covering the solar panels at times.  No matter... it is good that some data are coming in, and that the bird appears to be alive.  You can learn more about this bird (Assamo) by visiting this blog https://egyptianvulturedjibouti.blogspot.com/ 

Movements of a Egyptian vulture tracked in Djibouti during 2013-2018.  Green lines are roads and dark grey lines are high voltage powerlines.  Many locations are along roads and powerlines, where birds perch.

Locations from June 2018 near the town of Obock, Djibouti.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Update June-July 2018

It has been quite a while since I last posted information about Egyptian vulture movements.  I'll try to catch up. 

Below is a map of the adult vulture with the GPS transmitter number 139.  During the past two months it has been ranging in much the same manner as it did during the previous five months.  It has moved mostly around the Al Multaqaa Landfill site that serves Muscat and Wadi Sareen, but has also made journeys to Al Hamar rubbish dump at Ibra and travelled for a short time toward Ras al Hadd.  I think that despite being an adult, this bird is not holding a territory and did not breed this spring.  It is what is known as a "floater".  It might in the coming years try to acquire a territory.  We'll have to wait and see.  As it happens this bird has not been heard of since 9 July.  It was last located in the most rugged parts of Wadi Sareen.
Movements of adult Egyptian vulture 139 during 28 May-15 July 2018.
In contrast, the map below is from an adult Egyptian vulture with transmitter number 16095 during the same time period as the one above.  This bird appears to be a territory holder, with most of its movements near Jaslut (between Muscat and Quriyat) and making regular use of the Al Multaqaa Landfill.

Movements of adult Egyptian vulture 16095 during 28 May-15 July 2018.

Monday, May 28, 2018

4 month summary

Its been about 4 months since we fitted satellite transmitters to 13 (12 adults, 1 immature), fully expecting that some, if not most of the vultures would migrate.  This assumption was based on observations of increased numbers of vultures at rubbish dumps in Oman during winter (See Al Fazari & McGrady 2016).  To our surprise, only one of the birds even moved out of the country, and the rest stayed in NE Oman, mostly in the eastern Hajar Mountains.  Even the bird that left Oman, has not moved far away, just across the Straits of Hormuz into southern Iran (top map). Of all the others, most seem to be settled on territories (bottom map).  Two are still wandering a bit, and may not hold territories or may not be breeding this year, and are free-er to move around.  I wish we could get into the field to confirm breeding for these pairs, but that is not possible at the moment.

What this does imply is that the eastern Hajar Mountains are an important area for breeding Egyptian vultures (perhaps an IBA?), and that the published estimate of 100 breeding pairs in Oman is far too low.  Beside getting into the field to confirm breeding of these birds, important information could be gathered by: 1) comprehensive surveys of rubbish dumps in northern Oman (ESO has started this, but that was some years ago and was when we thought many of the birds would be migrants), 2) surveys for breeding vultures in northern Oman, and 3) perhaps capturing vultures in the western Hajar Mountains and fitting them with transmitters to see if they too appear to be almost entirely resident.

Movements of an adult Egyptian vulture during Jan-May 2018
Movements of 12 Egyptian vultures (11 adults and one immature) during January-May 2018.