If you click on any images in the blog, it will be opened in a separate window, will be larger and it will be easier to see detail.

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.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Electrocution of vultures

Back in 2015 one of the Egyptian vultures we were tracking in Oman was electrocuted.  You can look back at blog posts for 21 and 23 December 2015 to read more.  Now this news from Iran (photo below) about an electrocuted Egyptian vulture.  Although this bird was not being tracked by us, one of the birds fitted with a tag in Oman this past January is in the area (See map below).

Electrocution is a global problem for many large soaring birds, including eagles and vultures.  Some of those species, like the Egyptian vulture and Steppe eagle, are globally endangered.  One of our analyses of tracking data from vultures in Oman will be to identify areas in which there is a particularly high risk of electrocution, and then plan conservation actions to reduce that risk.  This can be achieved by ensuring that new power lines are designed to be safe and that existing lines are fitted with devices that reduce electrocution risk.  Happily, this effort would benefit both large birds by reducing electrocutions, but also reduce expensive repairs and down-time related to power outages caused by electrocution of birds.

An adult Egyptian vulture electrocuted on Qeshm Island, Iran on 18 May 2018.

Tracking of an adult Egyptian vulture during May 2018.  Qeshm Island is where the electrocution of the bird in the photo above occurred.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A little migration

Finally, after what appeared to be much indecision, 171318 has hopped across the Straits of Hormuz and is in Iran just west of the city of Bandar Abbas.  You can look back at posts from 15 March and 16 February to see descriptions of this bird's behaviour since being fitted with a transmitter.  Basically, since that time it has been moving up and down the north Oman coast from Musandam to Sur (I have yet to calculate how many km it travelled, but it will be thousands!)  So far this is the only one of the 13 vultures we caught that has made a migratory move, and all the others are behaving quite differently than this one.  We'll have to wait to see what happens.

On another front... the Steppe eagle we are tracking seems to be settling in central Kazakhstan.  I'll post something on that in the coming days.  Stay tuned... https://steppeeaglesoman.blogspot.co.at/

Movements of  Egyptian vulture 171318 during 19-23 April 2018.
Crossing of the Straits of Hormuz by 171318

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Egyptian vulture tracking paper

Here's a tip:  We have just published an article on Egyptian vultures we tracked via satellite.  You can read it online here:
Pass the link on to others you think might be interested.

Also, remember to keep an eye out for colour marked birds, especially Egyptian vultures (we have now colour marked 17 in Oman).  So many people are taking great pictures of birds.  Like the one of a subadult Egyptian vulture by Hassan Mohamed below.
Sub-adult Egyptian vulture

For those of you who are photographing birds, make sure to look closely at your photos.  Sometimes one does not see a colour mark (or ring or transmitter) until one looks at a reasonable picture.  Below are photos (by A. Kovac) of a colour-ringed Steppe eagle (from Russia) photographed at Raysut rubbish dump in Salalah.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

What's up with 171318?

171318 is an adult Egyptian vulture we caught and fitted with a transmitter on 20 January.  All the other vultures we have captured have stayed in fairly limited areas in NE Oman, travelling no farther west than Bid Bid.  Below is a simple animation of the movements of 171318.  Double click on the video to open it in a larger screen.  As you can see, its movements are very different.  We'll have to wait to see what happens.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


One of the satellite transmitters we deployed in January in Oman was provided by  the Vulture Conservation Foundation.  They had a little contest amongst their supporters to give the vulture a name, and the supporters chose, "Tayeh" التائه , the wanderer. Below is a map of what Tayah has done since it was caught, and a map of what it has done during the first week of March.  Recently, it seems to be concentrating its time in the hills south of the village of Jaslut جحلوت, and maybe this is a sign that this is a resident bird and not a migrant.  We'll have to wait and see.

You should take the opportunity to visit the Vulture Conservation Foundation's web site.  It has a lot of information on other things they are doing for vultures, including tracking Egyptian vultures that spend their summers on the Iberian Peninsula and their winters in  West Africa (those birds are migrating now!).
Movements of an adult Egyptian vulture (Tayeh) during mid January - early March 2018.

Movements of an adult Egyptian vulture (Tayeh) during mid 1-6 March 2018.

Releasing Tayeh on 19 Jan 2018.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Injured vulture released

On 29 January I visited the New Al Amerat Landfill with Dr. Andy Kwarteng of Sultan Qaboos University. While there we found a sub-adult Egyptian vulture that had a spiral shaped piece of wire through its foot. With the help of the Suez workers, we collected the bird and took it to the Sama Veterinary Clinic, where Dr. Ninko Marijanovic removed the wire, cleaned the wound and gave the bird antibiotics.  The next day, thanks to Dr. Barbara Golachowska, the bird was taken to Bait al Barakah to recover.  Now, three weeks later, we can happily report that the bird has been released back into the wild.  Sadly, we did not have a transmitter to fit to it, but it was fitted with colour and metal rings.  Below are some pictures of the injury and a video of the bird's release.  Thanks everyone for helping out.  Keep in mind that Egyptian vultures are globally endangered, so saving even a single bird is important.


Friday, February 16, 2018

More updating. January and early February 2018

As reported in the last post, we managed to capture 13 Egyptian vultures in January, and fit them with satellite radio transmitters.  This is the first of the blog posts that will follow those birds, reporting from time to time on their movements and other events.  Below are maps from two of them, whose transmitter numbers are 171318 and 171328.

171328 was captured and fitted with a transmitter on 20 January.  After release, it moved south to a location in the mountains SW of Quriayat.  It has spent most of its time there, but has also visited the rubbish dump near Ibra.  This type of behaviour is typical of most vultures we have tracked, with birds settling into an area, and making occasional forays out to other places.  Over time the map becomes one in which the movement of birds is clustered around places (especially rubbish dumps).  One thing to keep in mind is that this is an adult bird and it might be holding a territory and could be a breeder.  We'll have to wait and see.

171328 being released, 20 January 2018.  Photo by M. McGrady

Movements of an adult Egyptian vulture (171328) during January and early February 2018.
171318 has behaved differently from the other birds we have tracked in that it has been almost always on the move and has not settled anywhere for very long.  Its movements have lead it to do at least two laps of northern Oman, from Sur to Musandam!  171318 was also captured and fitted with a transmitter on 20 January.

171318 being held by Dr B. Meyburg.  Photo: M. McGrady
Movements of an adult Egyptian vulture (171318) during late January and early February 2018.
Other places where information on this work is available include: https://thevulturechronicles.wordpress.com/2018/02/13/omans-egyptian-vultures/ and http://timesofoman.com/article/128064

You can also visit our blog which shows the movements of Steppe Eagles tagged by us in Oman in January 2017.  https://steppeeaglesoman.blogspot.co.at/

Monday, February 12, 2018

January 2018. New transmitters are deployed!

The bad news is that we have not heard from the Egyptian vulture since 4 October 2017, when it was at the Tahwa Landfill south of Sur.  We are still hopeful that it will turn up, but hope seems to be fading.

The good news is that during field work in Oman in January we were able to fit transmitters to 13 Egyptian vultures (and what appears to be a hybrid Greater spotted-spotted eagle).  Because of this I have created a blog solely for the Steppe eagles we have been tracking. You can visit that blog by clicking here.  

Sultan Qaboos University Environmental Studies students helped fitting satellite transmitters to vultures. Photo: M. McGrady
Working at the main municipal landfill at Al Multaquaa (aka New Al Amerat), we managed to catch 12 adult and one 2 year old Egyptian vultures and fit them with GPS tags.   The work was done under permits from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Affairs, and the access permission of Be'ah, the national waste management company.  Six of the tags were provided by the Bernd Meyburg Foundation for Raptor Research and Conservation, and Dr. Meyburg himself was in the field (Dr Meyburg has probably fitted more satellite to more eagles from the most species of anyone in the world).  One tag was from the Vulture Conservation FoundationThe Environment Society of Oman (ESO), the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association and Faisal Al Lamki all provided additional support.

Dr B. Meyburg with a adult Egyptian vulture. Photo: M. McGrady
In coming posts I will report on interesting events and keep you up to date, but with so many birds I will not be able to give details about all birds all the time.  For now, have a look at the map below, which shows what the birds did in January.  The different symbols refer to different types of tags.  
Movements during January 2018 of 13 Egyptian vultures fitted with GPS tags