Assamo, the Egyptian vulture fitted with a satellite tag in Djibouti in March 2013 has moved back into Djibouti after spending 5 months in Ethiopia, near the town of Adigala. The five month stay and the pattern of movements seemed to indicate that Assamo had found a regular food source, and had settled in. However, on 20 November he just up sticks and headed back into Djibouti to the area where he was originally caught. Since moving there he seems to have adopted his old pattern of movement (and one that contrasts with his movements in Ethiopia), in which he seems to be ranging over a large area and foraging at very small settlements. Whether this is an annual pattern or whether this is something done by vultures that will ultimately migrate into Eurasia is not yet known. Time may tell, but it might take a while in the telling. Have a look at http://egyptianvulturedjibouti.blogspot.co.at/ for more detail and a history of Assamo’s movements.
Kerri Wolter and Walter Neser, VulPro, South Africa
28 October 2013
With the bulk of our work at VulPro (www.VulPro.com) involving large species of vultures, when Keith Bildstein contacted us about collaborating with Hawk Mountain on a project involving South Africa’s smallest, the hooded vulture, we were quite excited about doing something a little different. It also presented the opportunity to learn about a lesser-known species, and we quickly said yes.
Time constraints and distance from the field site in northeastern South Africa made it impossible to do reconnaissance field work before tagging, and we were concerned about finding four climbable nests with suitably-aged chicks for fitting the tracking devices. With that, the timing of our weekend visit to the Lowveld Region where the birds occur in South Africa was a bit of a shot in the dark.
Working in a big-five reserve adjacent to the Kruger Park has its perks, and during the drive in we were treated to sightings of giraffe, zebra, and several species of antelopes. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Mario, the park warden, who told us about a nest 300 yards from his office on the bank of the Olifants River. We opted to check that first.
As we walked over, we quickly saw the nest contained a good-sized chick, and quickly returned to the office and our vehicle to grab climbing gear and camera. Just a few minutes after returning to the tree and with one climbing spur on my foot, Kerri pipes up.
“Oh C#!p. There’s an Elephant!”
I was not too surprised or concerned, and figured it would likely pass by, but suggested to Kerri that she get up the tree as a precaution.
It didn’t pass by.
As it approached, it became evident it was unhappy with Kerri’s being there. Elephants hate Kerri, and this one must have recognized her.When it was about 15 yards away, it gave a mock charge and I stopped putting on my second spur to shout at it and to keep the GoPro camera focused on the action. The young bull (in must), appeared irritated that there was this obstacle (me) on the ground between him and the now “treed” Kerri, and it gave a second charge, this time trumpeting and kicking up a bunch of sand and dust into the air to try to shoo the pesky obstacle (me) away.
When this did not work, the elephant gave up and probably hoped he would get another obstacle-free opportunity in the near future. I helped a rather reluctant Kerri out of the tree and headed up to the nest. About halfway up, Kerri reported that there was a second “ellie” approaching, and this time Kerri looked like sh
e was about to join the chick in the nest. I was high up in the tree already, and opted against letting Kerry know not-to-worry, as whatever happens I will be alright.
Luckily this “obstacle,” as Kerri now refers to them, passed without incident.
With the nestling down we began to process our first hoodie chick on the tailgate, without additional incident, and returned him to the nest shortly thereafter.
The rest of the weekend was spent walking the river banks searching for and plotting nests, climbing the ones that looked active, and processing the suitable-sized chicks, noting which others would be suitable on a subsequent visit. Perks included several sightings of Pell’s fishing owls, and a few hippos and crocs.
At the end of the weekend we had managed to deploy three of the four tracking units, as well as to map eight hooded vulture nests and 15 white-backed vulture nests. We departed happy, and plan to return in three weeks to deploy the final device. Keith has promised to join us for additional field work in December.
By Corinne Kendall, Ph.D.
Hawk Mountain Research Associate
Having recently completed a Ph.D. studying the movement of three of Africa’s threatened vultures – Lappet-faced, African white-backed, and Ruppell’s – in Kenya with the support of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about the movement of one of Africa’s most understudied raptors, the hooded vulture.
I tend to think of hooded vultures as the “chickens” of the vulture world thanks to their tiny beaks and small body size. Hooded vultures are unique in that they generally specialize on the tidbits left behind by other scavengers and have even been known to eat the feces of predators and other animals.
Having only handled a single hooded vulture in Kenya, I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to gain further first-hand experience with these gentle and tiny vultures. So when we caught our first bird, I wasn’t surprised to find that it lay relaxed in my arms while we attached the satellite unit. The juvenile bird was covered in downy feathers, particularly dense along its chest, and had beautiful long eyelashes that it batted gently as it looked up at us. Blood drawn and unit attached, it was quickly released but choose to stick around and stood to take a good look at us before finally flying back to join the impressive number of birds (close to 50) that had gathered in the trees around our bait.
Questions to be answered by this movement study of hooded vultures abound. As someone who has tried to understand how so many species of vultures can live together and why some are more threatened than others, I’m particularly interested to see how they compare to the birds we have previously studied.
Hooded vultures are certainly smaller in body size, but does that mean they will have a smaller home range than their larger cousins, like the Ruppell’s vulture, who can travel over 200,000 km2 in a year? In Kenya we have seen the importance of protected areas in shaping vulture movement for other species, but in West Africa where the parks are smaller and more scattered, how will the hooded vultures use the protected area network? If hooded vultures are spending more time near people in West Africa, as they certainly seemed to in The Gambia, will they have smaller range than they do in Kenya and South Africa, where they tend to be found in more natural habitats?
With our first week of data in hand, the excitement is gaining as we gather insights into the habits of these peculiar birds. But only with time, and the help of the four satellite tagged individuals, will we begin to understand what it is these birds need to survive and why they are so much more vulnerable in some parts of the continent than in others.
By Keith L. Bildstein, Ph.D.
Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science
3 October 2013
As readers of this blog know all too well, Africa’s vultures are in trouble … big trouble. Nine of 11 species are “Red Listed” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, either as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered, and many regional populations face the immediate threat of extirpation. Hooded Vultures, whose movement ecology Hawk Mountain decided to study in detail in 2012 are no exception (the species is now considered Endangered globally), and many populations in both East Africa and South Africa appear to be in steep decline.
With critical support from the Wallace Research Foundation and North Star Science and Technology, Hawk Mountain and its colleagues in Africa are in the process of placing satellite tracking devices on individual Hooded Vultures in many parts of its African range. Indeed, if all goes according to plan, two or more tracking devices will be placed on Hooded Vultures in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa later this autumn.
Earlier this week my colleagues and I placed four units on Hooded Vultures (three juveniles and one adult) in The Gambia, a small West African nation surrounded on all sides except for its Atlantic Coast by Senegal. The work went extremely well and what I learned during my short visit to this African nation has lifted my spirits considerably.
Clive Barlow, an intrepid Gambian colleague and new friend, has been watching Hooded Vultures for decades in The Gambia, and his willingness to partner with Hawk Mountain allowed me and raptor specialists Dr. Marc Bechard of Boise State University and Dr. Corinne Kendall of Columbia University to conduct a series of road surveys in The Gambia, as well as catch and tag four individuals for satellite tracking. Clive who has worked in The Gambia as an ornithologist for 30 years, co-wrote the book on Gambian birds with Dr. Tim Wacher ZSL UK (Barlow, et al. 1997. A field guide to Birds of The Gambia and Senegal), and l laid the ground work perfectly.
Our first day on the ground included meeting our counterparts inthe Gambia Department of Parks and Wildlife Management, including its director Mr. Momodou L. Kassama, and explaining how we intended to proceed with our work and discussing the details of our permit. The second day included baiting a trap site that Clive had been “pre-baiting” for weeks and sitting back and waiting for the vultures to arrive.
And arrive they did.
We placed the bait–a recently killed domestic chicken–out and set the trap at 9:30 a.m. Within two hours our first birds (two adults and a juvenile) dropped down and within a minute, we had trapped our first two Hooded Vultures: an adult we named Makasutu after the privately protected forest we had caught it in, and a juvenile named Mandina-Gambia, after the Mandina Lodge, the ecotourist facilty we used as base camp. In addition to placing tracking units on the birds, we collected a small amount of blood from each of them for sexing and eventual genetic analysis, weighed them, and released them back into the wild in short order. It is unusual to trap two birds simultaneously so we were confident about our great start. The next day we caught and tagged another juvenile in the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management’s Abuko Nature Reserve about 20 kilometers away, and named it Abuko in honor of the reserve. We also conducted the first of three roadside counts along a 24-kilometer route during which we saw an astounding (at least to us) 654 Hooded Vultures. Two days later we caught a second juvenile at Abuko and named it Tan Hoodie … “Tan” meaning “vulture” in the local Wolof language. Two additional road surveys later in the week suggested that in western-most Gambia, at least, populations of approximately 20 birds per square kilometer were the norm, which is far more than any of us had anticipated. Indeed by comparison, I had only a few dozen hoodies during five weeks of work in the Masai Mara region of southern Kenya in 2011 and 2012.Why the birds are doing so well in The Gambia remains something of a mystery, but studying the movements of these birds, and comparing them with those of birds in decline populations elsewhere promises to be an important first step in understanding the species ecology in different parts of it range, which, in turn, should help us better assess where the threats to this species lay, and how we might better design effective strategies for their survival.
Unfortunately, one week in the Gambia is but a tiny step in the right direction. Additional work, including satellite tagging many more birds is needed. The task will not be easy but for the rationale for doing it is plain. If we don’t learn more about this species ecology and behavior, and we don’t learn it quickly, we may lose ecologically functional populations of this the most widespread of all African vultures.More field work will require more funding, of course. But my trip to a haven for Hooded Vultures has only served to rejuvenate my enthusiasm for this important project. The loss of ecologically significant populations of vultures in southern Asia has brought with it dramatic increases in scavenging feral dogs, which, in turn, has resulted in rabies in humans skyrocketing in many places. We simply can’t afford to let that happen in Africa, the center of Old World Vulture diversity.Hawk Mountain plans to be in this good fight for the duration. If you want to help Hawk Mountain in this truly worthwhile effort, please contact me.
For information about how you can help, contact: mailto://firstname.lastname@example.org 570-943-3411 x108.
Acknowledgements: Mawdo Jallow & Lamin Sanyang (DPWM) , Lawrence Williams , Linda English & staff Mandina Lodges @ Makasutu, Dr Tony Fulford & Dave Montrieul (road surveys & photographs)
Posted in conservation, outdoors, raptors, reserach, tracking, vultures | Tagged conservation, hooded vultures, keith bildstein, ornithology, raptor conservation, research, The Gambia, vultures | Leave a Comment »
Never would I have imagined a trip to the Falkland Islands a mere 14 days after completing my M.S. in Biology, but that’s exactly what happened after I met Hawk Mountain’s Dr. Keith Bildstein at an American Kestrel research meeting in Boise, Idaho. Keith knew about my thesis research on the winter foraging behavior of American kestrels and red-tailed hawks, so when he told me the striated caracaras or “Johnny Rooks” I would be studying in the Falklands went against almost all the behavioral patterns I knew about raptors, I was beyond intrigued.
Upon landing on Saunders Island, we were greeted by three welcoming parties: island owners David and Suzan Pole-Evans, a small herd of sheep, and five Johnny Rooks.
This first encounter with the Johnnies involved a lot of heads turned sideways while we peered inquisitively at one another. As we waited for the plane to take off, Suzan quickly wrote down all of the alphanumeric codes of the banded birds that were in sight, all still peering at us from outside the windows of the Rover. When we reached the settlement, more Johnny Rooks were waiting, and even more could be seen flying towards us as we carried our bags into the house. I assumed they would leave when the door shut, but when I peeked through the curtains a Johnny looked up at me from right outside. That was when I started to understand just how different the birds were.
In the bird-of-prey world, you will often hear raptor biologists and falconers talk about a bird’s personal “bubble,” or how close you can get to a bird before you ‘pop’ that space and the bird flies away. Different species of raptors will have different sized bubbles, for example, I would be lucky if I could stop my car within 200 m of an adult red-tailed hawk without it flying off.
As the days passed it became even more apparent that Johnnies did not require a lot of personal space, and more so, they did not care about yours. Going for a walk often meant I had one hovering less than two feet above my head. If I stopped, it would land nearby and because they are rather social, others usually quickly joined. I could almost see the curiosity in their eyes as they tried to find new entertainment on the island. Whether they knew it or not, I was equally as curious about them.
After one week of interacting with these birds I had already formulated questions I would like to research for my PhD. Why do groups of juveniles dominate a food source over an adult during the winter? Why are some islands populated with primarily juveniles? The time and energy Keith, Micky Reeves of Falkland Islands Conservation and others have spent banding over 500 Johnnies will allow us to look at and compare the behaviors of individuals, something most biologists are unable to do. Reported sightings of bands from individuals like Suzan Pole-Evans and others, coupled with the GPS satellite transmitters that Micky fitted on six birds will also help us to understand how they move–and when, and if they move–between the islands throughout the year.
By Melissa Bobowski, graduate student
I thought you might enjoy these “postcards” from our latest research trip. I spent four wonderful weeks on the Falklands studying Johnny rooks as part of what will become my Ph. D. dissertation research. Keith will be posting a blog with additional text and photos real soon. Melissa
7 September is International Vulture Awareness Day. Have a look at this link to learn more and show your support http://www.vultureday.org/2013/index.php
On other fronts we have a lot of news similar to that found in previous posts:
Assamo is still hanging around Adigala in Ethiopia…
Vultures are being poisoned in large numbers in Africa…
The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds are doing a lot of good things…
Also, newly published…
Angelov, I., Yotsova, T., Sarrouf, M. & McGrady, M. J. 2013. Large increase of the Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus population on Masirah island, Oman. Sandgrouse 33: 140-152.
Happy International Vulture Awareness Day!