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The past year was really busy for us as we finally published the Hungarian version of our Birds of Prey of Hungary photography book together with our friend Zoltan Turny as a co-author. It has been a highly motivating project thanks to many people who supported it. We are planning to publish the English version by the third quarter of 2016.
Other highlights of the year were probably our Georgian trip to Batumi in early October where we saw over 100,000 migrating raptors within four days (with special thanks to Jasper Wehrmann at Batumi Raptor Count), and the successful subsequent expedition west of Tbilisi for searching for Eastern Imperial Eagles. Really great experiences!
We wish you a happy and prosperous 2016 with many exciting raptor encounters!
Andras & Gabor
Foxes are not against easy food, especially in winter. But it is not always safe to take prey from an Imperial Eagle territory when the owners are at home, as the following image, which I took in 2010, shows it.
Last weekend a smart fox performed a funny action in front of me. It was an experienced one and knew that the eagles were not happy to share any food with other raptors in the core of the territory. So it sneaked to the eagle feeding place as close as it could in the bush and with a final storm tried to steal some meat from it. Since the eagles were very close, the fox was keeping its eyes on them constantly while tucking as much meat into its mouths as possible.
Actually, it was too much so the fox had dropped a big chunk twice by the time the male eagle started from the tree with obvious educational aims… All took less than two minutes. At the last moment the fox could manage to take the big piece but soon dropped the half of it when it fled the eagle in full force in my direction. Approximately 10 meters from me it spotted the front lens, got quite shocked and made a quick and sharp right turn. But during the same move it also opened its mouth in surprise and dropped the rest of the meat! Poor fellow almost succeeded! It was not eager to return…
A younger fox made a similar attempt three hours later but could not even reach the place and suddenly changed its mind somehow.
The eagle pair nicely controlled the territory as they also chased Ravens and a Common Buzzard off the area during the day. The female already incubated in mid-March last year.
March is slowly prevailing over the winter this year…
I uploaded some images into the New Images gallery.
On 17th of December, I could manage to photograph a 1st-year female Steppe Eagle with a colour ring on her left leg in Raysut, Oman.
Based on the black-orange colours and the A16 code the bird could have been identified as the one that had been ringed by Igor Karyakin and his colleagues, Andrey Kovalenko and Alex Karpov in the West-Kazakh Aktobe region on 24 June, 2012, approx. 3700 km from Raysut, Oman.
This is the second recovery data of the Steppe Eagles ringed by the Russian team. The first eagle, originating from Russia, was recovered in Yemen earlier this year.
I would like to thank Igor for the data and the image taken during ringing and to congratulate on the superb http://rrrcn.ru website!
I have planned a trip to Oman for many years for collecting data and photo documentation on Eastern Imperial Eagles and other raptors but unfortunately it did not come true in the past years.
But not in 2012! The 1st Meeting of Signatories of the CMS (Bonn Convention) Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia (Raptors MoU) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, provided a unique opportunity for a visit ( this time lone, unfortunately) in one of the most important and most spectacular raptor winter quarters of the Western Palearctic, the neighbouring Oman.
99% of the 309,000 km2 land surface of Oman belongs to the vast and astonishing deserts of the Arabian Peninsula and it lays on one of the most important bird flyway, the African-Eurasian bird migration route. Thus, Oman holds internationally important migration and wintering sites for Central Asian bird populations including raptors.
It may be a bit absurd for many travellers but raptor fans and researchers the waste disposal sites in Oman are among the main destinations during the migration or wintering periods. Scavengers such as storks, vultures, eagles and corvids can feed on the large amount of offal dumped on these sites, which means a significant food source comparing to the low prey availability of surrounding desert and semi-desert habitats. Therefore, waste disposal sites are major ‘stepping stones’ or wintering sites for migratory birds of prey between Asia and Africa and they contribute to scavengers’ survival greatly in an otherwise harsh, suboptimal environment.
I arrived in Muscat on 12 December. I spent the next few days in the capital area and stayed at my friend Faisal Lamki’s place very close to Al Qurm Natural Park. Faisal (firstname.lastname@example.org) offers excellent accommodations for naturalists and environmental researchers.
The migration was over yet, so I expected wintering raptor species/numbers.
I visited the newest Al Amarat and Qurayyat waste disposal areas (WDA). As for the species composition these sites were dominated by the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) with a minimum of 120 individuals at Al Amarat but Lapped-faced Vultures (Torgos tracheliotus), Steppe Eagles (Aquila nipalensis), Eastern Imperial Eagles (EIE, A. heliaca) and Greater Spotted Eagles (GSE, A. clanga) were also present in small (a couple of birds) numbers.
I drove down to Dhofar region on 15 December. I saw very few birds during the 1030-km trip in the flat, rocky desert, mainly larks and wheatears, but I stopped a few times only and was primarily concentrating on driving…
In the south I visited two WDAs (Thumrayt and Raysut), Wadi Dharbat and the sinkhole at Tawi Attair.
The major site is Raysut WDA, I estimated the number of eagles here at a minimum of 250.
The majority of them were Steppe Eagle with 6-8 EIEs and 3-4 GSEs. Most of the EIEs were 1st and 2nd cy but I saw a 4th cy and an adult birds as well. Altogether approximately 10-15 EIEs could be present in the area. The eagles got used to people’s presence, although it was not common that they let me closer than 30 meters. Late afternoon eagles were replaced by hundreds of White (Ciconia ciconia) and Abdim’s Storks (Ciconia abdimii).
At a nearby drinking place I found a Steppe Eagle carcass.
Apart from the patches around water bodies the forests of the beautiful Wadi Dharbat are mainly deciduous, the Wadi showed its dry winter character, which was interesting in a 30 Celsius daytime temperature. Eagles were relatively activity here, I saw 17 individuals of 5 Aquila species in one and a half hours.
The sinkhole at Tawi Attair may be one of the best sites for Bonelli’s Eagle photography. The approximately 200m-deep and similar-diameter sinkhole holds a pair of eagles. They got used to people (and photographers) in the lookout. Although in most cases covered by the canopy of a nearby tree, they circled above me couple of times within a 30-40-meter distance and perched on the rock face or trees on the opposite site of the sinkhole. These birds live in the pantry, while I was watching them they stooped and attacked the Rock Doves in the sinkhole time after time.
The sinkhole is situated on a plateau of the Dhofar Mountains holding significant livestock. It was an interesting area. I was lucky to take photos on the trip’s only Amur Falcon (adult male Falco amurensis), and observed Lapped-faced Vultures and among other eagles some Eastern Imperial Eagles too. It was very interesting to see a pair of adult EIEs being together so far from the species’ breeding range!
In summary: during the seven field day I observed 15 birds of prey species including the following:
Black Kite (Milvus migrans),Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Lapped-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Sparrowhawk(Accipiter nisus), Crested Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptylorchinchus), Greater Spotted Eagle(Aquila clanga), Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata), Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata), Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis). I could manage to take good, unique photos about some of them. I uploaded some of the raptor images into the New images gallery.
No Buzzards, no large falcons and owls, a single Accipiter and Circus species.
All in all, the trip was an extraordinary, unforgettable experience, the gathering of wintering eagles, the astonishing faces and geomorphology of the desert, the white beaches covered by Coconut trees, the fascinating people and country as a whole.
Many people helped me consciously or unconsciously before and during the trip, but I would like to thank Gábor (Papp), Nick Williams, Jenny Renell, Faisal Lamki and Mike McGrady and specially my family for their unselfish support.
Thank you guys and I wish similar great moments and the best in 2013 to all of you!
We wish our Friends a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2013 filled with health, love, wealth and good luck!
András és Gábor
I have already posted about our previous expedition from earlier this year. This time we got to see the same areas during the summer ( July 1-14th).
Everything was together for an exceptionally good trip travelling with 3 trucks loaded with 12 raptorphils. Our aim was to check all the known Imperial Eagle nests. The Hungarian and the Bulgarian team counted 8 and 4 people, respectively. The latter were members of the BSPB.
After certain problems in the beginning on July 3rd we reached our first destination, the Basin of Eskisehir where we found 10 pairs of IEs this spring. Our plan was to check the breeding results of these pairs and collect food remains and feathers for DNA samples. We couldn’t find all the nests in these territories before, so we also tried to finish it now and look for new territories in other parts of the basin. The area was full of raptors during spring, which gave us hope for some goodies this time too. Fortunately we didn’t have to be disappointed.
Most of the pairs had a succesful breeding season here having at least one chick in almost every nest. Only two pairs caused us a big surprise having failed this year. These were particularly close to each other and the area was very rich in sousliks. A possible explanation for the failure could be disturbance due to close vicinity of a human settlement.
No doubt, the biggest surprise was the very same Steppe Eagle we observed a few months before almost at the same spot. Our happines turned into euphoria pretty soon after we saw that this male Steppe actually had a mate, a female Imperial Eagle! We found there nest and the remains of 2 dead chicks under it. Although the final results of the DNA analysis are not known yet, no doubt it is a very unique observation. So far literature mentiones only a handful of proven cases of the hybridization of the Imperial Eagle with other Aquila species but not with Steppe Eagle.
The discovery of a probably unknown (to nature conservationists at least) colony of Black Vultures is also worth to be mentioned, as well as the findings of nest of Lammergeiers and Egyptian Vultures.
From Eskisehir we travelled east to Bolu and Gerede, where there wasn’t done any fieldwork this spring, so we had no information about the nesting pairs. Our results mirrored this perfectly, we found only a few nests and those had very bad breeding success. Other pairs known from earlier years simply disappeared giving us an impression that something really bad must have affected the Imperial Eagle population in these areas.
During our 2-week trip we saw 25 species of raptors of which the Steppe Eagle and a single Eleonora’s Falcon were the jewels.