If you click on any images posted to the blog, they will open in a new window, and may be easier to see.

Blog posts related to Steppe eagles trapped and tracked from Oman in 2017 can be found on the Egyptian vulture blog

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A northwest passage of sorts

by A. Spalton, F. Al Lamki, M. McGrady & B.-U. Meyburg

We have now been tracking Steppe eagles captured in Oman since 2017.  Most were fitted with transmitters in Salalah in January 2019.  Looking at the routes they have taken between their wintering and summering grounds (and vice versa), it is noticeable that many pass through or winter in a rather restricted area about 150 km the northwest of Riyadh, near the town of Shaqra.  However, we could find no reference to this area being important to migrating raptors.  Is there anyone in Saudi Arabia that knows about this area or might go visit it?

Steppe eagles, Abdim storks and crows at a dumpsite near Salalah, Oman
It seems that the apparent importance of this area is a consequence both of its location (along a rather direct route between wintering areas, the Bab el Mandeb and the head of the Arabian Gulf at Kuwait) and that two dumpsites are located near Shaqra.  Those dumpsites are likely a source of food for scavenging birds like Steppe eagles, but also Egyptian vultures, Eastern imperial eagles and other migrating raptors. Indeed, the importance of this area may be a relatively recent phenomenon linked to the rapid development in Saudi Arabia, and the resulting increase in waste.  See https://www.natureasia.com/en/nmiddleeast/article/10.1038/nmiddleeast.2019.80

While dumpsites can be important sources of food for scavenging birds, they can also pose threats if toxic material is also available to the birds or if dangerous power infrastructure is located nearby upon which eagles might perch and possibly be electrocuted.  Because of this, it would be good to make direct observations and collect data from this area.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Lots of News - part 1

by M. McGrady, B.-U. Meyburg, F. Al Lamki & A. Spalton

We've been a bit quiet recently, but that is not because nothing has been happening.  We'll try to catch up in the coming days...

The BIG news is that two of the Steppe eagles that we tagged last January in Salalah have returned, and one is about 100 km away at the moment (See map below).  This was somewhat of a surprise because the two Steppe eagles we captured near Muscat in January 2017 spent the subsequent two winters near rubbish dumps in Saudi Arabia.  The behaviour of those birds suggested to us that perhaps the birds that winter in Oman settle there because they are a bit "lost".  However, fidelity to wintering areas (i.e. returning to the same place) is not uncommon for many bird of prey species, so that these birds eventually returned to Salalah is not completely surprising.  Maybe eagles near Muscat are "off course", but Salalah is a more regular wintering site.  Maybe we'll see in the coming years.  At Salalah Steppe eagles are, by far, the most common wintering raptor; near Muscat, Egyptian vultures (apparently mostly resident birds) are the most common raptor species using the landfill there.

Movements of three Steppe eagles (186, 187, 182711) during 1 September - 12 October 2019.



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

More on migration

by A. Spalton, B. Meyburg, F. Al Lamki, M, McGrady

The Steppe eagles continue thier migration. At the moment we have recieved information about thee that are underway. We'll have to wait to hear from the others. 

182711 is making steady progress, and is currently near Basra.  We'll have to wait to see whether it ends up in Salalah again. 

Movements of a Steppe eagle (182711) during 4-11 September 2019.
Steppe eagle 187 has also migrated as far as Esfahan, Iran, where it has been for the past two days, apparently at a waste disposal site. 
Locations of  a Steppe eagle during 9-11 September 2019.



Saturday, September 7, 2019

187 has started to migrate

by M. McGrady, F. Al Lamki, B.-U. Meyburg and A. Spalton

Steppe eagle fitted with tag number 187 has started to move.  It seems to have initiated migration on 31 August.  This is an adult male bird, and althought it was settled during most of the summer, it also made very big excursions, especially during late spring.  During most of the summer it was located in an area about 30 km north of the Kazakhstan village of Karaoy, 160 km SE of Aktobe.  As of 7 September it was located about 25 km north of Khur, Iran.

Bon voyage!

In seems that migration has started in earnest, so visit this blog regularly to keep up to date.  We hope to be hearing about other migrants soon.

Movements of a Steppe eagle (187)during 1 August-7September 2019

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Migration has started

by F. Al Lamki, A. Spalton, B. -U. Meyburg. M. McGrady

Migration has started, at least for one of the Steppe eagles (185) we tagged earlier this year in Salalah.  Others may have started, and indeed some seem to be wandering during the late summer (mostly in Kazakhstan), but none have made a concerted push towards the wintering areas yet. 

185 is a female that was in its third year when we caught it.  It seems like she bred about 40 km east of the town of Embi, Kazakhstan because she stayed in a rather restricted area during 15 March -2 September.  On 2 September it started to migrate, but instead of returning along its spring migration route towards Arabia, it has flown north of the Caspian Sea and is currently about 100 km west of Astrakhan, Russia.

The movements during Jan-August 2019 of a third year Steppe eagle (185) tagged in Salalah.
Summering area used by a Steppe eagle (185) during 2019.
Zoomed in view of the summer home range of Steppe eagle 185.  It spent almost the entire summer within a radius of about 2.5 km.
Movements of Steppe eagle 185 since leaving its summer home range in 2019.  In the 3 days since starting migration, it has covered about 1000 km.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Movements of a Steppe eagle during January - June 2019


by M. McGrady, F. Al Lamki, B.-U. Meyburg and A. Spalton

The annual movements of the Steppe eagles and other migratory birds never ceases to amaze.  Below is a map of a three year old female eagle (182712) since it was caught in January 2019 at Raysut, Oman.  Seemingly this bird was not a breeder in this year, rather it has wandered around central Kazakhstan.

Movments of a third calendar year, female Steppe eagle during January - June 2019.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

182 has shown up

by F. Al Lamki, A. Spalton, M. McGrady and B. Meyburg

A Steppe eagle that was hatched in 2018, and fitted with GPS transmitter 182 on 15 January at Raysut, Oman was heard on 13 June.  It was last heard on 20 May.  After capture, this bird moved to western Yemen and stayed there for some weeks before starting migration in earnest.  Look back at the blog post on 29 March.

As a young bird, we do not expect this bird to settle into a breeding territory.  It will most likely wander somewhat, although could dwell in areas of sufficient food and an absence of territorial eagles to move it along.  This seems to be what it has been doing since 1 May.  The map below is of its movements since 1 May, and one can see that at times the eagle is on the move and at other times, the pace of that movement is slower.

Movements of a second year Steppe eagle during 1 May-14 June 2019.







Wednesday, June 12, 2019

184 has turned up.

by B. Meyburg, F. Al Lamki, A Spalton, and M. McGrady

184, a Steppe Eagle that was fitted with a transmitter at Raysut, near Salalah on 15 January 2019, showed up (9 June).  We had not heard from this bird since early May.  This illustrates a constraint of the GPS-GSM tags in that birds can be located in holes in the GSM coverage and be unable to transmit GPS locations.  During the time it was missing, 184 moved in somewhat of a compressed loop, covering about 600 km.  184 is 2 years old, so we don't really expect it to be breeding, and so its wandering doesn't really surprise us.  184 was the only eagle tracked by us that appeared to make an attempt to cross the Strait of Hormuz (Look back at our March 9 and 20 blog posts).

Currently, at least three of the tagged birds we are following seem to be in such "holes".  We hope this is the case because, in due course, when they start migrating, we should hear from them and they should be able to dump the GPS locations stored onboard the tag.  The alternatives are that they are dead, have dropped their tags or their tags have failed for one reason or another.

Movements of a 2 yr old Steppe eagle during 1 May-9 June 2019.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Eagle Counts at Raysut

by Faisal Al Lamki, A. Spalton, B. Meyburg and M. McGrady

As part of our Anglo-Omani Society funded work on Steppe eagles in Oman we have trained biologists at the Office for Conservation of the Environment to make counts of eagles using the Raysut dumpsite in the winter.  They were able to conduct counts during January-April of 2019, recording the numbers and the reduction of those numbers as birds left for summering grounds. They were also able to determine the age composition of the eagle population using the dump site.    Surveys are an important tool for monitoring populations.  Look back at previous postings to see more about the migration.   We will start counting again in October, when some eagles should start arriving from summering areas, mostly in central Asia, especially Kazakhstan. 

Of course it would be useful for regular counts to be made at dumpsites that are known to be regularly used by scavenging birds, like Raysut, Al Multaquaa, Tahwa, Masirah and the Al Safa chicken farm near Thumrayt.  Counts at other rubbish dumps (e.g. Ibra) might reveal new sites used by many birds.

Numbers of Steppe eagles counted at Raysut dumpsite, January-April 2019

Age composition of Steppe eagles at the Raysut dumpsite, Jan-April 2019.

OCE biologist, Mohammed Hubais, counting eagles at Raysut



Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Scavenging birds as important waste managers

 Click on the link to see a recent opinion paper by M. McGrady, T. Al Amri, and A. Spalton

https://www.natureasia.com/en/nmiddleeast/article/10.1038/nmiddleeast.2019.80​

Endangered teppe eagles at the rubbish dump in Salalah, Oman, 2019



Monday, May 20, 2019

All tracked birds are in Kazakhstan

by B.-U. Meyburg, F. Al Lamki, A. Spalton and M. McGrady

All the Steppe eagles we fitted with transmitters in Salalah are in Kazakhstan, mostly in the west of that country.  The bird that is farthest east (162312), is the bird we first caught in 2017 at the Muscat municipal landfill.  That bird has spent the last two winters at a dumpsite in central Saudi Arabia (have a look back at earlier posts to see more).  It is now at 65.2 degrees east longitude, and is east of Astana.  About half the birds seem to have settled into summer home ranges, and may be breeding.  The others are becoming more settled, but it is not yet clear that they have stopped moving.  Hopefully our colleagues working in Kazakhstan might be able to visit some of these places to see if they can confirm breeding.

Locations of Steppe eagles fitted with transmitters in Oman as of 20 May 2019.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Steppe eagles are settling in for the summer

by B. Meyburg, F. Al Lamki, A. Spalton and M. McGrady

Most of the tagged Steppe eagles have made it to breeding areas in Central Asia.  All that have settled into apparent home ranges are in Kazakhstan.  At least one seems to be still migrating, and two have not been heard from since late March.  Those two may just be in a hole in the GSM coverage.  We'll have to wait and see.

Below is a map of all the movements of a Steppe eagle we marked in January 2017.  It was caught at the Muscat Municipal Landfill at Al Multaquaa. It migrated and spent the summer of 2017 in western Kazakhstan.  In that summer it did not seem to breed, and we would not expect it to have bred  because it was a young bird.  In winter 2017-18 it was at a rubbish dump NW of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  In summer 2018 it settled into a home range about 100 km SW of Arkalyk, Kazakhsatan.  In winter 2018-19 it returned to the rubbish dump in Saudi, and this summer it has settled at the same place as summer 2018.

We'll update the blog soon when we have more conclusive data on the location of summer ranges.  Our colleagues working in Central Asia can then, perhaps, try to locate some of these sites.

Movements of a Steppe eagle, first captured in January 2017 near Muscat, Oman.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

All tagged eagles have now started migration

by M. McGrady, B.-U. Meyburg, F. Al Lamki, and A. Spalton

182712 has turned up after being out of contact for almost a month; it was last heard just west of Salalah on 9 March.  During that time it made its way west through Yemen, making a few stops along the way.  It has now started to head north, and is currently east of Sanaa. 182 has also finally made its move north, after spending a long time at the rubbish dump near Taizz, Yemen (See 29 March blog post).  All together three of the eagles we fitted with transmitters have taken this westerly route through Yemen on their migration north.  It will be interesting to see what happens in autumn, but in the meantime we can see what they do over summer.




Friday, March 29, 2019

One eagle still in Yemen

by Mike McGrady, Andrew Spalton, Bernd Meyburg and Faisal Al Lamki

Score card so far...

Two satellite tags have failed.  One bird wandered around Yemen after release, but has settled on a rubbish dump, where it is currently (See below).  All other eagles seem to be migrating or have migrated.  One bird disappeared on 9 March west of Salalah, but it may be somewhere out of GSM coverage.  We hope to hear from it soon.

Below is a map of locations for a bird that has been in Yemen for most of its time after release.  For the last few weeks it has been at a rubbish dump just west of Taizz, the third largest city in Yemen.  The maps are of locations for the past week, and a zoomed in view showing that it is spending time around a rubbish dump.  This bird should migrate soon.  It is the only one that has not left southern Arabia.

Locations of Steppe eagle 182 just west of Taizz, Yemen during 1 week in March 2019.
Zoomed in version of the map above.  Red polygon is the dumpsite.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Migration is well underway.

by Mike McGrady, Faisal Al Lamki, Bernd Meyburg and Andrew Spalton

Well, there seems to be only one eagle that has not left its wintering location.  All the others are at various locations along their spring migration path.  Below is a map of eight of the tracked eagles since they started migration.  185, 186 and 187 are already in the breeding range (Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan).  184 and 162312 are in Iran.  183 and 105 are in Saudi Arabia; 105 actually made it to Iran, but backtracked to Saudi for some reason.  Of course there are other birds that are being tracked.  They seem mostly to be doing about the same thing as the mapped birds.  [If you double-click on the map, it should open up in a new window and be easier to view.]

Maps of 8 Steppe eagles migrating from Arabia during spring 2019.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

184 retreats from Straits of Hormuz

by Andrew Spalton, Bernd Meyburg, Faisal Al Lamki and Mike McGrady

Well, it seems like 184 didn't want to try to cross the Straits of Hormuz.  Despite being a rather narrow water crossing, there is little evidence that many migrating raptors move between Iran and Arabia via the Straits of Hormuz (either in autumn or spring).  The species that do are the more active flyers: falcons and harriers. 

Movements of a Steppe eagle (184) as it is migrating north.  It flew to the northernmost point of Musandam, then turned south, and will now, presumably fly around the Arabian Gulf on its way north.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

184 migrating north through the Samail Gap

by Mike McGrady, Faisal Al Lamki and Bernd Meyburg

Just a quick post, mostly of Omani interest... 184 has migrated through Oman and was by this evening was moving through the Samail Gap.  It will be interesting to see if it attempts to cross the gulf at Musandam.  I don't think it will.  Eagles tracked two years ago went around via Kuwait and there is little evidence of eagle migration via the Straits of Hormuz,  We'll see.

Movements of Steppe eagle 184 as it migrates north through Oman.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

185 and 186 leading the pack

by Berrnd Meyburg, Faisal Al Lamki, Andrew Spalton and Mike McGrady

To date, six eagles have started migration, two are in Yemen, and two are still in Salalah.  185 (blue) and 186 (red) are leading the migrating pack and are currently in southern Iran.  The bird that was first caught in 2018 that wintered in central Saudi Arabia is still there.  The gap in the data in southern Saudi was when the birds flew through an area with no GSM network, so could not upload location data.  If they dwell for some time in a network, those data will be uploaded over time.  From about mid-Saudi Arabia the rate of data collection was changed from one every 10 minutes to one every hour.

Bon voyage!

Tracks (20 Feb-5 March) of two Steppe eagles that wintered in Salalah in 2018-19

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Migration has started!

by Faisal Al Lamki, Mike McGrady, Andrew Spalton and Bernd Meyburg

Some of the Steppe eagles we have been tracking have started to migrate!

So far at least three of the tagged Steppe eagles have moved away from the wintering area, and headed north (See map below).  This includes 105, which was first fitted with a tag in January 2017, and has spent the last two winters in SW Saudi Arabia.  A fourth eagle is likely on its way as it has not reported in since 25 February.  At that time it was almost at the Oman-Saudi Arabia border.

First movements of three satellite tracked eagles away from their wintering locations.
The gaps in locations are due to the lack of GSM networks in that area, so the tags were not able to upload their data.  They will fill in those gaps, if they stay within a network.  The difference between 105 and the others, is that 105 logs a location every hour.  The others were logging every 10 minutes, though we have now switched those to also log a location every hour.

Consistent with the start of migration documented by these tracked birds, counts of Steppe eagles at the Raysut dumpsite being conducted by biologists at the Office for Conservation of the Environment are declining

Monday, February 18, 2019

Should I stay or should I go?

by Mike McGrady, Bernd Meyburg, Andrew Spalton and Faisal Al Lamki.

Below are maps of Steppe eagles exhibiting the extremes of ranging behaviour (so far... only about a month).  The ranging of the other birds we are tracking, have been something in between these extremes.  For both birds over 2000 locations have been recorded.

185 has been a real stay-at-home eagle, having moved in a limited areas around Raysut, and up onto the escarpment.

Movements of a Steppe eagle (185) during January and February 2019.
182 has headed west into western Yemen.  At its furthest westerly location it was about 30 km south of the town of Taizz.  Below are a map and a photo from the area.

Movements of a Steppe eagle (182) during January and February 2019
Some of the views Steppe eagle 182 might be having.



Saturday, February 16, 2019

Steppe eagle 186 during 12-14 February

by Faisal Al Lamki, Andrew Spalton, Bernd Meyburg, and Mike McGrady

The Steppe eagles we are tracking are displaying a variety of ranging behaviours.  Some have moved off to Yemen, some have gone to Yemen and come back, some have wandered away from Salalah but stayed in Oman, and some have stayed fairly close to Salalah, moving only between the rubbish dump at Raysut and night time roosts on the escarpment. 

The map below is of an eagle fitted with a transmitter numbered 186.  Since it was tagged, this bird has travelled to Yemen and returned, and visited the chicken farm north of Thumrayt (green line). 
Movements of a Steppe eagle fitted with a transmitter on 15 January 2019 at Raysut.  Green line is the movement since release, and the white dots are where it was during 14-15 February 2019.

In the last few days  (white dots) it has been about 120 km NW of Salalah.  I can't really make out any features that might cause this bird to dwell there, but something is attractive.  We'll see what happens.
Movements of Steppe eagle 186 during 14-15 February 2019.

In the near future we'll try to post examples of birds of birds that have behaved a bit differently, so check back for new postings

Monday, February 4, 2019

So far...

by Mike McGrady, Bernd Meyburg, Faisal Al Lamki and Andrew Spalton

In January we fitted transmitters to 13 Steppe eagles wintering in southern Oman, and feeding at the rubbish dump at Raysut, near Salalah.  So far the movements of those birds have fallen into three broad groups. 

First, some birds move in a rather limited area south of the escarpment, making regular use of the Rayut rubbish dump, and roosting mostly in forested areas on the escarpment, or nearby.  The map below is an example of this type of movement pattern.

A Steppe eagle's movements during January 2019. This bird has moved in a fairly limited area, feeding during the day at the rubbish dump at Raysut, and roosting at night at various locations on the escarpmet.

Other birds have wandered more widely, including visits to Yemen, but have stayed mostly within about a 100 km radius around Salalah.  Birds in this group also mostly made continued use of the rubbish dump at Raysut, but some seem to have settled farther north. The map below is an example of this type of movement pattern.

A Steppe eagle's movement during January 2019.  This bird moved immediately away from Salalah and flew into Yemen, then returned, and has recently settled near a chicken farm north of Thumrayt,Oman
A third group of birds have flown deeper into Yemen, and have not (yet) returned. See map below.

A Steppe eagle's movement during January 2019.  This bird spent about 10 days around Salalah before moving into east-central Yemen.  The gap in the track is due to a lack of GSM coverage.  When the bird moves into an area of better coverage for an extended period that gap will be filled with logged data.
At first glance, one might be surprised by the differences in movements.  Why do some birds wander so widely or apparently leave southern Oman when there is a reliable source of plentiful food at the rubbish dump at Raysut?  However, in the case of the Steppe eagles, one needs to remember that these birds are migratory, and their journeys back to breeding areas can start in January (ref. migration counts at Eilat).  Also, because the Steppe eagles wintering in southern Oman are surviving as scavengers, and not active hunters, their movements at that time might mimic more those of obligate scavengers (i.e. vultures) rather than active hunters (e.g. Steppe eagles in summer).  So, what we have been seeing over these few short weeks of tracking may be "surprising" simply because these birds are scavenging, and some may be initiating migration.  The fact that we have only been tracking these birds for a few short weeks contributes to the "surprising" nature of the movements, mostly because we know so little about them. 

It is an essential part of the scientific enterprise to admit ignorance, even to exult in ignorance as a challenge to future conquests. - Richard Dawkins

Friday, January 25, 2019

Steppe eagles in Dhofar

by Andrew Spalton, Mike McGrady, Faisal Al Lamki and Bernd Meyburg

We just wanted to get some initial maps out...

Over the last two weeks we have fitted satellite transmitters to 13 Steppe eagles wintering in Dhofar, Oman.  We caught the eagles at the old rubbish dump at Raysut.  Below is a zoomed out map of the tracks of 11 of the eagles.  Most of them have stayed south of the escarpment in the plain around Salalah.  At night most appear to roost at the escarpment, either in trees or on the many cliffs.  Most also continue to visit the rubbish dump (zoomed in map below).  Some few have made excursions to eastern Yemen, and returned, and shorter flights along the coast to the west.  Others have headed north a bit, some apparently around a chicken farm there.  Now it is just a matter of watching what happens.  It's hard to tell, but there are over 5000 GPS locations in the upper map

Keep checking this blog or follow us.  We will be making updates regularly.

Tracks during January 2019 of 11 Steppe eagles fitted with satellite transmitters at the rubbish dump at Raysut, Oman, 

Zoomed in image showing that tagged eagles spent a lot of time visiting the rubbish dump in January..

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Fitting satellite tags to Steppe eagles in Salalah, January 2019.

by Bernd Meyburg, Faisal Al Lamki, Andrew Spalton and Mike McGrady

Since the second week in January we have been in Oman to capture Steppe eagles and fit them with satellite transmitters, and to provide training to biologists from the Office of Conservation of the Environment (OCE) in bird handling, survey and monitoring.  This effort has been collaborative (and will continue to be).  The main financial support came from a grant from the Anglo-Omani Society to Faisal Al Lamki at Arid Lands, the Bernd Meyburg Foundation for Raptor Research and Conservation, and International Avian Research.  OCE kindly provided accommodation, transport in Salalah, and important staff time in the field.  They also arranged for our permits that were issued by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs.  Also, and importantly, be'ah, the national waste management company, provided us with access to their areas and logistical support.

Salalah is a great place to do this work, not least because large numbers of Steppe eagles visit the rubbish dump every day during the winter.  Below gives you an idea...

A snapshot of Steppe eagles soaring over the rubbish dump at Raysut, January 2019.
In the end we managed to fit tags to 13 Steppe eagles, and to take measurements and blood samples.  As of today, all are beeping away and moving around.

An OCE ranger preparing to release a Steppe eagle fitted with a satellite radio transmitter.

In the coming days, we will produce some maps to show what the birds are doing.  Keep checking the blog or follow us.

We have also worked to train OCE rangers in conducting bird counts at the site.  This can be a challenge when there are over 1000 eagles flying around and perched at various distances from the observers.  However, the rangers have done well.  The aim now is for them to monitor the numbers for the rest of this winter, and to do the same throughout next winter and beyond.  The waste site at Salalah (Raysut) is being closed down and a new, modern landfill will replace it that is located about 70 km away.  It will be interesting to see what the eagles will do, and certainly modern waste management will have environmental and human health benefits.

An OCE ranger gathering data to determine the age structure of the eagle population that uses the rubbish dump at Raysut.