At the beginning of every spring, we look at the sky to see the Egyptian vultures coming back from their winter grounds. We always hope to see more of them than in the previous year, but the reality is often disappointing. In Greece the number of birds and their breeding territories has been vanishing dramatically year after year, as a result, there are only 3 pairs left in 2019. A loss of only one adult bird might have a significant effect on the population. Moreover, there is high mortality among young Egyptian vultures and only one per 10 survives until maturity to start contributing to the reproduction of the local population.
The territory in Kompsatos valley (Thrace, NE Greece) is one from the last remailing in Greece, hosting one pair of Egyptian vultures. One year ago, an unexpected visitor appeared in the area. This was the Egyptian vulture Iliaz, hatched in 2012 south of Krumovgrad, Bulgaria, and tagged with a satellite transmitter on 27th of August same year in the frame of the LIFE project “The Return of the Neophron”. Iliaz was named after a local person who has been observing and protecting its natal nest for years. This bird was the only one among 19 other juveniles mounted with satellite transmitters in 2012 and 2013 that survived till maturity. Iliaz spent the first years of its life mostly in Chad and Cameroon, in compact areas, such as the National park Waza in Cameroon. For over three years it had never left Africa, travelling within the Black continent to explore other regions across Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, Lybia and Egypt. It even almost reached the Central African Republic and Kenya to the south. In 2015, Iliaz made one of the longest daily trips ever recorded for a young Egyptian vulture, covering in total 608 km. In 2016 Iliaz came back to the Balkans for the first time and since then every year in spring the bird returned to Bulgaria, temporarily visiting some areas in Greece. Surprisingly, in 2018 it wasn’t only passing through Kompsatos area, but mated and settled down with a single Egyptian vulture of the territory. Iliaz obviously replaced the other adult of the Kompsatos territory which destiny is unknown, and probably died along the flyway. Thanks to the transmitter on the back of Iliaz, we could follow the movements of the newly formed pair. It has been observed several times around a known nest, however, did not breed the same year. All spring and summer the birds flew across Kompsatos area and Bulgaria visiting the feeding station in Valchi Dol reserve, Kardzali, Bulgaria.
This year (2019) the pair came back to its territory in early April. Their presence was not only confirmed by the transmitter but with the use of a trail camera installed in one of new feeding stations in Kompsatos. In total, there are five feeding stations in the area created under the project “Re-Vultures” (LIFE14 NAT/NL/000901) operated mostly by local livestock breeders. Iliaz came to the territory on the evening of the 9th of April and just the next day was observed eating at the feeding station together with its mate. The birds used the feeding stations and shared it with Griffon and Black vultures during all spring and summer. Due to the pictures provided from the trail camera, it was found that Iliaz is actually a female. Luckily, the pair successfully bred and raised one chick.
We wish the whole family a safe trip to Africa. Iliaz, see you next year!
Migration of all tracked EVs can be followed: http://www.lifeneophron.eu/#