The annual Griffon Vulture census coordinated by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds(BSPB) and carried out within the framework of LIFE Re-Vultures took place on 23-24 November in the Balkans. Teams from Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and North Macedonia counted a total of 564-571 Griffon Vultures. More specifically, they counted 336 in Bulgaria, 80-87 in Greece, 122 in Serbia and 26 in North Macedonia. In some areas, due to bad weather, the teams in the field counted fewer or no vultures compared to previous years.
This year, the LIFE Re-Vultures from BSPB and Rewilding Rhodopes counted about 50 less Griffon Vultures compared to last year in the Eastern Rhodopes. They observed about 147 of these rare birds in the valley of the Arda River, where the largest colony of Griffon Vultures in Bulgaria is located. By comparison, 201 Griffon Vultures were counted there last year, which was a record number for the Eastern Rhodopes since 2005, since the beginning of the annual Griffon Vulture census.
Volen Arkumarev from the BSPB states ‘unfortunately, there was fog on both days and on some of the rocks the vultures could not be counted, which explains the low number of birds found.’
The Vultures Back To LIFE project also joined the Griffon Vulture roosting sites census in the Balkans. The team from the Fund for Wild flora and Fauna observed 72 Griffons in Kresna gorge (a new record for the area) and 82 in Kotel. Due to bad weather conditions, the Green Balkans team at ‘Sinite kamani’ did not manage to observe any Griffon Vultures. Finally, on the 30 November, our colleagues from the Birds of Prey Protection Society observed 35 Griffon Vultures in the ‘Vrachanski Balkan’.
Various organisations from Greece also participated a this great collaborated effort across different areas of the country! The Management body of Dadia – Lefkimi – Soufli Forest National Park counted 11 Griffon Vultures at the Park and three at Avantas. WWF Greece counted five Griffons at Kompsatos but did not observe any at Nea Santa and Ragada-Filiouri. The Management Body of Evros Delta and Samothraki Protected Areas also took part at Mayropetra Rocks where they counted three vultures. Ornithoparatirites Mesologiou together with the Hellenic Ornithological Society and the Management Body of Missolonghi-Akarnania counted 30-31 Griffons at Kleisoura gorge in Akarikynthos Mountain. Then at Tserekas Mountain, many teamed up (IBA-caretakers, Hellenic Ornithological Society, Plegadis-Epirus Birding Tours, Athens Residents Initiative for Agrafa Mts Protection and the Management Body of Mesologhi-Akarnanika Mountains) and counted 11-15 vultures at Saint Dimitris cliffs and 14 at Saint Paraskeyi cliffs. Finally, the Athens Residents Initiative for Agrafa Mts Protection went to Empessos, which is a new site (and an old colony and currently a summer roost) and observed three vultures!
Thanks to Bratislav Grubac and volunteers, the count also took place in Serbia. In Sokolske planine Mountain, the observers did not manage to see any Griffon Vultures. In Klisura reke Mileševke, they counted 82 and in Klisura reke Trešnjice 40. It is important to note that, unfortunately, there was no count at Uvac, which is the stronghold if Griffon Vultures in Serbia.
Another important Balkan country for Griffon Vultures is North Macedonia. NCA Aquila carried out the count and counted five Griffons in Chatino, 15 in Vitachevo and six in Mariovo.
Why is the census important?
The census is conducted at the beginning of winter when the vulture breeding season begins. Its purpose is to determine the population of the Griffon Vultures in the Balkans, their age structure and to record the presence of threats around the rocks used for roosting. The traditional census of the Griffon Vultures on the Balkan Peninsula started in 2005 – this is the 15th census that took place on November 23-24. BSPB is the organiser and coordinator in partnership with nature conservation organisations from Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Northern Macedonia.
Starting in 2016, the five-year LIFE RE-Vultures project was developed by Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, WWF Greece, the Hellenic Ornithological Society and us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation. The aim of the project is to support the recovery and further expansion of the populations of Cinereous and Griffon Vultures in the cross-border region of the Rhodope Mountain by improving natural prey availability, monitoring movements of birds to help understand the threats they face and carrying out activities that will reduce the mortality of the populations from threats such as illegal wildlife poisoning and collisions with electricity infrastructure.
Vultures Back To LIFE
Led by the wildlife conservation charity Green Balkans, with activities also implemented by the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna, and bringing together partners from Bulgaria, Spain, Germany, and us here at the VCF, Vultures Back to LIFE aims to reintroduce the cinereous or Eurasian black vulture to Bulgaria. The team will transfer and release around 60 birds, some from captive-breeding, but mostly coming from wildlife rehabilitation centres in Extremadura (Spain) into the wild in Bulgaria as well as creating supplementary feeding stations and improving populations of wild herbivores, improving the nesting conditions and creating artificial nest sites and tackling some of the major threats to vultures in the country such as insulating electricity pylons and illegal use of poison in the nature.