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Griffon vultures Arda and Kaya take a remarkable jounrey south from the Eastern Rhodope Mountains

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(c) BSPB
(c) BSPB

Two Griffon vultures are making another remarkable journey from the Eastern Rhodope Mountains all the way to Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the GPS transmitters that were fitted to the birds the LIFE Re-Vultures team are able to follow their progress, 

Following Griffon vultures

The Griffon vulture named Arda, who was fitted with a GPS transmitter in the Rhodopes Mountains in 2016, is now a seasoned traveller. This autumn, for a third consecutive year, the young bird undertook a long journey to the southeast, having seemingly choosing to overwinter the Middle East.

Releasing a tagged Griffon vulture (c) MITKO NEDYALKOV
Releasing a tagged Griffon vulture (c) MITKO NEDYALKOV

From October 1 until November 1, Arda travelled an astonishing 3250 kilometres, overflying large parts of Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel. The bird is now in the rocky mountains of northwestern Saudi Arabia, in Tabuk Province, which is territory the bird already knows well.

“The area must appeal to him, as Arda has spent the last two winters in northern Saudi Arabia,” explains Dobromir Dobrev from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds.

Each year the LIFE Re-Vultures team fit Griffon vultures with GPS transmitters weighing around 30-40g, these transmitters send the GPS location of the birds over the mobile communications network. The data the team receive back have revealed that such long and potentially dangerous journeys are not unusual for immature Griffon vultures. In the autumn of 2016, just a few months after his transmitter was fitted,  Arda first wintered in Saudi Arabia and then spent the subsequent summer in northeast Turkey, close to the border with Georgia and Armenia. At the end of 2017, he began his migration south, again overwintering in the Arabian Desert.

Heading south 

Satellite data shows that this year other griffons tagged through the LIFE Re-Vultures project have also preferred to head south as winter approaches. Kaya, who was fitted with a transmitter last year, started her journey in Dadia National Park in Greece, flying over 4000 kilometres between October 1 and November 1. “She” was captured by an Israeli vulture conservation team on November 5, who found her to be in great shape, and is currently still in Israel after her release.

Perhaps even more remarkable than their individual journeys is the fact that Arda and Kaya actually met while travelling, in place called Metsukei HaTsinim Reserve in southern Israel.

“Kaya landed on a mountain cliff in the reserve on November 3 at 1330,” explains Jelle Harms, Rewilding Europe’s GIS Data Manager. “Arda arrived at the same location (within 50 metres) half an hour later. The following day Arda left for Jordan, while Kaya stayed in the area.”

LIFE RE-Vultures

Starting in 2016, the five-year LIFE RE-Vultures project was developed by Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation and us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation along with a range of other partners. The aim of the project is to support the recovery and further expansion of the black and griffon vulture populations in the Rhodope Mountain by improving natural prey availability, and by reducing mortality through factors such as poaching, poisoning and collisions with power lines.

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