Archives for May 2016

Reaches coast of Bay of Biscay

On 30th Cromarty flew steadily NNW from Madrid, passing Iscar at midday and east of Valladolid at 1400GMT. He roosted the night beside a dehesa lake just north of Calzadilla de la Cueza after 250 km flight. Today he was on his way NNW at 0755 and flew over the Cantabrian Mountains to Villaviciosa and surprisingly turned west instead of east. He flew over Gijon and then wandered aound the Cabo de Penas headlands and instead of heading out over the Bay of Biscay he turned inland and stayed tonight near Cabrera.  The weather tomorrow is sunny with a 16mph easterly wind. If he continues in a NNW direction he will be heading out into the Atlantic Ocean but fortunately further north the winds over the sea are westerly.

May 30th - 31st

May 30th – 31st

Flying north through Spain

Cromarty roosted in wooded hills 10 km NNE of Cordoba on night of 28th/29th May. Heading north by 0720GMT on 29th and passed Almaden by 11am and that evening roosted beside the River Alberche, just north of Calalberche. Today he left there at 0527 and probably went fishing before tracking north over las Picadas reservoir. At last signal of the day he was flying north about 50 km west of Madrid.

May 29th - 30th

May 29th – 30th

Arrives Spain midday today

On 27th May Cromarty flew 360 km north through Morocco; passing Casablanca at 0955GMT and Rabat at 12.03. at 14.46 he was north of Kenitra over the coast and then headed ENE inland to roost the night in wooded hills. This morning he was probably fishing on a river just north of roost site in early morning and then headed north at 07.42. He left Africa from above Tangier at 11.42GMT, flying north at over 90 kph at an altitude of 655 metres above the sea. He completed the crossing to north of Tarifa in Spain in 29 minutes at a speed of 70kph. Flying on north he crossed over Barbate reservoir, well known to me when we moved young Scottish ospreys to the reintroduction project at Barbate, and the last signal of the day was north of Alcala de los Gazules. He is heading home through Europe.

May 27th - 28th

May 27th – 28th

North through Morocco

Cromarty roosted last night in a river valley 90 km west of Marrakesh.  Today he started north at 0900GMT and reached the Atlantic coast at 12.28 and flew up the coast to Sidi El Abed at 15.16 when he flew inland eastwards for 60km before roosting.

may 25th - 26th

may 25th – 26th

Roaring north

On 21st Cromarty turned north before roosting just south of Atar in the Sahara. On 22nd May, he headed NNE just before 0900GMT and by 17.35 had reached the huge Fderik mine and flew round the eastern flank to Zouerit. He then headed NE to roost in the desert after 306 km. He was thermalling during the day reaching maximum height of 2630 metres at 17.19.  On 23rd he migrated strongly north using the thermals over the desert, completing 34 thermals and glides during the day The last at 18.28 saw Cromarty reach 2101 metres and then glide 40 km to a roost site in the desert just south of Morocco border after 350 km.  Yesterday he flew strongly north, crossed the Mauritania/Morocco border at 1339GMT and headed on north using thermals and glides, then at 1900 hrs he was headed north over the Draa valley; where he was traveling north at 80kph at an altitude of 3500 metres above the desert. He completed a high level high speed evening flight to roost NWof Taghjijt after a day flight of 435 km.  Today he was migrating north before 0900GMT, at 10.40 he was 28 km east of Tiznit and the last signal at 1113GMT saw him flying strongly north.

May 20th - 24th

May 20th – 24th

Bearded Vulture, bones and the importance of calcium

Over the last week Britain’s first ever recorded bearded vulture (lammergeier) was seen in Gwent and then on Dartmoor. It seems likely it was the young vulture seen in Belgium on 9th May and thought to be a wild bird from the mainland European population, which is increasing. It must have had a shock in our country because its natural food is large dead mammals and our farm regulations now insist on all dead livestock being cleaned up from the countryside. A bit like us going to the supermarket and finding all the shelves empty. The bearded vulture is the last species in the chain of vultures which eat and clean up large animal carcasses. After the griffons and black vultures have feasted on the carrion, the bearded vulture is the ultimate scavenger by breaking the large bones and eating the marrow. Nowadays in our sanitised countryside there’s not much opportunity for bearded vultures, nor burying beetles or bone fungi.

In fact the removal of calcium, in the form of bones, from the countryside is a major change in the last hundred years. This is particularly problematic in the uplands where calcium is scarce, and the annual loss in the form of sheep and cattle bones is massive, as stock go to market. It must be thousands of tons per year, and nowadays even the bones of most red deer are carried off the hills. But is this loss of calcium a problem for the ecosystem? I learnt recently that a scientist had shown that the eggs of the ring ouzel, the mountain blackbird, had become thinner and thus more vulnerable, probably because of acid rain causing losses of calcium in the uplands. I’m not suggesting female ring ouzels could eat bones, before laying their eggs, but there’s no doubt that any bone or deer antler left in the countryside is quickly gnawed by creatures seeking calcium.   It’s all part of the web of life in which we live.

My personal view is that no calcium should be removed from nature reserves and protected areas, so that the carcasses of culled deer are left in situ. This would be a major contribution to carrion eaters whether invertebrates, birds or mammals, and then for fertilising plants or hosting fungi. This may run counter to our fixation on health and cleanliness, and I’m also told by my reserve manager friends that it would cause a problem by increasing the numbers of foxes and badgers. But that leads on to another issue about large functioning ecosystems, where high numbers of middle-guild predators require control from the return of lynx and wolf. It’s interesting where thinking about a lost bearded vulture takes us – I just hope it finds a big dead animal in Dartmoor National Park. Or for goodness someone put out a couple dead horses! You never know it could become the first step in vulture recolonisation of Britain.

Into the desert

Yesterday, Cromarty flew 72 km north up the coast, then turned inland before 10km south. He then turned east towards the Mauritanian deserts and by nightfall had flown 84km. This morning he continued to the east – I hope he changes direction to NNE soon.

May 20th - 21st

May 20th – 21st

Lingering on coast

He spent last night at a roost 9 km inland then this morning flew to the coast. From 09.27 to 09.47 he was fishing over the Atlantic and then ashore on the coast to the last signal of the day at 10.59GMT

Back to the Atlantic coast

Comarty funked the direct Saharan crossing and turned west towards the coast. Last night he roosted 10km from the coast and this morning he flew west and then north up the Atlantic Ocean coast. At 12.30GMT he flew over the coastal fishmarket of Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. His flight was leisurely at 24kph and an altitude of 5o metres, and by late afternoon he turned inland to roost south of Jreida. This is going to be a long migraton unless he hurries up.

May 18th

May 18th


Over Mauritania

Cromarty crossed the River Senegal into Mauritania at 16.13GMT yesterday and then flew another 40 km north-east over Mauriania before settling to roost

May 15th

May 15th