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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field

"Notes from the Field" provides frequent updates and pictures from our biologists and students who are working in the field or at our headquarters, the World Center for Birds of Prey.

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Found 20 entries matching your request:

On the road and in the rain: northern Kenya raptor surveys 2014

Darcy Ogada — in East Africa Project

Rain along the road

This year was our 5th successive annual survey and certainly no two years have been the same.One of the main reasons we survey in February is to eliminate weather-related road hazards, which on some Kenyan roads can be severe.It never rains in February.Well, never say never…. and just like the blistering cold temps and snowfall that hit the US this winter, it rained in February!Though fortunately not enough to stop our survey.

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Find more articles about Bateleur, Rüppell's Vulture, Africa


Two Units in the Hand

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

When something miraculous happens you don’t really expect it to happen again, so when we found another bird with a backpack that had given up the ghost I didn’t really think we could trap it. In fact it seemed fool-harden to even try, but the Ruppell’s vulture in question was already panting from its fights at the carcass and was very very full. The backpack in question had also slipped into a rather uncomfortable position and so I felt anxious to trap the bird not just to release it from the weight, but also from the discomfort of the unit. Plus catching it would mean one more unit that could be refurbished and thus a bit more information that we could gain about these amazing birds. So with no further adieu we were off and chasing the bird. It didn’t take long until I found myself outside the car running alongside it as it turned its snake-like neck in my direction. Ruppell’s vultures are considerably more aggressive than Lappet-faced and I gave it some distance before finally throwing the blanket over its head. I pulled out my Swiss army knife and with four swift snips the backpack was off and the bird was on its way.

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Meet Lucy, Lucifer, and Linnaeus

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Trapping Lappet-faced vultures is never easy. Yet this time it was. We caught three birds in just four days and I have never been so happy or relieved in all my life. In the past we have trapped several Lappets, but because two of them were poisioned in the first few months and three of them had GSM-GPS units that happened to fail in the first month, we still know very little about their movement. It is certainly less than that of the African white-backed or Ruppell’s vultures, but just as variable with some birds leaving the Mara to spend a month in Ngorogoro Conservation Area, some hanging out in Athi River, and others just sticking close to home in the Mara through almost the entire year. Unfortunately almost all the Lappets we have trapped in the past seem to spend an enormous amount of time in the areas bordering the park – the exact areas where so much of the poisoning seems to take place. I guess it is no surprise that of four Lappet-faced vultures tagged our first year, we lost 50% to poisoning.

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Find more articles about Lappet-faced Vulture, Rüppell's Vulture, Africa


An historic meeting at Kwenia-Olorgesailie that aims to conserve this unique ecosystem and benefit Masai communities

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Every journey begins with a small step. Over the last nine years my colleague Simon Thomsett and I have been monitoring populations of Rüppell’s Vultures at the Kwenia cliffs in Kajiado district, about a three and a half hour drive south of Nairobi. This colony is the largest breeding colony of the species in southern Kenya and should be considered a national asset. Unfortunately, Kwenia has no conservation status whatsoever. The surrounding areas of Olorgesailie, Kilonito, and Oldonyo Nyoike also have no conservation status. These regions are harsh, arid and water deficient. In contrast, and by virtue of being in the southern Rift Valley, the region also contains some of the most diverse species of vertebrates on earth. Notwithstanding the importance of this very important vulture colony, other species such as Lesser Kudu, Gerenuk, Wild Dogs, Cheetah, Hyena and a myriad of raptors and other prolific birds abound. Olorgesailie is also an important prehistoric site, recognized globally as one of the places where early hominids used hand axes. Hominid fossils go back nearly nine hundred thousand years based on work conducted by Dr Rick Potts and his colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution. The species of animals unearthed at Olorgesailie and other locations in southern Kenya changed over time as environmental conditions shifted time and again. Species of baboons, elephant, zebra, pigs, and hippopotamuses that had been very abundant in the region went extinct. They were replaced by closely related species that still survive in East Africa today.

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Find more articles about Egyptian Vulture, Rüppell's Vulture, Africa


Why we need vultures

Darcy Ogada — in East Africa Project

Let’s face it, most people are not smitten by vultures.In fact people often describe them as disgusting birds.

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Find more articles about California Condor, Rüppell's Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Africa


To the South

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Another Ruppell’s vulture has moved far to the south, travelling out of Serengeti National Park and over next to Lake Manyara. Having travelled through the gorgeous Manyara Park, famous for its hippos, bird life, and tree-climbing lions, I have to wonder what the appeal is for a vulture. The area is hardly known for its dense wildlife and one would expect that the Mara and Serengeti where most of the wildebeest are still hanging out would be a better place for a scavenging bird. These long distant movements at a time when food distribution should be fairly apparent with highest concentrations in the Mara always bring to question the motivations of the bird. What drives such long distance movements? Competition continues to be the resonating answer in my mind, but only further research will tell. Take a look at the bird's latest location - see the red dot.

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To the North

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

2009 was a very dry year and perhaps as a result the vultures really didn’t need to move that far. That said, the movement data from 2009 was impressive with several of our tagged vultures travelling long distances and using large areas, sometimes more than 100,000 km2 in an eight-month period. 2010 has been rather different – with lots of rain from February onwards and one of the most amazing wildebeest migrations seen in years, at least from the Masai Mara perspective – with these ungulates coming in large numbers and staying in the Mara for a long period of time. The vultures appear to be responding accordingly. Although the bulk of the birds are still sticking close to the Mara, we have had some interesting long distance travels. Just in the past month, the vultures tagged this year have moved farther north and farther south than any individual during our first year of study. Perhaps most exciting are the northern movement with one Ruppell’s vulture going past Nanyuki and Meru appearing to head towards Lake Turkana. So far we are yet to have any birds travel out of Kenya-Tanzania, so with just 200 more miles to go to reach Ethiopia to the North and only about 100 miles to the west to reach Uganda, this bird might be getting its passport stamped any day now. Take a look at the two maps at slightly different scales to see what I mean – look for the read dot that represents the bird.

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Photos from vulture field work

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Munir Virani, Shiv Kapila and Teeku Patel attached four GSM-GPS units on Ruppell's and African White-backed Vultures in the Masai Mara last week (October 17th, 2010). This is part of Corinne Kendall's PhD study where she is looking at how land-use changes in Kenya is affecting vulture diversity and abundance.

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Home and Back

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Ruppell’s vultures travel almost as much as I do. These enormous birds nest in cliffs rather than trees. Cliffs are great from the standpoint of the chick – they are well protected from predators and the elements. But they make for a lot of extra work for the parents. Most cliffs in Kenya are very far from protected areas and other places of high wildlife density where the vultures will find most of their food. As a result, Ruppell’s vultures have to travel from their feeding grounds and back to the nest every few days. These can be distances of over 100 km (70 miles) so it is a good thing that vultures use a special method of flying called soaring that allows them to travel great distances while using very little energy.

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Another one bites the dust

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Another year, another set of birds. During our first year using GSM-GPS telemetry we were able to tag 14 vultures. The GSM-GPS units allowed us to follow the vultures for nearly a year, learning valuable information about the areas they use, the speeds and altitudes at which they travel, and sadly the places where they are dying.

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Naivasha Notes 4

Evan Buechley — in East Africa Project

A one-legged bicyclist pumps athletically as we pull away from the crammed old-town section of Nairobi, weaving through stalled cars and honking horns. The word “bustling” conveys no sense of these streets- it is a storm: people running in all directions; carts laden with spare tires, sacks of maize, 5 gallon jugs of water, anything you can imagine are towed by men- young or old- but always with bulging shoulder muscles; stalls on the streets offer all in one- butcher/hotel/cell-phone top-up/convenience store; street hawkers demand the purchase of sunglasses, cd’s and dvd’s, hideous safari hats and cheaply made trinkets, peanuts, and yogurt jugs baked in the equatorial sun and covered with a complex of dusts; matatus honk with customized horns and flashing lights; and cars weave in and out amongst pedestrians, bikers, and towering, fearless buses, down the complex maze of pitted and potholed, sign-less and lawless streets.

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Find more articles about Augur Buzzard, Rüppell's Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Africa


A trip down memory lane in Hell’s Gate National Park

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Last year, when Chris Parish, The Peregine Fund’s California Condor Director wrote to me about Evan Buechley (a staff member on the California Condor Project) wishing to volunteer in Kenya, I jumped at the opportunity. Having worked on Augur Buzzards in the south Lake Naivasha area for my PhD in the mid 1990s, I revisited these sites in 2005 and documented marked declines in Augur Buzzard territories that ranged from 18 to 50% over different land-use areas. The southern Lake Naivasha area is the hub of Kenya’s horticultural industry with annual revenue close to five hundred million US dollars a year. Naturally, with the prolific growth of the horticultural industry, comes loss of foraging ground for the Augur Buzzards. Also, the human population has increased fifty fold from 7,000 people in 1969 to nearly 300,000 people presently. Given the changes that have taken place in Kenya especially over the last five years, I was interested to know whether the species has further declined or remained stable.

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Find more articles about African Fish Eagle, Augur Buzzard, California Condor, Rüppell's Vulture, Africa


Nasha returns

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Just like the Ruppell's Vulture, the individual differences between the African white-backed Vultures is huge. Homer took an S-shaped flight—moving from Tsavo West National Park, briefly darting down into Serengeti and then up to Masai Mara once more. He probably traveled more than 300 miles just this week.

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Two birds in the bush

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Just like the Ruppell's Vulture, the individual differences between the African white-backed Vultures is huge. Homer took an S-shaped flight—moving from Tsavo West National Park, briefly darting down into Serengeti and then up to Masai Mara once more.

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A tale of two vultures

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

When people ask you to describe another species, say a vulture or a hippo or an ostrich, they expect one answer for the whole species. What do vultures—as if every vulture were exactly the same—do? But as anyone who owns a dog can tell you, just like people, there are huge differences between individuals. Perhaps animals have personalities too.

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Vulture travel updates

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

When last we left our intrepid traveling vultures, we had noted the amazing differences between the small, gregarious African white-backed vulture, the cliff-nesting Ruppell's Vulture, and the large and solitary Lappet-faced Vulture. During the last two weeks, Homer, our African White-backed Vulture has continued his movements from Masai Mara to the Tsavo National Park and even moved east of the large parks towards the border of Tanzania. Roger, the Ruppell's Vulture has returned from the north. Recently, he has stayed dangerously far from the safety of the national parks and other protected areas, choosing to home in on the Athi River and Magadi area, a beautiful place of tall Acacias and flowing streams.

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Vulture travels

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

While Roger wandered northwest, other birds seemed to stay at home for the holidays or took their travels between two of the best parks in Kenya, Masai Mara National Reserve and Tsavo. Homer, one of the first adult African White-backed Vultures we tagged, went from Tsavo to Masai Mara and back this last month. Unlike Roger, the Ruppell's vulture, who spread his movement fairly evenly, Homer tended to travel quickly going from one destination to the other in only three to five days (not bad given that it is nearly 300 km each way).

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After the holidays

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

The holidays are a busy time for us all—a time of travel, feeding, and visiting family. Perhaps it is not so different for the vultures and wildebeest in Kenya. In fact the month of December appears to have been some of the busiest time for our birds, with vultures making huge movements across Kenya and in to Tanzania. The month of December marks the small rains and the vulture movement comes with a backdrop of great travel for the the wildebeest as well as the migration moves from dry season ranges in Masai Mara back to the wet season area in Serengeti.

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Where do the vultures go when the wildebeest leave Masai Mara?

Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project

Each year from July to October, Masai Mara National Reserve springs to life as over a million wildebeest enter the park, followed by thousands of zebras and Thompson's gazelles. During this migratory period, this smorgasbord of food brings new life to the carnivores; cheetahs, lions, hyenas, and leopards abound as they are able to support their cubs, thanks to the wildebeest moveable feast. The migratory animals that are suddenly densely packed in the less than 2000 square kilometer reserve ensure a reliable supply of carcasses. Vultures fly in from hundreds of kilometers to take advantage of it.

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Find more articles about Lappet-faced Vulture, Rüppell's Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Africa


The Magic of Kwenia

Munir Virani — in East Africa Project

Nestled in the heart of the Kedong Valley is Kwenia—ome to the largest and most important colony of Ruppell’s Vultures in southern Kenya. My friend and partner in raptor conservation studies, Simon Thomsett discovered this spectacular site in 2002 during a helicopter flight to the Gol Mountains in northern Tanzania. Ruppell’s Vultures, along with four other species of vultures in East Africa have been placed in the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red Data List. This means that their populations need to be closely monitored to ascertain whether they will either (barely) survive or become extinct in the not-so-distant future. Lammergeyers or Bearded Vultures have almost completely disappeared from Kenya while Egyptian Vultures are listed as endangered species. The White-headed and Lappet-faced Vultures are only confined to the big game areas while there have been noticeable declines in numbers of the two species of Gyps vultures—African White-backed and Ruppell’s.
Kwenia cliffs (Photo by Munir Virani)
Kwenia cliffs (Photo by Munir Virani)

I have previously written about my hair-raising flight to Kwenia and have since then visited the site every year with Simon to monitor population trends and reproductive success of these near-threatened species. During that first visit, Simon and I made a gentleman’s pact whereby we pledged not to write extensively about this magnificent site but more importantly not to reveal its exact location. Every field biologist has his or her “secret spot” where they share their fieldwork, experiences, passion and enthusiasm with close and like-minded friends. Kwenia is one of those “secret spots”. While I will not reveal the location of the site, I would like to share with you my experience at Kwenia.

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Find more articles about Egyptian Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Rüppell's Vulture, Africa


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