Saturday, January 22

Travel diary of the grandfather of the Egyptian vultures: stopover in Cuenca on the way to Africa | Climate and Environment


the sweet, the oldest Egyptian vulture known in the wild, years do not weigh on him. On Sunday, at the age of 30, he embarked on a new migration to the Sahel – a transition zone between the Sahara desert and the Sudanese savannah – where he will spend the winter with other fellow men. It will take about 15 days to travel the approximately 2,000 kilometers that separate its native Huesca Pyrenees from Mauritania, in which THE COUNTRY will continue its route thanks to data from a satellite transmitter that it carries. Candy It was discovered in 2020, when a group of scientists recaptured it and verified that it carried an identification ring placed three decades ago, which made it a special specimen, a grandfather among Egyptian vultures. In all these years of round-trip travel, scientists have calculated that it has flown 166,535 kilometers, the equivalent of circling the Earth 4.15 times. And keep adding.

Sunday September 12. Candy migration begins. It leaves the Pallars Jussà landfill located in Figols (Lleida), where it regularly feeds. There he regained strength to take flight and begin the great journey. After a 265-kilometer flight, he sleeps in Molina de Aragón (Guadalajara), in the crown of an oak in the middle of a lonely holm oak grove. In the days leading up to it, El basurero became a place for social interaction, where they had counted 70 Egyptian vultures before the migration. There they feed together with birds of other species on a regular basis, without paying attention to the movement of machines and people. “When tracking the waste, they find meat many times and in a simpler way than locating carrion in the field,” explains José Luis Rivas, a member of the IREC-CSIC team that develops the project. During the rest of the trip, which he takes alone, he will find food occasionally, but “he will not eat much.”

Monday 13. He leaves Molina de Aragón at 11.00, travels another 59 kilometers, and spends the night between Priego and Cañamares (Cuenca), to the northwest of the Serranía de Cuenca natural park on a wall of a rocky cut.

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Tuesday 14. Candy He stays the whole day in the same place and spends the night in the same court. “Perhaps he found something to feed himself with and that is why he has not continued on his way, it is difficult to know why,” says Antoni Margalida, IREC-CSIC researcher and director of the project that studies the movements of this and the other three species of vulture. (fawn, black and bearded vulture).

Wednesday 15. The last signal was received at 8:00 this Tuesday from the same place where he slept. Scientists think it is possible that the trip has started again.

There is still no more data – the GPS emits every three days – but last year’s journey can be taken as a reference. Candy he crossed the Ebro through Villafranca de Ebro and spent the night in an oak near Cañaveras (Cuenca). In Andalusia it was detected near Pozoblanco (Córdoba) and spent one night in another holm oak between crops, very close to Écija (Seville). Already in Tarifa, he went to the Strait of Gibraltar, which he crossed in 20 minutes, and touched Morocco on the beach of Qued Alian. Then he crossed the Atlas, spent the night in Tindouf (Algeria), to enter the Sahara and fly several days through the desert until he reached the wintering point, in the Sahel, between Mauritania and Mali. The highest altitude that the species reaches in flight is around 3,000 meters and the maximum speed detected is 100 kilometers per hour, with an average of 43 kilometers per hour.

Map of the 324-kilometer route made by Doce until September 15.
Map of the 324-kilometer route made by Doce until September 15.

This year, before leaving, Candy he was the father of a chicken, which shows that “the grandfather is in good shape and serves as a reference to verify that in the wild he reproduces normally despite his age”, explains Margalida. Chickens of this species leave the nest during the first half of August and also migrate. But during the first and second year of life they stay in Africa all year, because they have food, they have not reached sexual maturity and they do not have the obligation to migrate to reproduce. In Spain there are 32% of the European population of this species of vulture – about 1,500 pairs – classified as vulnerable due to the significant recession that it has endured in recent decades.

The wisdom that the years grant him plays in favor of Candy, that it has more resources than the juveniles to survive the long journey, which it undertakes twice a year. In March he will return by a similar route. “He has crossed many times and knows well where he is getting, hence his survival is higher.” Scientists have known the adventures of this Egyptian vulture since 2020, when it was captured and verified that it had been ringed in another research project when it was a juvenile individual, in the Bardenas Reales Natural Park (Navarra). The recapture took place 175 kilometers from where it was marked for the first time, on the border between Huesca and Lleida. “Surely he has been around all this time,” reflects Margalida. It was equipped with a GPS, which now allows its tracking, and was christened Candy (the first two letters of the surnames of the biologists who ringed it: José Antonio Donázar and Olga Ceballos).

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