Galala Raptor Count
Guest blog by Steffen Oppel
Over the past years a lot of effort has been invested to protect migratory raptors along the eastern Mediterranean flyway – but are those efforts yielding results? Breeding territories of Egyptian Vultures Neophron pecnopterus in four countries in the Balkans are monitored, but very little information exists from breeding areas in Turkey or Central Asia. One way to keep tabs on such widespread populations is to count them on migration.
In 2013 a count site in southern Turkey to count the Egyptian Vultures was established. In 2022, Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) – the BirdLife partner in Egypt – invited the Egyptian Vulture New Life project to help in establishing a new permanent spring migration monitoring site along the north-eastern coast of the Red Sea in Egypt. Previous work in 2012 had witnessed mass migration of Steppe Buzzards Buteo buteo vulpinus and eagles, and we were therefore prepared to be counting a lot of birds.
In early March 2022, the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds (BSPB), BirdLife International, BirdLife Africa joined NCE on a first exploratory mission around the new city of Galala in Egypt. Situated on a mountain plateau 600 m above the Red Sea, this brand-new university town was carved out of the rocky desert in the last 10 years, with new roads connecting the as yet unpopulated city with the coast and with highways to Cairo.
The team observed the migration for a few days from different vantage points and eventually established three permanent count stations that would cover the majority of the flight paths of northward-migrating birds. However, once the migration intensity increased in late March, we simply did not have sufficient observers to count from all three stations.
Overall, the migration volume that we observed was impressive. The complete data are shown on our Egyptian Vulture website and on Trektellen, and the highlights are >250,000 Steppe Buzzards, >1,000 Egyptian Vultures, and tens of thousands of Steppe Eagles Aquila nipalensis, Lesser Spotted Eagles Clanga pomarina and Short-toed Snake Eagles Circaetus gallicus.
Galala Raptor Count is a part of an ambitious plan of NCE to establish Galala Bird Observatory; a platform for bird migration research, awareness, and education programmes that will have a great impact on the conservation of migratory bird species in such an important country along the migration routes. NCE is working towards this goal in close cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Galala University in Egypt.
Hopefully, in 2023 we can conduct a full spring migration count at several stations!
Anyone interested in helping with raptor counts at Galala Bird Observatory or supporting its work should register their interest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We will then keep you informed of future developments.
Steffen Oppel is Senior Conservation Scientist at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science which provides vital information and knowledge about the ecology and behaviour of bird species in a wide variety of ecosystems around the world. The goal of his work is to achieve effective conservation of threatened species and their habitats through collaboration with partner organisations in the global network of BirdLife International.