Friday, 21 February 2014

Still some hope for Eastern NBI population

Our trusted fieldworker in Ethiopian highlands, Yilma Abebe, with some RSPB support, managed to spend three days at the site where the relict Syrian birds mainly overwintered - and reported this week that three adult northern bald ibis! These included the female Zenobia who had previously been paired to Odeinat (who disappeared over a year ago in Saudi Arabia). Interestingly, she was accompanied by an unringed adult, so perhaps there’s a faint hope that they are indeed a pair, and might make it back to breed in Syria? There was also one other lone bird sighted in the area. We await further details of Yilma’s visit, but it’s good to know there is still a faint hope for the population.

As you may know or remember, only a single adult was seen back at the Syrian breeding site last spring, and despite the problems in the country, the field team there somehow managed to continue some field checks. Our thoughts are certainly with them and their families.

For earlier background:

Thursday, 16 January 2014

NBI shows why birds fly in V

Many bird species have developped refined flying strategies drawing an almost perfect V in flight. It has been traditionally assumed that this tactic minimizes energy costs, but until now, there was not enough scientific evidence to explain how it works.  

A team from Austria, Germany and United Kingdom has shown how NBI individuals have developed a range of phasing strategies in order to optimise turbulences produced by flapping wings. Individuals flying in a V-flock position themselves in aerodynamically most favourable positions, in accord with theoretical aerodynamic predictions. Besides, birds flaps spatially in phase, thus enabling optimal upwash capture throughout the entire wing-beat cycle. In contrast, when birds fly immediately behind another bird, they flap in anti-phase. This could potentially reduce the adverse effects of downwash for the following bird. These aerodynamic accomplishments require complex flight dynamics and sensory feedback to optimise the benefits and reduce the loss due to turbulences made by preceding flock mates.


Monday, 30 September 2013

NBI at Sidi Kaouki

A dozen NBI has been spotted by the coast of Sidi Kaouki, South of Essaouira during several weeks last February. Sylvie Brignon, provided us the information and the pictures.

This is the biggest group recorded outside the known breeding and wintering area around Massa and Tamri.

Photo, Sylvie Brignon

The furthermost location of Aylal has been by the Commune Tafedna, some 70 km Norht of Tamri, and juveniles are often seen by Imsouane, 20 km North of Tamri. This new location at Sidi Kaouki is 140 km as the crow flies from this breeding site.

Photo, Sylvie Brignon

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

2013 breeding results

I. Introduction:
In the framework of the National Species Action Plan for Northern Bald Ibis, Geronticus eremita, prepared in 2008 by HCEFLCD (High Commission for Water and Forest and Fight against Desertification) with its partners, monitoring NBI is one of the main aspects to follow population dynamics. Collected data are essential to take any decision to manage the last viable NBI population in the world. 

II. Main activities and events in  2013

1. Wardens
Seven wardens are recruited with the cooperation of Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, 4 in Souss Massa National Park and 3 in Tamri area. 

2. Site C
Dummies installed at site C faded and are currently dusty. They are not efficient and should be retired.

3. Disturbance
Breeding sites didn't suffer too much disturbance by tourist, compared to previous years. 12 visitors, 9 of them birders, approached Tamri site and two photographers went close to sites A and F, in the Park. 
Nevertheless, this year site E was very frequented by fishermen just at the beginning of the breeding season. Wardens, assisted by rangers kindly persuaded the fishermen to leave.

4. Waterpoints
Waterpoints are daily cleaned and filled with fresh water by the wardens, during all the breeding season. Their monitoring showed a regular use by adults and, later, fledgings.

See here to know more about water supply

III. 2013 breeding season results 

Breeding season started in Tamri by the first week of February and finissed during the last week of Mai. Unlike the previous year, in 2013 60 pairs produced fledgings from 161 hatchlings. Although survival is relatively low (44%), productivity (1,1 fledgling/nest) is satisfactory. 
In SMNP breeding started later, by the first week of March, and finished in mid June. A lanner falcon prevented ibises to nest at site B (that usually holds 6 pairs), thus only 53 pairs nested and 77 fledging survived from 101 hatchings (survival 76%; productivity, 1,4 fledgling/nest). 
Altogether, 118 pairs were formed, 113 nested successfully and produced 262 chicks 148 of whom fledgled (survival rate, 56%, productivity, 1,3 fledgling/nest). 

Table 1. Results at the different sites.

Site A
Site B
Site F
Site E

Formed pairs
Laying pairs  (1)
Fledglings (2)
Survival rate  (%)
Productivity (2/1)

Differences with 2012 (Table 2) are due to the good weather conditions, with rains well distributed between September 2012 and April 2013. 

Table 2. Comparaison between 2012 and 2013
SMNP &Tamri

Formed pairs
Laying pairs (1)
Fledglings  (2)
Productivity (2/1)

The number of pairs is the highest since the creation of the Park (Figure 1).

Figure 1 : Evolution of number of NBI breeding pairs in Souss-Massa region

The number of chicks produced also increased (Figure 2), despite the relatively low survival rates observed in Tamri site, and it's one of the highest even recorded.  This mortality could be explained, among other things, by a shortness of food resources available in a region in which there is more disturbance from human activities (tourism development, nomadic herds, ...).

Figure 2 : Evolution of productivity of NBI population in Souss-Massa region (blue, number of fledglings; red, productivity)

Regular census shows that before breeding there were 319 individuals. After breeding, the number rose to 443 birds (Figure 3) .

Figure 3: Evolution of NBI population at Souss-Massa region before (blue) and after (pink) breeding
The gap between both figures some years reachs more than 100, meaning that a number of birds disperses outside the prospected area. 

It's worth to note that just after breeding, most ibis from Tamri region move to the limits of Souss-Massa National Park. In 2012 this displacement occurred even before, due to the failure of breeding at Tamri (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Monitoring of NBI numbers between 2011 and 2013

SMNP role is essential for the survival of the species. 

IV. Conclusion

NBI had a good breeding season, with a record of 113 breeding pairs, 148 fledglings and a rate of 1,3 fledgling/nest.
After this breeding season, the whole population at Souss-Massa region  has been evaluated at 443. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Kelaynack flies south

(from BirdLife Community)

Following a successful breeding season for the semi-wild Northern Bald Ibis population at Birecik, Turkey, six of the birds were released as part of trial re-introductions work in late July. A dedicated team first caught up all the birds for the annual ringing/check of the birds at the Birecik ‘Kelaynak’ breeding station run by the Turkish Ministry of Nature Protection and National Parks, and six were selected for release in the hope that they would survive and migrate. Three were fitted with satellite transmitters, and to reduce the chance of persecution, their bright rings were replaced with much less conspicuous ones. Four of the birds were 2013 juveniles, and in addition, two one-year old birds were also released.

For the first two weeks, the birds remained very close to the breeding station, feeding at a number of local sites in the area, as well as taking supplementary food provided. This week, however, excitement mounts as five of the birds have departed south, and the intriguing news is that they have stopped off very close to Palmyra in Syria, where the remaining wild population there has this year sadly declined to just one individual.

Whether the birds will stay in the area or continue their ‘migration’ further south, we will find out from the satellite signals. The work was recommended as a priority at last year’s inaugural meeting of the AEWA International Working Group for Northern Bald Ibis, held at Jazan in Saudi Arabia and by the International Advisory Group for Northern Bald Ibis. Several partners are involved in the work in addition to the Turkish Ministry, with satellite tags provided by Doğa Derneği (BirdLife in Turkey), with Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) support.

This news is brought to you by the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme

Sunday, 23 June 2013

NBI and people

Teo Todorov took this beautiful picture of some NBI searching for food in the southern part of Souss Massa National Park in April, 2009.

This kind of sights is easy to observe in SMNP and surroundings, where NBI frequent cultures, fallows and pasture lands, not far from people.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Breeding finish at Tamri

Aylal has left the colony on May 15th. It has been around Tamri since the beginning of February.
It’s installed in the central part of SMNP. The colonies in the Park have still chicks due to the gap between nesting in Tamri and in Massa.

Mild winter and wet spring have probably contributed to the earlier beginning of the breeding season.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Last Northern Bald Ibis in Syria?

The events in Syria fill us with great sadness and grief. In spite of the crisis, the local team has continued to monitor the ibis, and has reported the sad news that only one of the Northern Bald Ibis has returned to the breeding site at Palmyra this spring. Unfortunately, there are no signs of any more birds so far returning from their migration to Ethiopia. The returning female Zenobia was last year paired to Odeinat, the last male, which was fitted with a small satellite tag that stopped transmitting in southern Saudi Arabia in July 2012. It has not been possible to search for Odeinat, as the last signals did not give an accurate location. Subsequently, a total of four birds was seen briefly in January this year by Yilma Abebe and Tariku Dagne (a visit supported by the Ethiopian Natural History Society and the Culture and Tourism Office of Ethiopia, with funds from RSPB) at the usual Ethiopian highland wintering site, but it now seems clear that only one of these birds has returned to the breeding area.

Last Syrian ibis among bedouin khaimahs 
(Photo M.S. Abdallah)
This looks ominously like it may be the end for the relict eastern population of the species, having been rediscovered in 2002 when there were 3 breeding pairs. Despite huge efforts the colony dwindled to just one pair in the past two years and now it seems to just the one bird. This comes at a time when coordinated efforts are strengthening and indeed after the establishment of the new International Working Group was held in Jazan, Saudi Arabia in November 2012.

Among the hopes for maintaining the eastern population are further releases from the former colony site at Birecik in SE Turkey where a semi-wild population persists.

Historical note:
Zenobia was the last empress of Palmyra, Odeinat's widow, who, after expanding his kingdom to Egypt and Anatolia, was defeated and captured by Aurelian in 272.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Sexual dimorphism

As in most waders, sexes in NBI are similar in plumage, although males are generally larger than females. For instance, males have slightly longer wings than females (403-420 vs. 390-408 mm). As with other ibises that breed in colonies, males have also longer beaks.
Photo Brian Stone
Babbitt et al. (2007) made an analysis of sexual dimorphism in ibises. Using all 16 species for which sufficient data were available, they found that the degree of sexual dimorphism in proportional bill length was positively associated with the incidence of colonial breeding (r = 0.68, P = 0.005). On the other hand, the degree of sexual dimorphism in proportion to bill length was not significantly associated with the incidence of group foraging (r = 0.36, P = 0.18). The incidence of colonial nesting and group foraging were correlated (r = 0.55, P = 0.03) with each other, but not as strongly as the degree of sexual bill length dimorphism and colonial breeding. That means that males of gregarious breeding ibis species, like NBI, tend to have longer bills than females.
Size matters: Longer-billed males are more successful in attracting a mate.

Regarding the differences between the two populations, NBI have longer bills in Morocco than in Turkey. There's not a known reason for that, but the sexual dimorphism still exists in both populations.

Male bill length
Female bill length
141.1 mm (5.55 in)
133.5 mm (5.25 in)
129.0 mm (5.08 in)
123.6 mm (4.87 in)

Nevertheless, the difference is very small, about 5%, to be realised in the field.

Babbitt, Gregory A.; Frederick & Peter C. (2007). Selection for sexual bill dimorphism in ibises: an evaluation of hypotheses. Waterbirds 30 (2): 199–206.
Siegfried, W.R. (1972). Discrete breeding and wintering areas of the Waldrapp Geronticus eremita (L.). Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 92: 102–103.
Brown, L. H., Urban, E. K., & Newman, K. (1982). The birds of Africa. Vol I.

Monday, 1 April 2013

NBI and people

Northern Bald Ibis have had an important role in human culture. In addition to the religious and symbolic meaning for ancient Egyptians, in other places where it has existed has also been considered in many senses, as in Algeria. This is probably due to the behaviour of the species, which could be quite tame to people.

In Souss Massa National Park, coexistence between NBI and people has been exemplary, permiting the bird to survive in this region in spite of its extinction anywhere else.

Sidi Wassay is a village besides oued Massa stuary and was among the first to cooperate with the Park and SEO/BirdLife in the implementation of human and economical development. Thus, many women received primary education and the first group of beekeepers was also organised managing a comunal apiary sharing 40 hives (see more about this cooperation in Spanish or French)

Furthermore, Sidi Wassay is a place where NBI is quite easy to observe, due to high quality feeding grounds and its strategic situation inside the National Park. These are, maybe, the reason to choose this bird as a mascot by the Sahel Sidi Wassay Association for Cooperation and Development and the Chabab Sport Club.

On the tower of a guesthouse at Massa (photo Gianni Conca & Bruna Morandotti)

Image by Otto Kleinschmidt in 
Naturgeschichte der Vögel Mitteleuropas 
by Johann Andreas NAUMANN, 1899 
showing two NBI on a masonry wall. 
Some authors explain how the species used to nest on towers and ruins, but also that their ckicks were a delicacy for epicures. Fledglings are abundant on early representations of NBI, probably showing a familiarity to young birds kept in captivity for human consumption. 
In fact, among the first text talking about the species in early 16th century, there are several decrees punishing the capture of this species, reflecting the importance of this prosecution in Europe.
Eleazar Albin writes in the 18th century they build for the moſt part in high Walls of demoliſhed or ruinous Towers which are common in Switzerland and later The young ones are commended for good Meat and county a Dainty; their Fleſh is ſweet and their Bones tender and, later, ... deſert places; where they build in Rocks and old forſaken Towers.

Monument to kelaynak, Birecik

On the other side, the Turkish town of Bireçik held about 500 pairs by the middle of last century and reached an estimated total population of about 3,000 around 1930. NBI was higly regarded by people there, due to the myth of Noah and several religious beliefs. According to the local legend, Noah released kelaynakthe bald ibis, who leads the Ark to a place where they were established.

Old colony over Bireçik,

in the 1950s

It was also believed that the ibis migrated to the South each year to guide Hajj pilgrims to Mecca. A festival was held annually to celebrate its return north, also as a symbol of spring.
By the 1970s, the urban development and the loose of traditions led to the deterioriation of the colony and pesticides contribute to the decline.

NBI nestig besides white storks at Aït Benhaddou.
Why such  a diferent fate?

Although we don't know a particular mithological or legendary status on Northern Bald Ibis in Moroccan traditions, there are records of colonies on emblematic buildings.
There was a small colony on some ksours (adobe fortified houses) in Aït Benhaddou, as shown in the documentary French  The Oued. Those nests were apparently removed in the 1970s when the old buildings where mended for a film shooting.

Currently, the two surviving population are still quite tame. Although they seek for quite and inaccessible sites for nesting, when looking for food they are more confident. It's possible that insects are more abundant close to humane shettlements due to home refuses or livestock dung.

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