Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus). Hortelano, identifiable by the discoloured feathers in the centre of the left wing. Male released in 2010 in Andalucía and present in Extremadura during April, May and June 2011. Photo: Fundación Gypaetus.

This blog entry has drawn freely on the information furnished by F. Javier Ortega Pinilla, a tireless compiler of Lammergeier records and stories.

If we look for the phrase "Lammergeier in Extremadura" in any search engine we get no hard and fast info back. This is surprising, given that this singular vulture still bred in the region only half a century ago, as pointed out by Javier Ortega in an article pending publication(Ortega, in press). This article tells us that at least the sierras of Gredos, Hurdes, Villuercas, San Pedro and Monesterio were home fairly recently to the "Bearded Vulture". J. Ortega has also compiled 13 Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) sightings, presumably of Pyrenean birds, in the 30-year period running from 1979 to 2008, most of them in the eastern half of the region and in Badajoz (9 records against 4 for Cáceres). Another "oversight" is the absence of this species from the Regional Catalogue of Threatened Species(Catálogo Regional de Especies Amenazadas), where it should by rights feature as an extinguished species.

The number of Lammergeier records in Extremadura has recently soared due to the launch of a reintroduction programme in Andalucía, in the sierras of Cazorla y Segura, and especially the satellite tracking of the released birds. The first juveniles were released in 2006, after which a total of 19 were released in Andalucía up to 2010, the release programme then being called off in 2011. Ten of these releases are still alive; 8 have died and the whereabouts of another is unknown. The early deaths of some birds and technical hitches meant that only 11 birds were tracked for over one year, with records of seven birds spending time in Extremadura. Although the journeys made by these birds differ greatly from one individual to another, a general pattern can be discerned, with several months spent at first in the release area(Cazorla and roundabout) and then dispersal from about the age of one year with wide-ranging movements about the mountain ranges of the whole Iberian Peninsula. This vulture species matures slowly (6-8 years to breeding age), so no breeding pairs have yet been formed, though hopes were raised in 2011 with the pair bonding of the male Tono (born in 2006) and the female Malena (n. 2009).

During the first five years of the project only a handful of these birds spent any time at all in Extremadura, which didn't seem to be much to their liking. At the beginning of 2011 8 birds were still being tracked by satellite, although this number fell to six by June due to the lamentable death of two birds in May.

The Extremadura records from 2006 to 2010 fit into a meagre paragraph. Faust, born in 2006 and still alive, visited us from 25 to 31 May 2007, when it was found in the south of Badajoz (Malcocinado and Fuente de Cantos). The visit of Pontones, born in 2007 and dying in May 2011, was even briefer. On 5 September 2009, in one of its trips between the Cordillera Cantábrica and Cazorla, it flew right across Extremadura without landing, entering the region in Las Hurdes in the north and leaving it in La Siberia in the south. Lastly, the female Cata, born in 2009 and also dying in May 2011, spent two weeks of June 2010 in the centre and south of Badajoz, in the areas of La Serena, La Siberia and Alange.

In 2011, however, Extremadura seems to have become all the rage among Andalusian Lammergeiers. Of the 6 being tracked in June, 5 of them born in 2010, 4 passed through the region (see the maps below)... and it remains to be seen what happened in July and what might happen in the future:
- Hortelano. This was the trailblazer and most loyal bird. After 3 months in Cazorla, it left the area in April, stopping over in Villuercas and the Cáceres part of the Gredos mountain chain (Vera and Jerte). In May it returned to Gredos on a lightning trip to Salamanca. In June it remained in the area, visiting Las Hurdes as well as Madrid, Teruel and several other provinces.
- Tranco. This bird followed in the former's "footsteps". After 3 months of lounging about it suddenly set off to explore the world further afield. In May it roamed widely around the southern half of Spain, including Cáceres, and also entered Portugal. After returning to Cazorla, in June it spent a longer spell in Gredos (Vera and Jerte) and in Hurdes-Batuecas.
- Huéscar. This is the bird that has visited most Extremadura sites of the 4, with June stopovers in Villuercas and the whole central mountain system of Cáceres, from Gata to Gredos, passing through Las Hurdes.
- Quiteria. Only 1 of the two 2010-born females has arrived briefly in Extremadura, with a short spell in Villuercas in June.

As usual in tracking arrangements of this sort, few field sightings have been made. We know of only one by Environmental Agents (Ángel Sánchez, pers. comm.) So we should all keep on the qui vive in the hope of more luck in the future. As well as the tracking devices all the birds are also marked with coloured rings(one on each foot, uncoded) and discoloured wing feathers (for more details click here).

- Fundación Gypaetus. Evolución de los ejemplares liberados [web].
- Ortega, F. J. In press. El quebrantahuesos (Gypaetus barbatus) en Extremadura: revisión histórica y presencia actual. In: Prieta, J. and Mayordomo, S. Aves de Extremadura, vol. 4. Anuario 2003-2008. SEO-Cáceres. Plasencia.