Saturday 27 July 2013


On a day just like today, exactly a year ago (26th July 2012), I had the chance to participate in the capture and marking with a satellite tracker, for the first time ever in Spain, a European Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus). The place: cool Pyrenean Oak woodland at 1,000 metres above sea-level on the slopes of the Jerte Valley in Cáceres province. The star: a male Honey Buzzard, we named Picoto. Here we can summarise a year in the life of an Iberian Honey Buzzard, thanks to the espionage that it was under. Photo above, by Domingo Rivera.

During the fist month, until 30th August when his southward migration started, Picoto successfully raised the single chick that was in the nest. Below, there is a photo taken on 9th August of his offspring, the not so small Picotín, who successfully left the territory several weeks later, in early September. 

The map shows the outward and return journey of Picoto, to his wintering grounds in Liberia. The southward journey took 17 days, from 3oth August to 15th September 2012. With a total of 4.085 km in a straight line, this means on average 255 km a day, with a maximum of 329 km. He stopped in La Janda (Cádiz) a day, crossing the Straits of Gibraltar on 1st September. On that very day, the largest number of Honey Buzzards of the season passed over Tarifa (Cádiz), more than 10,000 birds. Therefore Picoto was more than accompanied! Then he passed across Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Guinea, in a pretty much direct route across the Sahara desert.

The stay in Liberia was full of uncertainties, signals were barely being picked-up, with long gaps and always coming from a very restricted area. Suspicions rose that Picoto may have died and that the transmitter had become someone’s toy. But then, at last, after seven months of doubts, Picoto headed north again on 15th April 2013. The weak signals from October to April was probably because of the dense forest habitat where our Honey Buzzard was staying, with the canopy impeding the correct connection to the satellites. In the picture below, although some imagination may be needed, one can see the wintering area in the middle of the equatorial forests of Africa. 

Picoto’s return to his “home” in Extremadura was almost the same as his outward journey. It took just one day less (16 days) from 25th April to 10th May 2013. The journey was 200 km more (a total of 4,274 km in a straight line), with an average of 267 km a day, with the maximum considerable higher at 512 km in one day. The maximum altitude was 3,360 metres above sea-level and the maximum velocity was 41 kmph. The countries crossed were the same in reverse order: Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco. On 8th May he crossed the straits and on 10th May was already occupying his nest from the pervious year in the Jerte valley. From then on, for reasons of security, the data from the transmitter are not available to the public, but Picoto has remained faithful to his nest site and is breeding normally, as you can see from the photo taken on 21st June, where he appears to be peacefully incubating. One can just about make out the antenna of the transmitter, with some down on its tip, coming from the back. 

Acknowledgements: Of course to long-suffering Picoto, involuntary collaborator, we hope for the benefit of all his species. A special thanks to Ivan Solana, the agent who found the nest and has been carefully monitoring Picoto and to Domingo Rivera and Ángel Sánchez, who are following the satellite data and who kindly have provided information about the adventures of our dear Honey Buzzard. In the capture and marking Javier de la Puente, José María Abad, Javier Caldera, Ángel Sánchez, Iván Solana and Domingo Rivera participated, along with a helper (Javier Prieta, who did very little apart from giving Picoto his name) and apologies a other collaborators whose names I do not know.

Translated by Martin Kelsey.