Migration of the reintroduced Bald Ibises from Spain to Morocco

By | 7 November 2016

More Northern Bald Ibises (Geronticus eremita) from the reintroduced population in southern Spain crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco this autumn than during the entire life of Projecto Eremita (the project which started in 2003 and aims to reintroduce the species in La Janda area, Province of Cadiz led by Jerez Zoo and the Gouvernement of Andalusia).

Since the start of Proyecto Eremita until 2015 only two Northern Bald Ibises are known to migrate to Morocco (López et al. 2015):

– One bird observed in the Middle Atlas in 2006 by Lahcen Chillasse, and

– Another bird observed at Merja Bergha near Larache on Atlantic coast in May 2007 by Todor ‘Teo’ Todorov (photo below).

In autumn 2016, an unprecedented numbers of Northern Bald Ibis were observed crossing the Strait to Morocco, these include:

– A flock of 11 birds observed crossing the Strait from Spain on 23 September 2016. “It took barely 12 minutes for them to reach the African coast” according to Yeray Seminario who observed them. All 11 birds were colour-ringed, and

– A flock of 6 birds observed arriving from Europe to the Moroccan coast on 2 November 2016 by Juan Ramírez Román and Antonio Román Muñoz. The observers visited northern Morocco to watch vulture migration and were located between Tanger-Med port and Punta Cires when they saw the Bald Ibises.

A total of 37 birds were counted by field ecologists and volunteers of Fundación Migres between 5 July and 15 October 2016 (EFE Verde 2016). I don’t know if the first mentioned flock was also seen by Fundación Migres or not (in other words, whether the flock of 11 birds is included or not in the total of 37 birds).

The main goal of the Projecto Eremita is to obtain a sedentary, stable and self-sufficient population of Northern Bald Ibis in southern Andalusia. However, with these last observations the reintroduced birds are apparently not so sedentary. It would be very good if some birds were satellite-tracked, so we could learn more about their movements in Morocco.

It should also be noted that although the Moroccan population of Bald Ibis is generally sedentary, some birds disperse over long distance both south and north of the breeding areas (e.g. 2 birds photographed at Larache in spring 2016, some 650 Km north of the breeding sites).

References:

EFE verde, 2016. La migración de aves por el Estrecho bate récord. Los observadores de la Fundación Migres han censado el paso de 466.000 aves. Published: 6 November 2016.

López, J. M., Quevedo, M. A., Sánchez, I., Rodríguez, B., Gimeno, D. & Aguilera, E. 2015. Crónica de la reintroducción del Ibis eremita en Andalucía. Quercus (349): 14–23.

Update 1:

José Manuel López Vázquez, the coordinator of the Reintroduction Program of the Bald Ibis in Andalusia, said the project couldn’t verify the disappearance of more birds since that 11-bird flock observed on 23 September. He also said that Northern Bald Ibis fly regularly over coastal areas of Tarifa near the bird observatories. These birds sometimes cross the coast lines and appear as they are heading to Morocco, but in fact return back to Spain at other places. He shared with me unpublished maps showing satellite-tracked birds in the sea but were not crossing the Strait (that means most of the birds seen by Fundación Migres and reported by EFE Verde were not migrating). More details can be added when available.

Update 2:

A short note about these mouvements across the Strait of Gibraltar just published in the journal Oryx (March 2017):

Muñoz, A.-R. & Ramírez, J. 2017. Reintroduced northern bald ibises from Spain reach Morocco. Oryx 51: 204–205. doi: 10.1017/S0030605317000138

 Colour-ringed Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) from the reintroduction project in Andalusia, Spain observed at Merja Bergha, Morocco, May 2007 (Todor Todorov).

Colour-ringed Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) from the reintroduction project in Andalusia, Spain observed at Merja Bergha, Morocco, May 2007 (Todor Todorov).

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