As in the past seven years, we have brought forth the monitoring and protection campaign of all known Bonelli eagles’ sites, a high percentage of the Sicilian population of the Lanner falcon and all the known Egyptian vulture’s population. The great novelty of this year is the synergy and confluence of data, energies and instrumental resources with LIFE CONRASI, a project funded by the European Community, which aims to protect and increase the knowledge of the Sicilian populations of the three species. Last year, the first forms of cooperation had been made, but this year the synergy has certainly been the driving force behind the season and the results we have achieved together are really significant. It should be said that among the LIFE-funded measures there are some projects that GTR had already indicated as fundamental for the knowledge of the dynamics of Sicilian populations of birds of prey, but which, above all because of the high costs and various bureaucratic difficulties, had never been successful to carry on. So from this year some young Bonelli’s eagles were ringed at the nest and 8 of them were equipped with satellite transmitters. Colored rings with a code will help in the future to know their movements as they can be read at a distance by observers and birdwatchers. Satellite transmitters will surely improve our knowledge of youth mortality, dispersal phases, and feeding supplies, making us able to pinpoint our initiatives in the future. Unfortunately even this year, infestations caused by trichomonas gallinae has reappeared in some nests, just as in the recent past, due to which an eaglet about 50 days old, was found dead at the foot of the rocky wall.
At the end of the season the most significant numbers were: 4 new pairs, 2 without a territory yet, were identified for the first time, while 43 were the monitored sites with resident pairs. Of these unfortunately some did not hatch for undetected reasons, but probably for natural causes and none to attribute to disturbance. Only in one case the pair disappeared suddenly, the site was surveilled daily. However the camp activities went on because in the same site there was a pair of Lanner falcons nesting and where young falcons successfully fledged. In other cases an “endless incubation” ended with the abandonment of the nest by the pair. At the end of the season there were 29 fledglings and this is in line with the data of recent years. The first fledglings were in early May and the last after mid-June confirming a fairly broad distribution of the laying times. It is also significant to note that several eagles abandon the nest far beyond the 60/65 days of age indicated in literature with a “delay” that reaches even about 78 days. During the year, of the 5 camps programmed, 4 camps were carried out, with the surveillance of 5 sites (camp1, which included 3 sites, followed only 2 after a pair had been abandoned their nest). Only one camp did not start because the pair, seen in reproductive attitude in January / February, did not lay eggs. More than 400 visits to the Bonelli eagle sites have been carried out during the monitoring period, and often at the same time Lanner falcons pairs were monitored or searched for. For the first time, in a site a video surveillance system was used, with rental equipment, which allowed some persons in charge to follow the situation on their smartphone.
The relationships of those in charge for each camp follow:
Camp 1 has been held in the same locations since 2011. The area is of fundamental importance for the Bonelli’s eagle and the Lanner falcon. The controlled pairs were three, while those that were monitored are two more. A total of 5 pairs on a limited territory, the distance between the furthest pairs is about 20 km, probably equals the highest density of Bonelli’s eagle for the Sicilian territory. There are also at least three territories occupied by Lanner falcons and 4 pairs of Peregrine falcons.
Surveys started in February when sites were occupied and the first pair laid eggs. The second pair moved to the nest with less risk of thefts, the third one was found in reproductive activity with the female brooding in the nest. At the second session of inspections, the occupation of the fourth site was verified with the female in the nest and the presence of the pair in the fifth site. As far as Lanner falcons are concerned, the presence of 2 pairs was confirmed. The number of Peregrines has increased to 5 pairs. In all sites one or more trail cameras have been installed. Surveillance activities, started March 3, ended on May 30th, ensuring a total of 221 days distributed on the three sites with 16 volunteers participating in the activities. A pair abandoned the incubation shortly after the estimated date for the eggs’ hatching. The trail cameras did not register any human passage and no sign of rock climbing, the failure of nesting was therefore attributed to natural causes. A second pair started nesting in the historic nest, then abandoned the site to move in another nearby nest occupied in 2013 only to return to the first nest after mid-March. Incubation went on for over 50 days without any success. On the third site, the activity was regular and two young eaglets were bred and around the 48th day the chicks were ringed and provided with satellite transmitters by the Life Conrasi project. In the fourth nest there was one fledgling. The fifth pair occupied the territory, arranged the nest of the previous year but never started incubating. The pair of Lanners followed, the only one which started incubating, had two fledglings successfully. During the camp activities, on several occasions, were observed falconers who in past years had picked up chicks from the nests and are still under trial. Surveillance has provided eagles peace and surveillance systems installed have been particularly useful for deterring and controlling access routes.
Since January 13th, the group in charge of the camp activities started monitoring the field. In addition, trail-cameras and web-cam brackets were installed on the nesting sites just before the beginning of the incubation period. In the first of the 3 sites of this camp, the occupation of the old Bonelli eagle nest by a pair of Peregrine falcons occurred. In the second site, the pair abandoned prematurely the rocky wall where it had prepared the nest but remained in the area.
For the second consecutive year, the only active site remained the third, which was monitored up to the fledgling of the only eaglet on 19 May. Given the modest commitment required for the sole surveillance of the latter site, for which the GTR chose to minimize the presence of people due to nest location, it was chosen to relocate volunteers in other camps. Eleven volunteers attended activities.
Camp 3 saw a total of 16 volunteers involved. Activities began in February 2017 to ensure the presence of Bonelli’s eagle at the site; metal brackets were also placed on the rocky face and trail cameras finally adjusted. In that period there were both pairs of Bonelli’s eagles, a pair of Lanner and one of Peregrine falcons. The camp site is located within a State property so the Forestry State property office was informed of the study and control activities that were going to take place between the months of March and June, also requesting not to grant permissions for recreational activities such as rock climbing or hiking during that period. Surveillance activities in the field began officially on March 4th, after checking that the eagles started incubating. Both Lanner falcons and Peregrine falcons nested on the same rocky wall. In the first weeks of surveillance activities, the presence of suspicious cars and the visits of some individuals who remained several hours watching was noticed, however nests were never disturbed. It is worth mentioning the periodic visits of well known poachers also seen in camp 1 and 5. Around April 10th the birth of two chicks occurred, and were regularly fed by their parents. Unfortunately, on April 30th, both adults did not return to the nesting site and were not seen thereafter. Volunteers surveilling constantly the site did not remark suspicious activities, and trail-cameras did not register any human activity; investigations are still ongoing.
Field activities continued, both to check whether the pair would turn up that to follow the nesting of the falcons with special attention to the Lanner falcon which is subject to the poaching of eggs or chicks. The field activities ended on the 21st May when fledgling in both nests occurred.
This year nesting took place in the same site of the years 2015 and 2016. It began with the usual inspections to observe and monitor the incubating stage, the first chick hatched the 28th March while the presence of a second chick was confirmed on April 1st. The fledgling of the two eaglets occurred at a distance of one day from another: June 1st and 2nd , respectively at 66th and 67th day from the first egg hatch. The people involved were altogether 9. Like last year there were no phenomena that could directly or indirectly be a threat for the chicks.
Camp 5 had as its main objective the monitoring and the surveillance of a Bonelli’s eagle site which was unproductive for two consecutive years. After the reproduction failure of 2015 and the failure to occupy the nest in 2016, in the current year, the pair of eagles, made up by two adult individuals, successfully completed the reproductive cycle, bringing up one eaglet which flew off after about 75 days. During the surveillance activities, the predation of Columba livia, Columba palumbus, Corvus cornix, Oryctolagus cuniculus was observed. Interactions were observed with: Accipiter nisus; Buteo buteo; Pica pica; Corvus cornix; Garrulus glandarius. Altogether, 9 volunteers were engaged, for a total of 76 field days. Compatibly with the need to ensure constant monitoring of the eagles site, the priority objective of the camp, a pair of Lanner falcons and a pair of Peregrines located a few kilometers away have also been monitored. For the second consecutive year, both pair of falcons had a reproductive failure that can probably be attributed to theft of the chicks by poachers. On four occasions, the volunteers involved in the surveillance contacted, near the controlled site, people known to be active in the illegal traffic of birds of prey. In another circumstance, a volunteer during his shift, intervened to discourage two photographers to get too near the eagle’s nest.
During activity planning, we had foreseen to place trail-cameras in as many Lanner falcons sites known as possible. A donation campaign followed which led to the purchase of a significant number of trail-cameras that have been used both on Bonelli’s eagle sites that on Lanner’s sites. Given the higher number of sites to control, many trail-cameras have been used in synergy with others provided by the LIFE Project for a more significant coverage of each site. There was no problem at the eagles sites while in a Lanners’site unfortunately the chicks were stolen. This obviously has led us to take into account the necessity to place more than one trail camera in each site (for that matter this has already been done this year in most sites).
The population of Lanners in Sicily is at present in a very negative situation. Many known pairs have not been found and many of the historic sites that have been followed in the last 30 years are now deserted. Explorations have led to the discovery of new pairs or pairs that have moved to new sites but unfortunately this does not compensate for the losses. It is assumed that at least 60% of the Sicilian population has been followed, in synergy with LIFE. At least 2 or 3 sites were depredated but there is no explanation or evidence of thefts at the moment for the failure occurred in many other sites. At the end of the season therefore only a small number of chicks actually grew up to finally leave their nests and certainly not a sufficient number to maintain a healthy and vital population to ensure the presence of the species in time. We believe therefore that important steps must be taken, even from a legislative point of view, by the Government and the Sicilian Region for the survival of the Sicilian population of the lanner feldeggii
Always in synergy with the LIFE project the breeding pairs in Sicily were followed, and a slight increase of the nesting population was spotted in line with the data of the past years. There also have been some reports of estivating immatures, which gives hope for a slight increase of the population which however is made up by few units. Interesting also the observation of two individuals wintering in the Sicilian territory.