Satellite-tracked Hungarian Saker (Falco cherrug) in N Spain

Romi, a Female juvenile Saker, like Piros, ringed and tagged on 2008 (Source: Saker LIFE project website)

Mátyás Prommer has commented in the Raptor Biology yahoogroup the sighting of a juvenile Saker from Hungary in France and N Spain.:

‘As some of you may be aware we are carrying out a four-year satellite-tracking project in order to study juvenile dispersal of Sakers in Hungary and Slovakia. We are in the 3rd year now and we have quite a lot of good data on the movements of our birds. However, this year (probably as the vole population collapsed after the peak) 1cy juveniles started the dispersal sooner as in the last two years and they went further in their first two months after fledging as in previous years. Most of them flew to east to the steppes - their typical habitat.

However, not all of them did that. The most interesting move has been done by 'Piros' a 1cy female from West-Hungary! She made it to
Spain! Until now we have only one ring recovery from south of France (1cy Saker crashed to an airplane) proving that sometimes Sakers from the Carpathian Basin can make that far. That suggests that Saker observations in Spain or in France may be quite normal - not common though - and not necessarily goes for escaped falconry birds. It also suggest that occurrence of species far from breeding range may be quite normal even if they seem to be unusual. I know I do not say anything new, I just would like to present another confirmation of that.

Now it will be interesting to see where she goes now. Will she make it to
Africa? Or does she return to Hungary? Or will she make some entirely different move? I suggest you to keep checking our map:

and look for Piros (feel free to check other birds as well)!

Piros July 2009 travel (Source: Saker LIFE project, own elaboration)

Piros in Spain

From the map obtained from the link of the LIFE project Conservation of Saker in the Carpathian Basin (LIFE 06/NAT/HU/000096) the female Piros left NE Hungary on 25th July morning towards Croatia. On 26th July it was between Croatia and Slovenia to move on 27th July to N Italy, S of the Alps. It moved S of the mountain range to S France coast on 28th July and followed it South to the border with Spain until the 30th July.

Piros July 2009 travel within Spain (Source: Saker LIFE project, own elaboration)

On 30th July the bird crossed the border around midday to be radio located at Vall de Camprodón, Ripollés, Girona at 13h. It flew SW to the San Ramón – Calaf area at Segarra county, Lleida, an area of extensive plains and cereal agriculture where it remained that night. During its second day in Spain, it left Lleida province to head S for the Montblanc area, Conca de Barberà, Tarragona where it was located at 10 AM but it continued flying this time SW, through the coastal sierras to the Ebro river basin around Flix and Ascó villages, Ribera d’Ebre, Tarragona (13 hours). It continued this time Eastwards, entering the core of Ebro basin steppes at Aragón region, and was recorded at Belchite steppes, S Zaragoza at 19h. It presumably remained that night there.

On the 1st of August the bird was located at 10 AM a bit NE of the steppe area, around Cariñena. Again on the move it was heading NE to the limit of Navarra and La Rioja communities and around 13h it was near Alfaro and Peralta. Again an open near-steppic cerealist area. The last up-to-date record was from 19h when Piros was heading NW within Navarra and it was in a wide area around Olite and Tafalla, which is also a credited area for Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanni) within Navarra region. Pitillas lagoon observers might have a chance of having an encounter with this travelling falcon if he has decided to stay in this open countryside region? It may well be the case since the bird has favoured rather open habitat to travel across avoiding large forested areas or rocky mountains.

Significance of the record

Besides the Mátyás Prommer comment on the possibility of westwards vagrancy of Saker from the Carpathian basin and the biological significance of the whole project including their conservation implications, this record proves that not all Sakers (a common species in falconry) –nor Lanners (Falco biarmicus) I’d add- seen out of their breeding ranges are necessarily escapes or falconry birds.

Piros and other Sakers July 2009 travels (Source: Saker LIFE project, own elaboration)

Within 2009 tagged birds in this LIFE project, this is the only having flight westwards, with the rest having moved around Hungary or nearby (four birds) or dispersed to the East (five birds), see map.

There is a sole previous accepted record of Saker in Spain: a bird seen at Tarifa, Cádiz, on 10th April 2002 (Ardeola 53: 174, full rarities report of that year in pdf here ). In the comment if the record it was noted that the circumstances of that record favoured a natural vagrancy hypothesis, despite most of W European records are doomed as escapes. However, this first record for Spain was included in the rarities report as from ‘Unknown Origin’ and at least it would qualify for the D category within the Spanish bird list. Since the current list dates from 2005 and the record was accepted in 2006, it is not currently in the official Spain Bird List.

In case of acceptance, this record would be the first proven case of natural vagrancy of the species in Spain and would qualify for its inclusion in the A category of the Spanish bird list.

August update

On 5th August the bird had moved deeper into W Spain and lingered between Burgos and León provinces! It entered within Burgos province on 4.8 afternoon and spent the night there, near Burgos city at Villalonquéjar. On the 5th it continued W to Tierra de Campos and into Palencia province (contributed by Alfonso Rodrigo).

15th August update

In the locations from 14th August, Piros the saker is more or less staying in the wide area known as Tierra de Campos, within Valladolid province. The wide area would be between Becilla de Valderaduey and Villalón de Campos, near Villacid de Campos. It has been moving around the wide area always returning to a same spot. See a map below. A good chance for would-be observers?

Piros August 2009 travel within Spain (Source: Saker LIFE project, own elaboration)

Juan Sagardia located on 24.8.2009 the bird and photographed it around the location of the 14.8.2009, at Castilla León community. It's the first sighting of Piros in Spain by any observer. See some stunning photos in Juan Sagardia's blog here.

September update

After visiting Portugal briefly on 30-31.8, the bird returned to the wide area Zamora-Valladolid-Palencia where it has stayed over 15 days. On 2.9.2009 it was relocated again at Palencia by Juan Sagardía and Antonio Ceballos. They have collaborated with the Hungarian LIFE team in the monitoring of the staying of this bird in our country. See more photos in Juan Sagardia's blog here.

Resumen: Halcón Sacre radiomarcado en Hungría en España. Piros, una hembra de primer año marcada con un emisor vía satélite en el NW de Hungría el 3 de Junio de 2009 entró en España por los Pirineos de Girona, Catalunya, el 30 de Julio sobre el medio día. Ha viajado por las provincias de Girona, Lleida, Tarragona, Zaragoza y La Rioja-Navarra donde permanecía en la zona estépica de la zona media el 1 de Agosto. Luego siguió hacia el oeste, pasando por Burgos y Palencia. Ninguno de los otros nueve sacres marcados ha ido hacia el oeste. Se trataría de la primera prueba fehaciente de que no todos los sacres que se ven en el oeste de Europa son procedentes de escapes de cetrería sino que la posibilidad, probada en este caso, de una divagancia natural existe. Se ha podido fotografiar el 24.8.2009. Visitó Portugal el 30-31.8 pero volvió a Castilla, donde fue fotografiado el 2.9 en Palencia. De homologarse la cita la especie pasaría a estar en la categoría A de la lista de las aves de España.

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