In February 2006 I attended the CONSERVATION WORKSHOP OF THE FAUNA OF ARABIA held at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, Desert Park Sharjah UAE. The Final report on the activities of the "Small Bird of Prey and Owl Group" (FULL REPORT) states the following
"Perhaps the most important result of the discussion was the realisation that there appears to be a fundamental error in the published information on the known world population of the Sooty Falcon. This species is credited with a world population according to IUCN (BirdLife International 2004. Falco concolor. In: IUCN 2004. 2004 ICUN Red List of Threatened Species; (www.redlist.org.) of 100,000 individuals and similarly in, el Hoyo (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World, as 40,000 pairs. However careful research of all Arabian census data, which is surprisingly complete for this species, has revealed that the total Arabian population is probably just less than 500 breeding pairs. Given that the Arabian population is generally regarded as the largest within its range (perhaps half of the world population) the generally quoted global population may actually be exaggerated by a factor of forty! This issue requires urgent investigation. It is thought that the published total may have been extrapolations of partial counts in the species winter range.....
Recommendation and actions were collected against the following two general topics ..
Even though in 1998 during my initial survey of the Hawar Islands I reported that Sooty Falcons were the most endangered of Hawar’s breeding species I have not since done, other than annual counts of Hawar’s small population, any serious studies on the species. Without support and previous experience of birds of prey, I felt it was always something beyond my means. That situation has now changed in that Dr. Brendan Kavanagh is now with us here in Bahrain. A Species Biologist and professional Ornithologist, Brendan brings a wealth of experience and provides the technical knowledge that has always been lacking to initiate serious studies on the species.
Following on from the Sharjah Workshop, we have therefore started to seek funds and information for a program of satellite tagging of some of the birds, but in the interim have as of this last weekend initiated a ringing (banding) program for the species. A small step given the small number of chicks involved but at least it's a start.
Each step of our way has as usual been documented photographically by Juhani Kyyrö - However on this occasion we shall not be including on these pages the best of his photos, we are keeping them as a tool for advertising and illustrating the funding aspects of the project and the scientific papers that will follow. We cannot afford to reduce in anyway the WOW factor of those special images.
To find out how we got on click on the NEXT PAGE link below
Visits to Hawar are seldom without incident; on this occasion, it was the weather. The first shammal of the season had decided as if knowingly that, we had only been planning the trip for weeks so it was therefore the right time to strike. (Winter Shammals blow from the northwest often for up to five days with winds of up to 30 knots occasionally more.) The first inkling I had that a shammal was forecast was late on Wednesday when my boat owning friend phoned to say because of the pending storm he would be unable to sail. A quick call to the hotel on Hawar got us a place on the Thursday afternoon ferry sailing, this covered getting to the islands, another call to the coastguard gave us once there, boat access to the outer Islands. Our accommodation courtesy of The Southern Tourism Company in fully furnished self-catering comfortable chalets, awaited us anyhow and we had already decided evening meals would be taken at the Hotel. Not the finest dinning to be had in Bahrain but it would suffice for the long weekend visit planned. So our trip was still on.
The ferry ride down on the Thursday afternoon was a bit bumpy in the strengthening wind but being the day before the weekend we had the boat largely to ourselves. The Hotel come the Friday was fully booked, which meant that so would have been the ferryboats, that is, if they had sailed. For come the Friday morning the storm had built up overnight, the wind was well over the safe limit for the small hotel boats, and the entire weekend bookings had had to be cancelled. Other than a few guests already at the Hotel, we were alone which was fine by us as this meant we could mornings or evening do some mist netting without much interference from other visitors to the Hotel in the Hotel trees - the area is definitely not a garden more an enclosure. It is a fenced area to which Hotel and Chalet guests are restricted to.
The Thursday evening and Friday morning were spent successfully ringing in the trees. At noon on the Friday, we moved to the coastguard jetty and joined the local (all weather) coastguard patrol boat for a whistle stop tour of the islands for the benefit of Brendan and Juhani.
The captain of the boat was himself new to the Islands so was only too happy to be shown around the narrow and often shallow navigable channels through the islands. Without the assistance of the Coastguard our trip would have been given the weather impossible, our thanks to boat captain Sargent Mohammed and to Major Ayuz for making it happen at such short notice.
On reaching Suwad Al Janubiyah the three of us went ashore south of the Socotra cormorant colony, this was not just to let Brendan and Juhani see this amazing site for themselves but was primarily to check the breeding status of the colony which is about to start its season.
The following day, Saturday the coastguard dropped us of at 7-00 am on the Island of Hazwarah and we spent the next five hours documenting the 7 pairs of Falcon that are breeding there this season.
In past years numbers have been much higher, but for some reason 3 or 4 nest sites that have always been used over the previous seasons were this year not occupied although there was some evidence of usage. Why this is the case, this year one can only speculate. Also unfortunately for us the breeding season for several of the nests occupied was well advanced, so much so that the chicks had already fledged and were only seen and identified scattered at various locations around the Island.
We did however find and ring chicks in other nests, a quick in, ring the birds and out again routine, was adopted on Brendan’s instructions minimising any disturbance. On the Island although it has a flat top, the numerous deep wadis and cliff faces means that one can quickly move away completely out of view of the birds, both the parents and the chicks.
At noon the coastguard returned to pick us up from the Island, we had a 3.30 pm ferry sailing to catch, but en route back to the jetty we stopped of at the islands of Jazur Al Hajiyat to document the two pairs with fully fledged chicks breeding there. Given that sea stacks of Wakur probably have at least one, possibly two pairs, the population this season for Hawar is a lowly maximum of 11 pairs.
On our return to the Hotel we found out that a boat had managed to deliver a few new guest to the Hotel and collect those stranded at 8.30 pm that morning but since the wind had again risen the next chance for our exit was the afternoon of the following day, Sunday. This was Ok by me, but it meant that both Brendan and Juhani would have to phone and inform others they were stranded on Hawar.
On our return to the chalets we tried unsuccessfully that evening to catch some waders near the hotel – not exactly a prime site but we had to wait till 7-30 pm anyhow for dinner to be served. So we just enjoyed the peace and quite the islands has to offer until that is the Hotel turned on its music system and spoilt the magic.
The following morning we spent a very productive few hours after dawn catching warblers again amongst the few trees that pass for landscaping around the Hotel. I had arranged a trip around the main Island for that morning but thanks to the efficiency of the hotel management, this had to be curtailed. The 3.30 pm daily ferry sailing was rescheduled to leave at noon just in case the wind got up again or the Captain who was fasting for Ramadan fell asleep and failed to turn up later.