YOS Returns to Bab al Mandab [Archives:1997/43/Last Page]

October 27 1997

Each year countless millions of birds migrate from summer breeding territories in Europe and Asia to their wintering grounds in Africa. Following traditional flyways down the natural migratory corridors of Yemen’s mountain chains and her Red Sea coast, the vast majority of these birds migrate inconspicuously, often traveling at night or at such altitude that they aren’t seen. Depending on prevailing winds, most migrants follow the shortest routes possible, often crossing wide expanses of open water to reach their destinations. Hawks and eagles, however, prefer to stay close to land and generally cross open water at its narrowest points. For this reason, Falsterbro in Sweden, Suez in Egypt, the Bosphorus in Turkey, and Bab al Mandab in Yemen are regions where huge concentrations of these birds gather for relatively short hops across open sea. The mass migration of hawks and eagles across Bab al Mandab had long been conjectured, but it wasn’t until Geoff and Hilary Welch launched several expeditions to Djibouti that this movement of birds was actually documented. The Welch’s work culminated in the Djibouti III expedition of 1987, during which almost 300,000 hawks and eagles of 28 species were counted migrating (from Yemen) across the straits at Bab al Mandab. Last year, a team of birders from the Yemen Ornithological Society (YOS) led a group of students to Bab al Mandab for the first informed look at this migratory phenomenon in Yemen. During four hours of observations tens of thousands of hawks and eagles were seen gathering for the short flight to Djibouti. This year, a second YOS team was permitted to enter the top security area at Bab al Mandab. In spite of severe winds counter to the direction of migration, thousands of raptors were again recorded making the crossing. By far the most numerous were Steppe Buzzards; birds which nest as far away as northern Siberia, and which may winter as far south as Cape Town, South Africa. Ten other species of eagles, vultures, and harriers were observed in smaller numbers. Although, documentation of this globally important migration has only occurred recently, it has probably been known about for centuries. Each year, Bedouin falcon-trappers from Marib camp in the area for up to four months. Using pigeons harnessed with monofilament loops, they annually catch more than 100 falcons for export to neighboring countries. During the