We lost Slávka

A team of BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria found the remains and the satellite transmitter of the Slovak Saker Falcon Slávka, whoarrived for the second time to her temporary settlement area (TSA) in Bulgaria. This time Slávka entered the country on 4 October and took the way directly to the TSA, where she successfully spent the autumn and winter of 2011/2012.On 31 October 2012 her last signal was received and, unfortunately, the worst was confirmed – Slávka was dead.

This was very bad news for all the people from the international Life+ Project “Conservation of the Saker Falcon in North-Eastern Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia” (LIFE09NAT-HU-000384). We had developed attachment to this magnificent bird, who during her previous visit we observed many times and admired her extraordinary perfection. Slávkaprovided extremely valuable information. Besides, she was a living confirmation that the hope for natural reestablishment of the Saker Falcon as a breeder in Bulgaria is perfectly sound. The doom of the bird confirms the belief that the Saker will breed in Bulgaria again only when the mortality factors are reduced significantly, so that the Sakers from Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine regularly visiting Bulgaria remain alive.

That is why for the BSPB team it was extremely important to clarify to a maximum degree the reasons for Slávka’s death. This,along with saving the satellite transmitter, was the main goal of the BSPB team which arrived at the spot of the last signal from the falcon. The experience gathered with the years helped the team. No more than 10 minutes after the beginning of the search DimitarGradinarov found the remains and the transmitter by just following a mammal trace, in spite of the very difficult terrain with dense bushes and lots of deposed waste.

The inspection and information gathered lead to three possible versions. According to first one, Slávkawas probably spending the night on the ground (something very typical for her!) in a wheat field.Unfortunately, this time she was very close to a bushy area and a large dung-hill (a usual place for foxes and other predatorssearching for food) and on a very light background making her silhouette rather visible, at only 30 m from the pathways of predators. It is quite possible a fox (at the supposed roosting place of the falcon a fox excrement was found) or even a Stone Marten to have been the reason for her death.

The second version is that a Goshawk has possibly attackedSlávka. A hunting juvenile female Goshawk was observed by the BSPB team during an earlier visit, and again on the spot during the inspection itself. The remains of the falcon may have been taken into the bushes later by a terrestrial predator. This version seems less viable as no feathers of the falcon were found outside the bushes (while some of a Feral Pigeon were found in the crop field).

The third version is that Slávkamay have collided with the wires of the 110 kV power line and later been brought by a predator into the bushes. Such a power line passes at about 160 m from the site of her last signal and there is a bushy area between the site and the line. This dense area is at a certain distance from the bushes, where the remains were found, which makes this assumption less probable. Besides, the area in question is the less foggy spot in the entire TSA.

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