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The Life and death of Desislavka the Saker Falcon

The Life and death of Desislavka the Saker Falcon

11.12.2012
In the rocky gorges of the Central Balkans this summer lived four Saker Falcons ...
An artificial nest was created for them by a team from the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research (IBER). The team helped them to survive without their biological parents, using the Open Hack method. While they were still chicks, people fed them in the nest without even making eye contact with them.

There were four Saker Falcons, three of which were females and one male. Their task was to show us, the people, the dangers for Saker falcons hidden in the countryside of Bulgaria, and how we can restore the now extinct population of this species in this Country. For this purpose the Saker Falcons were marked with satellite transmitters and their flights were observed by scientists and conservationists.

One of them, the female Saker “Desislavka” proved to be very assertive, and she was the first fitted with a satellite transmitter. As expected Desi flew the nest first. And while people worried about whether she could survive or not, her confidence grew as she got to know the area and then returned after two days looking for food.

One day, while the birds stood quietly against a rocky outlet Desislavka swooped into the ravine and caught her first prey – she flew to another rock and greedily ate alone. This was great because it meant that she was ready to survive alone in the wild. Shortly thereafter, her example was followed by the other Falcons. Subsequently, all the family acquired the skills and confidence of proud hunting falcons. For four weeks they studied in detail the majestic peaks of the mountain, and Suslik colonies at the foot, until it was time to fly home from their young wandering adventures.

After about three days the first of the young Sakers reached Romania, the second in Ukraine, and the third arrived in Russia. But our young female Desislavka decided to stay in Bulgaria and not just anywhere but the outskirts of Stara Zagora. Several nights were spent on the rooftops of houses in one of the suburbs in the city. She then settled in a field near the Green Balkans Wildlife Rescue Centre. There she spent the night on poles and trees, and during the day wandering around the woods of Sarnena Middle and the Upper Valley.

On July 3, 2012 our main character went headlong to Varna. After this she travelled over the high seas, people tracking her travels found that she had flown dozens of kilometers away from the shore above the sea. Moreover she "flew" in an absolute straight line and reported the same distance every two hours. So we consulted the schedule of ships traveling from Varna to Odessa which showed that our Desislavka was traveling with one. On July 5th at 05:00 am, the bird apparently saw land, and from there she flew to the coast of Romania, Bucharest, around the west side, and then returning to Bulgaria. She spent another fifteen days in Stara Zagora at her favorite place to hunt around the city, where hundreds of birds gather. One day she even made a two-day trip to the "Ruse Lom" Natural Park . After flying around the historical attractions she headed south to the Rhodopes.
She then reached the village of Vurben in Kardzhali, stopping for a quick lunch break on a rock between Vurben and a village called Zagorsko before passing along Haskovo and back to the field in Stara Zagora.

From there, in the middle of September she began making short flights. Between 16th and 20th September Desislavkas signals were within a radius of 400 meters – a very small area for our bird. And then her satellite transmitter stopped sending data. By the morning of Oct. 9th, no new signals were received. The place was visited by a team from the Green Balkans and the "Reintroduction of the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria" project, which found that the site is a harvested field, in the center of which stands a lonely, unsecured pylon - one of the type whose structure kills thousands of birds each year in Bulgaria. We found only the beautiful feathers of our freedom-loving bird, near the pylon from which it died of electric shock.

In addition to our brave Saker Falcon, power surges caused by such pylons in Bulgaria have been responsible for the deaths of other rare birds in recent years. These include Imperial eagles and griffon vultures, which environmentalists in our country are making a huge effort in the fight against their extinction in Bulgarian territories. The problem with dangerous electricity pylons is reflected in several publications, but it's not just here. This is one of the main factors threatening populations of raptors in Europe, Asia and Africa. The sad fate of Desi once again shows us that it is time to start thinking about wildlife in the development of infrastructure to facilitate people's lives. There are ways hazardous electric pylons can become comfortable perches for birds, helping them in hunting rather than threatening them. One of them has already been in use for years in Central Europe as a measure for the protection of Saker Falcon – which is the isolation of unprotected wires on pylons.

The project team "Reintroduction of the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria", part of which is a pilot scheme to release Saker Falcons like Desi, will work on securing the grid in the region of Stara Zagora as it will be important to the survival of the Saker Falcons.
Hopefully people will rediscover their love of birds and nature and work every day towards conserving it.

Desislava Stefanova - Field Assistant in the project "Saker Falcon Reintroduction in Bulgaria"
Tel. +359883475371 Is-mail: desinka_sedem@abv.bg
Dimitar Ragyov - Project Manager "Reintroduction of the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria"
Tel. +359898585553 Is-mail: dimitar.ragyov @ gmail.com

Photos - Oscar Dominuez, IBER