Photo: Vaya in Israel, © Avi Livne

Two years have passed since we’ve been tracking the journeys and adventures of the pink pelican Vaya. We remind you that on September 15, 2021, a team from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) successfully captured and tagged with a satellite transmitter a female Great white pelican in the area of Burgas Lake. This was the first Great white pelican in Bulgaria tagged with a transmitter.

Unlike Dalmatian pelicans, Great white pelicans are known migrants. It is well-established that tens of thousands of Great white pelicans or 100% of the European population of this intriguing species pass through Bulgaria during migration.

Thanks to Vaya, over these two years, we have managed to obtain extremely valuable and interesting data about the ecology of Great white pelicans. Some of this information is new even for scientists working with this species. Over these two years, Vaya has covered a total of 13,364 kilometers and visited 12 countries: Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, and South Sudan.

Vaya movements.

Last winter, Vaya decided not to migrate to Africa and spent the winter months in Israel. She was frequently observed by local ornithologists there. It’s a relief that she managed to avoid the bird flu outbreak that was prevalent in the region at that time.

Vaya in Israel, © Avi Livne

On April 17, 2022, the bird began her northward migration. After a two-day stopover in Syria, Vaya spent about a week in various lakes in Central and Northwestern Turkey. On May 4, she visited the deltas of the Maritsa River in Greece, and the next day, she arrived at Mandrensko Lake near the city of Burgas. In spring and summer, the pelican stayed in her favorite Danube Delta area, occasionally visiting Lake Srebarna, Lake Kaliakra, and the sandy shores along the Danube River. In early September, Vaya arrived at the Burgas Lakes, where she stocked up on food, and in mid-September, she headed south. This time, she decided to spend the winter in Africa.

Successfully flying over the Suez Canal, she followed the Nile River and spent a few days at the Toshka Lakes in the Sahara Desert in Egypt. Over the next few weeks, Vaya continued to follow the Nile River and reached the territories of South Sudan, where she spent the entire winter.

In April 2023, the bird began her northward migration again, and after several weeks of stopovers in Egypt, Israel, and Turkey, on June 7, Vaya returned to Bulgaria and observed to spend the night on the dykes of Atanasovsko Lake. After a few days of rest, our traveller continued north and ended up in Lake Srebarna. During the summer, Vaya spent time at Lake Kaliakra in Romania and various wetlands in the Danube Delta. At the moment, the pelican is in the marshes of Malyy Tataru Island, near the city of Izmail in Ukraine. The longest distance she covered in one day was 309 kilometers, and the highest flight was recorded at 2,297 meters above sea level.

© Еmil Todorov

At any moment, we expect Vaya to start her southward migration again, and we wish her a successful and trouble-free journey to her wintering grounds. She will likely stop for a short rest in the Burgas Lakes, where our team will be waiting for her.

Tagging Great white pelicans with transmitters is being done for the first time in Bulgaria and represents a significant advancement in the study of this species. Through data obtained from leg rings and satellite telemetry, scientists can track the movements of the birds, and identify where pelicans feed, rest, migrate, winter, and nest. Valuable real-time data is also collected on their speed, altitude, and flight patterns. Thanks to these transmitters, we will learn more about the ecology, movements, and threats to the species, which will help us plan and implement future conservation measures.

The activities related to the conservation of Dalmatian and on Great white pelicans are carried out within the framework of the “Pelican Way of LIFE” project (LIFE18/NAT/NL/000716), funded by the LIFE Programme of the European Union and with the assistance of the Whitley Fund for Nature.