Rueppell’s or hybrid or what?

On July 15th, Eitan and Judith Kaufman went birding at the scenic Gamla NR in N Israel . This reserve is well-known for its vultures that often fly past the lookout at very close range. Among the Eurasian Griffons, they noticed this very striking-looking vulture, that made one quick pass in front of them:

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Vulture Sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 15 July 2014. Photo by Eitan Kaufman.

They sent the photo to several Israeli birders, and immediately the alarm bells went off – from above this bird looked very good for Rueppell’s Vulture. Hot on the heels after the first Rueppell’s for Israel that was found in May 2014 by Ezra Hadad in C Israel but unfortunately was non-twitchable, we were all hoping that this bird shows better. The image was sent to Dick Forsman, who agreed that this bird had a good potential to be an adult Rueppell’s Vulture of the NE African race erlangeri, but he did clearly state that some bird are virtually impossible to separate from Eurasian Griffon, and that hybrids are known from Ethiopia.

Next morning quite a few birders assembled at the Gamla lookout, and when the air heated up and the vultures left their roost, soon the suspect was relocated. from above it looked very good, but from below – oh no! Pretty identical to Eurasian Griffon! Very plain from below, too plain, especially the undertail coverts. This bird stayed around Gamla for a couple more weeks. This image is by Shachar Alterman:

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Vulture sp., Gamla NR, N Israel, 4 August 2014. Photo by Shachar Alterman.

Googling Ethiopian Rueppell’s Vultures images, I found none that have completely ‘blank’ underparts like this bird. erlangeri is less striking than the C African race rueppellii, but surely pure erlangeri cannot be so plain from below? I wonder if anyone has images of known hybrids either from E Africa of elsewhere in Africa. Have any hybrids wondered into Europe via Gibraltar? Certainly worth looking out for.

Here are some ‘real’ Rueppell’s:

This is the first for Israel, found and photographed by Ezra Hadad, 5 May 2014. It was on the move with two other Eurasian Griffons and was not seen subsequently. This is a younger bird – probably 3cy – note especially the undertail coverts:

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Rueppell’s Vulture, Gva’ot Gad, NR, C Israel, 5 May 2014. Photo by Ezra Hadad. The first for Israel.

Here is an adult rueppell’s from Portugal, with an Eurasian griffon, by Rami Mizrahi, November 2011:

Rueppell's Vulture (left) and Eurasian Griffon (right), Portugal, November 2011. Photo by Rami Mizrachi.

Rueppell’s Vulture (left) and Eurasian Griffon (right), Portugal, November 2011. Photo by Rami Mizrachi.

And a few from Kenya, December 2008:

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Rueppell’s Vulture of nominate race rueppellii, Masai Mara, Kenya, December 2008.

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Rueppell’s Vultures with African White-backed Vultures G. africanus, Masai Mara, Kenya, December 2008.

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