Visitors exploring Gibraltar can find a fascinating trove of natural treasures. One of the features of Gorham’s Cave, for example, is the continued presence of bird species that have been present since the Late Pleistocene – sometimes as far back as 125,000 years.
Now, according to professor Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar National Museum, “To the shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and the raven (Corvus corax) we must add the osprey. This is truly a wonderful example of natural history and heritage combined, the kind of story that only these caves can provide.”
Professor Finlayson is referring to work by researchers at the Gorham’s Cave Complex, who continue to discover new and exciting animal remains, most recently a well-preserved osprey (Pandion haliaetus) humerus excavated from Vanguard Cave within the Gorham’s Cave Complex UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In a news release announcing the discovery, the Gibraltar government noted that osprey remains are rare in Pleistocene sites and the Vanguard bone is the first for the Iberian peninsula. It is dated to between 68 and 61 thousand years ago.
“Ospreys are regular migrants at Gibraltar today but they nested on the Rock in the past. The last nesting records are just prior to the start of the Second World War and it is assumed that military activity drove them away. From the detailed records and photographs of Victorian and Edwardian naturalists based on the Rock, particularly Colonel Willoughby Verner, the historical breeding site of the osprey is known. It was on a ledge above Vanguard Cave, close to Monkey’s Cave. The ancient osprey remains are therefore barely 100 metres from the known nest site.”
This latest work was carried out under the supervision of the Gibraltar National Museum and the remains were identified by expert Dr Antonio Sánchez Marco of the Madrid Museum of Natural Sciences.
“This is a most significant discovery,” said minister for heritage and the environment John Cortes. “Happily, ospreys are gradually increasing in numbers in the region and recently have been seen around our waters through the winter. An artificial osprey nest with a decoy was placed near the site several years ago. While nesting on the Rock is unlikely in the near future, we will continue to hope that one day they will return.”