First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism

At Montsonís

International meeting on Raptor Conservation at Montsonís

The First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism was held at Montsonís, Catalonia, between the 16th and 19th March 2015. For a first of its kind it was undoubtedly a resounding success.

First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism

The meeting itself was held at Montsonís castle and reception area on Thursday 19th March, and featured talks by photography and nature tourism wizard Staffan Widstrand from Sweden, Norwegian photographer and nature entrepreneur Espen Lie Dahl, and two Catalan raptor researchers, Joan Real from the University of Barcelona and Àngel Bonada of the Lammergeier Research and Study Group.

Among the rapt audience were representatives from the Generalitat de Catalunya, Diputació de Lleida, local mayors, barons of L’Albi, members of La Sabina, the organizers, and others. The baron and baroness very kindly contributed to the act by allowing it to take place in their home, the castle of Montsonís.

During the two days leading up to the meeting, special guests made good use of different raptor photography hides. The invitees included bird and wildlife tour operators from the UK, the editor of the digital magazine Wild Planet Photo Magazine, a photo tour operator from Slovenia, and the sales representative from a major camera and optics retailer in the UK. In the course of their visits they enjoyed encounters with birds such as Goshawk, Lammergeier, Bonelli’s Eagle, Wallcreeper, Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Red Kite, Black Kite, White Stork and more.

La Sabina’s reason for organizing the meeting was to promote good practices in development and promotion of nature tourism products, especially raptor photography, as well as to involve the local community and administrations by demonstrating the benefits of this kind of tourism for the environment and the local economy.

First International Meeting on Raptor Conservation, Photography and Responsible Tourism

According to speaker Staffan Widstrand the number of people enjoying nature tourism in the USA is greater than the sum of sports fishermen and hunters, and nature-oriented tourism is growing rapidly in other countries too.

Lammergeiers in the Pyrenees

Here is the second part of Ian Montgomery’s report on his recent trip with us to photograph raptors from our hides.

Now, at last, here is the one that I wanted to photograph above all else when in the Pyrenees: the Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

As with other species that have featured in the bird of the week such as the Black Woodpecker and Cream-coloured Courser, my interest or perhaps obsession was stimulated by my Petersen et al. Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe in the early 1960s. Unlike the woodpecker and the coursers, the European vultures were represented not on the coloured plates but in monochrome drawings. If anything, that made them more mysterious and elusive though two of them came spectacularly to life in 1963 when I saw Griffon and Egyptian Vultures during a family holiday in the Pyrenees. The Lammergeier, the mythical bone-breaker seemed destined to remain just that, as I knew it was very rare in Europe, extinct in the Alps, and found only over the highest mountain ranges. Even the name seemed straight out of Wagner’s Ring Cycle along with the Valkyries.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

I had been warned by the reserve rangers that the Lammergeiers would appear, if at all, in the afternoon after the Griffons had had their fill and I also knew that they were shy, would initially cruise over the area without landing and could easily be put off by the movement of a large telephoto lens. So the suspense was great, and it was a thrill when the first immature bird landed some distance away just before midday. They kept on the fringes and it wasn’t until about 2:30pm they came close enough for decent photos. The bird in the second and third photo is an older immature bird – they take six or seven years to mature – and the feathers of the breast and legs are getting paler. It also has the red eye-ring of the adult.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

In flight, fourth photo, they look quite different to other vultures with their back-swept rather pointed wings and long paddle-shaped tail. The thick plumage on the crown and neck sets them apart from typical vultures too, and when perched they hold their bodies in a horizontal eagle-like stance, presumably to keep their tails off the ground.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

Their shape plus the whitish head of the adult is quite distinctive so it was an exciting moment when I saw the first one soaring in the distance over the mountain range that overlooked the feeding station. Much later, they started checking out the feeding area without landing. I was too wary of alerting them by movement so I took the fourth photo of an adult in flight much later.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

Eventually, just before 3pm, the first adult landed, though like the juveniles, the adults stayed on the fringes as well and it wasn’t until 4:30pm that they came closer pick over the remains of the food carcasses and the real photography began.

 Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

The black bird on the left of the fifth photo is a Common Raven and it seems to be imitating the stance of the larger bird and saying ‘I’m a champion too’. It’s much closer to the camera which makes it look larger than it actually is. Thirteen seconds later the Lammergeier took flight right over the Raven’s head – it had to duck – as if to say ‘we’ll see who’s boss’, and the relative proportions are more obvious. The wing-span – to 280cm/110in – is similar to that of Griffon and Cinereous Vultures, but the tail makes it much longer – to 125cm/49in. Females are heavier than males, to 7kg/15lb, but both sexes are lighter than the other vultures.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

The Lammergeiers wait until the others have finished because their food of choice is bones and bone marrow. In fact these make up 85% of the diet making them unique among birds and probably also vertebrates. The one in the sixth photo has found the favourite morsel, the digits of a cloven-hoof herbivore such as sheep and goats. Smaller bones ones are swallowed whole, larger ones – up to 4kg in weight – are dropped onto regularly used rocky areas called ossuaries to smash the bones. The usual pattern of the birds here was to scout around for suitable food, carry it off and then return perhaps 20 minutes later. They’re called ‘quebrando huesos’ (breaking bones) in Spanish. They’ll also take live prey such as tortoises, which get the same treatment. Legend has it that the Greek playwright Aeschylus was killed around 456 BC by an eagle – clearly a Lammergeier – dropping a tortoise on his bald head, mistaking it for a rock.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

Conservation efforts have seen the Pyrenean population grow from 75 pairs in 1993 to 125 pairs in 2008 and the species has been successfully re-introduced to the Alps. It also occurs in eastern Africa, South Africa and Central Asia. Estimates of the global population range from 2000 to 10,000 individuals. Until recently, it was not considered globally threatened until recent declines outside Europe and it is now classified as near threatened. The greatest concern is the veterinary use of the anti-inflammatory and pain-killing drug Diclosfenac. Highly toxic to vultures, causing kidney failure, it has been solely responsible for the 99% decline in vulture populations in India, where it is now banned.

Horrifyingly, this drug has recently been approved for veterinary use in Spain and Italy. This insanity jeopardises the wonderful conservation efforts being carried out. BirdLife International has rallied to the cause, see http://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/vultures-africa-and-europe-could-face-extinction-within-our-lifetime-warn, and funds are being raised here https://www.justgiving.com/stop-vulture-poisoning-now/.

Lammergeier, Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus.

I’m going to donate. If we think that because there are no vultures in Australia, it’s someone else’s problem, it’s not unfortunately quite so simple. There is recent evidence that Diclofenac is toxic to Aquila eagles too. That includes the Wedge-tailed Eagle and this drug is approved for veterinary use here (e.g. ‘Voltaren’ for horses) and widely prescribed for human use. Studies have shown that it increases the risk of strokes in humans http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-09-14/study-links-voltaren-to-strokes/2260424. Photographing Lammergeiers is a personal missió complerta (Catalan for misión completa). A much more important mission accomplished will be the global banning of this completely unnecessary and dangerous drug – there are safe alternatives.

Vulture visitors from Down Under

The following text and photos are kindly reproduced with the permission of their author, Ian Montgomery, who paid our raptor hides a visit this October.  

The first photo shows part of Boumort National Reserve in the foothills of the Pyrenees in Catalonia about 40km southwest of Andorra. A reserve since 1991, It has an area of 13,000 hectares and is of special importance as one of the only places in Europe where all four European species of vultures breed. Three occur naturally, while the fourth, the Eurasian Black or Cinereous Vulture has been reintroduced, after becoming extinct in the Pyrenees in recent decades. I made arrangements to visit it through Steve West of Birding in Spain, including getting the necessary permit to photograph these birds, accommodation and transport.

Boumort Nature reserve

As part of the conservation effort, the vultures are fed three times a week and I was taken to the feeding site by two rangers who had collected carcasses and meat off-cuts from farmers in the vicinity. The site is equipped with a spacious and comfortable hide, complete with toilet, and I was left there alone for the day after they had spread out the meat and carcasses in front of the hide. When we arrived there were already between one and two hundred vultures, almost all Griffons, soaring high above. I had been briefed beforehand that the first arrivals would be Griffons, with Eurasian Blacks arriving later in the morning when the crowds thinned, while the iconic Lammergeier could be expected, probably, in small numbers in the middle of the afternoon. The fourth species, the Egyptian Vulture is a summer visitor and had already departed for Africa.

Griffon Vulture, Gyps fulvus.

 

Sure enough, as soon as the rangers left, large numbers of Griffons glided in and squabbled noisily over the food. Griffons feed mainly on muscles and viscera and attacked the carcasses and pieces of meat with great gusto. The bird in the second photo showing its skill at balancing on a rock on one foot and waving the other is an adult, recognisable by its white ruff, horn-coloured bill and pale wing coverts. The one in the third photo is a juvenile, with grey bill, coffee-coloured ruff and darker wings. Juveniles generally had a covering of short plumage on the head and neck, while the adults often had relatively bare necks.

The breeding range of the Griffon Vulture extends from Portugal in the west to northeastern India and southwestern Kazakhstan in the east. Spain is its main stronghold in the west with about 8,000 pairs and the species is not considered under threat.

Griffon Vulture, Gyps fulvus.

These birds are huge and it was wonderful to observe them up close. The black bird in the fourth photo sneaking a mouthful from under the watchful eye of a Griffon is a Common Raven. This is the largest passerine in the world, with a length of up to 67cm/26in and wingspan of up to 130cm/51in, larger than a Common Buzzard, but completely dwarfed by the vulture. Griffons are up to 110cm/43in in length, with a wingspan of up to 280cm/110in and weighting up to 11kg/24lbs.

 Griffon Vulture, Gyps fulvus.

In the air, they glide effortlessly and powerfully and the enormous wings make the body appear quite small by comparison. They come into land looking like parachutists under square canopies but with the ponderous, unwavering stability of a large aircraft like a B747 or an A380. Look how elegantly and precisely the toes are arranged with all the poise of an Olympic diver, fifth photo.

 Griffon Vulture, Gyps fulvus.

It really was an extraordinary experience watching the spectacle of these amazing birds, even if their table manners left much to be desired. The large amount of food disappeared at a great rate and the crowds started to disperse, leaving the scene, one hoped, for the later, rarer and more picky species. To be continued…

Greetings

Ian

Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,

454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818

Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au

Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/

Where to Find Birds in Northern Queensland: iTunes; Google Play

Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au

Raptorfest – an autumn raptor photo trip special offer

Raptorfest Special Offer

We are offering November Raptorfest photo trips with a 10% discount.

See full details here…

November Raptorfest photo trip special offer 

For example, the birds photographed in one day last year, on the 30th October:

2 Bonelli’s Eagles from the Bonelli’s Eagle hide

1 Golden Eagle, 2 Goshawks, several Buzzards and numerous Red Kites from the Raptor Hide

Little Owls from 2 different Little Owl hides

Then combine these possibilities with the well-known Lammergeier, Griffon Vulture and Black Vulture hides

Then on another day maybe add Marsh Harrier from the Raptor hide

You can have 10 species of Raptor  on a raptor photo trip in November. You also have good light that you can use for almost all of the day.

And of course all of our professional expertise that goes with our photo trips.  

Photo trip prices going up (soon)!

Hide Photography

Our spring on the plains bird photography programme is fully booked :0 from the 12th April to 24th May 2014. However, we still have places available from the 24th May and into June.

La Sabina bird photo trips

Furthermore, Lammergeiers, Goshawks, Bonelli’s Eagles, Red Kites, Griffon Vultures and Black Vultures are all great subjects to photograph in the January-April and September – November period. And they can and have been photographed from our hides, just recently in fact.

Our photo trip prices are likely to go up a little in 2014, not much, but sometimes every little counts.

However, we are holding this year’s prices for any enquiries received before the end of the year and which lead to a booking in 2014.

So if you have been thinking about it, now’s the time to get in touch.

La Sabina bird photo trips

Steve West and Florinda Vidal, Lleida, December 2013

New hide photography brochure now available

Hide Photography in Catalonia

 

New hide photography brochure now available

This is the cover of the attractive new brochure on bird photography in Catalonia just edited by Birding In Spain and La Sabina.

It’s packed with some great bird photos – all of them taken from our hides – and tons of relevant information about bird photo trips and hide use, location, species etc.

A big thanks to all who contributed to make it possible, above all photographers who contributed a lot of the photos, such as Yves Adams, and especially to Eva Solanes. Eva was responsible for the graphic design and we think she did an excellent job. Congratulations Eva!

Anyone interested in seeing more of this brochure can request a copy by sending us an e-mail.

Happy birding, and great photography!

Extreme weather events II

Extreme weather II

April 2013 ended with 6 consecutive days of rain, at times very heavy, at what was the height of our plains in spring photography season. This was very annoying to some of our guest photographers, having to face up to the challenge of getting photos of plains birds from our hides without getting soaked or coated in mud. Sometimes the challenge was just getting to the hides!

Little Owl, Athene noctua, on the plains of Lleida, Catalonia

Little Owls had to make do with what they could find

This was irksome, but worst still for us was the bird side of things: Small colonies of Bee-eaters were excavating nests one day and just “gone” the next, perhaps to reappear when the rain stopped, or perhaps not; Little Owls and Lesser Kestrels seemed to be relying on millipedes to tide them through hard times in the complete absence of grasshoppers; male Little Bustards occasionally threw their heads back in a half-hearted display but downright refused to do anything that could be construed as a “jump”.

Male Little Bustard, Tetrax Tetrax, on the plains of Lleida, Catalonia.

Little Bustards were not convinced about the advantages of jumping. Photo by Jordi Bas.

Then came the summer, and things returned to normal, or a close resemblance of it. Rollers started inspecting the nestboxes we had put up for them; Hobbies were using regular perches in the vicinity of their nest; and one day I located a Green Woodpecker’s nest with several tiny chicks in the hollow trunk of an old almond tree.

Roller, Coracius garrulus, on the plains of Lleida, Catalonia.

Rollers were ousted from nestboxes by the violent storms. Photo by Jordi Bas.

In June a hailstorm hit the plains area. Only 3 villages were mentioned in the local news, but those 3 places mark the area of the drylands where these birds were nesting. That week I went back to the Green Woodpecker’s nest and checked: there’d be no chicks raised from that particular brood, as the nest was flooded. Maybe the adults could try again, but what about Little Bustards and Montagu’s Harriers nesting unprotected in the open fields? How would they have fared?

Hobby, Falco subbuteo, on the plains of Lleida, Catalonia.

One of the nesting Hobbies was killed by the hail.

But worst was yet to come. About two weeks later another hailstorm hit almost exactly the same area. And this time round it was really virulent. The day after scenario couldn’t be more disheartening: one of the nesting Hobby pair was lying dead at the foot of the nesting tree; the lid of one of the Roller nestboxes had been blown off and the contents completely cleaned out; Montagu’s Harriers were nowhere to be seen.

Green Woodpecker, Picus viridis, at the pool hide, Montsonís, Lleida.

A Green Woodpecker’s nest was “flooded out”. Photo by Wim de Groot.

Somebody should be quoted here. Perhaps Mark Twain  “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get”, or perhaps Frank Lane “If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm”.

A message from France

French wildlife photographer Roger Isoard

Je vais donc selon la tradition, me présenter!

Je m’appelle Roger Isoard et je suis adhérent au “Pic Vert” depuis un peu plus d’un an. J’habite un peu loin du voironnais dans un petit village perdu des Alpes de Haute-Provence. Quand mon emploi du temps me le permet j’essaie aussi de faire quelques photos animalières, surtout les oiseaux. J’y suis venu parce que j’aime la nature, d’ailleurs j’y ai même par tradition villageoise pratiqué la chasse jusqu’à vingt ans (je suis à la retraite!!) puis la passion de la nature et du vivant s’est vraiment affirmée. J’ai d’abord été naturaliste, (je le suis toujours!) j’ai été tenté par la digiscopie avant de devenir amateur photographe et un oiseau ou un quelconque bestiau dans l’œilleton de mon appareil me provoque toujours autant d’émotion!

J’ai donc eu la chance de passer quelques jours en Catalogne dans des affuts et je suis encore époustouflé des observations que nous avons faites, notamment le Bonnelli et l’autour! J’ai donc choisi quelques photos sur les centaines prises (3 par espèces de rapace!)

Bonelli’s Eagle, Hieraaetus fasciatus.

Marsh Harrier, Circus aeruginosus.

Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo.

Steve, encore merci pour les magnifiques moments de nature que tu nous as permis de passer à Montsonis et félicitations pour ton savoir-faire, ta connaissance des espèces et ton professionnalisme.

Je souhaite que ces actions contribuent fortement à la connaissance et à la protection de ces espèces et de leurs habitats et aussi à la création du activité économique sur la dialectique développement-protection.

Je t’autorise à utiliser ce texte et photos pour ton blog en te souhaitant beaucoup de succès.

Bien amicalement et bonnes photos!

Roger

Lammergeier, Gypaetus barbatus. Photo of Bearded Vulture by Roger Isoard.

Thekla Lark, Galerida theklae.

Thank you for your enthusiasm and kind words Roger, and of course for sharing these photos with us all!

Lammergeier photography with Birding In Spain

Lammergeier photography with Birding In Spain

Lammergeier photo trip with Birding In Spain

Photo by Franck Renard

Lammergeier photography in Spain is becoming more and more popular, especially among European photographers. And the demand for getting a great photo or many photos of Lammergeiers is nowadays justification enough for making a photo trip to Spain.

 Lammergeier photo trip with Birding In Spain

Photo by Franck Renard

In 2007 Steve West of Birding In Spain initiated a partnership with travel agent’s Montiline and local wildlife photographer Jordi Bas to satisfy part of the growing demand for bird photo trips using photographic hides. At that time we decided that the priority bird species for hide photography were the Little Bustard on the plains and the Lammergeier in the Pyrenees. Of course the Lammergeier also came with its inseparable colleagues the Griffon Vulture, and quite often the reintroduced Black Vulture too.

Black Vulture in flight by Jan Pedersen.

Photo by Jan Pedersen

When we started ours was the third hide for Lammergeier photography in the Pyrenees of Spain, and the first private site. Now new sites for Lammergeier photography are popping up like mushrooms, as too are local companies who offer something akin to the photo trip format that our work and our clients taking great photos of Lammergeier, vultures, bustards etc have made a reality.

Lammergeier photo trip with Birding In Spain

Photo by Frank Dröge

Without knocking the competition who are delving into bird photo trips, setting up hides for Lammergeier photography, hides where you can photograph Little Bustards, etc., we sincerely believe that they are largely missing the point. Why? Well, if we explained that in too much detail we might help them to find the edge they are missing! What we really recommend is that you book your own bird photo trip with us – Lammergeiers, vultures, Bonelli’s Eagle, Little Bustard, etc –  and find out for yourselves what makes us different, and better.

 Lammergeier photography with Birding In Spain

Photo by Chris Schenk

We are very proud that many of our Birding In Spain photography clients have returned to us for their third or fourth trip. We are also proud of them, and would like to extend our thanks to all those discerning bird photographers who have enjoyed our bird photo trips over the last 5 years. A big seasonal greeting goes out to you from Steve West, Ramon and Jordi, and we hope to see many of you back with us in Spain in 2013.

Digging in the snow to get to the Lammergeier.

Photo by Chris Schenk 

Remember! Participants of photo tours with Birding in Spain www.birdinginspain.com are also encouraged to display their work, or at least some of their good bird photos, on www.Birdpictures.pro.

If you’re new to this concept, but would like to know more contact Steve West at www.birdinginspain.com for more information about photographing Lammergeier and other photo tours.

Lammergeier Photo Tour Review

Lammergeier photo tour review

 

Lammergeier - Gypaetus barbatus - Bearded Vulture

Lammergeier in flight. By Franck Renard.

Since 2008 we at Birding In Spain have organized LammergeierGypaetus barbatus – Bearded Vulture – photo trips to Spain for almost 100 photographers from almost all western European countries, as well as Poland, Russia, India and Sri Lanka.Our first Lammergeier hide was in the Pyrenees of Lleida, Catalonia. Since then we have developed another site nearby, but with different hides. Take a look at these Lammergeier photos taken from these hides by different photographers participating in our Lammergeier photo tour over the years:

Lammergeier - Gypaetus barbatus - Bearded Vulture

Lammergeiers in flight. Photo by Jonny Verheyden.

 

 Lammergeier - Gypaetus barbatus - Bearded Vulture

Lammergeier close up. Photo by Chris Schenk.

And then look at these photos of Lammergeiers and other vultures taken on a recent photo tour from the hides we have recently helped to develop at a brand new site in the Pyrenees of Aragón:

Lammergeier - Gypaetus barbatus - Bearded Vulture

Lammergeier in the Pyrenees of Aragón. Photo by Jan Pedersen.

 Griffon Vultures - Gyps fulvus in the Pyrenees

 Griffon Vultures in the Pyrenees of Aragón. Photo by Beat Rüegger.

The best thing about the hides at the sites in the Pyrenees of Catalonia is the number of photos of vultures, especially Lammergeiers, that the photographer can get in a single day: on occasions more than 20 Lammergeiers have appeared at these sites in the Catalan Pyrenees, along with plenty of Griffon Vultures and small numbers of Black Vultures and Egyptian Vultures. So there is no shortage of photographic opportunities from the hides on this photo trip!

With the hides at the site in the Pyrenees of Aragón things are different. Lammergeiers appear in front of the hides often enough, but are not guaranteed. Furthermore only small numbers of Lammergeiers appear, you can’t expect more than 2 or 3 of these so-called Bearded Vultures in a single day. However, participants in this photo trip are rarely disappointed, as there is usually plenty of activity from other raptor species such as Griffon Vulture, Red Kite….

The advantage of the hides in the Pyrenees of Aragón is the mountain setting, the marvellous background. And the fact that, despite the vagaries of the weather these days there is more chance of that cold white stuff that bird photographers seem to love: snow.

You can get more information about our Lammergeier photo trips and other photo tours by contacting Steve West at BirdingInSpain.