Saturday, September 05, 2009

International Vulture Awareness Day

Griffon Vulture

As you must have heard, today, 5 September 2009, is International Vulture Awareness Day.

Here are my experiences of vultures. My first encounter was with some friendly (or hungry?) Griffon Vultures in a French zoo. We walked through their enclosure and they flew over to perch on the handrail by the path. I wasn't scared but more impressed by their huge wingspans.

My next vultures were real, wild ones: Palm-nut Vultures in The Gambia. They get their name from their preference for Oil Palm nuts over meat. Odd birds.

I saw more wild, free vultures on a trip to Spain in 2005: Griffons again. We drove towards Tarifa, wending our way through hills, lakes and wind turbines. All the time, a stream of Griffons passed overhead on their barn-door wings. And at Punta de Paloma, we looked up and there were dozens of vultures circling around with even more swifts.

On another visit to Spain this year, we had the vulture experience again. While we sipped coffee and ate ice-creams at the mirador, Griffons appeared over the hills and Sparrowhawks, Booted Eagles, harriers and other birds of prey arrived from Africa, across the Strait of Gibraltar, in front of us.

In the mountains above the coast, we watched Griffons cruising at low level and landing at their cliffside nest. One bird brooded a chick, looking out across the Atlantic and over the hills while Bee-eaters made landfall and Spanish Festoon butterflies skittered past.

Unfortunately, things aren't very rosy for vultures in other places. Some vulture species in Asia are teetering on the brink of extinction, thanks to being poisoned by the veterinary drug Diclofenac which is used to treat cattle. BirdLife International and others are doing sterling work to breed them in captivity until Diclofenac is eliminated from the vultures' environment, and a Slender-billed Vulture chick has been reared in one of the giant Indian aviaries this year, but their future is far from secure...

photo taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM