Early December, I headed off to Spain with a lovely group of photographers to photograph lammergeiers or bearded vultures, griffon vultures, black vultures and golden eagles in the Pre-Pyrenees of northern Spain. I was especially excited about leading this trip because photographing the lammergeier has long been a dream of mine.
The drive to the base for the hides from the hotel took around 45 minutes. Once off the main road; the drive up was very picturesque with views across the mountains and valleys topped off with some wonderful autumn colours.
On the first day, we all went to the lammergeier hides. This was a short drive or a lovely walk up to the feeding site with a choice of three hides. Each offered a different perspective from the chance to capture close up portraits to wider angle flight shots.
The first visitors were the griffon and black vultures and in huge numbers too. Many waiting patiently and some not so patiently for the food, which is mainly bones. Once the food was put out, there was a feeding frenzy which after a while, settled down. I found that the Canon 500mm f/4 lens
was great for in-flight shots and tight portraits but a telephoto zoom would have provided more flexibility.
There are many opportunities to capture the vultures as they fly in, feed, interact with each other and also capture some close up portraits. Once the griffon vultures left, the first of the lammergeiers started to appear.
Lammergeiers (Gypaetus barbatus) are truly fascinating birds. Although they are vultures, they have a very different appearance to other vultures. Not only that but their diet is very different too. Their diet is almost exclusively bones. They swallow the smaller ones which are digested within around 24 hours due to their highly acidic stomachs. The larger ones are carried off and dropped from height to break them open. This behaviour takes around seven years to learn and perfect.
These vultures, like many others, have been persecuted in the past. However, thanks to conservation efforts they are making a slow comeback with around 88% of the European population being found in the Pyrenees. The juvenile birds are much darker in colour and go through several moults until they appear much paler in the head, neck and body. They have an interesting bathing ritual where they rub themselves with iron oxides which give the adults the orange/rusty appearance.
On the second day, four of us opted to visit the golden eagle hides. These hides are a short drive and approximately a 15-minute walk through the woodland.. As we settled in the hides, we had our first glimpse of the male as he soared over the valley. It wasn’t long until he came in to feed.
There is one pair in the area that successfully raised a chick this year, and they have a feeding order. The male comes in first. Once the male had fed, he sat in the tree for a while before leaving. We had some quiet time and then the chick came in, followed by the female. We were fortunate to have all three eagles come in and spend so much time in front of the hides. There were lots of opportunities to capture images of them feeding, flying and interacting with each other. It was non-stop action with the female leaving just before we were collected from the hides.
We were treated to glorious weather for our three days in the hides with blues skies and wonderful light. This area is an important one for vultures and a spectacular place to enjoy both watching and photographing these stunning birds. We all came home with thousands of images to sort through after three action-packed days in the hides.
PHOTOGRAPH LAMMERGEIER & GOLDEN EAGLES FOR YOURSELF
To photograph these stunning raptors for yourself, join Victoria, in Spain in December 2020 for a 4-night photography trip.
The photography holiday is offered on a full board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday is a minimum of 4 participants & a maximum of 6, plus Victoria. Until the end of February, there is a special offer reducing the price to £1499 available.
All the details of the Lammergeier & Golden Eagles photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page