jueves, 9 de abril de 2015

Vulture feast

A common spectacle is the soaring wheel of vultures preparing to land to feed on the carcass of some animal - maybe sheep, deer or boar - which has met its end. Occasionally you may be lucky to come across one of these "feasts" close enough to the road to get an idea of what takes place. The vultures normally take a prudent look all around the scene, first from high-up in the air and then from closer up on the ground. Unless really driven by hunger, they will spend some time at a distance from the carcass, then one bird will bounce its way over and tentatively peck it before darting away just in case all is not as it seems. Once reassured, a bird moves in and starts to feed, and this is the signal for a free-for-all. It is by no means well-mannered and birds shove, push, clamber over one another, with beaks and talons used to push neighbours out of the way. The carcass is stripped of everything edible in a matter of minutes and the skeleton is left flesh-free. This is a fantastic service as decaying meat is removed from the fields.
At a distance it is a fascinating spectacle. Seen from close up, it is quite amazing, and this is made possible through various hides across Extremadura. Recently we spent a morning in a hide and here are a few of the 2,000 photos we took!
We are in the hide before sunrise, and the first birds to show are Kites - mainly Black with a few Red - and a few Raven.

The Kites and Raven are present throughout the feast. They make the most of the opportunity to grab as much as they can before the vultures make a move.

Although there is plenty for everyone at this early stage, it is striking just how provocative the Ravens are, frequently tweaking tails and wings of the Kites.

The next bird to show up is the Egyptian Vulture.
and then the first Black Vulture
In flight they are elegant, particularly when soaring on a thermal, but landing is often a clumsy affair.

We are lucky on this morning, as the numbers of Black Vulture build steadily. The maximum count is 35, with a good number of juveniles.
They are surprisingly elegant birds when seen close-up,
When approaching the meat the Black Vultures prance in a menacing manner, recalling a stage villain!
They haunch and posture a great deal.
Then the first Griffon come in, without preliminary circling as there are a reassuring number of birds already on site.

After a short time looking around the first bird moves in to feed, and it is like the starting pistol at a sprint.
As happened with the Kites and Ravens, there is plenty of aggression on show.
The Black Vulture has the stronger hand, or maybe we should say wing, with a wingspan and weight that outweigh the Griffon. This photo gives an idea of how much bigger than the Griffon the Black is. Here we see a Griffon and an Egyptian dwarfed by the spread wings of a Black Vulture.
Nevertheless, when standing calmly side by side, the size difference does not appear to be that great.
The chance to see the Griffon at close quarters shows a more appealing side than the gore-dripping beak.