2020 08 28 - The Peak District Bearded Vulture

In mid June 2020 there were sporadic and rather far fetched reports of sightings of a very rare bird, a Bearded Vulture.  With only one previous reported sighting of this species in the UK, back in 2016, the excitement amongst bird watchers was palpable.

This Bearded Vulture, also known as the lammergeier has taken up temporary residence in the Peak District National Park. It is thought to have travelled up from the French Alps. The species is one of the largest raptors in Europe and unfortunately the rarest. This particular one, a juvenile, possibly a male, has a wing span of approximately 3m. This is twice the size of the oft seen Brown Buzzard. It is thought to be a wild hatched bird, the result of a successful release and breading program. Although it looks fearsome it is a scavenger, feeding almost entirely on bones. It's name, Lammergeier, translates as Lamb Killer. A tragic case of misinformation that resulted in their persecution almost to extinction.

The Bearded Vulture swoops in to land

The Bearded Vulture

So, with this bird in the country for an unknown period of time I knew that I had to try and see it.  Initially information on its location was sketchy to say the least, but bird watchers are nothing if not committed and organised.  It wasn't long before they narrowed down its roosting site and some general areas where viewing was fairly reliable.   I'm not going to give away the exact location of this birds roost site as although with a bit of research you may be able to find it, I believe in limiting its exposure to humans, especially as not everyones motives are honourable.

My first visit was in July.  With sightings of it in flight over Derwent Edge and Howden Moor we headed up from Ladybower Reservoir.  By the time we reached the high point on Derwent Edge we could see it, miles away, flying over Stanage Edge.  Even at that distance it was obviously considerably larger than our familiar Buzzard.  So we settled in and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Sandwiches were consumed, energy bars.  Shivering commenced (there was very thin wind!).  We didn't see it again!

That is generally how it goes with wildlife photography.  It's very rare that you get lucky on your first try, even in fairly reliable situations such as conservation hides.  With many sightings still being reported I was frustrated but still hopeful of seeing it. 

So it was back to the drawing board, and more research required.  Fortunately I stumbled over a post that pretty much pinpointed the location of its roost site.  However even this wasn't a guaranteed sighting location as information about when it left the roost and how long it spent away is still scarce.  

Our second visit was much more of a success than the first, in that we saw the Bearded Vulture!  However the weather was horrific, but it was the only day we could get to the Peak District.  Strong, gusty winds and dark, thick grey clouds threatened and then delivered rain.  And oh did it rain!  We were soaked through even before we got to the roost site, and typically it wasn't anywhere to be seen.

This brought about the usual stresses.  Am I in the right place?  Have I missed it?  Was it here ten minutes before we arrived?  How long will we have to wait?  Am I wasting my time again?

After about half an hour of slowly drying out in a brief spell between the rain showers, the vulture was suddenly there, flying in over the ridge line being harassed by two crows.  There is simply no mistaking this bird for any of our native species.  Its shape is prehistoric, ragged, somehow unfinished.  It's also huge.  I'm tall, 6 foot 4 inches, so almost 2m.  This bird has a wingspan of 3m.  That's twice the size of the biggest Buzzard.

The Bearded Vulture circled for a moment, seemingly unphased by the attentions of the crows and unaffected by the gust of wind, before it flew in and settled on its perch, a small shelf on a rocky outcrop.  And there it stayed.  

We stayed with it for a couple of hours, it was completely relaxed, even though we were only a hundred meters or so from it.  It teased us a couple of times looking like it was getting ready to fly, but it seems that it didn't like the rain, and so settled in.  Finally, defeated by the rain and wind, we left.  

I'll just have to go back!

The Bearded Vulture flies in

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