Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Bathing Black Vulture


After being away for almost ten days, it was great to be heading north of Trujillo again with two guests to enjoy a day in Monfragüe National Park. Despite a brief shower en route and some rather threatening low cloud in the morning, the day got progressively brighter and warmer. Stopping first to view the iconic cliff face at Peña Falcón, what struck one was the almost complete absence of vultures in the sky. The reason was simple - all were waiting for the air to warm, because the rockface was full of birds. Indeed marking the skyline, the perimeter, as it were, of the cliff, was a row of vultures, each equidistant from each other. As the sun broke through the cloud, many spread-eagled their wings, tilting the angle to maximise the surface exposed to the warmth.

We progressed through the park and had a lengthy stay at the wonderful Portilla del Tiétar. A skein of Cranes flew over as we arrived. It is such a peaceful spot and their trumpeting echoed across the gorge. Vultures circled above us and for a few minutes were joined by a fine Spanish Imperial Eagle, the sun catching its forewing, making the white leading edge appear almost luminous. We spent at least two hours happily watching the wheeling vultures, and, as it does in such situations, the conversation kept returning to these birds. "Had I ever seen a vulture drink?" I thought about it - "No, never" I replied. There are some birds that one rarely if ever see drinking, yet vultures are very unlikely to do it under the cover of dusk, as they try to avoid being airbourne early or late during the day, and yet here in Monfragüe where there must be at least two thousand individual vultures, one does not see even one coming down to drink. What do they do? The thought stuck in my mind as we proceeded to the next stop.

I got out of the car and almost immediately noticed a movement at some distance along the river bank. I checked it with the telescope. It was a Black Vulture splashing about in the water. Not drinking exactly, but bathing. It was the first time I had seen this happen. We watched it go in the water at least four times, and then it hopped up the bank and spread-eagled its wings to dry the sodden feathers. No matter how many times one can visit a place like Monfragüe, there will always be something new.

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