Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Andean Condor

When a Bird of the Moment recalls a special day out in the field, I get great pleasure from reliving the experience by preparing and describing the event. Such was our first full day, a Sunday, in Chile on the return journey. The day dawned sunny and unseasonably warm for Santiago in late September, forecast maximum 23ºC/73ºF so we decided to look for Andean Condors, our must-see bird in Chile and we are going to take you along with us.
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Over a leisurely breakfast – tired after the long journey the previous day from Cuiabá in western Brazil via São Paolo on the east coast – we consult our reliable oracle Google to suggest a good place for the search. The one that sounds most promising is near a place not far away called Farellones in the Andes west of the city at an altitude of about 2,400 metres/7,800 feet.. We know that Condors are easiest to find when winds and topography provide suitable updrafts for soaring, so we are a little concerned by the calm conditions as we navigate the steep hairpin bends on the road to our destination. We get there in the early afternoon after a few birding stops along the way.
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Just before arriving we spot a large raptor, which we think is a immature Condor but we can’t stop as we are sharing the road with hundreds of cyclists heading back towards the city and the many vehicles of spectators blocking the down traffic lane waiting to follow the cyclists. We go round another hairpin bend at Mirador Lomas del Viento (“Lookout, Hills of the wind”) where we see several Condors soaring both above and below us. Throwing caution and fear of disapproval to the wind we stop blocking, the remaining free lane, to take the first photos. Then we drive on a bit further, find a parking spot and walk back to a good vantage point overlooking Cordillera Yerba Loca (“Mountain Range Crazy Plant”).
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If you look at Parque Cordillera Yerba Loca on the map and at the photo you can see that the lookout is at the end of a 20km long steeply-sided valley running approximately north-south. On such a warm day the breeze is from the north and we have fortuitously chosen perfect conditions for Condors at this place and time where the “Hills of the Wind” channel the breeze into a steady updraft. Yerba (or Hierba) Loca refers to a high altitude plant called Astragalus looseri, a legume that looks a bit like a purple Lupin in flower, which can tolerate intense sunlight, freezing temperatures and being buried under snow for months on end. It contains an alkaloid, which the literature coyly describe as toxic – supposedly the reason for the name – but we are not convinced. Naturally one, not the plant, would be loco or loca to eat it, but if you Google “Hierba Loca” you’ll find a reference to Dr Stoner’s Hierba Loca Tequila, which Hercule Poirot suspects is closer to the truth.
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Anyway, back to the Condors. The first Condor photo is of an adult male, the second and third of an immature female. Adult Andean Condors have large white panels on the upper surface of the wing (secondary and tertiary flight feathers), a white ermine ruff, and reddish heads, and males of all ages have crests which grow larger with age. Older males, we’ll see shortly also have wattles or flaps on the side of the head. Juveniles and immature birds have entirely brown plumage which changes gradually to the adult plumage at an age of about seven years.
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The Andean Condor is the only New World Vulture, Cathartidae, in which the sexes are different (they’re the same in the California Condor). The males with a wingspan to 320cm/10ft 6in and weighting up to 15kg/33lbs are larger than the females which weigh up to 11kg/24lbs. Of birds that can fly, only the Wandering Albatross has a greater wingspan (to 351cm) and the males of some bustards such as the African Kori Bustard weight more (up to 19kg), but the male Andean Condor is the largest raptor, just slightly bigger than the California. It is also unusual for male raptors to be larger than females; it’s often the other way round. Female Condor must trust their male partners who share in incubation of the single egg and care of the young.
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Some of the Condors land periodically on a rocky outcrop just below us (fourth Condor photo). It looks to us like the adults are training the immature birds in flight manoeuvres. Both the birds in the photo are males, the adult on the left having a long crest and the immature bird on the right having a very short one, so maybe it’s a father and son pair. Most of the birds we see are males and we wonder why that is so. As the lookout faces north we are facing into the sun so the lighting conditions in the early afternoon are not ideal for photography.
Eventually hunger takes over and we end up in the restaurant of a charming, local ski lodge for a late lunch before returning to the lookout. By now all the cyclists, support vehicles and spectators have left and we have the place almost to ourselves. The number of Condors increases and at some points we can count eleven taking part in this wonderful aerial ballet. The birds are so graceful in the air that it’s hard to grasp how large they are until we see close by the passing shadow of a curious bird, flying overhead to check us out like the ones in the fifth and sixth photos.
It’s now about two hours before sunset and the sun is lower in the west with a softer intensity, much better for photography. The photos are numbered in sequence so you can see that I’ve taken more than two hundred in the interval between the one of the two birds on the rock and the female in the fifth photo. She is about six years old and is in transition to adult plumage. She has only a faint white collar and the lack of a crest indicates her gender.
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The bird in the sixth photo, directly overhead is an old male with a reddish head and long wattles on the cheeks. You can see that in adult birds the distal edge of the underneath of the flight feathers of the white wing panel on the upper surface are also white. If you look carefully at the right wing of the female in the previous photo you can see that the bird is moulting and five secondary flight feathers with white edges are just beginning to grow and will replace the corresponding completely dark feathers.
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I’m now satisfied with the quantity of photos I’ve taken so I’m concentrating on trying to get photos of birds with snowy mountains in the background. This isn’t easy as the mountains are quite far away and the birds are a bit distant when they have the mountains in the background. The seventh Condor photo shows an older male while the eighth is of a younger male with a second bird behind it.
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We’ve had a wonderful afternoon with the Condors, just magic. Eventually we continue up the road to the Vale Nevada (“Snowy Valley”) ski resort at about 3,000 metres/10,000 feet. It consists of a number of tall, starkly modern apartment blocks around a largely deserted central car park, the season being over. We park in the visitor parking area – the rest is severely private – and have a wander round. The air is noticeably thin at this altitude. We don’t find the resort picturesque, an understatement, so here is the view enjoyed by the buildings on the southern side. The south facing slope still has quite a lot of snow and the sun is sinking in the west after a cloudless day.
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We don’t see any more Condors along this route, but we do see a few other high altitude raptors like an immature Mountain Caracara beside the road and a pair of Variable Hawks perching on one of the power poles supplying the resort. Caracaras are in the same family as Falcons but scavenge like Crows. Time now to go back to Santiago before it gets dark after a wonderful day. It’s misión cumplida in Chile and we have three full days left for relaxed birding. What would you like to see and where would you like to go? Let’s do some wetlands on the coast near Valparaiso for a change: the trip reports on the internet say they’re good.
Greetings
Ian

Lee’s Addition:

“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars, Stretching his wings toward the south? “Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up And makes his nest on high? “On the cliff he dwells and lodges, Upon the rocky crag, an inaccessible place. “From there he spies out food; His eyes see it from afar.” (Job 39:26-29 NASB)

Great photos and thanks for sharing your adventure to watch and photograph this interesting birds, Ian. The Lord has created so much variety in His Avian Wonders. The birds just seem to find the niche that they were created for. I trust that we find that spot, or niche that the Lord has for us.

I have got to admit, these Condors are not the prettiest birds we have ever seen, but yet, the Creator, in His wisdom, makes no mistakes.

Andean Condor – Lowry Park Zoo (Zoo Tampa) by Dan

See more of Ian’s Bird of the Week, Moments, or whenever:

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Cathartidae – New World Vultures

Who Paints The Leaves

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Cinerous/Eurasian Vulture

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Cinereous/Eurasian Vulture ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter ~ 10-28-14

This is 2 of 3 in a series on Eurasian vultures photographed during my recent spell in a bird hide at a vulture feeding station in Boumort National Reserve in the Pyrenees in Catalonia not far southwest of Andorra. The first of the series was on the Griffon Vulture (see http://www.birdway.com.au/accipitridae/griffon_vulture/index.htm where I’ve put a dozen photos), this one is on the second species in the feeding order, the Cinereous or Eurasian Black Vulture. Here, incidentally, is the view taken from the hide – with my phone! – shortly after the rangers had left and the first one hundred or so Griffons, and a few Common Ravens, were in the process of arriving.

From Blind at Boumort National Reserve by Ian

From Blind at Boumort National Reserve by Ian

Because of the wide-angled nature of phone cameras, the vultures appeared in real-life to be much closer, close enough for one bird to almost fill the frame of a full-size (35mm sensor) DSLR with a 500mm lens. The second photo shows the luxurious and well-appointed hide (I mentioned the toilet last week) with my camera and 500mm lens set up on my tripod and my binoculars and smaller 100-400mm lens at the ready. I was on my own for the whole day, so I could move freely between the three viewing openings. The one in the middle overlooked the feeding site (above), the one on the left was good for photographing landing vultures using the 100-400mm lens, while the one on the right overlooked a pond, used by the vultures on a hot day. It was cool and overcast when I was there and rained a bit, so the only vulture I saw at the pond was a Griffon having a drink.

Blind at Boumort National Reserve by Ian

Blind at Boumort National Reserve by Ian

It’s impossible to travel lightly with good gear for wildlife photography – the tripod along required taking a larger suitcase than both I and airlines prefer – but on that day in the hide and on an earlier occasion when I was photographing Crab Plovers in Dubai, I was really glad to have to have brought the necessary stuff with me. Anyway, back to the Cinereous Vulture. In the days when birders weren’t inter-continental travellers, it was called the Black Vulture until it was realised that this risked confusion with the completely unrelated Black Vulture of Central and South America and the ‘Eurasian’ label was applied. Now BirdLIfe International call it the Cinereous Vulture, ‘cinereous’ meaning ‘ashy’, like the adult in the third photo, which certainly looks as it has been rummaging around in the remains of a camp fire.

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) by IanThis bird shows the typical vulture ruff, with the cowl-like adornment characteristic of this species. The specific name monachus means ‘hooded’ but the common name Hooded Vulture is already used for another somewhat similar, sub-Saharan species, Necrosyrtes monachus. Juvenile birds are much darker, dark chocolate really, like the slightly scruffy one in the fourth photo. Some field guides say that juvenile birds have pink facial skin – like this one – but I couldn’t find a clear correlation between age and skin colour: some adults had mainly blue, others more pink skin, which made me wonder whether it was influenced by gender. All the Cinereous Vultures here had metallic identifying rings/bands and some, particularly juveniles had coloured bands as well. This is because the species has recently been re-introduced to this area from central Spain, is now breeding and the population is being studied thoroughly.

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) by IanThe Cinereous Vultures took their time and started arrived at the feeding site about an hour after the Griffons. As you can guess from the relative amounts of plumage on the heads and necks of the two species, they have quite different feeding habits. Griffons clearly don’t mind getting up to their elbows in it, so to speak, but the Cinereous Vultures prefer to wait until the dirty work has been done and then pick up their favourite morsels. Their reluctance to get involved in the initial scrum has nothing to do with size or dominance, the Cinereous Vultures are as large or larger than the Griffons and are quite dominant. The bird in the fifth photo has a feeding juvenile Griffon it its sights and is advancing threateningly in a manner that was wonderful to watch, head down, wings spread and ruff and cowl feathers erect with a bouncing walk. The result was something like the witches from Macbeth combined with the loping gait of a kangaroo.

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) by IanIt might look funny to us, but it was very effective and the Griffons, unamused, backed off, like the frustrated-looking one in the sixth photo. Cinereous Vultures have strong bills and can tackle, tendons, muscles and, by the look of the one in this photo, skulls. Maybe cervelles are on the menu. (I once understood cervelles d’agneau on a Parisian menu to be something to do with lamb and was slightly taken aback when brains, rather than a chop, appeared in front of me.)

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) by IanThe Cinereous Vultures were the least volatile of the three species and once having landed, hung around for hours. I didn’t get photos of any in flight, but I didn’t find them easy to separate from the Griffons in flight as they’re silhouettes are rather similar. The Griffons kept landing and talking off and were better targets and more numerous. In total, there may have been 10-20 Cinereous Vultures. Their reintroduction here is part of a more general EU conservation and anti-poisoning program that has seen the population in Spain recover from 290 pairs in 1984 to perhaps 2500 now and they have been reintroduced into southern France. The conservation news isn’t all good, though to say the least, and I’ll return to this topic in the third in this series.

Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) by IanPart of the research effort at Boumort is the study of the movements of these vultures. Adults are thought to be mainly sedentary in Europe, though partially migratory in Asia, where it also occurs. Some banded Spanish birds have turned up in sub-Saharan Africa. Some birds have been fitted with GPS units, and you can see one, complete with solar cell on the back of the juvenile in the last photo.

I mentioned the unrelated Black Vulture of the Americas, one of the New World Vultures. These include the Turkey Vulture, familiar in North America, the Condors and a couple of other species places in a separate family, the Cathartidae http://www.birdway.com.au/cathartidae/index.htm. In fact Birdlife International put them in their own order, the Cathartiformes, indicating that they arose completely independently. The Old World Vultures, on the other hand, are close related to hawks, eagles, etc. and are placed in the same family Acciptridae in the order Acciptriformes. I must admit I was struck by the eagle-like facial appearance of these birds and it appears that the Old World Vultures have developed twice within the Acciptridae. Most belong to a group of typical Old World vultures that includes the Griffon and the Cinereous. Three, however, form a separate group placed taxonomically near the Serpent Eagles. One of these is the subject of the next edition. The vultures kept me waiting in suspense for crowning moment, and I’m trying to make you share the anticipation: I have something really special for the next bird of the week!

Greetings
Ian

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Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Where to Find Birds in Northern Queensland: iTunes; Google Play
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au


Lee’s Addition:

But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, (Deuteronomy 14:12 ESV)

And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. (Genesis 15:11 ESV)

What a blind! When Ian go out photographing, he goes all the way. I always enjoy his adventures. Vultures are a favorite of mine, but the Lord created them and gave them a job to do. What would the world look like if they didn’t come down and clear up carcasses.

Again, these Vultures are members of the Accipitridae – Kites, Hawks and Eagles Family. I like that fifth photo with that pose of his. Especially with Halloween just around the corner.

See Ian’s 1st article from Boumort National Reserve

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Accipitridae Family – Birdway (Ian’s site)

Cathartidae Family – Birdway (Ian’s site)

Accipitridae – Kites, Hawks and Eagles

Cathartidae – New World Vultures

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(Edited)

Bible Birds – Vulture Introduction

Vulture Introduction

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) WikiC

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) WikiC

And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, (Leviticus 11:13 NKJV)

  • Christian Standard Bible (CSB) “but these are the ones you may not eat: eagles, bearded vultures, black vultures,
  • Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) “but these you are not to eat: eagles, vultures, ospreys,
  • Easy-to-Read Version (ERV) “But don’t eat any of these birds: eagles, vultures, buzzards,
  • English Standard Version (ESV) “But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture,
  • Expanded Bible (EXB) “But do not eat these birds: eagles, vultures, black vultures, 13 red kites, falcons, any kind of kite,
  • GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) “But here are the birds that you should never eat: eagles, bearded vultures, black vultures,
  • International Children’s Bible (ICB)  “But do not eat these birds: eagles, vultures, black vultures,
  • International Standard Version (ISV) “You may eat all clean birds, 12 but you must not eat any of these: the eagle, vulture, osprey, 13 buzzard, any kind of kite,
  • Names of God Bible (NOG) “But here are the birds that you should never eat: eagles, bearded vultures, black vultures,
  • New English Translation (NET) “But do not eat these birds: eagles, vultures, black vultures,
  • New International Reader’s Version (NIRV) “But there are many birds you can’t eat. They include eagles, vultures, and black vultures.
Leviticus 11:18 and Deuteronomy 14:17 (NKJV) mention a carrion vulture. Jeremiah 12:9 mentions a speckled vulture.
 
All of these verses give us several different kinds of vultures.
vulture
bearded vulture – covered in Bible Birds – Ossifrage
black vulture
carrion vulture
speckled vulture
 
I am sure if I checked all of the translation available in BibleGateway, I would find some other type of Vulture. That might be a project you could do.
 
The vultures belong to the same family as the Buzzards recently written about. Accipitridae – Kites, Hawks & Eagles Family.
 
“A vulture is a scavenging bird of prey. The two types of vultures are the New World vultures, including the Californian and Andean condors, and the Old World vultures, including the birds that are seen scavenging on carcasses of dead animals on African plains. Some traditional Old World vultures (including the bearded vulture) are not closely related to the others, which is why the vultures are to be subdivided into three taxa rather than two. New World vultures are found in North and South America; Old World vultures are found in Europe, Africa, and Asia, meaning that between the two groups, vultures are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.”

White-backed Vultures (Gyps_africanus) on zebra carcass ©WikiC

From that description, again, you can see why those birds aren’t eaten. Eating something they just killed would be bad enough, but to eat things that had already died. That is not the kind of bird you would want to eat at Thanksgiving.
 
Here are some of the Vultures from around the world:

ABC’s of the Gospel

 

Birds of the Bible – Gathering of Vultures or Eagles

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) by Nikhil Devasar

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) by Nikhil Devasar

Today while I was doing my reading of Scripture in the ESV (English Standard Version), I came across this portion:

So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:26-31 ESV)

In verse 3 of chapter 24, the disciples had asked the Lord to “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” He was telling of future events in answer to that question, when right in the middle of that dialog, He said, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” What? Where did that come from? So, here we are trying to figure out that saying.

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) by Nikhil

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) by Nikhil

Using my e-Sword program and searching for “vulture” in the ESV, the search shows that verse and Luke 17:37 saying the same thing.

And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Luke 17:37 ESV)

This time the vulture statement is preceded by this:

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Luke 17:33-37 ESV)

Using the Compare mode, the verses have either Eagles, Vultures, or Buzzards showing up. Reading the MSG’s version, it is starting to make some sense even before the commentaries are used.

The Arrival of the Son of Man isn’t something you go to see. He comes like swift lightning to you! Whenever you see crowds gathering, think of carrion vultures circling, moving in, hovering over a rotting carcass. You can be quite sure that it’s not the living Son of Man pulling in those crowds. (Matthew 24:27-28 MSG)

Believer’s Bible Commentary – 24:27 Christ’s Advent will be un mistakable—it will be sudden, public, universal, and glorious. Like the lightning, it will be instantly and clearly visible to all.
24:28 And no moral corruption will escape its fury and judgment. “For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” The carcass pictures apostate Judaism, Christendom, and the whole world system that is leagued against God and His Christ. The eagles or vultures typify the judgments of God which will be unleashed in connection with the Messiah’s appearing.

Life Application Study Bible – Matthew 24:24-28 – In times of persecution even strong believers will find it difficult to be loyal. To keep from being deceived by false messiahs, we must understand that Jesus’ return will be unmistakable (Mar_13:26); no one will doubt that it is he. If you have to be told that the Messiah has come, then he hasn’t (Mat_24:27). Christ’s coming will be obvious to everyone.

Matthew Poole’s Commentary – That phrase, Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together,  is a proverbial speech, signifying that it will need no great labour to bring things together which are naturally joined by an innate desire either of them to the other; so that it is applicable in more cases than one.

Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) ©WikiC

Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) ©WikiC

Matthew Henry – Christ foretells the rapid spreading of the gospel in the world. It is plainly seen as the lightning. Christ preached his gospel openly. The Romans were like an eagle, and the ensign of their armies was an eagle. When a people, by their sin, make themselves as loathsome carcasses, nothing can be expected but that God should send enemies to destroy them. It is very applicable to the day of judgment, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in that day, 2Th_2:1. Let us give diligence to make our calling and election sure; then may we know that no enemy or deceiver shall ever prevail against us.

F B Meyer – It is a matter of literal fact that there was compressed into the period of the Jewish War an amount of suffering perhaps unparalleled. Josephus’ history of the period abounds in references to these false Christs who professed themselves to be the Messiah.

J Vernon McGee – Matthew 24:28 – This is the most difficult verse to understand in the entire Olivet Discourse. After speaking of His coming in glory like lightning out of heaven, then to speak of carrion-eating birds seems strange indeed. But I believe it refers to Christ’s coming in judgment, because Revelation 19 tells us about an invitation that went out to the birds to come together for a great banquet, “And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army” (Rev_19:17-19). The birds that feed on carrion seem to be agents of divine judgment. When the Lord comes again, He will come in judgment.

Black Vultures at Saddle Creek by Lee

Black Vultures at Saddle Creek by Lee

This is only a few of the remarks. There are all kinds of interpretations of this verse and those surrounding it. Only a few were chosen to give a variety of the meaning. Whatever it is, apparently birds of prey will be there at the judgment. Maybe this will make you curious and encourage you to dig into the commentaries and do a little study. e-Sword is a very handy free Bible study tool.

The Vulture is of course a scavenger bird along with the Eagles and the Buzzards. There are other references to the Vulture in the Bible and therefore it is a Bird of the Bible.

See:

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