Soaring

Griffon Vulture in Garganta Verde (Andalucía, Spain)

The air over the gorge was filled with griffon vultures, spiraling and soaring as they scanned the landscape for carrion. It wasn’t until we crossed a rocky rise into the canyon itself that we grasped the immense size of these ancient-looking creatures. Their wingspan is about one and a half me’s – around eight feet! What would it be like to lie down and see above me a canopy of dark wings spanning my whole body plus half again? Yet they float with such apparent ease, riding currents that I can’t see.

Griffon Vultures soaring over limestone cliff, Garganta Verde

We sat down for lunch in view of the orange-stained limestone cliffs of the Gargante Verde (Green Gorge), in Andalucía’s Grazalema Natural Park. This is home for Europe’s largest colony of griffon vultures, whose nests we finally made out from the white splotches on the cliffs across the canyon. With binoculars, I could make out the brown feathers of vulture parents hulking tenderly over piles of sticks, which we’d seen them gathering on rare horizontal surfaces.

Griffon Vulture nests on cliff face. The nests are marked by white spotches - upper left at top of cliff, and lower right.

Griffon Vulture tending its nest. (This is upper right in previous photo.)

Thinking at first that the sound we kept hearing was distant planes en route from nearby Africa to northern Europe, we finally realized that the swooshes were generated by vulture feathers as the birds cleared the ridge behind us. Good thing vultures eat only carrion; I’d hate to be a rabbit knowing that sound might be the end of me! (Although I did have some concerns about our lunch when several vultures flew right at us to check it out.)

Griffon Vulture eyeing us - too close to fit in viewfinder! (Click on picture for larger view.)

As we enter the New Year, I want to do a bit more of my own soaring. I want to get better at finding good thermals, at sensing the invisible winds that hold me up and help me get a better understanding of my landscape. The vultures have evolved over millions of years to read their air for what they need. How do I learn to read unseen currents as well as they?

Griffon Vulture, soaring on invisible currents

 

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