Bone Muncher

The last time I watched a Lammergeier I was parked alongside a dry river bed, the river had washed away the road bridge in the wet season. We were having an al fresco breakfast on the road back North from Yabelo, Ethiopia. Breakfast consisted of sweet bread rolls, fresh pineapple and mini bananas and was the the best breakfast I had during my 2003 trip. The Lammergeier flew direct over head and was about thirty feet above me. Huge, immense and unforgettable.

Fast forward 17 years and the next sighting. Yorkshire, yeah really, Yorkshire. A Juvenile that had previously been seen wandering through Germany, Netherlands and Belgium crossed the English Channel had been picked up in Derbyshire. Lots of birders had watched it in the Peak District in flight and mostly high up. On Friday Dan Pointon had located where the bird was roosting. It had found a ledge above Abbey Brook in Crook Clough to return to each evening. The instructions I read from the RBA sounded a little daunting, especially if as expected I had to be there before first light. I’d read reports of birders being stuck in peat bogs and having boots pulled off as they crossed the moor in darkness.

I made the decision to go and booked a day off work. My colleague Rob shared with me a map that showed a route that looked a little less arduous, but still a lot of effort would be required. With the decision made I set off for Mortimer Road and arrived after finding out Mortimer Road was closed. A diversion was in place which took me past the postcode stated on the BBA website and through Lower Bradfield. So I parked up and walked the closed off section of road. The night was warm with little wind and as I walked searching for the path across the moor was listening to churring Nightjar. It has been a very long time since I last heard churring Nightjar in Northern England. It took me back to my first experience of the species when they used to be found on Chat’s Moss.

I learnt from the Mortimer Road closed section walk that there was no path across the moor so decided to drive further to see if I could find access to the track shown on the map. I found it at 1:00am and there were birders’ cars parked on the side of the road. I parked up and tried to sleep but as usual with twitches, birders kept turning up and lights on, boot lid slammed and even car alarms made sleep impossible. So I packed my bag with all that I wanted to take across the moor with me. This included the big heavy Gitzo Tripod and Wimberley set up. A heavy tripod, but rock solid when planted, so worth the effort. The Neowise Comet had been visible for the last few nights so I thought I’d take a couple of other lenses in case the opportunity arose to shoot it. Sadly though, there was too much cloud and didn’t see it.

At 2:30am I set off across the moor with a local birder and photographer Peter Gerrity as well as another birder from Suffolk. I’m glad it was dark in a way because all I focussed on was the few metres in my torchlight and not what was further ahead of me. The two other lads with me chatted away and after about an hour and 10 minutes we reached the part of trek where I had to leave the path and cross the moor. This was the part I wasn’t looking forward to. Wherever possible I tried to keep to well trodden sheep tracks. I’d expected to get wet at some time and wasn’t disappointed. First the left leg went in mid-calf deep and I got out easily without any suction, then later right leg twhich sank knee deep and was much harder to free. Great, wet feet for the rest of the day!

I arrived at the viewpoint intact and only 5 birders on site. Hot and sweaty it was time to cool down and get ready for the light to improve so that we could search for the bird.

Peering into Crook Clough at day break

At daybreak I sat down to to get some images of silhouetted birders against the light and was subjected to a vicious attack of midges and still suffer from the lumps & bumps on my neck and around my ears. Opposite from our watchpoint we could see birders above the cliffs where the bird had roosted and with torches were looking for the bird. Some of us shouted over to the them that they were likely to disturb the bird. The torches were turned off and they walked aroud to where we were watching and joined us.

With silhouette images in the can I settled in for looking for the the Lammergeier. The light was still poor so out with the MM4 77 ED. We found the bird on the third crag in from the right hand side of Crook Clough and was about 15 feet up and facing left.

Juvenile Lammergeier at dawn at Crook Clough

We watched as the bird stretched, defecated and wing flapped before launching itself off the rocks. The bird first flew east up Crook Clough before coming back towards us the gathered birders and headed west towards Back Tor. The vulture then doubled back, all the time gaining height and all withoutn a single flap. Awesome! The light still poor but it didn’t stop the togs on site, myself included from blasting away. What resulted was some images, not great but who cares it is a Lammergeier less than 70 miles from home.

The chances of BOU accepting this bird and adding it to the British list are slim, but there are just some birds that you just have to make the effort for. In terms of the effort required to see this bird I rate just behind the epic slog along the shingle of Blakeney Point for the Alder Flycatcher.

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