So this must have been one of the most amazing experiences I ever had while hiking.
Matthias had been in the area (Beverin Natural Reserve) before, and had told me about all the animals he had seen on the way up, among them lots of Murmel (rodent native to the European Alps – marmot in English) and Gams. So, when we left the car at the parking area I was ready to see some action. However, on the way up the mountain seemed as silent as a grave. No action of any sort, not even one Murmel in sight. We didn’t even hear one use their shrill warning whistle to warn the rest of the family that somebody was approaching. Just nothing. It was a beautiful day, though, and we slowly made our way up through the pathless terrain and onto the higher, snowy slopes. As we got higher up I had progressively more difficulty with the high altitude but as they say – one soldiers on.
While the view from the top was impressive, the real reward came on the way down. I was walking a bit ahead of Matthias on the ridge below the summit ascent, when a shadow passed over me. I looked up to see the biggest bird that I had ever seen pass straight over me, only a couple of meters above my head. Camera out in a heartbeat, we started taking pictures as quickly as we could. It turned out to be a Bartgeier (bearded vulture), one of only a few hundred left in the Central European Alps.
We were extremely lucky, because it stayed quite a while in our vicinity, passing several times above us, even as we continued our descent down the mountain. Its presence also explained why we hadn’t seen one single animal on our way up.
Bearded vultures (also known as Lämmergeier) are impressive birds, with a wingspan up to 2.9m, weighing between 4,5-7kg. They feed on carrion, mostly bones from fallen animals. They have been known to drop the bones from great heights in order to break them into smaller pieces.
We later reported the sighting (along with a couple of our images) to the Swiss Bartgeier foundation, and got told that they knew the bird and that he was a juvenile who had been born in the wild 2016.