Our Research Officer's take on the Bearded Vulture in the Peak District, UK

Bearded Vulture soaring the skies in the Peak District (c) Louis Phipps/VCF
Bearded Vulture soaring the skies in the Peak District (c) Louis Phipps/VCF

One of the largest and rarest raptors in Europe, a Bearded Vulture, wandered away from its mountain range and travelled to unusual corners of Europe. It was first photographed in the UK at the end of June and has been touring the Midlands ever seen, currently roosting in the north of the Peak District National Park. Although it is normal for young Bearded Vultures to wander away from their mountains and explore new areas, this Bearded Vulture in the UK is quite a rare phenomenon as it is the second ever record of the species.

 

 

This weekend, Louis Phipps, our Research Officer based in the UK, finally saw the Bearded Vulture in the Peak District. He discusses this unique experience and more about the wandering Bearded Vulture below.

 

 

"As most of the work I do for VCF is desk-based, I never imagined that I would be making the two hour journey from my home in the East Midlands of the UK to the Peak District National Park, to try to find a wandering Bearded Vulture, but that's what I was doing on Friday afternoon! Since the bird was first seen in the UK (by my brother, only a few hundred metres from where I was sitting at my desk, ironically and frustratingly!), I have been following its movements closely. It has gained a huge amount of attention from the UK birdwatching community, as well as many other visitors to the Peak District who are excited and interested to see such a huge and enigmatic species in British airspace. Prior to my visit, I had studied the sightings of the bird in detail, as well as the topography of the landscape, and it seemed to be favouring a particular ridgeline, probably using the rising air generated by the westerly winds to give it good uplift so that it could forage over the moorland below without expending too much energy. We were already in contact with Tim Birch, director of nature recovery at the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, and he very kindly agreed to meet me and take me up to the best viewing points, not far from the bird's favoured roosting site. Once we were on top of the moors it was clear to see why the bird was favouring this area - the strong winds rising over the ridge provided good flying conditions, there were several steep rock ledges for perching, and the moorland habitat was very open and sparsely vegetated. As there were still quite a few sheep up in the hills, as well as mountain hares, and very few other competing scavenging species, it was no surprise that the vulture had been seen feeding several times during the two weeks that it has been in the area.

 

After two or three hours waiting for the vulture to show itself, it finally appeared as if out of nowhere, over the roost site that it had been using regularly up until a couple of days before. It was a good but brief view before it soared along the ridgeline and disappeared into the distance. We sat and watched for another hour or so, waiting for it to come back to the roost, and as we were about to leave it appeared in the distance over the ridge and headed towards us. It circled right above a small group of birdwatchers, a hundred metres from us, giving us all great views, before gliding down to its usual roosting spot. What a magnificent, but surreal, sight - a Bearded Vulture in the Peak District! We met up with some very excited birders who had been waiting patiently all day to see it - the words "stunning", "impressive", "magnificent", "unbelievable", as well as "huge", "enormous", "massive" were just some of the adjectives used, including by my dad who had just seen his first Bearded Vulture!

 

The next day I headed up to the top of the moors from the other side so I could get a better look at the ridgeline from below. It was very windy and the occasional rain shower would blow in, and as we reached the top of the moors the vulture appeared a short distance away, flying against a very strong headwind, apparently having just left the roost site. After eventually gaining some altitude it then drifted south along the ridge, eventually spending the rest of the day in another favoured area a few kilometres away.

 

It was fantastic to see the Bearded Vulture flying strongly and behaving normally, and there seemed to be a good supply of food and availability of roost sites for it to stay in the area for some time yet. It has attracted a lot of visitors to the area (on the second day we counted 50-60 people viewing the vulture on the same footpath as us, and there were many more in the surrounding area), but disturbance doesn't seem to have deterred the vulture from staying in the area so far. It is also good news that it has been observed feeding almost every day this week, so it should be able to meet its energy requirements to continue its journey whenever it decides to do so. Fortunately, there were no power lines along its main flight routes, minimizing the risk of collision, and as long as it continues to find uncontaminated food and is not disturbed, it could remain in the area for some time. I met representatives from the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and the National Trust, who manage the land on which the vulture is spending most of its time, and they are very enthusiastic about having the bird in the area and will do all they can to ensure it is not disturbed and kept as safe as possible. Ultimately it would be best if the vulture travels south and crosses the sea, eventually returning to the Alps or Pyrenees, but it will be a long and difficult journey. Fortunately, it is likely that many people will be monitoring its progress along the way, including us at VCF!"

 

 

A recently published blog post explains why the Bearded Vulture travelled to the UK in the first place, where did it come from and whether it is going back home. 

 

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