After the recent release of bearded vultures Fredueli and Finja our Scientific and Conservation Coordinator, Franziska Lörcher, headed back up the Swiss mountains to monitoring the progress of the young bearded vultures until they leave the release area. Franziska works part time for the Swiss foundation Pro Bartgeier and she sent us a short report about life up in the Swiss Alps in the field.
Living in the Swiss Alps
Releasing the young bearded vultures in their release cave is not the end of the release of the birds into the wild but the beginning for us as we head up the mountains and spend the time observing the young birds. We work in a team of two and live in two construction containers across from the release cave. The containers are perfect spaces to observe the birds as the Alps weather is very changeable (as well as cold, wet, stormy and snowy) and they provide shelter to watch the birds through the big window. It also allows us the chance to observe the birds when light conditions allow, usually between 6 in the morning and 9 in the evening. Unless our view is obstructed by fog, then of course we cannot observe anything.
Our day starts before 5am if it is feeding day. And before breakfast, a walk uphill of 30 minutes with a couple of kilos of vulture food on our backs is necessary. The birds are provided with food early in the morning, before they are actually awake. The food is placed where it can easily be found by the young birds, but without them observing us. After the morning walk - the observation time starts.
Monitoring the young vultures
The birds are observed all day long, even during our feeding and requisite coffee drinking times. Each movement, interaction, flight exercise is noted in a journal. And of course, after fledging each flight is noted, its length and where the bird went. This is vitally important information to collect to help us know exactly how the birds are, if they are well and have eaten enough. Additionally to the bird observation, we also have an information stand, where we welcome visitors, show them the birds with telescopes and binoculars and answer their questions about the bearded vultures, the reintroduction project and generally the animals and plants up in the mountains.
And if no bearded vultures can be observed some time, or both are sleeping during the day, the Alpine environment provides many more interesting things to observe: Alpine ibex, golden eagles, marmots, Alpine Salamander and many more.
The days are long - and depending on the weather, there isn’t a chance to have many breaks. But being outside all the time, observing the young bearded vultures and being able to follow directly their development compensates for the long hours. But after 9pm, when it slowly gets too dark to observe the birds, the bed is close and we call it a day.