Potberg Mountain of De Hoop Nature Reserve plays a critical role in the survival of the Cape Griffon Vulture. I recently visited the Vulture Deck that has uninterupted views of the colony and nests situated in a deep gorge.
The Cape Griffon Vulture’s conservation status is Endangered due to their low numbers. De Hoop Nature Reserve’s conservation efforts at Potberg Mountain is one of the reasons the numbers are starting to increase. The journey is far from over as they only lay one egg per year. The colony now boasts approximately 250 birds, up from just 30 birds in the 1970’s.
Interesting fact is that the vultures have changed their natural diet from buck (Eland, Bontebok) to rather scavenging on carcasses of livestock found in the area.
Their feet are weak and better suited to walking on the ground than to picking up prey.
The sheep and dairy farms surrounding Potberg ensures abundant food, thankfully the farmers have “adopted” the vultures and allow the vultures to feed in peace. In fact without the help of these farmers the vultures would probably have died out ages ago.
The deck is something to behold and an amazing platform to photograph these amazing birds from.
The hike up from the car park is not too strenuous but must warn you that it will get the heart rate going.
** My wife tackling the mountain path, this was taken about half way up – as you can see the views are spectacular!
After about a 40 minute hike you arrive at the deck that can accommodate about 12-15 people (my estimate). The views into the gorge are amazing and you immediately find yourself looking up searching for vultures.
** View from the deck
** Information board stating all the facts about the reason you climbed a mountain – the Cape Vulture!
I was amazed at the number of birds soaring (riding) the thermals, but immediately realized that photography was going to be challenging due to the speed they glide at.
CAPE GRIFFON VULTURE FACTS
a) Average length of adult birds is about 96-115 cm
b) Wingspan between 2.3 – 2.6 metres (they are huge)
c) Body weight between 7-11 kg
d) Covers 150 km per day by soaring the thermals compared to just 40 km per day by flapping their wings.
Knowing how to read animal behaviour is key to photography so I simply sat and watched. It soon became clear that the first bird to decend or change direction creates a chain reaction – now I just need one to fly towards the deck!
With my back turned to the gorge (I was enjoying the view) I heard a loud noise from behind me. Turning I realized it was a vulture flying directly above me – the noise was the wind passing over their huge wings – amazing!
They are coming – time to get ready!
The next few minutes was a mixture of energy and disbelief as about 40 birds either flew over or passed the deck.
With shaky hands, I managed to capture the following photos:
This was truly an unforgettable experience and I highly recommend you adding this to your bucketlist!
Till next time…