Bearded Vulture in flight

A bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus ("Bearded Vulture-Eagle"), in flight above the Swiss Alps at the end of the Gemmipass in Leukerbad. (Johan Peijnenburg)

Bearded Vulture in flight (Gypaetus barbatus)

[ 70mm – f/8 – 1/500 – ISO200 – D3x with 24-70 f/2.8 ]

Last Sunday I did very interesting snow-shoe hike traversing the Gemmipass, which connects Kandersteg (Bernese Oberland) with Leukerbad (Valais). The pass is located at an altitude of about 2200 meters and the hike was 10 kilometers (6.5 miles) long with an ascent of about 550 meters (1800 ft). Photography wise it was a very fruitful hike, as I got away with quite a few nice landscape images … and more …

At the end of the hike I spotted a group of bird photographers, shooting from a ridge towards the valley. Obviously they were all very-well equipped with cool exotic long lenses. My longest lens was my 24-70 f/2.8 … ouch … after doing some landscape shots from the ridge, I decided to join the fun and to put my camera in fast mode. Shortly after, this bearded vulture decided to do a few fly-by’s at close distance. So impressive! I fired away hand-held at the highest speed I had available (about 5 fps) and to my own surprise got away with a decent series of tack sharp images … lucky me!

Bearded vultures are huge. This bird is 94–125 cm (37–49 in) long with a wingspan of 2.31–2.83 m (7.6–9.3 ft). They were once extinct in the Alps but have been re-introduced in the 1970’s. They are still a threatened species within Europe though. Other names for this bird are: bearded vulture-eagle, lammergeier and lammergeyer. You can find more info about this majestic bird at: Wikipedia

I am afraid that this big fellow has triggered an urge to do more big bird photography … it was kind of like trout fishing … and quite exciting!

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190 Responses to “Bearded Vulture in flight”

  1. We combines vultures and alpine not more together already.

  2. Amazing image and great capture!!! You realize you need to get some longer lenses for that :)

  3. Thanks Rainer :-)
    @Louis: thank you! Not my “regular” stuff, but had fun!

  4. Realllllly nice work Johan. Great shot. Love the angle and the vulture’s head position.

  5. waaa, amazing, Johan! Love the sky here, blue but ominous nonetheless 😀

  6. Gunther D. says:

    70mm! How fare are you standing? Nice treatment.

  7. Jamie Link says:

    You definitely had great light for this one!! Nice work!

  8. Gorgeous image, Johan – such incredible detail!

  9. Awesome, awesome, like I told you at FB, already. Have a great week Johan

  10. A really awesome shot! What a detailed capture, Johan! I am so happy to see that fellow again… You did a great job ! Thank you!

    @Rainer – What do you mean? I don’t get ya…

  11. Wow… I didn’t realize a vulture could look so beautiful! :)

  12. Debby Vos says:

    Cool, it is an amazing photo 😉
    So lucky we were there though! Right moment/place thing :-)

  13. Awesome capture Johan !!!

  14. Sumit Sen says:

    Great capture Johan. Superb bird photography!

  15. Beautiful! (More proof that lack of the perfect equipment just makes it harder, not impossible.)
    And I see you’ve taken my advise to do that hike (if you remember it, that is:-)

  16. Andy, Shelly, Neil: thank you for the kind words!
    Sumit: thanks for the compliment and the support!
    Peter: now that you mention it I remember. Some time ago! It was beautiful up there! Thanks!

  17. Wow Johan, this is not something I was expecting to find on your page… It is GORGEOUS!! Well done. Are we going to have to start toting around your (soon to be purchased) huge birding lenses now? 😉

    • it was a surprise to me as well :-) But I really enjoyed shooting the bird. It does gave an adrenaline rush and you instantly have to do everything right! Yes, I would love to have a big lens … I am afraid I am overspending as it is already though 😉

  18. Excellent capture ! Well done !

  19. wonderful capture Johan!!! This vulture is trying to get out of my screen. I’m afraid I’ll have to chase him around. :) …meaning this is a superb and so lively shot!! I love the blue in the sky :)

  20. Great capture! Big bird! Great Johan

  21. Jean-Michel and Dawid: thank you both! Glad you like it :-)
    Julia Anna: thank you for the positive feedback on the processing! I thought I nailed it, but when I saw that thumbnail appear here, I wasn’t sure anymore …

  22. Awesome light and detail, Johan. The sky is excellent.

  23. What a beautiful bird! I love how the soft blue surrounds him so we see each feather on the wings! This is incredibly wonderful!!

  24. Dane and Margaret: thanks for the compliments! The reflection of the snow underneath lit up the bird very nicely indeed :-)

    • We haven’t had any snow this year so I didn’t even think that the snow was reflecting the light. I just thought the light was so wonderful. This is such an incredible photograph!!

      • I was just very very lucky to get this shot. I was at the right spot at the right time and with the right lens. Didn’t expect it at all though, as the bird initially kept circling at a distance.

        • Maybe that vulture thought you or someone in your group would provide lunch for him!! I so understand “luck” in photography. I have a few awesome images and most I can honestly attribute to “luck”. However, it helps to be prepared too!

          • don’t know if the word “luck” is the right word. In my experience, just getting out there will automatically give surprises like this. The more we go the more we get … so the luck can certainly be influenced!

  25. Nellie says:

    Mooi gedaan Johan

    Nellie en Jo

  26. :Lisa says:

    Fantastic and so very beautiful.

  27. Johan, you don’t know how much I envy you for this shot! I never spotted one! They are the “star” of the Italian Alps… unless for the “Gran Paradiso” National Park. Really Amazing! Is it big?? :)

    • I figured you would appreciate this one :-) Yes, it is huge and it flew by something like 5 meters above my head. I have about 4 or 5 tack sharp shot of him. There is one really close up but in that one the head is straight an the wing tips aren’t lifted, so I preferred to publish this one. First time for me as well. I went looking for them once in the Graubünden, but did not see them . These time I had more luck :)

  28. awesome capture Johan !

  29. This is really great shot Johan ! What a sharpness,you were really lucky:)

  30. Wow – super image Johan !!!!

  31. You’re right Johan!! Being in the moment, prepared, lens cap off! Perhaps we create our own luck far more than we realize! When I first started following this thread, I had no idea how rare this fellow is. Congratulations on your excellent capture!! If the vulture knew how great his photo is, he would likely order prints!!

  32. @Diego: a lot of them have been spotted in the Swiss National Parc, which I think crosses over to Italy as well. I shot this one in Leukerbad by the way. I think if you go there you will catch them as well!

  33. wonderful capture Johan

  34. Many thanks Jens, Javier and Gemma!!

  35. Fantastic, Johan! What a beautiful sight that must have been.

  36. Love those wing tips Johan and the downward gaze gives him the real vulture look…he’s not just cruising up there :)

  37. Very nice, I like the off-center framing here!

  38. Never thought I’d say this, but that is one beautiful vulture Johan! :-)

    What an amazing photo. It is so crisp.

  39. Beautiful shot Johan! Very good exposure…

  40. Kerry: thanks. It was incredible indeed!
    Andy: he was definitely on the hunt! Thanks for the feedback!
    Michael and Jan: many thanks!
    Jerry: these “old world” vultures actually look a lot like eagles, except for the head. Thank you!

  41. nice in many many ways. compliments.

  42. Wonderful capture Johan!!!

  43. The light and the colours are so beautiful. Well done Johan !

  44. Great shot Johan. I love bird in flight photo’s :)

  45. Thanks a bunch for the kind words Meg, Simon and Francis !

  46. WOW! No kidding. Can we trade Johan? hehehehe. This is a gorgeous photo. love the contrast against the blue! : )

  47. Absolultey fantastic capturing Johan! very beautiful!

  48. Amazing sharpness, what a beauty!

  49. Very well done. Thanks for sharing.

  50. Thanks Daniel and Rikard !

  51. Hope OHara says:

    those feathers are beautiful.. this is a vulture ? beautiful looking one.. the detail here is just awesome.. love the contrast against the sky.. amazing capture..

  52. Wow, that light in this shot! Great capture Johan !

  53. Beautifully captured and composed….

  54. Great composition with the negative space Johan !

  55. Such excellent framing and the light on the bird is magnificent.

  56. Joel, Sinead, Lisa and Robert: thank you all for the compliments :-)

  57. Hey there Johan…a bit late on the uptake here, but fantastic composition. Love the colour. well done.

  58. Great framing here…and that sky as a backdrop is beautiful in and of itself. Wonderful image!

  59. Lovely details on the wings, beautiful image!

  60. Thank you Amber and Gaurav!
    @Franka: thanks. I hope you also like the big bird 😉

  61. Great shot! Johan Really wonderful!
    My great passion, the birds of prey!

  62. John Dunne says:

    Wow Johan, that’s stunning. Perfect composition, what a beautiful clear sky.

  63. @Robert: thank you! Glad to see you drop by again :-)
    @John: thanks! That’s not a bad background for a bird like this ejh :-) Hope all is well in Ireland!

  64. Well captured +Johan Peijnenburg , I like the framing with this empty space

  65. Amazing shot! Really love how you framed this.

  66. Thanks Eric and Candace !

  67. Shirley Lo says:

    great capture :) great gray and blue color combination :)

  68. Heel mooi Johan
    Great shot, very clear and pp focusing on the bird is also nice done

  69. Uitstekend Johan! Such a majestic bird. Thanks for the infos, and yes you should do more bird shooting 😉

  70. Wonderful capture, do they live here in Switzerland ? Never have heared of it !!

    • Thanks Anette. Yes they do, but they are scarse. Most of them are found in the Swiss National Parc in Graubünden. This one was “shot” in Leukerbad. There were two of them cruising around there. Quite impressive!

      • I can imagine, I am very much interested to find them. Will check it out. Thanks for your info on this Johan

        • if you check the photo details of this image, you will see the GPS coordinates. There were about 10 wildlife photographers “hunting” for these vultures and alpine eagles on top of one of the cliffs there. I was just lucky getting this shot with my short lens whilst chatting with them :-)

  71. Wow, this is a beauty of a shot! Fabulous capture of the bird, plus I really like the texture in the sky too.

  72. Paul Scott says:

    That is a beautiful thing Johan !

  73. Nice capture, love the processing you made here.

  74. You’re hooked now! with bird photography I mean, as well as the trout fishing you mentioned.

  75. Stunning image! Love the light on the bird!

  76. thank you Paul and Patricia!!

  77. What an awesome capture and unbelievably sharp Johan. The guys with exotic lenses were probably too close and struggled to focus. Very impressive.

    • They were struggling Andrew. I was really lucky to be there with the right lens and to have put in the effort some time a go to program a few of the camera memory banks for fast shooting!

  78. wow, awesome capture!!

  79. Excellent! Love the framing, and the blue is perfect!

  80. Thank you E.E. Giorgi and Scott! Thanks for stopping by!

  81. This is a beautiful bird Johan –is the head featherless?

  82. Wow Johan, this is one fantastic shot

  83. I have a phobia against birds but this is a cool shot , like the composition !

  84. Tom Tran says:

    I’m late to this viewing pleasure but nonetheless the treat is still quite refreshing, Johan. Beautiful capture. Birding can definitely grab an exciting hold of you. I’ve felt the bite myself. :)

    • This was more or less a lucky shot Tom :) I wonder what wil happen if I hire the right lens and go stand there. He might not fly by then … thanks for catching up on my posts!!! Really appreciate all the kind words!

  85. Thank you Hengki and Ashvini !

  86. wonderful shot…….thanks for the share

  87. Incredible bird and an excellent shot!

    I had the chance to see one in Switzerland too few years ago.
    They were living in Romania too, unfortunately they are extincted probably now…

    • Thank you for the compliment! These birds are indeed incredible. So happy that I got away with a few nice shots!

      I read that they were instinct all over Europe at some point. They have been re-introduced in the Alps about 10 years ago, so hopefully one will fly over to Romania :)

  88. That is an amazing shot! Love the orange head against the blue sky. The sharpness and composition are just amazing.

  89. Lili Ana says:

    What a great photographer you are! :)

  90. Love the mood and space in this one Johan! It seems they look a lot like our version of the Beared Vulture in the Drakensberg mountains, South Africa.

    • Thanks Morkel! Could be a similar species. I think I read about that when I looked in to vultures a bit more. Up until “shooting” this one I hadn’t really. Always thought they were ugly fellas ;)

  91. Horia Bogdan says:

    Amazing capture, especially with such a short lens! Very nice light and details, too :)

  92. @Horia: a very lucky shot with a lens like that 😀 I am not complaining though! Thanks for the compliment!
    @Jim: many thanks Jim!

  93. awesome, must be a great feeling to get to shoot such a mighty creature in it’s natural habitat

  94. Fantastic! I love the angle and compo!

  95. must beauty l like must of eagle and see in fly on fre must special:)

  96. @Sandra : thanks again :)
    @Lili: that’s what I thought as well 😀

  97. Preciosa imagen y perfecta captura .Mi felicitación .

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