A bit of wildlife photography: a Bearded Vulture in flight

Last Sunday I traversed the Gemmipass on snow-shoe. The pass connects Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland region with Leukerbad in the Canton of Valais. It lies at an altitude of about 2200 metres, and the hike itself is 10 kilometres (6.5 miles) long with an ascent of about 550 metres (1800 ft). A beautiful hike and from a photography perspective worth your while. I got away with quite a few nice landscape photographs … and more …

Bearded vulture in flight

A bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) in flight, captured in the Swiss Alps near the Gemmipass in Leukerbad, Switzerland.

At the end of the hike, I spotted a group of bird photographers, shooting from a ridge towards the valley. They were all very-well equipped with impressively cool exotic long lenses. My longest lens was my 24-70 f/2.8 … ouch! After shooting some landscapes from the ridge, I joined the fun and put my camera in fast mode.

Shortly after, the bearded vulture in this photograph decided to do a few flybys at close distance. So impressive! I fired away hand-held at the highest speed I had available (about 5 frames per second). To my surprise, I got away with a very decent series of tack sharp images … lucky me!

Bearded vultures are enormous by the way. They are between 95 to 125 cm (37 to 49″) long and have a wingspan of 2.3 to 2.9 metres (7.6 to 9.3 ft). Bearded vultures were once extinct in the Alps but have been re-introduced in the 1970s. They are still an endangered species in Europe though. Other names for the bearded vulture are bearded vulture eagle, lammergeier and lammergeyer.

Make sure to check out our Swiss Landscape Photography portfolio to see more photographs captured in Switzerland.

Cheers, Johan 🙂

189 thoughts on “A bit of wildlife photography: a Bearded Vulture in flight

  1. Domique Hilbert says:

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

      • Domique Hilbert says:

        I believe you, but not only lucky, I can’t even manage to get a decent shot of a couple ducks flying over. 

        • Johan Peijnenburg says:

          I was standing there at the end of a hike with my limited focal length lens in between all the guys with long lenses. I had programmed a few memory bank of my camera to shoot birds only a few days earlier. And the bird decided to do a fly by exactly when I was there …. so definitely some luck involved :D

          • Domique Hilbert says:

            OK, either way it’s a marvelous image.
            must have been a funny view standing with the shorter one between all those big lenses, now here you have the proof, it’s not size that counts it’s what you do with it :)

  2. Johan Peijnenburg says:

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

  3. Morkel Erasmus says:

    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.

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      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 ;)

  4. Baldur McQueen says:

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

  5. Serban Simbotelecan says:

    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…

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      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 🙂

  6. 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. :)

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      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!

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Thanks Gail! This type of vulture isn’t bold. I think I will post a close-up later to show more details!

  7. Andrew Sanigorski says:

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

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      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!

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Could well be Anita! Will be renting a long lens this summer to try it a bit more. I am not sure yet if I have the patience to sit and wait. I did like the adrenaline of this shoot though!

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      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!

      • Anette Mossbacher says:

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

        • Johan Peijnenburg says:

          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 🙂

          • Anette Mossbacher says:

            Oh thanks so much, I will check it out on Monday. During the weekend I am gone. This is very helpful, yep I will come with some little cars, as I call the big lenses, as the price is that high, too:) Lots of weight to carry, bugger Johan

          • Johan Peijnenburg says:

            I know. I will get myself one as well one day …. and the big tripod, etc, etc 😉

  8. Laurent Coppée says:

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

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Merci Laurent! I would like to … that lens I would need is a bit expensive though so it’ll have to wait a bit … already have new cams coming …

  9. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @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!

  10. Wayne Marinovich says:

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

  11. 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..

  12. shane holsclaw says:

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

  13. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    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!

  14. Jerry Johnson says:

    Never thought I’d say this, but that is one beautiful vulture Johan! 🙂

    What an amazing photo. It is so crisp.

  15. Andy Korolis says:

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

  16. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @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!

  17. Margaret Tompkins says:

    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!!

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      there aren’t many of them in Europe and some still exist in Asia I think … so really glad I captured it. Now I want an eagle as well!!!

      • Margaret Tompkins says:

        My goal is the great California Condor!! I have captive picture and a fuzzy one flying over the Grand Canyon. There’s only a few dozen of them in the wild, so it will be a tough assignment!! I hope you get that eagle!!

  18. Diego Cattaneo says:

    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?? 🙂

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      I figured you would appreciate this one 🙂 Yes, it is huge and it flew by something like 5 metres 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 🙂

      • Diego Cattaneo says:

        I think I’ll go hiking more often!! 🙂 I read an article on a news paper about this bird a couple of weeks ago, and then I really want to have it in my library :)) I’ll let you now as soon as / if I found one 🙂

  19. Johan Peijnenburg says:

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

    • Margaret Tompkins says:

      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!!

      • Johan Peijnenburg says:

        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.

        • Margaret Tompkins says:

          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!

          • Johan Peijnenburg says:

            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!

  20. Margaret Tompkins says:

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

  21. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    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. Julia Anna Gospodarou says:

    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 🙂

  23. Athena Carey says:

    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? 😉

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      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 😉

  24. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    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!

  25. Peter de Rooij says:

    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:-)

  26. Wilfried Haferland says:

    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…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *