Bearded Vulture in flight

Close-up of a bearded Vulture in flight (Gypaetus barbatus), as captured iat the Gemmi Pass

Bearded Vulture in flight
February 20, 2012 Johan Peijnenburg
In Photography
A bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus ("Bearded Vulture-Eagle"), in flight above the Swiss Alps at the end of the Gemmipass in Leukerbad. (Johan Peijnenburg)
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!

Comments (190)

  1. Rainer M. Ritz 8 years ago

    We combines vultures and alpine not more together already.

  2. Dave Pattinson 8 years ago

    Amazing image and great capture!!! You realize you need to get some longer lenses for that 🙂

    • Author

      Thanks Dave for the compliment and yes …. those long lenses are tempting!

  3. Author

    Thanks Rainer 🙂
    @Louis: thank you! Not my “regular” stuff, but had fun!

  4. Louis Lavoie 8 years ago

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

  5. Layla Kuyper 8 years ago

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

  6. Christa Niederer 8 years ago

    Great capture, Johan!

  7. Author

    Thanks Layla and Christa 🙂

  8. Gunther D. 8 years ago

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

    • Author

      thank you. Not that far away actually. I did crop the 24.4 MP image a bit to get more bird in the frame though.

  9. Jamie Link 8 years ago

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

  10. Randall Sanger 8 years ago

    Gorgeous image, Johan – such incredible detail!

  11. Yasmin Simpson 8 years ago

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

  12. 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…

    • Rainer M. Ritz 8 years ago

      Wenn man etwas weg von den Alpen wohnt, gibt es keine gedankliche Verbindung zwischen Geier und Alpen mehr. Geier sind dann nur noch Wüstenbewohner , bzw Andenbwohner.

  13. Jeff Moreau 8 years ago

    Wow… I didn’t realize a vulture could look so beautiful! 🙂

    • Author

      hey Jeff. Thank you. These look a lot more cute then the vultures on your side of the Atlantic ocean. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Debby Vos 8 years ago

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

  15. Andy Kennelly 8 years ago

    super cool framing.

  16. Neil Camara 8 years ago

    Awesome capture Johan !!!

  17. Shelly Gunderson 8 years ago

    Very pretty capture!

  18. Sumit Sen 8 years ago

    Great capture Johan. Superb bird photography!

  19. Peter de Rooij 8 years ago

    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:-)

  20. Author

    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!

  21. Athena Carey 8 years ago

    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? 😉

    • Author

      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 😉

  22. Excellent capture ! Well done !

  23. 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 🙂

  24. Great capture! Big bird! Great Johan

  25. Author

    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 …

  26. Dane Clingan 8 years ago

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

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

  28. Author

    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!!

      • Author

        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!

          • Author
            Johan Peijnenburg 8 years ago

            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!

  29. Nellie 8 years ago

    Mooi gedaan Johan

    Nellie en Jo

  30. :Lisa 8 years ago

    Fantastic and so very beautiful.

  31. Diego Cattaneo 8 years ago

    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?? 🙂

    • Author

      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 🙂

      • Diego Cattaneo 8 years ago

        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 🙂

        • Author

          I really hope you will be as lucky as I was!!! enjoy the hikes!

          • Diego Cattaneo 8 years ago

            Thanks Johan! Hope to find this little bird 🙂

  32. David Herreman 8 years ago

    awesome capture Johan !

  33. Joanna Pechmann 8 years ago

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

  34. Johan Swanepoel 8 years ago

    Wow – super image Johan !!!!

  35. 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!!

    • Author

      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!!!

      • 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!!

  36. Author

    @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!

  37. Gemma Costa 8 years ago

    wonderful capture Johan

  38. Javier Esvall 8 years ago

    Great capture.

  39. jens Ceder 8 years ago


  40. Author

    Many thanks Jens, Javier and Gemma!!

  41. Kerry Murphy 8 years ago

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

  42. Andy Korolis 8 years ago

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

  43. Michael menefee 8 years ago

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

  44. Jerry Johnson 8 years ago

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

    What an amazing photo. It is so crisp.

  45. Jan van Erven 8 years ago

    Beautiful shot Johan! Very good exposure…

  46. Author

    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!

  47. Gert Ooms 8 years ago

    Awesome Johan

  48. Jos Kuklewski 8 years ago

    nice in many many ways. compliments.

  49. Author

    Thanks Gert and Jos !!

  50. Simon Morris 8 years ago

    Wonderful capture Johan!!!

  51. Francis Gagnon 8 years ago

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

  52. Meg Rousher 8 years ago

    Great shot Johan. I love bird in flight photo’s 🙂

  53. Author

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

  54. shane holsclaw 8 years ago

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

    • Author

      Cool ejh Shane 🙂 You will have to come to Ch for these I am afraid!

  55. Mikko Tyllinen 8 years ago

    Absolultey fantastic capturing Johan! very beautiful!

  56. Daniel Cheong 8 years ago

    Amazing sharpness, what a beauty!

  57. Rikard Lindby 8 years ago

    Very well done. Thanks for sharing.

  58. Author

    Thanks Daniel and Rikard !

  59. Hope OHara 8 years ago

    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..

    • Author

      Yes it is Hope. These vultures aren’t bold which makes a difference doesn’t it 🙂 Thank you!

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

    • Author
      Johan Peijnenburg 8 years ago

      The snow acted as a great reflector Emanuele 🙂 Thank you!

  61. Milena Llieva 8 years ago

    Beautifully captured and composed….

  62. Joel Tjintjelaar 8 years ago

    Great composition with the negative space Johan !

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

  64. Lisa RedWillow 8 years ago

    So Very graceful.

  65. Robert Esseboom 8 years ago

    mooi zeg

  66. Author

    Joel, Sinead, Lisa and Robert: thank you all for the compliments 🙂

  67. Wayne Marinovich 8 years ago

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

  68. Daniel Ewert 8 years ago

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

  69. Amber Shawn 8 years ago


  70. Franka M. Gabler 8 years ago

    Great metallic sky!

  71. Gaurav Mittal 8 years ago

    Lovely details on the wings, beautiful image!

  72. Author

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

  73. Robert Skreiner 8 years ago

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

  74. John Dunne 8 years ago

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

  75. Author

    @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!

  76. Eric Rousset 8 years ago

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

  77. Candace Bartlett 8 years ago

    Amazing shot! Really love how you framed this.

  78. Author

    Thanks Eric and Candace !

  79. Shirley Lo 8 years ago

    great capture 🙂 great gray and blue color combination 🙂

  80. Nikola Nikolski 8 years ago

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

  81. Laurent Coppée 8 years ago

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

    • Author

      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 …

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

    • Author

      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

        • Author

          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 8 years ago

            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

          • Author
            Johan Peijnenburg 8 years ago

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

  83. Chris Miller 8 years ago

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

  84. Paul Scott 8 years ago

    That is a beautiful thing Johan !

  85. Vitor Ferreira 8 years ago

    Nice capture, love the processing you made here.

  86. Anita Harris 8 years ago

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

    • Author

      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!

  87. Paul Turkowski 8 years ago

    Amazing shot!

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

  89. Author

    thank you Paul and Patricia!!

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

    • Author

      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!

  91. E.E. Giorgi 8 years ago

    wow, awesome capture!!

  92. Scott Horwath 8 years ago

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

  93. Author

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

  94. Gail Beerman 8 years ago

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

    • Author

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

  95. Louis Madden 8 years ago

    Wow Johan, this is one fantastic shot

  96. Subra Govinda 8 years ago

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

  97. Maurizio Pontini 8 years ago


  98. Kos Kos 8 years ago

    Great shot !

  99. Tom Tran 8 years ago

    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. :)

    • Author

      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!

  100. Hengki Koentjoro 8 years ago


  101. Ashvini Mishra 8 years ago


  102. Author

    Thank you Hengki and Ashvini !

  103. Jim Giordano 8 years ago

    wonderful shot…….thanks for the share

  104. 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…

    • Author

      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 🙂

  105. Baldur McQueen 8 years ago

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

    • Author

      Thanks again Baldur! Those was one of those “lucky” moments 🙂

  106. Lili Ana 8 years ago

    What a great photographer you are! :)

  107. Morkel Erasmus 8 years ago

    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.

    • Author

      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 ;)

  108. Horia Bogdan 8 years ago

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

  109. Jim Dehnert 8 years ago


  110. Author

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

  111. Domique Hilbert 8 years ago

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

    • Author

      Many thanks Dominique ! It was for sure and I was so lucky to be able to capture it!

      • Domique Hilbert 8 years ago

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

        • Author

          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 8 years ago

            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 :)

          • Author
            Johan Peijnenburg 8 years ago

            lol Dominique. Very true!

  112. Fantastic! I love the angle and compo!

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

  114. Lilia Lin 7 years ago

    Wow!! Johan :)

  115. Author

    @Sandra : thanks again 🙂
    @Lili: that’s what I thought as well 😀

  116. Mike Haley 7 years ago


  117. Anita Berglund 7 years ago


  118. Preciosa imagen y perfecta captura .Mi felicitación .

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