A lammergeier on Dartmoor – the fog of twitching

I spent most of yesterday trying to see the lammergeier, a large vulture with a wingspan of 2.75m, which had been seen on Dartmoor the day before. This is a very rare bird for Britain – indeed it is the first record of the species for the country. However all did not go to plan and I drew a blank.

Bartgeier_Gypaetus_barbatus_front_Richard_Bartz
A lammergeier By Richard Bartz, Munich aka Makro Freak, via Wikimedia Commons


The bird was first spotted last week in mid Wales and was videoed crossing the Bristol Channel last Thursday

The name ‘lammergeier’ appears to have come back into fashion – in the mid 80’s and 90’s it was replaced by ‘Bearded Vulture’. Lammergeier translates from the German as the lamb hawk and such a name was considered an impediment to its conservation so it was changed. It is a very rare and threatened species in Europe and has been successfully re-introduced into the Alps and the Pyrenees. It is a very specialised vulture as it predominately feeds on the marrow from the bones of dead herbivores.

It is mentioned in the Bible (in Leviticus) as a species which should not be eaten by people (presumably on account of it diet) and legend has it that a lammergeier was responsible for the death of the ancient Greek playwright and poet Aeschylus. Lammergeier are fond of feeding on tortoises which they pick up from the ground and then drop onto rocky ground from a great height to break them open before feeding on them. Aeschylus had a bald head and legend has it that a lammergeier mistook his shiny head for a rock and dropped a tortoise on him killing him instantly……

I subscribe to a service called Birdguides which provides detailed updates on the location of rare birds in Britain.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 21.51.07
Here is a screen grab of the Dartmoor records

The specific language used by Birdguides is important and needs some interpretation to the uninitiated. “Immature at Yar Tor” – the first record is unambiguous – the bird was seen there at 15.33. A little later the sighting becomes ‘reported’ i.e. it may not be correct….

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 22.01.26The ‘reported’ status is then further questioned as “others believe this sighting relates to a drone”. I must say I have never seen a 2.75m drone on Dartmoor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 22.37.40The record update then becomes ‘reportedly’ which means it is probably not correct….

Nevertheless I spent most of Tuesday around Soussons Down near to the Warren House Inn. When you are trying to re-locate a first for Britain such nuanced language is lost on you until you have time to reflect …..

My time however was not entirely wasted I did manage to photograph a few of the commoner and more classic Dartmoor birds.

Tree pipit 2
This is a tree pipit singing on top of a hawthorn bush at Soussans

Tree pipit 3

I spent half and hour watching the bird carry out its classic display – flying high into the air and then descending whilst singing onto the top of the bush. Listen to the song here (courtesy of Tweet of the Day)

Stonechat female 1
A little later a female stonechat appeared on the same bush on the way to its nest to feed its young

Meadow pipt 1
Back at the Warren House Inn area I photographed this skylark

Meadow pipt 2
Another view

As I was standing around at Soussons yesterday the lammergeier was seen over Princetown and North Hessary Tor (6 miles away) but unfortunately I didn’t know this as I had no phone reception. I am now waiting for ‘news’ before I head out again.

There are two other essential Birdguide words that would be twitchers need to know.

‘Purported’ – a purported record is one that has been submitted but it not believed. However it is reported in case it turns out to be correct and no one can then be accused of suppression.

‘Putative’ – a putative record is slightly more credible than a purported one but one would be well advised to allow the sighting to be firmed up before travelling hundreds of miles across the country to see it.

So we have a transition of bird sighting terminology.

Purported -> Putative -> Reportedly -> Reported -> Seen

Well worth remembering in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “A lammergeier on Dartmoor – the fog of twitching

  1. Hate to tell you this Adrian, but my husband saw it today, as he was mowing the lawn, in the Dart Valley. He said all the small birds and buzzards shot off pretty quickly when it arrived. Don’t blame them, looking at the size of it!

  2. Pingback: Lammergeier 2 – A Dartmoor and Devon blog

  3. Pingback: Dartmoor’s Lammergeier | Dartmoor Hiking

  4. So it was for real? Wonder why it had come so far. Changing habits. Too much rain in Europe? We get Egyptian vultures here in Southern Spain and a colony of black vultures. But there’s has been an outstanding amount of rain here too in May.

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