Giants Castle Vulture Hide

Giants Castle Vulture Hide South Africa

The Vulture hide is situated in the Giants Castle Nature reserve, Central Drakensberg Mountains, in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Province, South Africa. Giants Castle Bearded Vulture hide, also known as the “Lammergeyer hide”, is very popular and has to be reserved well in advance. Reservations open in November every year.

Giants Castle Vulture Hide

It offers unsurpassed opportunities to photograph the endangered Bearded Vulture, also called the “Lammergeyer “or “Baard Aasvoël” in Afrikaans) and Cape Vulture. Other birds at the hide to be seen are eagles, ravens and a variety of buzzards. The well camouflaged hide is on top of one of the ridges, and is built into a rock face. You need a 4×4 vehicle to get to the top.

Bearded Vulture

Adult Bearded Vulture – (“Lammergeier” in Afrikaans), gliding underneath us.

We were three people visiting the hide in mid-September. The personnel at the hotel provide you with a bucket filled with bones to feed the vultures, when you reserve the hide for a few days. We used to put out the bones on the edge of the cliffs in front of the hide, for the vultures to see.

Bearded Vulture landing at the vulture hide. They are known for picking up big bones and drop it from high altitudes to scatter the bones into smaller pieces on the rocks.

As it was still very cold, in mid-September, one has to be equipped with enough warm clothing. Geared with a big flask of coffee and snacks, the big wait started. The landscape of this area is breath taking. Annette celebrated her birthday by spoiling herself with a brisk morning hike on the one particular day. Kobus, our friend and I, were enjoying our coffee, whilst waiting for the birds to arrive. Early every morning, when you collect the bones, you collect your food parcel as well, if you do not have breakfast at the hotel.

Adult Bearded Vulture – (“Baardaasvoël” in Afrikaans), gliding through the air in to the valley.

Adult Bearded Vultures have the distinguished black strip over the eyes. Bristles at the beak that looks like a beard. Due to water that is rich in minerals, and rust coloured and bathing in red dust and mud they are frequently more red and orange. The bearded vulture does not have a bald head like other vultures and has a thick and powerful neck. Due to its very different appearance from other vultures, they can easily be mistaken for an eagle.

Juvenile Bearded Vulture

The Bearded Vulture, or Lammergeier. It lives on a steady diet of bones. Lammergeier means – (Lamb catcher) in English.

The juvenile bearded vulture is chocolate brown with golden underparts, but also has the distinctive dark beard. I took fantastic fly-by pictures of this majestic bird. Like other vultures, the Bearded Vulture is a scavenger. It feeds on dead animals and bones, with a diet consists of about 85% of bone marrow.

The name “Lammergeyer” is attribute by farmers, who for many years believe that these birds caught small lambs. It commonly takes bones to a weight of 4kg up in the air and then drops them onto rocks to break them. If the bone does not break, then the process is repeat until the bone breaks to smaller pieces. They then eat the bone marrow and smaller bones. The bird has strong gastric fluids that can easily digest the bones.

These birds are one of the largest vulture species, has an average length of up to 125 cm and a wingspan of up to 2.8 meters. It is reddish yellow or white plumage on the head and breast with grey tail and wings. They are characterizing by its long, narrow wings, elongated body shape, and long, wedge-shaped tail.

Cape Vulture

The Cape Vulture also known as the Cape Griffon and in Afrikaans “Kransaasvoël”. An Old-World vulture and endemic to Southern Africa.

This magnificent bird was just gliding in the slip stream of the wind, checking everything out on the mountain slopes.

It is also one of the largest vultures in Southern Africa, with an average length of up to 115 cm and wingspan of up to 2.6 meters. Its colour is a creamy-buff with dark flight and tail feathers. They are normally the first to land at the hide. Once they have landed, changes for the bearded vulture to land, is much better.

The Cape Vultures really kept us busy, and we had some beautiful pictures of them landing and taking off again. I saw some incredible photos from other photographers too, who has also visited the hide. Both the Cape Vulture and Black Backed Jackals competed for the meat. The photos are just awesome. Maybe one day.

Jackal Buzzard

A Jackal Buzzard won’t leave a free meal and was also a frequent visitor to the hide, competing with the ravens.

Raven

For the first few hours, on the first day, the Ravens and Red Wing Starlings were the only visitors that we had. We had our first sighting of Cape Vultures, when they circled the hide several times a bit later during the morning.

White Necked Raven, (Withalskraai), / Corvus Albicollis. This raven lives in hilly or mountainous areas of South Africa. It is somewhat smaller than the Common Raven but larger than Pied Crow, with a heavier bill and much less white. It feeds on various invertebrates and vertebrates including numerous insect species and lizards, snakes, small birds and small mammals.

Later on, they were joined by a juvenile Bearded Vulture that glided graciously past the hide several times. It was only later in the afternoon that we had our first sighting of an adult bearded vulture, as it was circling around the hide. It is truly a majestic large bird. The ravens were very active too, and we took some good acrobatic pictures of these birds.

Red Wing Starlings

Red Wing Starlings, are common to the hide. They are normally first to arrive. We practiced focusing on them and the crows before the big birds arrive.

Female Buff-Streaked

A female Buff-Streaked Chat also made a beautiful picture. Excellent D.O.F. and the out of focus mountain in the back ground. They normally love to perch on rocks and high places. They are endemic to Southern Africa.

Male Buff-Streaked Chat

Male Buff-Streaked Chat, /Campicoloides Bifasciatus (“Bergklipwagter”). Occurring along much of the Drakensberg escarpment and surrounding foothills.

Check out some more of my photos at 500PX and PhotoPixSA and the Trip Reports and Hiking Trails

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