Very cool birds

After two nights on the Istrian coast, I felt a strong urge to leave the place behind us, and continue our journey south. I found out yesterday – somewhat by surprise – that we were about fifteen minutes away from the car ferry terminal to the island of Cres.

I know little of Cres, but what I was pretty sure of was that there should be a decent population of griffon vultures. A forgotten friend once took part in a conservation program to protect these magnificent birds. She talked about Cres and the conservation project all the time, and although the friendship has sadly dissolved in time and space, Cres and the birds – among others – were saved soundly in my long-term memory. I love vultures, so I didn’t mind turning our road trip adventure into an island hopping adventure.

At 11.30 am we were on the boat to Cres, and by 12 we were on the road again, making our way across the island. We had no plans, and no clue if or where we could park. Most official campsites seemed to open somewhere in April. Not much going on here when it’s not summer.

Nugget afloat
Obligatory boat selfie

After driving fifteen minutes, we followed a sign to the left, which indicated that the vulture conservation center was 8 km away, in Beli. We took the pretty detour, and found the conservation center, located in a very nice but dead ghost town built on a hill. We were pretty much alone here, aside from some locals at work. Life is quiet here, but at least the views are fantastic. Too bad the conservation center was closed on Mondays.

Beli – a dead town on a hill
Empty alleyways in Beli
We were alone
A nice stroll down to the harbor (very steep). Everything – campsite, dive center, restaurants – closed for winter

After our daily series of steps, we headed back to the van. We found in a brochure at the ferry terminal that there was a campsite offering winter camping, but it was 70 km south, pretty much at the southernmost tip of Cres. We were still at the northern end. As we drove back towards the main road, we saw a couple of vultures soaring high in the sky, gliding on the thermals generated by the warm air rising up from the sunny mountain sides. Vultures are not the most agile fliers in terms of takeoff or aerial acrobatics, but are excellent gliders, using the rising air to gain altitude, while scanning the area for fresh carcasses. I parked the car, so I could have a better look (and avoid driving off a cliff…). In total, thirteen vultures were circling above us. It’s amazing how they can be very close to you one second, and then hundreds of meters away the next. It’s amazing to see these birds this close. I’ve seen them before at Picos de Europa in northern Spain, as well as in parts of the Pyrenees. Always at a huge distance. Here, the birds were briefly within 30 meters distance, I would estimate. It was a beautiful experience.

The road to Beli and vulture habitat. Note the potential future food items on the left. Suicidal road sheep aplenty here.
Hard to see, but the birds are there – unfortunately they never stay close for long…

The next hour and a half we drove uninterrupted. We reached the winter camping lot. It sounds worse than it is. In fact, we have a prime location on the waterfront, for budget winter prices. Nonetheless, it’s probably 20 degrees centigrade (sea 24!). That’s not winter…

We’ll stay here for a couple of days, and I hope to soon find out whether the long-nosed vipers are already out of hibernation! Finding my favorite viper is a main goal this trip.

View from our camping spot…
This sunset snap I literally took from our camper toilet while taking a leak. I take an opportunity as it arises. There’s no shame in that…

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

2 thoughts on “Very cool birds

  1. I think you’ve been unlucky not to have close up views of griffon vultures in the Pyrenees. A few years ago we just about had a large group join us for lunch, above Bera (we think a cow must have just given birth in the next field — they like the afterbirth). They cruised in just over our heads and landed behind some trees where we couldn’t get to them to see what they were up to. I’ve also had close encounters on the Col des Tentes, where they will fly up the valley at the same level as the walking path, and if you stop at the ski station for lunch, you can watch them coming and going from their cliff perch just across the ravine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure it was bad luck. I’ve seen dozens there, but was relatively low in canyons. That sounds like some pretty good experiences too! They’re amazing birds. I never realized that afterbirth is also a good food source. Makes a lot of sense!


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