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Throughout our journey we were amazed at the sheer volume of the vultures we saw in Spanish skies.  Nearly every major hill with cliffs had an adornment of wheeling or perched giant birds.  They are only giant when you get the chance to meet them eyeball to eyeball so-to-speak as we did in Monfrague National Park.  This is such a success story for Spain to reinstate the keystone ecological role of scavengers which clean the landscape, help prevent the spread of diseases.  Griffon Vultures were down to only 5000 pairs in Spain a few decades ago but are now stable / growing at 30,000 pairs.  This is despite Spain being ahead of most nations in deploying masses of giant wind turbines along its mountain tops which can sometimes kill raptors in great numbers.  In Andalusia there is a specialist team whose job it is to spy approaching vultures and send emergency calls to the wind farms which then shut down turbines.  The population seems to overcome these sort of losses and poisonings and thrive.  The key must be food and the practice of leaving out carcases for the scavengers.  Paddy told me that in places where transhumance and sheep farming are no longer practised there the vultures may decline.  But in Extremadura, in the Cork Oak savanna they have a stronghold because it is a healthy functioning ecosystem being maintained that way by the land-owners.  The spacing of the oak trees must be perfect for them – enough trees to support wildlife and roosting vultures but not so dense that they cannot run along the ground with a full crop of carrion and get airborne again.  In Monfrague National Park, on the rock outcrops, they nest in good numbers and we were able to watch some of their fascinating behaviours at close hand.  When I illustrated this species for the field guide I really battled to get the right sandy ochre colour on their backs which can be quite salmon on adult birds, matching their sandstone substrate.  This one gave me the chance to find the right hue.

Additional information

Weight0.05 kg
Dimensions42 × 14.8 cm

Fine Art Print, Original Artwork

Rob Davies

Rob studied art at school to A level and has kept the interest in painting going alongside a career in biology and conservation.  Although he prefers to sketch and paint from life in the field, Rob has been commissioned to do exact bird illustrations for various publications including journals, a monograph on the Black Eagle and a field guide to African birds of prey.

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