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Counting Bearded Vultures in Bisisthal

I took a step out of my comfort zone and did something that I really wanted to do, something I enjoyed immensely, but something that I wouldn't have usually done because this sort of interaction makes me nervous.

I came across a request for volunteers to help with a count of Bearded Vultures in Switzerland. So I bit the bullet and wrote to offer my help.

The offer was accepted, and on Saturday I spent the day sitting on top of a mountain in Bisisthal. This was my first time in Bisisthal, but it won't be the last. Although I spent most of my time looking down on it from near to Höchegg, it is a stunningly beautiful valley.

On Friday, I kept looking at the cable-car webcam, watching the cloud cover getting thicker and the visibility dropping down to a matter of meters. Then just as the visibility could get much less, it started to snow. The temperature on the weather forecast for the next day started to drop below zero. The snow stopped in the afternoon and it started to get clearer, but just as the light started to fade and the last images could be seen on the webcam, snow started to fall again! The forecast was now showing -5°C, but at least it was still showing clear skies for most of Saturday. There was still hope.

The next morning I left home at 0500h for the 2.5 hour drive. As I got into Bisisthal the sky was getting lighter and looked to be clear. By the time I got to the Sahli-Glattalp cable-car station it looked great, damn cold, but a completely clear sky.

I was about 20 minutes early for the cable-car. In this time I had a lovely chat with the person running the cable-car. I forgot to get her name, but would like to thank her again for the coffee, it was very much appreciated.

I saw over the cameras at the station that there had been more snow but it was only when I was at the top, that a slight problem became clear, or rather not clear at all; I could not see the path!

But first things first, before going too far I had to take a few shots as the sun was just coming over the peaks and the snow was fresh.

I knew roughly which way I have to go, but with up to half a meter of snow in some places hiding the occasional stream and unexpected holes, it was going to take longer to get to where I needed to be.

Nearly an hour later after a couple of wrong turns, I made it to close to where I was meant to be! Unfortunately I couldn't go further as it was too risky due to the ice and gradient of the slope. I took a quick look and found a new spot higher up the hill which fit the bill.

The next picture is a panorama of the location taken using my mobile phone using the panorama function.

The sun was still adding some colour to the sky, and I pulled a little more of it out of the RAW file for this shot.

I remained at this location from arriving at around 1000h, until just after 1500h. From 1000h until 1427h, the only thing that I saw in the sky was made out out metal. There were several planes and one helicopter.

After a few hours I got a touch distracted and used a 12 second timer to take a couple of pictures of me

In the afternoon the sun came out and I realised that I had forgotten my sun-creme. It was getting very bright and I could feel it starting to burn so I had to improvise.

The scarf didn't work well, but I think that it would have been a lot worse without it. When I arrived home I had a two tone face. Below the glasses red, and above them, white. Rather like a Polish Flag.

With the weather as it was, I couldn't resist the temptation to take some more landscape images. I wish that I had brought the CPL along though.

Half an hour before the count was planned to come to an end, I spotted 6 Alpine Chough flying towards me, and just after that a Golden Eagle circling and gaining altitude in a thermal over Hängst.

This bird flew out of slight, but ten minutes later I saw another one or possibly the same one circling over the same thermal which flew away in another direction.

As the eagle was at least a hundred metres above me each time I saw it; even with lens that I had, a m43 300mm with a 1.4x converter bringing it to 420mm ( a 35mm equivalence of 840mm ) I couldn't get any closer.

This happened one more time about twenty minutes later. The same thermal then off in a new direction.

By this time I had to go back to the cable-car station. The snow was thawing and turning the slope into a mudslide and the part of the path that I could see into to a stream. I wasn't sure how long it would take to get back with the new terrain.

Near the station there was one last photo opportunity with the colours coming back to the pre-sunset sky.

I really enjoyed the day here, so much so that I may return next weekend. If not, I will definitely be there in Spring.


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