The IOD (International bearded vulture Observation Days) is usually on the first Saturday in October. On this day several hundred volunteers and people from the bearded vulture reintroduction projects spend the day out in the mountains to count and identify bearded vultures in a simultaneous day count across the Alpine arch.
In early October the weather can be a big challenge as the first snow might already arrive up in the mountains. This was no different this year and on Friday it snowed as low as 1500 meters. This made the trip up to the mountains on Saturday morning all the more adventurous. Some mountain passes were closed and observation sites could not be accessed due to the snow. However, if you made it to the mountains, an amazing day was waiting: Snow, blue sky and sun. Only some observation sites had fog and clouds for part of the day. The snow helped to spot flying bearded vultures. In contrast to eagles, bearded vultures often fly low near the ground and are therefore more difficult to spot than birds flying in the sky. But with the snow the contrast was perfect.
Once arrived at the observation site, the waiting begins. The landscape is searched with binoculars, the eye looks for something which is moving. And then, in the distance a big bird is flying and with the binoculars it is immediately clear that there is an adult bearded vulture flying. What a good start to the day! The time of the observation is recorded, as well as the flight direction. Suddenly, next to the adult bird another bearded vulture and a golden eagle become visible. The second bearded vulture has still a blackish head and is younger. A closer look later in the day showed that its a bird in its 4th calendar year and that it is Noel-Leya – a bird released in 2014 in the same valley. Since then he explored other parts of the Alps. You can read more about Noel-Leya here>>
The birds disappear behind the mountain ridge and again the exact time and direction where they disappear is written down. This is important to later calculate the number of different birds which were observed at all observation sites over the whole Alps.
On that day we were really lucky and the two bearded vultures were present almost all day. At some point, Noel-Leya was carrying food in its feet and landed in a cliff to feed on it. The adult bird was perched not far away. After one hour of rest, both took of and disappeared in a northern direction. We waited for another little bit, and started to leave our observation site just after 15h, the official ending of the IOD. It was an amazing day up in the mountains and we were lucky to observe the two bearded vultures!
The IoD is coordinated by the International Bearded Vulture Monitoring, a network coordinated by the VCF. All local coordinators will send the observations and their estimates of observed bearded to the IBM coordinator. He will then produce a report in the next months which will give an estimate of the number of bearded vultures currently living in the Alps.