Lammergeier at Mount Olymp/ Macedonia

BartgeierThe rush of wind through feathers is the only sound to break the silence as a huge bird glided by just a few meters from a crack high in the mountains around Mount Olymp. A Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) soars above the mountains, scavenging for a meal. It is the only species of bird that cracks open bones to feast on the marrow inside. Lammergeiers are able lifting large carcasses to great heights. Then they drop them onto the rocks below to break up the bones and access the marrow. Smaller bones are swallowed whole.

Like other mountainous areas of Greece, Mt Olympus has a fine selection of raptors and these include Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus), Cinereous Vulture or Eurasian Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus), Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes), Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)  and Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus). A national park in the eastern part of the Olympus Mountains of northern Thessaly includes some of the most dramatic scenery in the whole of Greece and is popular with hikers as well as birders. Lammergeiers were regularly seen until a few years ago and they were thought to be no longer permanently resident in the area.

But this year, an adult Lammergeier has been seen and photographed on the 6th April in Mt. Olympus by Thomas Nikolopoulos. The Lammergeier in flight appeared with a Golden Eagle on the grey sky.  This is the first observation of an adult plumage bearded vulture since several years.

Two years ago, though, a 2nd-3rd calendar year bird was observed. Lammergeiers do occur in Crete, where the population is stable, at around 7 pairs. In the Alps the population has been increasing rapidly, and now reaches 50 pairs, but they are relatively less common in the eastern Alps. There are only 3 breeding pairs in Austria.

Other sought-after species include mountain-dwellers such as Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris), Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumayer), and Eurasian Crag-Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) in the gorges. Yellow-billed Choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) and Rufous-tailed Rock-thrushes  (Monticola saxatilis) are breeding in the higher reaches as well as Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria) and White-winged Snowfinch (Montifringilla nivalis).

The forest has a good selection of woodpeckers. Examples are White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) and Grey-faced Woodpecker (Picus canus).

Seeing the birds in the National Park requires a good deal of walking. Well-marked trails lead through the park most of the time through shady pine and beech forests. Forests hold beech, Greek Fir (Abies cephalonica), Black Pine (Pinus nigra) and Bosnian Pine (Pinus heldreichii) in the higher parts and up to the treeline which can be 2,500m in places. Incredibly large is the number of Common Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) scurrying across the path every few meters. The steep cliffs are the habitat of the Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumayer), the Wallcreeper and the White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus).

It is always worthwhile to investigate bent rotten trees and old rotten stumps. Rhinoceros beetle, Alpine goat, mourning bear and numerous beetles develop as larvae in deadwood and can be observed there after hatching. Countless cyclamen line the path in autumn, orchids and chess flowers bloom in the spring. The Carnivorous plant Pinguicula crystallina ssp. hirtiflora grows in moist places next to streams and rivers. The species prefers to settle on limestone rock walls or in shady locations, which are moistened by water spray or trickle. Only a few meters further you might discover the most famous plant of Olympus: the endemic Jancaea heldreichii. This endemic plant occurs only on Mount Olympus and grows on steep, vertical, even overhanging limestone cliffs. The rare Mt Olympus endemic Jankaea heldreichii can be seen e.g. at the waterfall near Prionia. At the exit of the Enipeas Gorge lives a large colony of the eastern subspecies of the Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) in the rock walls.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic.  Trips to remote places like this one to capture images of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful. The nice image of the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give me a message, if I could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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