Giants Castle Vulture Hide South Africa

Giants Caste Vulture hide, also known as the “Lamergeyer hide”, is very popular and has to be booked well in advance. Bookings open in November every year. It is located in the Giants Castle Nature reserve in the Central Drakensberg Mountains, Kwa-Zulu NataL Province, South Africa.

It offers unsurpassed opportunities to photograph the endangered Bearded Vulture also named the “Lammergeyer” and Cape Vulture.  Other birds at the vulture hide to be seen are eagles, ravens and a variety of buzzards.

The well camouflaged vulture hide is on top of one of the ridges and is built into a rock face. You need a 4×4 vehicle to get to the top. We were three people visiting the hide in mid September. Every morning, we have collected a bucket of bones at the Castle Hotel, that you have to put out on the edge of the cliffs in front of the hide.  As it was still very cold, one have to be equipped with a warm clothing, a  big flask of coffee and snacks  as the big wait started. The landscape of this area  is breath taking. Annette celebrated her birthday spoiling herself with a frisk morning hike, whilst Kobus, our friend and I, were waiting for the birds to arrive, having some hot coffee. The  personnel at the hotel  have included a picnic lunch pack for us every day, since we left too early for  having breakfast.

For the first few hours, the only visitors that we had were Ravens and Red Wing Starlings.  We had our first sighting of  Cape Vultures when they circled  the hide several times a bit later during the morning. Later on, they were joined by a juvenile Bearded Vulture, that glided graciously past the hide several times. It was only later in the afternoon, that we had our first sighting  of an adult Bearded Vulture, circling around the hide. What a majestic big bird. The ravens are very active, and we took some good acrobatic pictures of these birds.

The Cape Vulture also known as the Cape Griffon and in Afrikaans it is called “Kransaasvoël”. It is an Old World vulture and endemic to Southern Africa. It is one of the largest Southern African vultures with an average length of up to 115 cm and wingspan of up to 2.6 meters. It is of a creamy-buff colour with dark flight and tail feathers. They are normally the first to land at the hide, and once they  have landed , changes for the bearded vulture to land are much better.

The Bearded Vulture also known as the “Lammergeyer”. Also one of the largest Vultures with an average length of up to 125 cm and a wingspan of up to 2.8 meters. It is reddish yellow or white plumage on the head and breast with grey tail and wings. The Bearded vulture is characterised by its long, narrow wings, elongated body shape, and long, wedge-shaped tail.

Adult Bearded Vultures have the distinguished black strip over the eyes and bristles at the beak that looks like a beard. Due to water that is rich in minerals, and rust coloured and bathing in red dust and mud they are frequently more red and orange. The bearded vulture does not have a bald head like other vultures and has a thick and powerful neck. Due to its very different appearance from other vultures they can easily be mistaken for an eagle.

The juvenile bearded vulture is chocolate brown with golden underparts but also has the distinctive dark beard. I took fantastic fly-by pictures of this majestic  bird. Like other vultures, the Bearded Vulture is a scavenger. It feeds on dead animals and bones,with a diet of about 85% of bone marrow. The name “Lammergeyer” is attributed by farmers, who for many years believed that these birds caught small lambs. It commonly take bones to a weight of 4Kg  up in the air and then drops them onto rocks to break them. If the bone does not break, then the process is repeated until the bone breaks to smaller pieces. They then eat the bone marrow and smaller bones. The bird has strong gastric fluids that can easily digest the bones. 

A Jackal Buzzard won’t leave a free meal and is also a frequent visitor to the hide, competing with the ravens.

The Cape Vultures really kept us busy, and we had some beautiful pictures of them landing and taking off again. I saw some incredible photos from other photographers, who visited the hide where these Cape Vulture and Black Backed Jackals competed for the meat. The photos is just awesome. Maybe one day 🙂

A female Buff Streaked Chat also made a beautiful picture with the excellent DOF and the out of focus mountain in the back ground. They normally love to perch on rocks and high places. They are endemic to Southern Africa.

The Male Buff Streaked Chat. These Chat’s love rocky area’s. They are very photogenic and very tame.

Red Wing Starlings, are common to the hide. The are normally first to arrive. We had always practiced focusing on them and the crows before the big birds arrive.

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2 Comments

  1. Tielman de Villiers February 17, 2019 at 3:21 pm #

    Hello Fanie
    We will be visiting Giants Castle Lammergeyer hide in April 2019
    Can you assist with a few answers please?
    1. What lens length would you recommend for a full frame?
    2. Do the give bones or must you take your own as well (was the case in 2014)
    3. Did you had problems with the crows and jackals?: were a real nuisance in 2014
    regards
    Tielman de Villiers
    tielmandv@gmail.com
    +27 82 786 0625

    • Fanie Heymans February 21, 2019 at 4:21 pm #

      Hi Tielman.

      1. I would suggest the longest lens you can get hold of. I had a Cannon 500mm with a 1.3 crop factor, giving me an equivalent of a 650mm lens.
      The only photos that I did not have to crop in post processing were the Cape Vultures with spread wings landing.
      2. They supplied us with a fresh bucket of bones every morning at Giants Castle restaurant. They even prepared our breakfast nicely packet for taking it along to the Vulture hide, as our accommodation included breakfast.
      3. Nope, we did not even saw one Jackal for the 4 days that we visited the hide. There were a lot of crows, but not really a nuisance. Due to the lack of more frequent visit from the Lammergeyer and Cape Vultures, the Crows kept us busy, and help preventing us from getting bored.

      Let me know if you need anything else. Regards
      Fanie

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