jueves, 30 de abril de 2020

Boumort, over the mountains and under the stars (English version)

There is a magic place up there in the mountains that is really worth visiting if you’re into wildlife photography and vultures in particular. It’s about one of these few places to enjoy four out of five Iberian breeding vulture species, not to mention mind-blowing landscapes in the very core of the Catalonian Prepirineos region. The cherry on top is a delightful combination of wonderful people and mouth-watering food, what else to ask for? There is no better way to leave the coronavirus lock-down behind.

Thankfully for wildlife photography enthusiasts, today there is a wide availability of opportunities to experience unforgettable moments. Boumort Game Reserve is one of them and its good number of assets makes it much of a must. This 13,000 hectare mountain reserve is less than one-and-a-half hour drive from Lleida city and only a few km from Tremp. The area offers a good array of outdoor activities other than Red Deer and Wild Boar hunting: 4x4 routes, guided walks and trekking, mammal-watching, bird-watching, Red Deer bellowing, and last but not least, vulture photography from a hide at the feeding station specially prepared for Bearded, Egyptian, Black and Griffon Vultures.

Talking about Boumort is talking about Bearded Vultures; a wonderful spot to enjoy them and take nice shots. Maybe there is no better place to leave the COVID ordeal behind.

Why Boumort? There are as many reasons as birds feeding at the station and people behind the curtain to watch over them. In my professional life I’ve been dealing with vultures for long and thus I’ve seen many of them, behaving in so different ways. Sometimes I had a wonderful time and sometimes had to collect their poisoned carcasses, but this takes a lifetime. At Boumort it’s feasible to see on the same day bird interactions that take weeks or months in normal circumstances or put another way, if you make it here, it’s possible to witness plenty of inter and intraspecific behaviors in very little time.

Interestingly, Boumort photography hide is a Public-run initiative by Generalitat de Cataluya. As a rule of thumb, nature photography hides are privately-owned and so Public offer is rarely available with the exception of Aragón and Catalunya –soon to be joined by Andalucía-. I am of the belief that Public-managed hides are good and needed for a number of reasons. Tax-payers should have the right to enjoy the resources and wildlife that are protected with their support and other than in private schemes this is not possible in most of the country. For this simple but sound reason, I feel like it is a model to follow by other Administrations.

This is the hide itself. It is a small, cute and well designed structure. Note the flock of Griffons in the far left background on their way to the station!

Boumort’s hide is available for national and international amateur and professional photographers, for simple observation, individuals or small family groups. The only requisite is to apply long in advanced through the web site and pay the corresponding fee, which goes entirely to self-sustain and maintenance the facilities as well as the preservation of the reserve. The rest is quite simple, all you have to do is follow the indications of the capable and highly professional staff and make yourself comfortable and sure you’re bringing a good supply of memory cards and camera, why not two cameras instead of just one?

The hide is a nice stone-walled structure for better integration in the landscape. It is fully fitted with wc, comfortable wood benches and spy-glass window slits with 200 degrees field view. The only additional advice is not to forget dressing warm in winter time; we experienced freezing cold temperatures at -12º in January! We stayed for two days and three people and found it quite comfortable. In fact, there is a spectacular show outside so who cares for the inside?

And now I leave you with some pics from the day that need no further explanation:

As far as the birds themselves are concerned, the very highlights of the place are both the Bearded and the Egyptian Vultures. We did not stand a chance with the Egyptians, since we came in right in the middle of winter, but for the Bearded we were really lucky and got magnificent shots of 15 individuals of all age classes. On the other hand 24 different Black Vultures came down and made our delight. The parentals of these Blackies were reintroduced a few years ago by means of the joint project between the regional Government and GREFA. There were also countless numbers of Griffons.

The achievements and results can be summarized through the 7,000 pictures taken as well as some footage. The funny anecdote at the end of the trip, was I got my index finger stiffed for two days, after a combination of cold temperatures and constantly pressing the shutter button of the camera.

We wish to acknowledge Generalitat de Cataluyna; Jordi Palau and Joan Curia from the Reserve Headquarters at Tremp for the warmest welcoming and to the feeding station staff for their enthusiasm and professionalism. A huge thank you to our good friends the Agents Rurals Jordi Pont and Anna Servent for the invaluable help and endless hospitality.

Now we're getting ready for the next go!

This is me walking with unaware vultures. Never being ignored by somebody was so nice :-) :-) :-)

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