Mark Cocker

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A great new adventure began in 2012 when I acquired a little over five acres of neglected fen woodland on the banks of the River Yare. The intention over the next years is to upraise its wildlife potential through practical work and with the support of others, but especially my friend, poet Matt Howard. Blackwater Blog is a way of recording these slow-won achievements and celebrating this glorious patch of wild Norfolk.

 

Ok, so it's not so much photo of the month as photos. But the unfolding action at the vulture feeding station that I saw recently is so captivating that I feel compelled to use multiple images. Last week I spent a week on the western edge of Extremadura, close to the Portuguese border, in an area called the Sierra de San Pedro, with Helios and Jose, the owners of Photo Raptors, a company specialising in the photography of Spanish birds. No species is more iconic than Black Vulture, which has achieved higher breeding densities in this wooded range than anywhere else in the world.

 

The birds are regularly fed on butchers' discards and are so familiar with Helios' routine and vehicle that they start to circulate the moment he arrives on the track. We sat for seven hours in rain and sunshine watching Black and Griffon Vultures interact. I can honestly say that it is one of the wildlife highlights of 2017. The male Black Vultures are among the world's heaviest birds of prey, weighing anything up to 12.5kg. What's most compelling is that the birds have strangely ritualised walks when the approach a food source and they wish to displace another feeding vulture. In the Griffons it is a strange, high, goose-stepping action, often with wings outstretched. But in the Black Vulture it is a John-Wayne-like bar-room swagger with the wings held out and down and with a heavy tread tilting the bird left and right as it muscles towards the meat. They look wonderful and while they often seem to be involved in open brawls, with some birds falling flat on their backs as above, actually little real violence is ever committed. The behaviours seem a way of reconciling individual hunger and need to the collective requirements of the flock. I was entranced and here for good measure is a little moving footage on youtube that I posted earlier.

© Mark Cocker 2013

Photo of the Month

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