“Take a photo of that,” The Family told me. I hate following a bird in flight, because my camera has bad shutter lag. If I try to take something in motion, it is usually gone by the time the shutter opens. But this vulture was soaring predictably on thermals in large circles. I got it roughly in focus and followed it as I released the shutter. It wasn’t such a bad picture, was it?
We looked at it later and it was definitely the Himalayan vulture (Gyps himalayensis), also called the Himalayan Griffon. It certainly did not have the streaks and rufous highlights that would have indicated the Eurasian Griffon. These two are the largest vultures in the Himalayas, with wingspans which can go up to 3 meters. Some of these birds can weigh over 10 Kilograms. I’m not sure how large this was: I could not judge how high it was, and there was nothing in the sky to set a scale. I’m pretty bad at this. We were very excited by this sighting, because in late spring one usually expects to see this bird much higher up in the Himalayas; we were barely 2 Kilometers above sea level. Their normal range includes the Tibetan plateau, and the Falachan valley must be at the southern end of its summer range.
Fortunately the Himalayan vulture has not had a population crash due to the use of diclofenac for treating inflammation in cattle. IUCN has changed the status of this bird to near-threatened anticipating mortalities due to this chemical. However, with stricter control over its use, other vulture populations are recovering, and it may be that the Himalayan Griffon remains largely untouched. I looked at this one circling lazily in the empty sky, and hoped for such a future.