What do you do when you find a dead Pink River-Dolphin washed up on the riverbank? Start snapping pictures of the vultures, of course.
This was perhaps the biggest surprise during my Amazonian adventure. I knew King Vultures were in the area, and that they were not terribly uncommon, but for some reason, I dismissed them as a possibility. My gut told me I wasn’t going to see one.
However, on my final night in Pacaya-Samiria, we were running late for a spot where our guide had seen about 200 Blue-and-yellow Macaws a few days before. We had just successfully tracked down Hoatzins, which were my #1 target bird; we counted 20 of them! As we were motoring down the river, I was scanning ahead when I saw them—7 King Vultures and a bunch of Black Vultures on the bank. I yelled something incomprehensible and nearly fell off my seat (or maybe I did fall; it is all a haze of excitement) as I reached forward and tapped our guide on the shoulder. Pointing, I excitedly shouted, “King Vultures, King Vultures, King Vultures!!!” Our guide directed the driver to move closer to the bank as I fired off a few shots with Kevin’s camera (see photo in comments). I then looked back, and reluctantly, asked Kevin if he wanted his camera. Of course he did! Who could blame him?
I waited patiently as Kevin fired off some great photos. Okay, perhaps “patiently” is a huge understatement—really, I was twitchy as hell, but contented myself with getting fantastic looks at the vultures and noting the different stages of plumage! FINALLY, it was my turn. Kevin handed me the camera, and I got busy documenting the plumages—our guide explained to me that there were at least three different age groups present.
There are seven different species of New World vultures (Family Cathartidae), and I saw five of them in Peru. King Vulture (lifer!), Greater Yellow-headed Vulture (lifer!), Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (lifer!), Turkey Vulture, and Black Vulture. Add in the Andean Condor that I saw in Ecuador in 1998, and I only have one left to see: the California Condor. Hopefully, I’ll get my chance to see one soon and round out the vultures.
We ended up spending too much time with the Hoatzins and King Vultures, and missed the macaws. But that is okay. Totally worth it! That just leaves the Blue-and-yellow Macaws as one of my top target birds for my next trip!
King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa)
Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, Peru
10 August 2018