My encounter with royalty

Since I began to getting involve with the world of bird sightings lovers in the Yucatan Peninsula, I quickly realized that there are certain emblematic species that cannot be missing from the list of sightings of any person who claims to be a true “birder”.

One such species is the King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa), also known as Jungle Condor or Royal Jote. It lives predominantly in tropical lowland forests, from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. It is the only surviving member of the genus Sarcoramphus, which also includes fossil members and there are no recognized subspecies. It is a scavenger bird that often makes the initial cut on the corpses of large animals. Because of its size, it displaces the species of American vultures or smaller vultures when they are near a corpse.

The elderly people I talk to often tell me that here in Campeche city, this vultures were common to see, especially near the areas where fishermen arrived to shore in search of easy food. Unfortunately the current situation is very different, it is extremely difficult to find them, even in protected areas, so admire them in the wild is always an exciting experience.

This fact has made trying to see one a real challenge. My first opportunity came to me recently, after two years of unsuccessful search. Don Enrique, a local villager who accompanied us on our trip through the jungles of the Balam Kin and Balam Ku Reserves, in the southern state of Campeche, told us that he knew a place where the King Vultures congregated in large numbers and was very easy to approach them. At first his remark seemed too much, not to say fanciful. However, the possibility of seeing at least one specimen of the species kept me expectant and enthusiastic.

We got up early and started a hike of about 4 kilometers in the jungle to reach the “Vulture Sanctuary”, name with which Don Enrique baptized the so mysterious place. Walking through the hot and humid jungle, among the foliage, with my camera and my heavy lens meant a major effort, but the prospect of having my first encounter with the royalty gave me the strength to follow.

At about 500 meters from our destination a huge white silhouette passed over our heads. There it was, the majestic King Vulture! We hurried a little and arrived at the sanctuary. And it was one indeed! The place is beautiful and peaceful, great trees to pose, a body of water at their roots and an absolute tranquility.

At the treetops there were between 20 and 30 individuals congregated, adults and youngsters in different stages of growth alike.

It was such my emotion that my hands trembled and I sweated like a pig, so I silently assembled the tripod and set the equipment to shoot calmly. The animals, fortunately, were not disturbed by our presence and continued with their lives as if nothing, which allowed me to make different images.

After a good time photographing them we decided to give them back their accustomed peace and we retired, grateful to have witnessed such a spectacular moment.

My introduction to the royal court was duly complied with!