OP – The Blog

July 2nd, 2014

Behind The Shot: “Johnny Walker” by Clint Ralph – KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Posted By David Alexander Willis
A Jackal buzzard seemingly walking taken in the Drankensburg mountain range KwaZulu-Natal South Africa on a cliff

“Johnny Walker” by Clint Ralph

This vulture hide is situated at the top of the Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, on the edge of a cliff. The thermals created by the cliff create the ideal flying environment for the very rare and endangered Bearded vulture and Cape vulture. My partner and I had made our way up the steep mountain to arrive every morning before light to lay down some bones on the cliff ledge to attract these birds of prey. We did this for three days with the only visits from jackals, baboons and Pied crows. We would get the odd fly-by by Bearded vultures, but no landings, which is what we were there for.

Bearded vulture swooping in for a landing in the Drankensberg mountain range KwaZulu-Natal South Africa

“Bearded Vulture” by Clint Ralph

On the third day, we finally got a landing by a mature Bearded vulture, which was spectacular to say the least with a wingspan of 2.7 meters. Then, in the final hour of sitting and waiting for something to happen, the “famous” Jackal buzzard you see here came swooping in at a tremendous speed. He landed a short distance from the bones and proceeded to march straight to the collection while chasing the Pied crows out of his way. Unfortunately, it was very overcast, which forced us to lower our shutter speeds and push up the ISO to be able to capture the moment. Fortunately for me, he walked right towards me, and I shot him on a small rise in the ground that gave me a good eye-level angle, which added to the appeal of the shot. At the time, I did not realize that I had captured such an unusual pose, however, on getting off the mountain, I was pleasantly surprised with this very unique pose from such a beautiful bird of prey. – Clint Ralph

To see more of Ralph’s work, follow him on Facebook.

Equipment and settings: Canon EOS-1D X camera, Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM telephoto lens – 1/1250th at f/6.3 – ISO 2000


Please leave a comment

  1. Jan Kriek Says:

    excellent photographs
    On a technical note.
    The birds rise on “ridge lift” and not thermals.
    Ridge lift happens when air flows toward the mountain and then rises.
    Thermals occur on flat surfaces when hot air rises and forms large slow moving vortexes

  2. David Alexander Willis Says:

    Thank you for the comment, Jan, you are correct in that these animals primarily use ridge lift, however thermals are simply updrafts that can be created on any surface by uneven heating, including cliffs, mountains, rivers, roads, etc. It does not have to be flat, and thermals can even mix with ridge lift winds.

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