I remember the first time I saw a griffon vulture. Flying high in the sky, soaring through the canyons of north-eastern Portugal. I couldn’t distinguish any feature besides its immense size – the biggest bird I had ever seen.
My name is Estela. I was born in a city named Coimbra, in central Portugal. Despite having lived my whole life in cities, it is far in the nature that I find the greatest pleasure of being alive. Give me the sight of mountains and the sea, and you got yourself a happy woman. Ah, and birds… The enjoyment of birdwatching.
So, one can only imagine the excitement of being selected to integrate the ESC project “Bird of a Feather Flock Together” and volunteer my time and work in several nature conservation projects throughout epic Croatia.
After a period working in the remote island of Lastovo, it was time to move to a new setting. And so, in July, my fellow volunteers and I started our journey in Beli Visitor Center and Rescue Center for Griffon Vulture, located in the northernmost part of the island of Cres. The beautiful village of Beli lies on top of a hill, looking over the northern Adriatic Sea and the cliffs where the griffon vultures nest – the only population in Europe to do so. Due to that, it is not a rare sight to watch these magnificent birds fly by. Additionally, from time to time, young inexperienced birds end up falling in the sea and, for not being able to swim or stay afloat for a lot of time, require immediate help. The adrenaline runs high when it comes to witness these rescue operations and bringing the birds back to safety of the aviary, where their period of rehabilitation begins, before their return to the wild. To be finally able to see them up close, and more, to be involved in their conservation, it is straight up priceless…
Not only that, Beli is surrounded by one of the most unique and beautiful landscapes of the island – the Tramuntana forest. A whole net of intricated paths, in close connection to their surroundings of wonderful ancient trees, deers lurking in the shadows and birds jumping from branch to branch, give you the feeling of being inside a movie set. Did I just enter Narnia’s closet?
But not all is a bed of roses… Quite literally, if you consider the smell of the carcasses and innards we must deal with. Being the epitome of scavengers, vultures eat nothing but dead animals. As the goal is not only the rehabilitation of recued birds, but also the development of the wild populations, the Centre runs a feeding place where we often provide them with this kind of remains.
Sure, it’s not pretty, but hey… At least you get a nice view over the islands! This serves as a food boost for the wild vultures, as the lack of natural food sources on the last hundreds of years was one of the leading causes of the population decrease…
In less demanding moments, we spend our time in the museum, watching over the birds in rehabilitation, meeting and assisting the visitors from several countries, getting a chance to spread awareness of the aims and ambitions of the Centre and improve our communication skills.
And when the working hours are over, a whole world of possibilities lies just outside the gates…
/ Estela is a participant of the “Birds of a feather flock together” project implemented by the Association BIOM as part of the European Solidarity Corps program. /