Paragliding with birds of prey is a bit like sailing with dolphins playing at the bow of the sailboat !
It's pure magic, time stands still, nothing exists except the gaze of these maestros of the peaks. The bird is no longer a silhouette; a few meters from me, each feather of the bird seems to come to life, I could almost stretch out my arm to touch it. Yet under our feet, there is emptiness. 2000 meters separate us from the ground, from the trees, our link is invisible; the thermal lift, allowing us to dance and draw circles in the heavens. The objective; to gain altitude, the winning strike for a long flight, a bonus, to go even further. For one of us, to go ever further to vibrate within the clouds and with its inhabitants. For the other, to spot a prey, a carcass, to survive. But for these beings who populate the skies, the simple pleasure of flying exists. Flying plunges us into an intoxication.… Men and birds united through this same passion, with this same addiction.
I have been bird watching since I was 11 years old. I never go on a trip without bringing my ornithology guide of the geographical area explored. I have often had the chance gain height under my paraglider. It is a wonderful opportunity to meet birds, under a cumulus cloud or at the top of a mountain peak. The ornithologist is often frustrated by the distance that can seperate him from the soaring birds which travel from thermal to thermal. His scope may allow him to identify it, but it often barely even ressembles a fly through the lense . To observe birds in free flight is to share the elements, and to establish a dialogue with them. They may sometimes be a bit snobby but are more often curious and very rarely agressive.
For over 20 years, in the four corners of the planet, I have been able to observe dozens of different species of birds of prey in flight, often only from a few meters away.
Some destinations are rare finds for these encounters of the third type: the Himalayas and Ethiopia for example, where high densities of raptors, and a great diversity of species make each flight extraordinary.
Of course, several adventures remain particularly engraved in my memory:
In Tanzania, during a thermal flight over the Rift Valley, between Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro National Park, along Lake Natron, hundreds of white pelicans, yellow billed storks, open-bill storks and Marabou storks joined me in the air among Tawny eagles, Verreaux eagles and Rüppel vultures.A few kilometers away, the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano was erupting…
In Patagonia, during a cross-country flight between El Bolson and Bariloche, a condor perched on a ledge takes off under my feet and ascends in a small thermal. Below, the emerald lakes are calling me! I will land after a few hours and 80km covered (50 miles !), to throw myself into the crystal clear waters as soon as I get out of my harness !
This fall I went to Nepal and despite the galloping urbanization in the countryside, the birds of prey were present. These photos illustrate my last encounters. In October-November, thousands of Steppe Eagles transited from their nesting grounds in Central Asia on the foreground of the Himalayas towards their winter quarters, and I was able to wind up in the middle of dozens of eagles simultaneously. The Himalayan vultures are real companions, extremely curious, they enjoy surfing the leading edge of my wing, sometimes following us from thermal to thermal on several transitions. Sometimes a black eagle, a Bonelli's eagle, a snake eagle would cross my path.
In many ways paragliding and ornithology can be precious allies!