The resting-place of the Griffon Vulture
is always on some lofty spot. The Arabian Vulture will build within easy
reach, the eagle prefers lofty situations, but nothing but the highest
and most inaccessible spots will satisfy, the Vulture. The birds are fond
of building in the rock-caves which are found in so many parts of Palestine.
||In Tristram's 'Land of Israel' there is
a very graphic description of the Griffons' nests. This was written
in the 19th century when egg collecting was sadly all too common, but
the words clearly portray the inaccessibility of the nests and the
difficulty in reaching them:
"A narrow gorge, with limestone cliffs
from. five hunched to six hundred feet high, into which the sun never penetrates,
walls the rapid brook on each side so closely that we often had to ride
in the bed of the stream. The cliffs are perforated with caves at all heights,
wholly inaccessible to man, the secure resting-place of hundreds of noble
griffons, some lammergeiers, lanner falcons, and several species of eagle...One
day in the ravine well repaid us, though so terrific were the precipices,
that it was quite impossible to reach any of the nests with which it swarmed.
'We were more successful in the Wady
Hamam, the south-west end of the plain, the entrance from Hattin and the
Buttauf, where we spent three days in exploration. The cliffs, though
reaching the height of fifteen hundred feet, rise like terraces, with enormous.masses
of debris, and the wood is half a mile wide. By the aid of Giacomo, who
proved himself an expert rope-climber, we reaped a good harvest of griffons'
eggs, some of the party being let down by ropes, while those above were
guided in working them by signals from others below in the valley.
It required the aid of a party of a dozen to capture these nests. The idea
of scaling the cliff with ropes was quite new to some Arabs who were herding
cattle above, and who could not, excepting one little girl, be induced
to render any assistance. She proved herself most sensible and efficient
'While capturing the griffons' nests,
we were re-enacting a celebrated siege in Jewish history. Close to us,
at the head of the cliffs which form the limits of the celebrated Plain
of Hattin, were the ruins of Irbid, the ancient Arbela, marked principally
by the remains of a synagogue, of which some marble shafts and fragments
of entablature, like those of Tell Hum, are still to be seen, and were
afterwards visited by us.
'Hosea mentions the place apparently
as a strong fortress: "All thy fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman
spoiled Betharbel in the day of battle " (Hos. x. 14). Perhaps the prophet
here refers to the refuges in the rocks below.
'The long series of chambers and galleries
in the face of the precipice are called by the Arabs Kulat Ibn Maan, and
are very fully described by Josephus. These;
cliffs were the homes of a set of bandits,
who resided here with their families, and for years set the power of Herod
the Great at defiance. At length, when all other attempts at scaling the
fortress had failed, he let down soldiers at this very spot in boxes by
chains, who attacked the robbers with long hooks, and succeeded in rooting
them all out. The exploit was familiar to us by an engraving of the "Penny
Magazine" of old, and little did we dream that we should one day storm
those very caves in a similar way ourselves. We could not but regret that
Herod had neglected .to leave his chains and grappling-irons for our use.
'The rock galleries, though now only
tenanted by griffons, are very complete and perfect, and beautifully built.
Long galleries wind backwards and forwards in the cliff side, their walls
being built with dressed stone, flush with the precipice, and often opening
into spacious chambers. Tier after tier rise one after another with projecting
windows, connected by narrow staircases, carried sometimes upon arches,
and in the upper portions rarely broken away. In many of the upper chambers
to which we were let down the dust of ages had accumulated, undisturbed
by any foot save that of the birds of the air; and here we rested during
the heat of the day, with the plains and lake set as in a frame before
us. We obtained a full zoological harvest, as in three days we Captured
fourteen nests of griffons."
It was noted in the 19th Century by the Reverend JG Wood that
although these caverns and rocky passages were much more accessible than
most of the places whereon the Griffons build, the local people would never
venture to enter them, being deterred not so much by their height, as by
their superstitious fears. The Griffons instinctively found out that man
never entered these caverns, and so took possession of them.
As the young Griffons are brought up in
these lofty and precipitous places, it is evident that their first flight
must be a dangerous experiment, requiring the aid of the parent. At first
the young are rather nervous at the task which lies before them, and shrink
from trusting themselves to the air. The parents, however, encourage them
to use their wings, take short flights in order to set them an example,
and, when they at last venture from the nest, accompany and encourage them
in their first journey.