Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Afternoon of the Condor

Southbound.  California Highway 1, along that spectacular piece of our planet called Big Sur.  This particular February day was sunny with some ocean haze screening really good looks at Grey Whales migrating just off-shore.  We stopped frequently to admire vistas, examine flora, search for geocaches and, of course, look at birds.  Raptors can abound along the steep slopes bordering the eastern side of the road, and that day we saw numerous Red-tailed Hawks of various color morphs.  There were Kestrels, a few Cooper's Hawks and a Sharpie.  But we kept our eyes on the high ridges, scanning for The Prize of the Day.  We'd had reports that three California Condors were being frequently seen along a particular stretch of Route 1, soaring just above the ridges.  Every once in a while a distant Turkey Vulture would cause our hearts to skip a beat, but as the day wore on, we began to think we weren't going to be lucky Condor-spotters.

We had stopped at a sizeable pull-off opposite a deep canyon which led up toward the high country of the Ventana Wilderness.  No soaring condors in the sky above the fire-scarred peaks.   Turkey Vultures.  A couple of Red-tails.  A Cooper's. We debated going "just a couple more miles maybe?" versus turning and heading back north.  Suddenly a bright white splotch high on a very steep wooded slope above towering ledges caught my husband's eye.

California Condors, Big Sur February 2012
from video clip; Susan Fogleman all rights reserved
Condors!  Three of them!  Two appeared to be full adults, and the third looked a little younger. Nearly a half-mile above us they were perched on a dead redwood trunk that had lodged among its neighbors when it fell. As we cheered our good fortune, we saw one of the adult birds open its wings, and next thing we realized it was standing on the back of the other adult.  Mating California Condors!  Elated, we watched, photographed and filmed the birds for almost an hour as they preened, changed positions on their perch, and basked in the afternoon sunshine. During that time we observed the adult birds copulating three times.  We were able to share our telescope views with many people who stopped to see what we were looking at.  

For recent information about the Condor Recovery Project and the efforts of the Ventana Wildlife Society check out the newsletter Ventana News and also click on links you can find there.  According to the VWS  condorblog as of April 25 this year there were seven nests in central CA, at least 5 were still active, and two of those have nestlings. I'd like to think that one of those chicks is the offspring of the birds we saw that February afternoon.
photo by W. Fogleman  2/2012