Monday, August 16, 2010

California Condors Twenty-five Years Later

Back on August 27, 1981, my father and I went searching for condors on Mt. Pinos in southern California.  After hours of searching, we were fortunate to have two adults fly right over our heads at the lookout there.  At the time, there were no more than 20 something birds left in the wild.  It was a breathtaking experience and one that galvanized my interest in birds and endangered species.  A couple of years later, my buddy Hugh and I made a trip up to the same mountains and again had some wonderfully close condors.  These were some of the last free-flying condors left in the wild.

It seems amazing that some twenty-five years has passed since my last encounter with this critically endangered species.  A previous visit to the Grand Canyon for condors was weathered out, so I was determined to have a look on my way home from a Las Vegas concert weekend.  I arrived about 4:45 pm at the south rim of the canyon.  Within about ten minutes I had spotted the first one, thanks to a tip from a passing walker.  After scoping it from a distance, I decided to find a closer vantage point and was rewarded with some fantastic views of one.  After viewing it for a few minutes, it did some wing stretches and took flight before departing to the west.  While celebrating the moment with a family of curious tourists, a second bird appeared circling nearby.  These one spiraled closer and closer before settling on a rock almost directly below us.  I set up my scope on this bird and a number of curious tourists took turns enjoying this rare creature.

The first condor seen appears to be #223, sporting tag number 3 on its left wing.  The right wing tag seems to be missing.  This male bird was hatched on April 18, 2000 and originally released in February 2001.  The second condor seen is #246 (tag number 46).  Another male, this one was born April 29, 2001.  Both birds were hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.  At last count, there are some 372 condors living, 75 of these are free-flying birds that regularly visit the Grand Canyon region.  In recent years, these birds have been spending a lot of time in southern Utah.

Condor #223 sits on a rock outcropping shortly before taking flight for parts unknown.
Condor #246 soaring out over the Grand Canyon.  It is in flight that the massiveness of these birds becomes most apparent.  
Condor #246 coming closer as he prepares for a landing.  
Condor #246 at rest below us.  He was quite the tourist attraction on this Sunday afternoon.