Sunday, June 2, 2019

California Condor

The California condor used to be found over large sections of the country. Ancient bones of the condor have been found in southern Florida and Lewis and Clark shot a condor near the mouth of the Columbia River, which separates Oregon from Washington. In 1987 there were only 27 California condors left and they were all captured and transported to the San Diego Wild Animal Park and Los Angeles Zoos for a captive breeding program, making them extinct in the wild.  

They started to release them back into the wild in 1992 and the program expanded to include other zoos and more release sites as the number of hatchlings increased. By 2008 there were more California condors in the wild than in the captive breeding program

There have been a number of release sites: (a) In Central California in the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur, in Pinnacles National Park, and in the mountains above San Simeon in San Luis Obispo County; (b) in Southern California at the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in Ventura County, at the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary in the San Rafael Wilderness in northern Santa Barbara County, and at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Kern County; (c) in Northern Arizona at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument; and (d) in Baja California, Mexico in Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park outside Ensenada. 
The current range of the California condor - taken from Wikipedia. 
At the end of 2017 there were 463 living California condors,  290 in the wild (90 in Central California, 80 in Southern California, 82 in Arizona and Utah, and 38 in Baja, Mexico); and 173 in captivity (spread among the Oregon Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Chapultepec Park Zoo in Mexico City and the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, in addition to the San Diego Wild Animal Park and Los Angeles Zoo). 

I'd never seen a California condor, even in a zoo, as the condors in the breeding programs are not visible to the visiting public. So when I decided to take my two oldest grandgirls on an adventure and was looking at places in Southern Utah where we could find wildlife, a retired U.S. Forest Service employee who now lives in Southern Utah recommend that we visit the Condor Release Site in the Vermilion Cliffs of Northern Arizona. 

At the bottom of Hwy 89A, as it reaches the flat plain below Jacob Lake, we took the dirt House Rock Valley Road (BLM Rd 1065)  north for three miles to a viewing area. The actual condor release site is up on the top of the Vermilion Cliffs and a number of the released condors have remained in the area to nest, so it is a reliable place to view them. 
The Vermilion Cliffs from an area relatively near Jacob Lake. 
Closer to the Vermilion Cliffs.
The Viewing Site.
Signs at the viewing site.

We saw at least four California condors as we saw them all in the air at the same time. They were very far away and we did not get good looks at them, but just to see such a rare bird was a thrill. 
A condor stands on the knob in the middle of the photo. 
A closer view. 
A condor flying near the knob. 
The white is condor poop near nests and perching sites. 
The California condor is black with triangular white patches on the underside of the wings (the best way differentiate between a condor and a vulture is to look for white spots on the underside of the wings). The head and neck has few feathers and the skin can vary from yellowish to reddish orange. It has an ivory color bill and a frill of black feathers around the base of the neck. 
Flying condors.
White patches under the wings.

Blurry close-up.
Another blurry close-up.

Here are a couple of links to web cams of condors: In Big Sur, California; Hopper Mountain NWR in Southern California; and Kofords Ridge nest in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary Southern California.  

1 comment:

  1. They need to come up with some kind of condor outhouse.