Quite a site, quite a sight! A day to remember.
Rites of passage, flights to come. Big day. Big sky. Many thanks.
This is a California Condor chick, almost ready to fledge, at a cliff near Big Sur in the Ventana Wilderness, part of Los Padres National Forest. An incredibly endangered bird, there are less than 500 in the world (of which only about 240 are free-flying and wild, with only about 70 in this area of California) – brought back from a population of just 22 remaining in 1987! Thanks to the incredible dedication and cooperation of many groups, these birds have a second chance.
The California Condor adult has a wingspan of almost 10 feet! They have the longest wingspan of any bird in North America, and there are only a few types of birds that weigh more (two types of swans). These birds live 60 years in the wild, and they are very social birds – the young take many months to leave the nest, and once they do they stay around to learn “condor life” from their parents and community for quite a while.
One flying above leaves me breathless, making it easier to hear the sound of the wind flowing through its feathers as it soars close over my head. It doesn’t seem possible that a bird this size can fly, until it leaps off a perch into the sky above the sea cliffs and extends those giant wings. THOSE WINGS! Seeing one flying above the redwood trees and this steep, rugged wilderness, I am instantly transported to another time, a time when things were much bigger and time moved a little bit slower. We could all use a little of that medicine.
These birds are still desperately in need of assistance to survive in the wild, the biggest risks being suitable habitat and having food that isn’t contaminated with lead bullets. Lead poisoning is one of the biggest risks to these birds’ survival, since they feed only on prey that is dead. Hunters and ranchers using non-lead bullets is a huge help, not just to these birds who are scavengers, but to all the scavengers including bears, foxes, coyotes, golden eagles, turkey vultures, bald eagles, jays, mice, and more. Keeping lead and all types of poisons out of the food chain is key to a healthy ecosystem. There are many incredible non-poison predator deterrent systems being developed that are incredibly effective and have minimal impact on the food chain. Check out Project Coyote for more great information about non-lethal predator control – and there are many other resources as well (contact me for more).
To help with the effort to restore condors to the skies, with a donation or just to see some really cool webcams and pictures, check out the Ventana Wildlife Society’s webpage and blog!
Thank you Condors and the rugged Ventana Wilderness for reminding me of what is true.
Impossible to go out in the Bay Area and find a camp spot without a reservation on a holiday weekend, you say?
Humph!! (I say)
We decided to head to Big Sur for an impromptu wander on Sunday, and as the darkness and fog closed in on us, we passed campsite after campsite with signs posted “Camp Full.” We were undeterred. After a bit of searching, we stumbled upon a road that lead us into the mountains above the ocean cliffs. As we climbed up the dirt road, the fog grew so dense that at times it was difficult to see more than 10 feet in front of the vehicle.
Up and up we went, snaking up the bending road this way and that, not knowing where we were headed. But something beckoned us on through the cold fog.
Suddenly, the mist parted and we were treated to the just-past-full moon shining out at us through the bit of tree canopy above us! Still, we climbed, but with a little more hope in our hearts that we would find a good place to sleep.
As if in a dream before we had even laid our heads down, we found ourselves a spot above the clouds, showered in moonlight. It was as if we were the only ones left in the world.
The stars twinkled at our feet above the layer of fog that was blanketing the ocean which lay thousands of feet below us, as the moon climbed higher in the sky behind our heads. A great-horned owl hooted to us in the distance, as we struggled to close our eyes to the beauty all around us so we could get some rest. In contrast to the cold damp foggy air below us on the coast, it was warm and still where we laid, with almost no need for covers. And certainly no need for a tent, which would only serve to obscure the view. It was so bright I could have read a book by the moonlight.
In the morning I awoke several times before dawn in a half-sleep state, seeing the brightly shining planet Jupiter leading the sun up in the orange sky to the East. The moon still claimed the heavens though, sitting to the West in the purple light above the layer of fog over the Pacific Ocean.
When I came to full consciousness at sunrise, the spectacle before us just became more surreal.
We wandered around a bit before we left the area, going out west to the farthest point on one of the “fingers” of the mountain that stretched out towards the sea. The views were tremendous, both near and far. This one square foot of fine dust on the trail held so many tracks it was mind boggling, including those of rodents, insects, birds and a gray fox.
As we headed back down the dirt road out of our dream world and into the fog below us, something on the side of the road caught my eye. It was the tracks from our old friend, Mrs. Puma. She had passed on the road the night before, just as we had! Sort of silly that I had just traveled all the way to Colorado and Wyoming to study them when they are all over the place here, her tracks seemed to say.