[Tweeters] Condors

B P Bell bellasoc at isomedia.com
Sun Jun 30 18:03:37 PDT 2019

Hi Connie

Thanks for the Condor report. Makes me think of when I first saw a Condor -
it was before the last wild ones were taken in. I was still living in the
Sacramento area and a group of us went down the southern end of the San
Joaquin Valley to a Forest Service Road overlook (there were only twenty
left wild). It was part of the 11th Annual Condor Watch and Tequila Bust (
an annual affair then). I was scanning out over the Valley and watched a
small plane coming toward me (a ways out). Well, I finally figured out this
was not a plane but a Condor. I watched it for 15-20 minutes as it came
right in and passed directly over us. It only flapped its wings once - a
single big flap down and right back up to horizontal. As you say, truly

A few years ago I did see one at the Grand Canyon, nice to see them back.

Good Birding!

Brian H. Bell

Woodinville WA

Mail to bell asoc a t iso me dia dot com

From: Tweeters [mailto:tweeters-bounces at mailman11.u.washington.edu] On
Behalf Of Constance Sidles
Sent: Sunday, June 30, 2019 4:51 PM
To: Tweeters (E-mail)
Subject: [Tweeters] Condors

Hey tweets, for my 70th birthday recently, my husband John gave me the gift
of a year of adventure. We just got back from our second adventure on Friday
(email me privately if you'd like to read about our first adventure, which
involved musical wax moths). We hopped a plane to Las Vegas on Tuesday,
rented a car, and drove to the Grand Canyon to look for California Condors,
a bird I had never seen in the wild. I wanted to have the once-in-a-lifetime
experience of seeing these majestic birds soaring over the same cliffs and
valleys that their ancestors had done during the Pleistocene. Then, they
looked for dead mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, and other
megafauna. Now they've had to scale back their carcasses to elk-size and
smaller, but the soaring and floating are the same.

Before we left, we researched where condors have been sighted most recently.
If you're pining to go, these are good websites to try (courtesy of John):

(1) http://www.peregrinefund.org/explore-raptors-species/California_Condor

(click the button "where they live" for details)

(2) https://www.mygrandcanyonpark.com/things-to-do/where-to-see-a-condor


(4) https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/condors.htm

Our first stop was the south rim of the Grand Canyon, starting at Grand
Canyon Village (where you can stay if you make reservations early enough -
we didn't and stayed in Page nearby, where we also had made reservations,
but only a day or two before we left). Along the south rim is a paved
walking path that takes you right to the edge of the canyon. We started
walking from the El Tovar Hotel to Mary Colter's Lookout, the best places to
search for soaring condors.

Sure enough, at 11:10 ( condors tend not to be early risers), a magnificent
condor came shooting up over the rim of a cliff and spiraled overhead,
showing off its little pale feet (if anything about this bird can be called
little) tucked up under its tail, its yellowish head turning this way and
that, and its 9-foot wingspan outspread to show off the white wing linings.
The sight was breathtaking - or maybe I was just gasping from the altitude,
but I don't think so.

No sooner had the condor disappeared into the distant blue than a
Zone-tailed Hawk zipped around the canyon bend to soar beneath me, doing its
own version of hunting. I have sought this bird in vain for 20 years, so you
can imagine how my heart was beating to see this lovely creature at last.

Also on view at the Village: black-backed Lesser Goldfinches, Virginia's
Warbler, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, Hairy
Woodpeckers, numerous Turkey Vultures, White-throated Swifts, and Common
Ravens, among others.

After this transcendent experience, we left the Grand Canyon to seek more
condor sites. On our second viewing day, we headed east for the Vermillion
Cliffs, where we scanned the skies from two main sites:

(a) the middle of the Navajo Bridge (for pedestrians) at Marble Canyon off
Highway 89A (didn't see any condors here)

(b) the condor viewing station at House Rock Valley Road (BLM Rd. 1065;
directions to follow) along Vermillion Cliffs National Monument between
Marble Canyon and Jacob Lake.

Along the way, we stopped at the House Rock Wildlife Area, an incredible
sagebrush valley loaded with Sage Thrashers, Black-throated Sparrows, Horned
Larks, and other desert birds. House Rock Wildlife Area is at Forest Service
Road 8910. We also found more jack rabbits than we had ever seen before.
Most were resting under the shade of big bushes along a wash and gave us
wonderful views of their giant ears, translucent in the bright sunlight.
This wildlife area is enormous, with many side roads. We didn't have a good
map so we stuck with the road going directly from the highway, and we didn't
go down it very far. There is no cell phone reception here, so you are on
your own if your car breaks down. We took 3 gallons of water with us, in
case John had to hike back out to the highway, leaving me behind with the
rabbits and the birds.

>From the wildlife area, we drove east on Highway 89A, scanning the

Vermillion Cliffs along the way, to a turnoff at House Rock Valley Road (BLM
Rd 1065, which measured 27.4 miles from Navajo Bridge). After we turned off,
we drove 3 miles north to the condor viewing kiosk (signed) at the side of
the road. This is a great place to sit at a covered picnic table and scan
the cliffs for condors. It's more popular in the winter and early spring
months (so said the signage), when the condors roost on the cliffs. We could
see much whitewashed evidence of this but no condors. Still, we hoped some
would come our way, searching for food, and sure enough, 3 (!) eventually
did. We think 2 of them were a pair, as they circled the thermals together,
but perhaps they were just two chance-met condors. At any rate, at one
point, we had them both in our binoculars as they orbited the thermal under
the pale moon. What a sight!

Greedy for more condors, we drove to our last viewing site, Big Bend at Zion
National Park. This overlook is on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, a paved
road that runs south to north through the park, more or less. You used to be
able to drive it yourself, but now no cars are allowed. Instead, you can
bike or hike or take a free shuttle bus. The shuttle bus stops at 9
different places along the road to drop off anyone who wants off and pick up
anyone who is waiting to be picked up. The shuttles run every 15 minutes or
so. Normally I dislike riding on shuttles, but in this case, it's a great
way to see this part of the park because you can have long moments when
you're all alone, and only the sound of the wind through the trees blends
with the chorus of bird song. No people, no cars, nothing to interfere
between you and nature.

We arrived at the first pickup point, the visitors' center, well before
dawn, which, with the time change was 6:15 a.m. There was already a line of
people waiting for the shuttle - maybe 50 people ahead of us, and believe
me, that is hard to do when you get up as early as we do. They were all
young hikers who wanted off at the first stop, the trailhead to Angel's
Landing, a rugged hike to the tippy-top of the ridge, with sheer drops on
either side. Just to the north of Angel's Landing is a long flat slab of
rock that runs from the top of the ridge to about halfway down the cliff. It
is cut with 3 large cutouts or caves. In the third one down is a condor
nest. To see it properly, we got off at the Big Bend stop and waited for
dawn. As the moon slowly faded into the deep blue of the morning sky, an
immature condor floated by, silent and still, wafted by a breeze I could not
feel. It wasn't just the chill of the morning that made the hair on my neck
stand up. It was the thought that the condors are returning to their ancient
hunting grounds. How I wished the mammoths and mastodons were still here to
greet them. But now people are one of the few remaining megafauna. I made
sure to get up and move around as the condor searched the canyon.

We never did see the nestlings or the parents at this site. We fear the baby
that is thought to have hatched in late May may not have survived. But
another nest in the Vermillion Cliffs has a two-month-old chick that seems
to be doing well. Condors still need our help, but the breeding/release
program has resulted in a population growth from 27 individuals to an
estimated 400+, of which 276 live in the wild. I urge all you tweeters who
haven't experienced them wild and free to do so. Your eyes will never feel
the same. - Connie, Seattle

csidles at constancypress.com

constancesidles at gmail.com

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