Condor encounters: Big Sur
- Hello Birders,
I'd like to share(somewhat belatedly) a couple of condor experiences that I had in Big Sur this past Monday the 22nd and the 23rd that I just can't stop thinking about.
Long have I refrained from making any effort to see released, zoo-bred condors with tags and radio antennas attached. I started birding casually in 1974 as a young teen in No.Cal. before moving to Atlantic Canada in '86 where I became more serious- hence it became a nagging regret that I never made the effort to see a truly wild condor when I had the chance. I had blown it! So even after having moved back over 10 years ago, I still didn't want to see the condors (especially when they were behaving like feral pigeons looking for handouts). Well, times have changed, the condors have been acting more wild lately, i. e. nesting, finding a whale carcass on their own etc.
I decided it was time to see a free-flying Gymnogyps californianus while I still have a chance, but preferably not at Pinnacles, where they currently seem to be too predictable and managed. It had to be Big Sur.
So I took my non-birding teenage daughter and her friend camping this weekend thru Tuesday. Other than getting drenched on Sunday, our activities consisted primarily in day hikes and beachcombing. Monday we hiked the moderately strenuous but spectacular Ewoldsen Trail at Julia Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. At the top of the ridge
I had my first condor sighting which lasted only about six seconds before the bird dissapeared behind the ridge. It was the way I wanted to see one: no man-made accouterments visible either on the bird or anywhere around me, even highway one, 1800 feet below me and to the west was out of sight Only the ocean, the mountans and the sky with a huge dark silhouette, with massively long and broad wings held flat with the the wingtips upswept, the long primary "fingers"very distinctive sailed over the ridge toward the sun. A vision of ancient California, a phenomenal bird at a quintessential Big Sur scene (some say this trail is the most scenic dayhike in Big Sur) Even though or rather because the bird never reappeared, I was ecstatic! I would never see a number tag on that bird. That's the way I wanted to remember my first condor. The only bummer: the girls ran about a quarter mile ahead and missed this spectatcle.
Next day: on the way home we decided to stop at the secluded and swank Post Ranch Inn ($1,000 per night!) perched 700 feet above the Pacific. We hoped to see the Inn's restaurant Sierra Mar famed for its views and architecture and maybe even get in for a coffee(could not afford a lunch there) I left the bins in the truck this time, why I don't know. As we climbed the stairs from the reception area to the top of the hill just before entering the restaurant, and 40 feet above our heads a huge adult condor sails over,heading south, the naked eye view was perfect, awe-inspiring. I ran back down to get the binocs. I would get several more "crippling" views as the British say (once while having a double cappucino at the window table) of a total of two adult birds (#71& 81) over the next hour or so. The other restaurant patrons also took notice, these birds demand attention! The bartender told me lately he sees them twice a day! My daughter and friend were impressed. It was a
great a thrill, but it all seemed to civilized. I would reccomend a hike on the Ewoldsen Trail ( condors are sighted there frequently) to the ridge and wait all day if you have to.
That nagging regret is mostly gone, I was transported back in time. I don't care if the sighting was not ABA countable, the Condor has an honorable and very memorable place on my list.
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