California Condors

We spent four wondrous days sitting on cliffs above the Colorado River, the pink Vermillion Cliffs behind, watching California condors.

Now, if you don’t know how amazing this is, let me explain.

In the 1980s, there were only 22 California condors left in the wild.

Twenty-two.

That’s it.

People have been fighting to bring them back from the edge of extinction and now approximately 300 exist in the wild. 100 of them are found in the Colorado River corridor.

These birds are magnificent, with 9.5 foot wingspans, a lifespan of 60 years. Their bald heads and necks allow them to feast away on carcasses without messing feathers. I could go on.

They’re existence is still very tenuous. I am so grateful to those who have fought and worked for these birds. It would be a sad, lonely place without condors in the sky.

I am delighted beyond expressing having had the opportunity to spend so many days watching 22 individuals go about their lives – including some mating displays.

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New Mexico’s National Wildlife Refuges (Part 2)

Below is a list of birds we saw in the 2 wildlife refuges we visited in New Mexico. I realize few others than birders will be interested in this list and this post isn’t exactly the kind that gets likes or reposted about. But that’s not why I’m posting. I’m not writing this for the likes. I’m writing this for the birds.

There were a couple of birds we saw that made our visit a little bit more special, birds we had never seen before. These I’ve put an asterisk beside.

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge:

Ross goose     White-crowned sparrow     Snow gooseSpotted towhee     Sandhill crane                      Red-naped sapsucker     Mallard     American avocet *     Northern pintail                    Killdeer     American wigeon     Western meadowlark     Northern shoveler                   Greater roadrunner     Common goldeneye     Common raven     American coot                        American kestrel     Ruddy duck    Northern harrier     Green-winged teal     red-winged blackbird     Great horned owl     Willet     Red-tailed hawk

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge:

Mallard     American Bittern *     Northern pintail     Northern harrier     Northern shoveler     Pomeraine jaeger     American coot     Snowy egret     Sandhill crane                         Greater egret     Snow goose     Western meadowlark     Ross’ goose     Pied grebe California quail     Red-winged blackbird     Bufflehead.    Loggerhead shrike

Unfortunately, these are partial lists. We focused less on taking notes and more on just being in the moment. These lists were compiled by memory as we were driving out of the refuges after sunset.

I am not someone who tells people, “You have to go.” Where a person “should” go depends on their interests, which are not always the same as mine. I will, however, proclaim, if you are an avid birder, GO to Bosque Del Apache and Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuges.

I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

 

Contemplating The Abyss and Condors

A national parks wildlife monitoring employee on the edge of the Grand Canyon’s south rim was wielding telemetry gear which piqued our curiosity. He was listening for condors, one in particular who was nearby but not visible. We were not lucky enough to see one in the four days we spent hiking in the Grand Canyon but it is lovely to hear their numbers are increasing. An ancient bird (a bird which once fed on mastodons) that was nearly wiped out is returning to the skies. And the Grand Canyon this year is celebrating three successful condor nests. Last year they did not have any successful nests and the year before only one. Life for the condor is still precarious – there are only five hundred of them in the world – but hopefully more people will join others advocating for the protection of wild places and give space to wild things.

Keep Wildlife Wild/Enough With The Selfies

Driving out of Zion National Park cars ahead were parked at all peculiar angles, blocking traffic. Doors were left open. More than a dozen people stood in the middle of the highway snapping selfies beside a stunned desert bighorn sheep. In trying to cross the road the ram’s attempt at survival in its rapidly fragmenting habitat was less important to these people than getting that ‘awesome’ selfie shot. I secretly willed the ram to turn his horns upon the tourists but instead he hung his head low in defeat and turned back to the hill he had scrambled from. Without a whisper of gratitude the people jumped back in their vehicles, engines roaring off to the next selfie opportunity.

I was stunned by the lack of concern people showed. Desert bighorn sheep are endangered. Life in the desert is precarious enough they don’t need people chasing them with phones and cameras. Instead of running after wildlife for a selfie, why not simply sit quietly and watch them. Spend a little time just being in their environment, in their presence.

If you’re wondering about this photo, I took this a few years ago when I was hiking in the east end of Zion. The photo is not quite crisp because it was taken with the zoom of my point and shoot camera maxed. I then arced around them and continued on my day and left them to theirs. It’s not a great photo but my memory of that meeting makes up for the shabby photo. A lot of my wildlife photos are subpar and I’m alright with that, even if it means getting less likes).

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