Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The California Condor - Part 3

Two years ago, I wrote about the California Condor, on the occasion of my first chance to view them in the wild. In a follow up post, I added a few pictures taken by my second cousin, Heather, who has mad photography skills.

This year, the kids and I re-visited Pinnacles and were able to see more condors. When we visited before, Pinnacles was a National Monument. In 2013, however, it became our newest National Park. The main change appears to be an increase in the number of rangers to staff the park. I must say, it would be nice if the rest of the Federal Government was as helpful as the National Park Service.

Again, I would like to make a plug for Pinnacles as an unknown gem, kind of in the middle of nowhere (at least by California standards), and full of beauty. The heart of the park is an eroded core of a long-extinct volcano. It also happens to be located on the San Andreas Fault, the boundary between the North American Plate, and the Pacific Plate. On average, the fault moves laterally at the rate of 1.3 inches per year - the same rate as the growth of fingernails. Over the course of many thousands of years, the bulk of the volcanic core has moved north, leaving the sliver of the eastern side 195 miles to the south, in northern Los Angeles County. (That part is called the Neenach Pinnacles.) Hiking is the main attraction, as it is in most National Parks, but there are also talus caves to explore, plenty of wildflowers in most springs, and some spectacular views of the Salinas Valley, and the coastal mountain ranges.

And also condors.

For a bit of history on the California Condor, see my previous post.

If anything, we had an even better condor experience this time.  

First, we were able to get a great view of one from the High Peaks Trail. This is Condor #444, aka “Ventana.” Her biography can be found here.
I was able to get a sequence of photos of her as she left her nest and flew to an outcropping. 

Although I did get some of her on the rock, my cousin-once-removed Judy got a better picture. (With her superior camera. All my photos are with my subcompact Sony Cybershot. Nice and light, but limited.)

Condor #444 “Ventana.” Photo by Judy Whitworth. Used by permission.

Later that evening, back at our campsite, we watched no fewer than five condors circling over the ridge. Pinnacles (and indeed the entire western United States) has hundreds of turkey vultures, but it is possible to distinguish them by their flight patterns. Turkey vultures tend to wobble, and they have a bit of a “V” shape to the wings. Condors don’t turn fast, and they soar with wings straight out. The definitive test, though, is the feather color. Condors have a distinctive white patch forward on the wings, while turkey vultures have white on the trailing edge of the wing. 

With binoculars, we were able to catch a good flash of the distinctive white when the condors would turn at the right angle to the sun. Endlessly and effortlessly circling, higher and higher, until they were dots in the sky. (For a bird with a nine foot wingspan to become a dot, I expect they were pretty darn high in the sky.) 

Condor soaring on the thermal. Photo by Judy Whitworth. Used by permission.

I am reminded of the description in the various Thornton Burgess books of “Ol’ Mistah Buzzard,” who would soar “up, up, up into the blue, blue sky, until he was just a little speck.”


Just a few more photos, because I can't resist. 

Condor #444. Iphone through a spotting scope. Photo by Heather Leigh. Used by permission. 

My second daughter on the trail. Photo by Heather Leigh. Used by permission.
I LOVE this photo. 
The kids. Picture by me.


  1. That's a good looking group of children. The condor pictures are beautiful. I love hiking and camping, but I've never been to Pinnacles National Park. I need to add it my list.

    You were really productive during April. It's been a while since I last visited your blog, and it's going to take me some time to catch up.

    1. Pinnacles is a real gem - but few know about it, even here in Central California. I first visited in my early teens, thanks to my aunt and uncle who were living in Salinas at the time. Of course, all condors were in captivity then, so it is even better now.