Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Nest; Our 2nd Visit

We were so pleased with our last visit; we decided to make a second trip to see the condor nest at Pinnacles. Over the years I have kept a keen eye on the various California condor recovery programs. Sometimes I feel as though there is an undiscovered wildlife biologist somewhere inside of me. Wildlife issues have always been a point of passion for me, but I find the whole condor story to be an especially interesting and compelling one. It speaks to me more about the state of contemporary humankind than of the condors themselves. It is important to understand that the condors are not being coddled away from so called “natural selection” like some flying dinosaur unable to cope with change. The truth is; every one of the challenges they face are man-made. This is why human intervention was necessary for the condors to have a chance. It is my opinion that our successful efforts in helping them regain their rightful place in the ecosystem, and to protect the wild spaces in which they live, represent the best examples of why humankind itself will ultimately overcome our own challenges, and thrive into the future.

We decided to park at the Chaparral parking lot on the west side and hike the Balconies section, Cliffs Trail, before heading up to the view point. It turned out to be a beautiful day, and we were not about to waste it. We were treated to an outstanding display of wild flowers while hiking around amongst the rocks and along the Chalone creek. Based on what we know about this condor family, we tried to time our arrival up at the viewpoint at about the time we expected at least 1 of the 2 parent condors would likely be leaving to search, or returning with food. There were 4 people at the viewpoint when we got there. Jess, the biologist we met last visit, was there with a young intern from the program named Laura, a volunteer ranger named Joe, and another volunteer who had climbed up onto some rocks, and was tracking the birds with a little receiver. I didn't ever get his name. We found out that the mother had already been on the wing that day earlier, and her signal was to the south. Some other hikers had also spotted condors on the wing earlier while on the High Peaks Trail. We spent some time talking to the Jess, Joe, and Laura while park visitors who happened to hike by were invited to look into one of two spotting scopes they had set up. We could see the little grey chick moving inside the nest while the father remained crouched close by. About an hour later, the mother returned to the nest by some route that was out of our vision. Using the spotting scopes, we watched and could see her feeding the chick, its little grey wings flapping away. We were then able to watch what appears to be the parent’s daily bonding ritual. The parent birds took to flight and soared in unison high above the nest, mimicking each others flight paths and movements like stunt planes in formation. They glided around banking into swooping arcs and lazy figure eights. They are a marvel to watch because they move their wings so little. Their wings are kept straight and level and they use the thermals and air currents for lift. Their wings have large flight feathers which they use to generate lift just like the flaps on an airplane. They are very good at saving energy during extended flight. Their instinctive skills would easily put a human hang glider to shame, and those guys can stay up for hours. This was all occurring at fairly great distance. We were using binoculars to follow them. When they finished their aerial bonding the father returned to the nest to watch the chick while the mother soared very high above as she glided off to the south, probably to search for more food. She flew right over our location maybe 200 feet above us, and I could read her tags with my binoculars. She did not come close like last time, but with binoculars it was still another awesome demonstration of flying skills. Later on we began hiking back to the Chaparral parking lot while enjoying some great wild flower displays on that side. Pinnacles really has an amazing diversity of wild flowers which changes throughout the season, and right now is really a great time. It was another great day.

Click here to see the pictures from this visit

4 comments:

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Gambolin' Man said...

Excellent post! I just visited Pinnacles on Saturday May 1, and loved it - hadn't been there in nearly four years. Great shots, too!