|The Vermilion Cliffs|
Some treks take us to epic places.
For on this weekend, we would look for the critically endangered California Condors along the canyon walls around the Vermilion Cliffs.
Back in the early 80's, these birds almost went extinct. The last 22 of the wild California Condors were captured. I was a young boy in grade school. Mrs. Beine told us the story about these birds and I thought it sad. Extinct meant forever. It meant that they would be gone forever like the dinosaurs. I remembered sitting in her class listening to the lecture. In my heart, I felt it was a hopeless cause. Yet another species gone from our planet.
|The popular Navajo Bridge demands tourists to stop and get out for incredible views!|
They declined over the years from poaching, habitat loss and lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is still a major concern for these birds. Why? Hunters use lead bullets to hunt around the canyon. Condors are scavengers and will eat the remaining carcass left behind. Years later with international help and several breeding pairs at various zoos, the Condors would get a second chance. Twice a year, with the help of the Peregrine Fund, several Condors are released back into the wild near the Vermilion Cliffs of Arizona. It is one of the rarest birds in the world with a wingspan of 9.8 feet!!! It's also one of the longest living birds with a life expectancy of 60 years. The purpose of our trip? Watch the release of the new California Condors and find the wild ones out there. It was also an excuse to chill at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Of course this was all before the shut down of the government and the National Parks.
|Park Ranger Gaelyn watched the cliffs with the crowds as large numbers of dark birds approach the cliffs|
There are currently 435 California Condors left in the world. 237 live in the wild and 198 are in captivity. As we waited for the cages to open, we noticed large black shadows moving in the sky. Common ravens, a Golden Eagle and California Condors!!!! 11 of the birds descended upon the dead carcasses placed on the cliffs. The young ones didn't leave their cages while we were there. Spectators waited patiently for the birds to leave. Instead they were treated to the other CA Condors feasting nearby.
But our day wasn't over. And I wasn't satisfied with the photography I had taken of these birds. We left the area to search for these birds along the cliffs.
The Vermilion cliffs were incredible. Here we are with our friend Gaelyn from Geogypsy. She is a park ranger for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. She, along with another ranger, went down to speak with the public about the birds along the rim. They now are out of jobs until Congress gets their act together.
We said our good-byes. I had a withdrawal because she's really a wonderful person. But I am thankful to blogger and how it has helped us all connect. So while I wouldn't call blogging work, I did have to complete my task for this post. Better pics for my audience. And so we left the area.
And upon a bridge we walked. I searched high into the sky and along the canyon walls. I saw the dark shadow float over my head. My smile widened. The Condors! The Condors! Every Condor is labeled now. As each giant bird landed, we could ID 73 and 2. Number 73 is a male of 11 years and Number 2 is a female of 10 years. They are currently nesting together in Marble Canyon along the cliff walls. Apparently another male has joined the party and three birds have become a family.
While this bird may not be the most "attractive" by human standards, the Condor certainly teaches us all the great lesson of hope. As a child, I thought I would never see these creatures. As an adult, I was a bit emotional observing these birds in the wild.
A lot of prep work goes into a trip like this. Research is important. This was a great way to kick off the fall season! At one time this bird was found across the United States.
I continue to hope for the best. I hope that these birds will eventually be able to exist without human intervention out in the wild. This past year 4 wild chicks hatched in various nests around the Arizona canyons. So what continues to hold these birds back?
|I paid him to pose:) Imagine a human body fitting easily between that wingspan and you'll get an idea on how large these birds really are!|
After reviewing the data on dead Condors released in the wild, I found 3 killers. Eagle attacks, coyote attacks.....and lead bullets. As long as hunters use lead bullets, these birds will forever be in danger of extinction. I even read a report that one was shot and killed! The good news is that hunters can change the lead bullets they use to copper ones. If I were a hunter, I'd switch just because of potential lead in my meat. Just saying.
|King Tuzigoot reenacts what it must feel like flying as a California Condor.|
The majesty of a Condor in flight is awe inspiring. Never in my life had I thought I'd be granted a look at such incredible birds. But it happened. I'd like to close out my bird reports this year with a Whooping Crane observation. I've found the California Condors and Resplendent Quetzal of Guatemala. But will I find the Whooping Cranes of Wisconsin? You'll have to stay tuned for that report. For now, I'm still glowing from all of the California Condor sightings this past weekend. The birding adventures continue......