Friday, June 20, 2014

As Far As The Condor Flies

We had an adventure planned to the North Rim this past weekend.  It was to find as many nesting birds as we could.  And we did. We discovered so many nesting Williamson's Sapsuckers, Western Bluebirds, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Brewer's Blackbirds!

Nesting Brewer's Blackbird
For many of us, it was to exhaust our pent up energy from being trapped inside of our homes. The desert is too hot right now to explore.  And so our hungry eyes and eager ears went to work as we scoured every nook and cranny of the much cooler North Rim.

Western Tanager
For many of us, our journey to the North Rim began with the infamous California Condors at Marble Canyon.  In many ways, I consider them the sentinels of the North Rim.  Travelers have to cross a magnificent bridge into a magical area known as the Vermilion Cliffs. It was here that the Condors circled and soared around us. For many in the group, these birds were lifers.  For me, I watched the birds and the people's first time reactions as they all stood in awe of these massive creatures in flight. 

California Condor
Our journey would lead us into the canyon down gravel and dirt roads. 

We set up our base inside an unknown and remote area.  No bathrooms or hotels.  Just our tents and coolers.  And it was magical. 

The rough camping isn't for everyone, but I thought it was a lot of fun.  I haven't done this kind of thing since college! Plus I got to camp with my birding buddy Gordon

Weidemeyer Butterfly
The area is not birded very well and so we did a lot of research on habitat as well as ask ourselves, "Can we find these birds here?"
So we searched for the elusive Dusky Grouse, Three-toed Woodpecker, and Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet Owls.

Two large vehicles of people drove through the dirt roads while sitting outside their windows and in the back of trucks filming everything around them....including the birders:) It was fascinating! They wore handmade outfits and unique hairstyles that I haven't seen in about two decades. Anyway, there were a lot of happy faces in the group waving at us. 

What lies beyond the horizon? On the following day, our incredible group of birders continued surveying the area along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We had plenty of laughs in our exhausted bodies.  The Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet Owls kept me awake!

In my zombie state, I pulled out my recorder to capture the Flammulated owl's soft calls.  It was a lifer for me.  

Having a couple laughs with Magill and Gordon
I watched Stellar's Jays go after nests.  Sometimes they would snatch a fledgling and eat them.  The parents would desperately chase them or try and lead the Jays away from the nest.  In the wild world, anything can happen at any moment. Everything must fight to survive. 

Evening Grosbeak
On this trip into the cool wild west, we made many wonderful discoveries.  It also allowed us to escape the heat and enjoy the majestic Grand Canyon. 

I'd like to thank Eric Hough for organizing this trip through AZFO. It was a real pleasure helping out. For more birds from around our world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday

And the adventure continues next week from another part of the world......


  1. Awesome photos today Chris. Looks like you had a successful outing!

  2. A great outing in a very beautiful place.

  3. You are a brave man. I would not do that kind of camping. The last picture is really special.

  4. Chris, awesome outing..Seeing the Condors would be a treat.. And one of my favorites is the Western Tanager.. Great post, thanks for sharing your day. Have a happy week!

  5. sounds like you were kinda in heaven! :)

  6. Great shots! The Blue Jays around here go after nests too. I saw one that had grabbed a Red-Eyed Vireo Fledge and was eating away as the parents mobbed him.

  7. Wow Chris, such a fantastic adventure. You did see a lot of birds and congrats on lifer. You seems to have great company as well and all this adds up to a brilliant birding time. Looking forward to more adventures with you.

  8. The sounds of an owl are way better than any valium pill would be. Or any bird. Talk about relaxing!! Nothing beats nature.

  9. The Grand Canyon. A place most of us can just dream and fantasise about. The condors too - a mythical bird.

    And there you are living and baseline camping in there you lucky so-and-so. I confess I may have one of those hair styles you describe - yes I am an old style birder but wouldn't dream of birding in a Happy Band of fellow travellers, just going it alone like you Chris. Enjoy.

  10. Oh, Chris! Having you for a blogging friend is such an adventure for me! I enjoy your posts more than you will ever know. How delightful to get up to the North Rim! I actually hiked down the South Rim and out the North when I was a young adventurer! :-) Those days are long gone, I'm afraid. Wish I could do it again and just take a million pictures! Your California Condor sighting had to be so exciting! And I loved that tentative owl call. Beautiful photos too, as always! Oh, and thanks for the advice about the Lesser Goldfinches. I actually have a thistle feeder and get some awesome results bringing them in, but I have backlighting for most of my pictures, and they are rarely too good (I need a tree! Have to hang it on the porch eave!). I have posted a few though in the past. Thanks again.

  11. Forgot to tell you, we bought that book you recommended. It's great! Can't wait to use it "out" somewhere.

  12. OH! What a fabulous adventure! The California Condor would have been a lifer for me...and so would have the western tanager, Brewer's blackbird, just about anything in the Southwest!

  13. That Brewer's Blackbird looks stunning, the sheen reminds me of a starling from over here (UK) but the rest is totally different.

  14. Wonderful photos and story Chris! it does sound like so much fun! and what a contrast your next posts will be! I'm looking forward to seeing you and your reaction to all these Maine birds!

  15. Very nice post Chris. I would love to see the Condors, they look like really magnificent birds.

  16. A great series of shots and some super narrative. How wonderful to see the mighty Condor flying free. I remember them being on the brink of extinction some years ago

  17. Beautiful and scenic place. You have spotted lovely birds.

  18. Wonderful photos Chris and what a great trip :) Love the butterfly photo.

  19. Another highly enjoyable and beautifully illustrated post, Chris - even with its stark reminder that nature can be cruel as well as beautiful.


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