birding bits features various species of birds and fun birding stories, as they happen or as I remember them.
Christmas Eve 2018.
I’ve spent the past week with my mom in Tucson, Arizona, enjoying a break from the cold winter weather back home.
We drive up toward Page, Arizona, where we will soon visit Antelope Canyon, and we decide to hit up a few hotspots for seeing California Condors.
For those of you who don’t know, vultures are my favorite type of bird. Although turkey vultures hold a special place in my heart as my absolute favorite local species, it’s hard to deny the massive wingspan and incredible story of the California Condor.
And I’d never seen one.
They’re not exactly common.
Back in 1982, only 22 California Condors were left.
There were many reasons for their decline, but the usual threats of habitat loss and poaching were also accompanied by lead poisoning–a really sad way to go. I won’t get into it here, but you can read more about it from the American Bird Conservancy.
Anyway, after a major reintroduction effort (that’s still ongoing), condors have been making a comeback! This year, the 1,000th chick was born!
It’s a fascinating conservation tale, and I’d highly recommend reading more about them!
Anywho, back to Christmas Eve 2018.
We make our way to Navajo Bridge, a spot we’d been told to look for them.
We head out onto the bridge, not seeing any birds. It’s a beautiful view of the Colorado River, and we spend some time enjoying the landscape.
We make our way across the bridge and head to look at the Visitor’s Center, which is closed for the season.
At this point, we’re getting a little nervous that we may have struck out on seeing the condors, but I haven’t given up.
I decide to do a major scan of everything I can see.
I start my scan by looking at the rungs on the driving bridge. I’d done a similar scan from the opposite side, but from this side, I notice a small black dot.
Sure enough, it’s a condor! A juvenile, judging by the color of its head.
I do a little happy dance and make my way down the bridge to get a closer look, and wow!!! If I hadn’t seen it at just the right angle, I would’ve missed it completely!
Being on the bridge really put its size in perspective. It’s a massive bird, but it’s tiny compared to the bridge!
We spend some time enjoying our friend on the bridge, getting some really cool shots of it.
After a while, we notice someone with some interesting equipment making their way down the bridge. Turns out, she’s a biologist with The Peregrine Fund, and she’s there trying to find a condor that hadn’t been tagged yet.
Her cool equipment was able to scan for the GPS transmitters attached to the condors, and she found two more condors that we’d completely missed!
One of them (an adult female) was in a bit of a vulnerable spot (easy access for predators), and it was the biologist’s job to flush the bird and encourage it to go to a safer spot to roost for the evening.
The adult joined the third condor (that we hadn’t seen yet) on a nearby cliff, and we were able to get great views of all three birds!
If you thought turkey vultures had loud wing beats, you haven’t heard a condor! Since vultures are scavengers, they don’t need to be sneaky (like owls).
I had been happy enough seeing the condor on the bridge, but getting to see two other condors (and see one fly!!) was absolutely amazing.
Had the condors gone completely extinct thirty years ago, I would have never had the opportunity to see these wonderful birds. We really owe our ability to go birding (and actually see birds) to the work conservationists (and others) are doing to protect birds and bird habitat.
All in all, it was an amazing Christmas Eve, and it will definitely be a bit of birding I’ll remember for a very, very, very long time.