My completely anonymous housemate was out climbing at Pinnacles National Monument a few weeks ago. The place is an intriguing jumble of rock pillars southeast of Monterey, California. But with pictures like this one, where giant vultures dangle their scruffy necks above approaching rock climbers, it might just as well be the Karakoram.
But these are California condors, reintroduced to Pinnacles just two years ago as the 20-year-old captive breeding program continues to expand its horizons (the public can attend another condor release here April 21st).
In the mid-80s, scientists captured the entire world’s population – all 22 of ’em – and started a last-ditch breeding effort. Surviving against all odds, the grizzled adults and their hand-puppet-raised offspring grew to nearly three hundred in number, and 138 now fly over the Grand Canyon, Big Sur, Pinnacles, and Baja California – wild once more, give or take the occasional large-mammal carcass and annual lead checkups biologists provide. Next time you find a California quarter in your pocket, look for the condor on the tails side, soaring over Half Dome.
Our alert climber/photographer zoomed in on the top-left bird (above), snapping this closeup. Against the white underwings you can see the bird’s patagial ID marker, which also carries an antenna for radio-tracking.
These birds are immense. The partial wingspan you see here is casting enough shade to keep most of us cool during a nap – add what’s out of view and we’re talking nine feet. Bigger than your front door.
I like this last picture – a bird soaring against a hillside – for its sense of massiveness and the way you can feel the wind shearing through the upturned primary (wingtip) feathers. We’re talking about 20 pounds of bird cruising through the sky with all deliberate speed. The pic is a little grainy, but let’s cut the photographer some slack: he was dangling from a belay, camera in hand, a hundred feet up. And the condors were getting closer.
(all photos: the completely anonymous housemate)
(more Pinnacles condors here, on the Condor Cam)