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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

A visit with the great California condors

June 2006

Photo: Erica Crawford
Photo: Erica Crawford

by Ed Gilbert

On Saturday, April 1, five other hikers and I did a 11-1/2 mile Sierra Club trek led by Ventana Chapter hike leader Esperanza Hernandez through the High Peaks section of the Pinnacles National Monument.

This National Monument is the western half of a massive, prehistoric volcano formed by the up flow of magna 23-million years ago along the San Andreas fault system. The system traverses a fault line from N-NW to S-SE through California. The eastern half of the remains of the volcano now lies 195 miles S-SE of the Pinnacles Monument, also along the fault line. The separation of the two halves has occurred as a result of the longitudinal slippage between the two adjoining earth plates at an average rate of just over 1/2 inch per year.

The noteworthy happening of this hike was something that even the Park Rangers on duty and the other hikers there that day had not experienced. High in those peaks we had the privilege to view, up-close in one viewing session, all 13 of the great California Condors located there. Yes, all of them. Some of them from as close as 15 to 20 feet. Unafraid, they just sat there and looked at us.

Photo: Ed Gilbert
Photo: Ed Gilbert

From later discussion with the head Park Ranger at the Visitors Center, we were told that these magnificent, fearless and very large birds were nearing extinction just over a decade ago. At that time, just 22 remained. Since that time, great strides have been taken to correct that situation. Through improved bird handling and breeding controls, the population has now been increased to 279 in California and Arizona. The current goal is to increase the population to 450 birds; 150 in California; 150 in Arizona; and 150 in the controlled release program.

The female condor lays only one egg every two years. This rate is not sufficient to maintain or increase the population. By removing eggs after laying and/or removing chicks after hatching, the female birds are encouraged to each produce at a rate of two eggs per year- a fourfold increase.

New birds are released into their natural environment only after an extensive period of nature orientation and training by mentor birds in the controlled release program.

What an experience we had that day! For me, it's one I'll never forget.

 


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