While driving north last monday on my way to work in Tahoe, I encountered several Ventana birds as they soared low over downtown Atascadero. It was about 1320hrs and I was driving N on the 101, just
entering Atascadero. Heavy, low clouds and scattered sprinkles. Making my usual scan of the skies and sorting through the kettles of TV’s, I spotted an yellow tagged CA condor flying low over the 101 overpass at HWY 41 E. I made a pretty hazardous lane change and exited the freeway at the 41 off ramp. Sitting at a red light on Curbarail, I spotted another condor with black tags moving toward the 101, must have been less than 25 feet over the Rite Aid shopping center to my north. Fumbling with my binos, notebook, cell phone, and stick shift, I managed to pull into the Chevron station at 41 and 101unscathed. From the Chevron, I had a total of 4 condors, all were less than 50ft above the ground, but had started ringing up by the time I parked. I was never able to get tag #’s, but I did see one Or bird, one Y bird, one B bird ( I think it was 171), and a mystery bird that may have been a W bird.
The Y and B birds were paired and moved directly over me and on up the 41 W toward the Santa Lucias, gaining elevation. The Or and W(?) birds were also paired up and came in from the Salinas R. area off the 41 near the cemetery, I believe. The Or and W birds were following behind the B and Y birds, made a few turns over the Rite Aid and peeled off back toward the riverbed and houses. As soon as I lost the 2 birds headed west, I sped off toward the Salinas R. bridge looking for the other 2. I checked the area for an hour with no luck.
**As an interesting side note, a woman pulled into the Chevron while I was looking up. She asked if I was looking for condors. She said she owns a large piece of property on a hill behind Heilman’s junk yard
where she watches condors perch on her water tank “almost every day”. She was quite friendly and interested in the safety of the birds. This may be a good spot for VWS mobile trackers to check out and, based on her enthusiasm, I don’t think access onto her property would be a problem.
I must say, watching California condors fly over downtown Atascadero is an eerie experience. With so much open country in all directions, these guys seem to be showing a preference, or at least an extreme curiosity,
for the dangerous and populated areas along the 101 (especially Paso Robles and Atascadero) as they make their way south to the Sierra Madre and sometimes on down to Hopper. I’m scared for these guys. Watching from the Chevron, I couldn’t help but feel like these birds entered a time machine sometime back in the Pleistocene and fell out over downtown A-town, December 2002. As majestic as the condors are to watch, something’s just not right with this picture.
Hope this email finds you warm and well. Happy Holidays,