Friday, June 18, 2004

Lion at the Lookout!!

Hi all,
After receiving a thorough onsite training session from Kathleen- benefitting greatly from her experience and expertise- I staffed the lookout Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. I had a number of projects to work on before our 3 Cal Poly student interns and volunteer staff come on to staff for the rest of the summer field season.

Sleeping outside on a cot upstairs on the catwalk, I was still awake at 1am watching the Milky Way galaxy, constellations, and shooting stars. A gray fox was vocalizing nearby, and later I awoke to nearby frequent soft mummering sounds that I could not identify.

Walking about still groggy at 5:30am- 15 minutes before sunrise in the soft light of dawn- I was startled into instant alertness looking down at 4-toed predator tracks on the roadway near the lookout (close to the beginning of the stone retaining wall). Mountain lion tracks! I tried to think what else it could be and measured several tracks that were all 3 1/2 to 4 inches long. There had not been any visitors with large dogs since I arrived the day before, and the tracks were fresh from the night before because two tracks overlaid my vehicle’s tire tracks, where I had driven the previous afternoon. The impressions were not sharp enough to look for details like the lobes on the heel pads, but what else could they be? So, once again I have a story to tell of the many, many times in the field over the years having had close encounters and evidence of being near a mountain lion, but I have yet to actually see one!

What woke me up at 5:15 am was not the dawn songs of chaparral birds and a distant-calling mountain quail, but one very large horsefly making a loud humming sound in flight a few feet away from my head. Soon one became nine humming horseflies, all flying in a tight group at the northside of the lookout (the only place completely protected from the light morning breeze). The horseflies chased and darted at each other with amazing speed and rapid maneuvers, bouncing around in the air like a pin-ball machine in fast motion. Soon after sunrise, 30 minutes later, it was all over and the flies were gone, perhaps to go torment living flesh somewhere else. A potential study in crepuscular horsefly behavior?

During the early afternoon on Wednesday I picked up radio signals from one of the Pinnacles condors due north from the lookout, away from the usual location. A phone message with Wildlife Biologist Jim Peterson confirmed that the day before 3 of the condors had flown south away from the immediate vicinity of the Pinnacles release site.

The Anna’s hummingbirds are furiously competing for all the feeding ports at the two feeders. Hummers also perch on the edge of the birdbath to drink and dip their bellies in the water in flight to bathe. Juv. scrub jays are feeding on the apricot tree next to the water cistern, stabbing the fruits repeatedly with their beaks to get at the flesh. Swallowtails and other butterflies are often engaged in
hilltopping” flights. Along Hi Mtn. road the toyons, old man’s beard (Clematis) and chaparral penstemons are flowering. Finally, to emphasize the value of making observations over a period of time in one place, after all my previous trips to Hi Mtn. Lookout I had never noticed until this visit, that there is a solitary madrone tree growing about 1/3 mile distance east and below the lookout, on a n facing slope among the live oaks. A handsome tree to view through the spotting scope.

Steve Schubert

Thursday, June 3, 2004

W-231 at Huff's Hole

Hi All,

To add to Jamie’s experience with ‘lost’ communications: Yesterday while I was at the lookout, I received a call from Jessica Koning from Ventana Wilderness Society. She reported that Condor #242, a 3 1/2 year old male who has a GPS transmitter on one wing , had spent two days in the vicinity of Lopez Lake and Hi Mountain on May 24th and 25th. I was quite surprised to hear this, as I had been monitoring from the lookout on both these days and had received NO signals from him whatsoever. This adds an interesting twist to our information gathering efforts. Apparently these birds can ‘hide’ from our receivers when they are on the south side of the cliff face at Huff’s Hole and at Lopez Lake. We had a similar experience with Condor # 168 whom we had seen and received signals from while actually at Huff’s Hole on April 6th. I was not able to pick up signals that evening upon returning to the lookout, nor the following day. We had attributed this to his failing transmitters, which are
sending out weak signals, at best. Back in March, I had picked up very strong signals from Condors #208, #209 and (again!) #231 right at the lookout and, from Cypress Hill, saw them perched on the same rock outcroppings that Jamie mentioned, to the West of Huff’s Hole. Maybe we will have to set up a floating monitoring station on Lopez Lake! Any volunteers? In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for very large, beautiful black birds soaring over San Luis Obispo County. They are definitely making frequent visits and possibly checking out the real estate for future ‘rooms with a view’!

Kathleen Intorf

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

W231 at Huff's Hole

Hello Everyone,
I was at the Lookout on Sunday, May 30, and got just a few signals from Pinnacles birds in the morning. Around 1:20pm, I got a strong signal from W231 (freq. 5703 & 5601) all the way around the lookout. I finally got her signal narrowed down to the direction of Huff’s Hole. I couldn’t get a visual on her from the lookout, so I went over to Cypress Hill and scanned the horizon. She was sitting on the small rock outcrop to the right of the main crags of Huff’s Hole. Jim Miller, my dad, and Andre Garcia, my friend, arrived just in time to grab the spotting scope and join me on the hill. She sat there for quite some time. I never saw her leave the rock, but I lost her signal at 3:10pm. Her signal appeared and disappeared so suddenly that she may have just been on the other side of the rocks. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I kept getting a weak signal from her in the same direction, but I did not see her again. I was hoping she would circle the Lookout a bit, but I guess she just wasn’t interested. It was a wonderful experience for my dad and my friend. They’ve heard all my stories, and now they got to see it for themselves!
Have a great week everyone!
~Jamie Miller