This morning I was leading a Camp KEEP hike with our 6th grade students on the Valencia Peak trail in Montana De Oro State Park. At 700 ft. elevation the girls in my hike group were admiring the coastal scenery with blue skies, scattered cumulus clouds, and a cool breeze from the north. Vultures, red-tailed hawks and northern harriers were of interest to point out, but then at 10:30am I got more excited by telling the kids to use their binoculars to look in the distance at a soaring golden eagle, something we see on our hikes in MDO only once or twice each school year. But no, a longer look through the binoculars convinced me instead it was a soaring California Condor! My co-worker Lynne Haley was further up the trail with the 6th grade boys in her hiking group, so I gave a call on the radio to tell them to take a look. Amazingly, at the same moment I called on the radio to give the alert she was coincidentally having a discussion about condors and their large wingspan, and as she talked some of the boys were just beginning to notice there was a large bird soaring and circling up high. After several minutes of viewing, the condor glided beyond Valencia Peak and headed south out of view through the Irish Hills; however, more than an hour later during lunchtime with the students at Spooner’s Campground a condor appeared again flying near the coast. It headed inland soaring high over the northern ridge above Islay Creek, accompanied by 6 ‘tiny’ turkey vultures. We watched until 12 noon. John Roser and I had distant views of clean white underwing panels that suggest it was an subadult or adult bird. The condor never flapped a wingbeat during our observations.
It was one year ago in early October 2003 that a similar sighting occurred when another Camp KEEP staff member was leading a hike to the same location on the mountain in Montana De Oro. A condor swept by at close range. That day the radio signal for that condor was picked up by Kathleen Intorf and radio tracked from Hi Mountain Lookout- the condor apparently roosted overnight somewhere in the Irish Hills before departing from the area heading south. Unfortunately, a few days later that condor disappeared and its death may have been related to the raging fires and smoke in southern California.
The Irish Hills are a hop, skip and a glide away from the usual condor flight paths over the Santa Lucia Mountains or the inner coast ranges.