Thursday, November 20, 2003

Condor over the Lookout!

Today, 11/20, Kevin Cooper and Tom Murphey from the Forest Service worked at Hi Mtn. Lookout, installing a storm door for improved weatherproofing. During their lunch break they looked up and watched a condor flying above the lookout and then out in the direction of Lopez Lake! Getting out the telonics, Kevin picked up a radio signal for a second condor and had a visual on the bird in the direction of SLO.

Steve Schubert

Saturday, November 1, 2003

Audubon California Field Trip

Today, Nov.1st, a group of 13 of us met at Hi Mountain Lookout for an afternoon field trip. Following yesterday’s rain showers there was no dust on the road, everything had a fresh smell after the first fall rains, the skies were deep blue, flat-bottomed white cumulus clouds were scattered widely over the Santa Lucias, and a brisk cold wind blew (wind chill was 36*F in the late afternoon). Viewing conditions were excellent far out to sea and inland to the Temblor Range.

Audubon California staff (employees of the National Audubon Society) who made the long trip to the lookout were Craig Palmer from San Francisco and John Culpepper from Los Angeles, and their invited guests Robert and Margie from Sacramento. Morro Coast Audubon Society members attending the field trip were Barbara Burke, Joanna Frawley, Gerry Montgomery, Penny McCaula and Lisa Trayser (visiting from Salem, Oregon).

After lunch, I gave an overview of the Hi Mtn. Project and a lookout tour. Kathleen Intorf demonstrated condor radio tracking using the telonics equipment, and later gave a training session for our new student volunteers Michelle and Megan, who are Animal Science majors recruited through the Cal Poly Wildlife Club.

A new improvement at the lookout is all the nice rock work being done- initiated by Paul Andreano and being completed by Lisa Andreano and Jeff Osborne- with rock borders along the perimeters and lining the
footpaths. Several truck loads of heavy rock materials have been transported up to the lookout from down below to work on the project. Also, ‘thank-you’ to Mike Tyner who was so concerned he made an unscheduled trip to the lookout yesterday to check on how it ‘weathered’ the first fall rains (ok, Mike, no more convenient distractions…now you can get back to work writing that term paper that’s due soon!)

The group today was very appreciative and supportive of the lookout project. Kathleen and I stayed after they departed and ‘worked’ until after sunset, then drove down the mountain in the dark, with a quarter
moon and Mars rising bright in the east.

Steve Schubert

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Hi Notes

LOTS of Condor activity since my last posting! You already heard from Mike and Roger regarding the seven Condors who checked out the Colony/Condor Days Parade in Atascadero, Oct 18th. I was working at the Templeton Resource Conservation District’s Watershed Fair booth in the Atascadero Sunken Gardens and happened to look up at a group of “Turkey Vultures” flying overhead…WHOA!!! Those aren’t TVs! Those are Condors! Four of these beautiful birds flew over, circled and flew back over again. I guess they weren’t in the market for hand crocheted doilies or brochures on water conservation as they kept heading south and out of sight. DJ Funk was on the ball and whipped out his video camera and got some footage of the four birds.

Last Tuesday (Oct 21)as I was on my way up to the lookout I stopped to check out a huge kettle of TVs in Atascadero on Hwy 41 and picked up a signal for Y192. I couldn’t pick her out in the crowd, but Mike
Tyner checked Wed. morning and got a signal from her, still inAtascadero. I kept getting signals all day Wed. Oct 22 and found that she was still in Atas. Thursday morning. She was perched in some dead branches of a huge Gray Pine. Later that morning a friend reported seeing her flying East from Atascadero.
This morning, Tues. Oct 28th I spoke to Denise Stockton at Hopper Mt. checking on a bird who had been missing for about a week (156, a six year old female). The good news is that she has turned up and is fine. The unhappy news is that the Hopper Mt. facility was in the path of the terrible fires down south. None of the main buildings were burned but they think they have lost some of their holding pens and blinds for observing the Condors at Hopper Mt. Denise said they are going to try to get up to these areas today to check out the damage. Luckily, no birds were in captivity and as far as they know all the released birds are o.k.

Bye ’til next time,

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

AC8, AC9 and the last days of wild California condors by Jan Hamber and Bronwyn Davey, 2003

On a spring day in May 1982, in a remote cave atop a cliff in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, southern California, a tiny pink California condor chick pecked its way out of its hard egg shell that had protected it for nearly two months. He was greeted by his mother, a giant black bird, with a mottled orange head and a wing span of over 9 feet, who gently stroked him with her powerful beak and nestled him close under her warm body.

This same scene had been repeated for tens of thousands of years. However, after less than 200 years of direct contact with Europeans, this scene was about to end. The mother and chick were part of a species that without drastic measures would cease to exist forever. The California condor population had experienced significant declines for decades and less than 26 California condors remained in the world.

Neither the chick nor its mother were aware of how significant this event was for their species or how critical a part that each would play in efforts to save their kind from extinction. The chick, later named Xolxol (ho-ho), was captured as a chick in 1982 and became the first addition to the captive breeding program. This event marked the beginning of the California Condor Recovery Program. The mother, later known as Adult Condor #8 (AC8), was the last free flying wild female California condor captured for the recovery program.

After the capture of Xolxol, AC8 continued to nest successfully in the wild, with her unnamed partner. In 1983 and 1984 she laid several eggs, which were removed and now form a significant part of the captive breeding program at San Diego Wild Animal Park and Los Angeles Zoo. By late 1984 the numbers of wild California condors had dropped by nearly half. AC8 together with her partner was one of only 5 actively breeding pairs in a total population of 15 wild birds. Tragically, in November 1984, AC8’s partner disappeared and never returned. Although this was a serious set back for the condor program, biologists were still optimistic that California condors from the captive breeding program could still be released back into the wild where a wild condor population existed. The other wild pairs were breeding successfully and 14 eggs and chicks had already been produced to form the nucleus of the captive breeding population.

Jan Hamber, a condor biologist working on the program at the time recalls “all we needed was just one more successful breeding season and 1986 would then have been the year that young birds could be released from the captive group and used to augment the wild population”.

It appeared that the recovery plan was working and success was just around the corner. But it was not to be. As the biologists fanned out into the nesting areas in late January 1985, reports came filtering back that either one or both members of pairs were missing from the breeding territories. By April, when the missing mate of a new pair was found dead from lead poisoning on a ranch in the Sierra, it was clear that some disaster had struck. Six condors were missing from the population. Only 9 birds survived, and worse yet, only one pair remained to breed: the Santa Barbara pair known as AC2 and AC3.

The bottom had dropped out of their plans and the program entered a phase of acrimonious debate as to whether to take all the remaining 9 birds into captivity or leave some out to keep the wild population going. The battle raged during the remainder of 1985 and three birds were removed during the summer and fall until only 6 were left, 2 females: AC3 and AC8 and the rest males: AC2, AC5, AC6, and AC9.

Then in mid-December 1985 disaster struck again. It was reported that AC3 was down on Hudson Ranch. It was obvious that she was sick. She was finally captured on January 3rd. Despite constant care and treatment at San Diego Zoo, AC3 died January 18, 1986, another victim of lead poisoning. Now no breeding pairs remained in the wild and only one female, AC8, was left with four males. The remaining adult males, whose partners had also disappeared, desperately tried to court AC8. However, she was uninterested and instead chose AC9 , a young male just coming into adulthood.

AC8’s breeding experience over AC9’s was obvious. She accepted his advances and immediately began inspecting various caves for a suitable nest site, with AC9 in pursuit. She eventually found one and together with AC9 produced 2 eggs. Their first egg was found to be so thin-shelled that it was crushed - a casualty of DDT. The second egg survived and was taken to the San Diego Wild Animal Park to be incubated and hatched.

With only 5 remaining wild birds, only one breeding pair and the ever present threat of potential death, 2 more condors were captured. First AC6 on April 20, 1986 and then AC8, on June 5, 1986. Now only AC2, AC5 and AC9, all males, remained.

Eventually the call came to take into captivity all the remaining 3 condors. AC2 was the first to go on December 13, 1986. You can imagine how condor biologist Jan Hamber felt as AC2 was captured, a male that she had watched, along with his now dead partner AC3, for 11 years at 11 nest sites. AC5 was next and was caught under a cannon net on February 27, 1987 in the late afternoon. For trapper, Pete Bloom, it was a moment never to be forgotten. As he placed AC5 in the sky kennel for the trip to the zoo, he noticed AC9 watching him. The last wild California condor in the world was perched in a large oak tree above the trap site, his body silhouetted against the setting sun.

And then came the fateful Easter Sunday when AC9 was captured. For the first time in tens of thousands of years there were no California condors soaring in the sunny skies of southern California. All 27 living birds were in captivity. At the time, it seemed that it was the end of the road for the wild population. All those involved in the program felt a pervasive sadness. Would these majestic birds of the sky ever soar again?

After their capture, AC8 and AC9 were separated and partnered with other condors to maximize the genetic diversity within the captive population. Both AC8 and AC9 are parents and grandparents to many of the young condors which have been released into the wild. AC8 is considered a genetic “founder bird” and is one of the oldest condors left. Her exact age is unknown, however, she is at least 26 years of age, but probably much older (ie. over 40).

Finally, on April 4, 2000, 14 years after her capture, AC8 was released and once again soared over her home territory in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary near the town of Fillmore in Ventura County, CA. She was the first wild born condor to be released back into the wild and it was the first time that a wild born California condor had flown free for almost 13 years. Two years later on May 1, 2002, AC9 the last wild California condor captured for the recovery program, was released after 15 years in captivity. AC9 was AC8’s last mate in the wild. AC8 had not successfully bred in captivity since 1995 and she is believed to be past her breeding age. AC9 is 22 years old and his genetics are well represented in the condor population.

Including AC8 and AC9, only nine original wild California condors are left. These precious nine hold the last of the wild knowledge that has been passed down through generations of wild California condors. It is hoped that with the release of original wild birds they will act as a mentors for the captive bred free flying condors and may provide them with additional skills for survival in the wild. It also gives them an opportunity to live out the rest of their life flying free. Three juvenile condors, approximately 12 months old, were also released on May 1, 2002. One of these juveniles is from an egg laid in the wild last year in the Santa Barbara back country. This chick was raised by AC9 in the Los Angeles Zoo. The juveniles spent several months in a flight pen at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge with AC9 and other adult birds. The young condors were placed into the flight pen with the adult birds to gain experience competing for food and to form social bonds prior to release. While in the flight pen, the birds undergo power pole aversion training to help them avoid deadly encounters with power poles once released. AC9 and the younger birds were transported to a holding facility at the Sespe Condor Sanctuary approximately one week before their release to give them time to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. Since release AC9 has re-visited some of his old roosting sites and has integrated well into the captive bred population. So far AC8 and AC9 do not appear to have rekindled their former relationship.

AC8 was shot and killed in February 2003.

Written by Jan Hamber and Bronwyn Davey

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Atascadero Condors

Hello all,

Saturday Oct. 18, on my way to a meet a friend for lunch in San Luis Obispo I got a message from Kathleen one of are volunteers at Hi Mountain. She had four condors fly overhead in downtown Atascadero. 30 minutes later from a hill by my house in Paso I picked up signals for 5 condors (108, 192, 194, 208, & 209) towards Atascadero. I was able to quickly locate 5 Condors perched in some Foothill Pines off of Hwy 41 on the east side of town around noon. One of the birds with adult coloration, dark tag#56, was not one of
the birds I was picking up on my receiver. I assumed due to head and neck color this to be adult 156 and not the younger 256. Eventually the 5 birds left the perch and began soaring together joined by 2 other condors making a total of 7 huge condors over Atascadero. I’m not sure who the seventh mystery condor was. The day before from west Cuesta Ridge I had signals from 219 & 242 towards Shandon and Black Mtn.

Check out some pics of the birds in Atascadero at:


Thursday, October 16, 2003

Cal Poly Mammalogy Trip To Hi Mt.

This last weekend, Oct. 10-12, mystical mammal man Dr. Villablanca and his mammoth Mammalogy class of nearly 60 students spent the weekend at Hi Mountain. The entire class stayed down the road and filled Hi Mountain Campground to capacity. Live traps were set Friday and Saturday night along Hi Valley trail, and at 3 locations around the Little Falls/Rinconada connector trail off Hi Mountain road. Species captured: Chaetodipus californicus (California pocket mouse), Reithrodontomys megalotus (Western Harvest mouse), Peromyscus californicus (Parasitic mouse), P. maniculatus (Deer mouse), P. boylii (Brush mouse), P. Truei (Pinyon mouse), Neotoma lepida (Desert woodrat), Urocyon cinereoargeneius (Gray fox).
Mike Tyner


Friday, October 10, 2003

Hi Notes

Following the very successful Open House Sat. Oct 4th, I again made the trip up to the lookout to check out the Condor activity. We weren’t treated to any sightings on Saturday, but, as Steve Schubert
reported, Y179, a 5 year old male Condor from the Ventana Wilderness area, made an appearance at Montano de Oro on Tuesday, Oct 7th. I didn’t pick up signals that evening from the lookout, but he headed
toward the lookout Wednesday afternoon. I kept receiving signals all afternoon, until he headed back toward the ocean and roosted somewhere to the West of the lookout, maybe MdO again. Any more
sightings, anyone? That same afternoon I began getting strong signals from W222, a 3 year old female, also from Ventana. The signals remained strong and FINALLY, at about 1830 I began getting ‘perching’ signals and so I headed back down the mountain. I checked for signals several times on my way home trying to pinpoint her location. I got a weak signal at the Santa Margarita Lake, Pozo Rd. junction.

Well, I couldn’t let it go there, so I began my first mobile tracking expedition Thursday morning. To make a long story short, I did locate her at Santa Margarita Lake circling near the ridge at the southern shore of the lake with some Turkey Vultures and at least one Golden Eagle. I didn’t actually see her numbered wing tag, but as the birds flew to the other side of the ridge her signal began fading. That was proof enough for me! She continued to head south toward the lookout until I lost her signal. I also learned that one needs to start with a full tank of gas, a full stomach and no commitments for the day!

Bye ’til next week,

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

California Condor in Montana De Oro State Park

I was leading a Camp KEEP walk with our 6th grade students at Islay
Creek in MDO this afternoon when the radio we carry for emergencies was
suddenly crackling with an excited voice- although the reception was
very poor I was barely able to make out the phrases “condor flying!’ and
then ‘yellow tag’ in the broken-up communications from my co-worker
Cathy Chambers. That got my attention. I was ‘trapped’ beneath the
willow canopy at the creek without the chance to see the condor in
flight somewhere above, but up on the Valencia Peak Trail at 700 feet
elevation Cathy and her students were watching in astonishment as a
yellow-tagged California Condor glided by along the slopes just below
eye-level only about 40 feet away and continued north, over the dunes
and towards the eucalyptus forest 1 mile away, before apparently turning
inland and eastward through the Irish Hills and was gone.
Others on the KEEP staff had also heard the radio communications and a
total of 5 staff members and dozens more of our students on their hikes
saw the condor in flight (some of the kids took photos). The condor
sighting was the talk of the day, overshadowing the excitement of a
possible flight of Pinyon Jays from the desert here along the coast.
Cathy had also reported the jays on her earlier morning hike up the same
mountain trail, seeing a dispersed flight of about 40 jays flying south
towards the Field’s Ranch- they were not Scrub or Steller’s Jays in her
estimation, but confirmation of this I.D. by other experienced birders
is needed if the flock can be refound.
The last condor report from Montana De Oro State Park that I am aware
of dates back about 30 years ago. MDO SP is on the coast south of Morro
Steve Schubert

Monday, October 6, 2003


Hi all,
The Oct. 4th-5th event was a great opportunity for many of us to
reconnect with friends, talk with colleagues and make new acquaintances.
70 people attended the 2nd annual open house events, and long-distance
travelers included Mike and Bronwyn (surprise!) driving down from Pt.
Reyes on their way south following their summer work in Alaska, Carole
from Cupertino, Kathy Ball from Sequoia National Forest in the central
Sierras, John Schmitt from Wofford Heights at Lake Isabella in the
southern Sierras, and from the south Marti Jenkins up from the Los
Angeles area, along with other folks attending from many points in
between from Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey
Counties. Agencies, staff, and volunteers were represented from the U.S.
Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Hopper Mountain
National Wildlife Refuge, Morro Coast Audubon Society, Cal Poly
Biological Sciences Department and Wildlife Club, Ventana Wilderness
Society, Buck Rock Lookout Foundation, National Parks Service at
Pinnacles National Monument, Camp Roberts National Guard, and the Los
Angeles Zoo, among many other distinguished guests.
One uninvited but noted visitor arrived at 4am in the morning before
I was suddenly awakened in my sleeping bag by a distinct but soft ‘woof’
sound, then opened my eyes to see the silhouette of the head of a bear
in the darkness peering in at me from the open tail gate of my truck. My
startled wake-up call caused the bear to run a short distance away, but
as I sat up motionless and watched, I could see the form of the bear now
rambling away towards other campsites and parked vehicles with their
sleeping occupants, making a commotion along the way, so that several
others also had bear stories to tell as we gathered at breakfast time.
‘Thank-you’ to all of you who attended and the many staff and volunteers
who helped to make this such a successful event! Kathy Ball represented
the Forest Fire Lookout Association and presented a certificate and
plaque for the recent listing of Hi Mountain Lookout on the National
Historic Lookout Register.
John Schmitt donated his original 1978 Huff’s Hole peregrine falcon art
print and raffled another as a fund-raising donation to the lookout
project.The afternoon geology and native plant field trips were
well-attended, and about 40 people remained late into the evening -
after dinner and a nice sunset- for the power point and slide shows
presented by our guest speakers, followed by high-powered telescope and
binocular astronomical observations conducted by three members of the
Central Coast Astronomical Society. The quarter moon, Mars, twin stars
and star clusters, gaseous nebulae and the Andromeda Galaxy- two million
light years away- were spectacular to view in the starry night sky.
A number of those who camped out overnight gathered again at the lookout
in the morning for some good conversation, nostalgic remembrances, and
in-depth talk about the condor recovery program’s high points and lows,
until our final departures at noon. As time (and condors) continues to
fly by so fast, there is already talk about organizing next year’s 3rd
annual open house and campout. So, until next year…
Steve Schubert

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Hi Notes

Once again, I have about 3 weeks to catch up on. But to get right to
the Really Good Stuff…Yesterday after picking up signals from two
birds; OR209, a 4 1/2 year old male and W231, a 3 1/2 year old
female, and tracking them for about two hours, suddenly the signals
were coming from every direction, loud and strong. I frantically
looked for them with my binoculars but couldn’t find them. The
signals began to fade, along with my hopes. Then the signals came in
strong again and W231 flew right over my head as I stood on the cat-
walk of the lookout. I could read her wing tags!!! She was huge and
beautiful, white triangles under her wings and all. I can’t describe
the thrill of FINALLY seeing a Condor from the lookout!
Earlier that morning as I was out checking out the flora and fauna, I
saw a doe and her two fawns with a covey of Calif. Quail scurrying
around at their feet. I started to walk back up the road, then turned
around to take a picture, just in time to see a Bobcat meander across
the road behind them. Then a Northern Flicker circled around them and
flew off over the canyon. My reward for turning around breifly!
Speaking of flying, last week I watched a helicopter scour the
canyons and ridges to the East of the lookout for about two hours.
This week it was a small airplane…presumedly looking for evidence
of the pot farmers. Hi Mountain…hummmm.
And, speaking of Hi Mountain…looking forward to seeing many of you
this Saturday for all the festivies and great views of our beautiful
countryside. Come up and see what we are so fascinated with, week
after week!

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Sept 25-26, 2003

Hi folks,
A little late on this posting, but some good stuff happened during the
2nd half of my stay at the Lookout last week.
Temps were mostly high and the breeze slight throughout the week. Lots
of helicopter activity on the south and east slopes of Hi mt. as
authorities continue to search for the Trout Creek pot farmers.
Now on to the good stuff……
On thursday September 25 at 1532hrs, condor B-168 ( a 6yr old male from
Ventana) flew right past the Lookout along the south slope of Hi Mtn. He
was cruising south with a group of TV’s and I picked him up right at eye
level, about half way between the Lookout and Huff’s Hole. Absolutely
amazing and I felt like all those days sitting up there alone in the
haze had finally paid off. Finally, great looks from the Lookout!!!
Watched 168 for about 30min that day, as he floated effortlessly around
the Lookout, at times ringing up over Trout Creek with 2 ravens, 3 TV’s
and a red-tail. Quite a cool sight. At about 1600hrs, 168 broke off from
the group and headed up Trout Creek along the Garcia Ridge. By about
1610hrs he was topping out over Piney Ridge, making for the Calientes,
Cuyama, or ????. Minutes later, I began to pick up a signal from B-171(
a 6yr old female from Ventana). She was headed north along the La Panza
and I got my first visual on her at 1645hrs. She seemed to be out over
the Pozo Valley, working the thermals against Black Mtn. Again, got
great looks at this bird, though she didn’t quite fill the binos like
168 did. Anyhow, I followed 171 in my scope until 1705hrs, when she made
a rapid, parachuting decent to the base of Black Mtn and I lost her
against the landscape. There are some big ranches up there and I saw her
descend just east of the largest one. Continued to track her through the
evening and into the next morning. She spent the night roosting
somewhere in Pozo Valley! Next day I tracked her, though never saw her,
as she lazily made her way back up to Big Sur. Tracked a few other
Hopper birds throughout the week, most just brief signals that quickly
faded to my east/southeast.
Had a few raptors move past the Lookout during the week, I guess their
migration is on. Had 2 juvenile Cooper’s, 1 Sharp-shinned, and 1 Merlin
at various times, all high above the Lookout and moving west to
east/northeast. Also had the (resident?) tiersel Peregrine blast past
the tower on 9/25, looked to be headed down into Huff’s. The birdbath is
a new, constant source of entertainment. Had up to 6 Ca thrashers on it
at once. Also saw (in various combinations) Sage thrasher, Wrentit,
Spotted towhee, Anna’s hummer, using the new bird spa.
Thanks to all who have worked so hard on this project so far. Its really
an honor to be allowed to spend a week in such a magnificent and sublime
place, Hi on top of the world.
**Correction to my last posting: Joe Burnett wrote to tell me condor
B-167, who I saw from the Lookout on 9/27 is a HE, not a SHE. Oops.
For some photos from my week at Hi mtn, go to:
click the album called “paul_sept 03″
Best to all, see ya on the 4th!!
-Paul Andreano

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Notes from the Lokout Sept 24, 2003

Greetings all,
This is a wireless transmission from the Hi Mtn. Lookout on Wednesday
September 24, 2003 at 2150hrs.
Been enjoying the Lookout for the last 2 days. Very hot and still
yesterday. Today the coastal fog penetrated inland valleys and
persisted throughout the early afternoon, cloaking the world around
me in a thick shroud to about 2500 feet. Quite a sight and some nice
relief from the heat. Cleared by mid afternoon, only a slight breeze
all day.
I tracked five condors yesterday, to my NW and SE/E yesterday. Of
note was B-167, a 6 year old female released in Ventana. I had been
tracking her for most of the morning as she moved north, seemed to
take the Sierra Madre-to-La Panza route. At 1515hrs I finally got her
in my scope, ringing up over American Canyon. Followed her for 20min,
as she made giant, graceful undulations along the La Panza, working
the updrafts effortlessly. She threw in a few stylish wing flexes as
she passed over the towers on Black Mtn., then cleared the La Panza
and soared out toward Creston. At 1535hrs several turkey vultures
floated through my field of view, as did a pair of red-tail hawks,
but B167 continued to ring up through the group, demonstrating her
clear condor advantage. Continued to track her into the evening, she
apparently hit the Santa Lucia, maybe by way of Atascadero, and
headed north. Lost her signal to my NW at 1730hrs. She continued to
give strong signals from the Santa Lucia all day today, first signals
at 1020hrs. I was hoping to see her pop up above the fog, but never
never did. She spent the day on the east end of Cuesta Ridge. Hard to
tell, but she may have even been out over SLO at times.
Her signal was strong to intermittent until I lost her at 1720hrs. I
didn’t track any other condors today day.
Relatively birdy at the Lookout right now. I’m happy to report that
there is a pair of Sage thrashers here and they’re not shy at all,
posing on parked cars and scrapping with the dozens of California
thrashers in our fruiting coffee berry bushes. They spend a great
deal of time trying to eat the berries, which they only accomplish
with much difficulty. I hope they show up for the Campout. The
California thrashers have discovered the new bird bath and today
there were up to three at a time splashing and drinking. I like
watching them drink, they have a funny way of outstretching their
neckss. Other recent locals include…2 Western tanagers, 1 Say’s
phoebe, 1 Peregine falcon, 2 juvenile Cooper’s hawks, a few coveys of
20+ California Quail, 15+ White-throated swifts, and the usual hoards
of Anna’s, scrub jays, ravens, and TVs. There is still at least one
Myotis bat living in the Hi Mtn. sign. No sign of the bears. 2 or 3
human visitors each day so far, one was 80 yrs old and had known
folks who staffed the Lookout in the 50’s.
Right now its windy and cool on the mountain. I may actually need a
blanket tonight. I’m baking cookies, so I really should go. Hope to
see you all at the 2nd Annual Condor Campout on Oct 4.
Until the next transmission,
-Paul Andreano

Saturday, September 20, 2003

field trip 9/20/03

Today I taught a class at Cuesta College for Community Programs entitled
“Condor Country”, a short course offered for the first time (in the more
than 10 years that I have been teaching a yearly series of natural
history lectures and leading field trips through the college). After a
classroom slide lecture about condor biology and the California Condor
Recovery Program/Hi Mtn. Project, I drove the van for our field trip up
to Hi Mountain Lookout in the afternoon.
The eight of us ate lunch in the shade (temp. in the 80’s) at the new
picnic table constructed by Jeff Osborn (worth a visit to the lookout
just to see his woodwork and the unique custom-built design made from
large slabs of pine… it is really that impressive). Intern Lisa
Andreano presented a condor radio tracking demonstration. I installed
the new bird bath and thistle feeder in the vicinity of the hummingbird
feeder (maybe all the local rambling bears will also benefit and want to
take a drink). A kettle of about 15 turkey vultures twisted and turned
in the air above, soaring with ravens for a long period of time around
the lookout in a steady northerly wind, and two juvenile red-tailed
hawks -siblings likely- played tag high above us, 500 ft. directly above
the lookout, their translucent white “windows” visible in each wing.
A good day to be so “Hi” up…
Steve Schubert

Friday, September 19, 2003

Condor off Hwy 46

This morning at about 8:30 I decided to try to drive to Villa Creek
to check out some sandpipers and whatnot. I had the telonics
receiver from yesterday afternoon’s search for California Condor
Y213, It was strange that the bird just seemed to disappear yesterday
afternoon with neither Holly at Hi Mountain or myself able to pick up
a signal from the bird after narrowing its location down to the
Atascadero/Creston area. Last night I drove from Paso Robles to Los
Osos via hwy 41 with the omni antennae on the roof of my car hoping
for a signal from the bird in some canyon, nothing. So I decided I’d
try to pick up the bird on my drive across hwy 46 to the Villa
Creek. Not but a few miles from 101 on 46 I began to pick up the
bird. The intermittent signal due to traveling through the
mountainous terrain grew stronger as I made my way up into the
hills. By about York Mountain road the signal was very strong and I
new I had a good chance of finding it. I pulled over and plugged the
yagi antenna in so that I could determine what direction the signal
was coming from. The signal was strongest towards the hills ahead on
the SE side of the hwy. I continued up 46 pulling over whenever I
had a strong signal to make sure I didn’t pass the bird by. This
took me to a pullout with a call box just beyond the entrance to
Santa Rita Ranchos. From this location you can look directly off the
hwy SE down into this gated community nestled among beautiful oak
woodland and mixed evergreen forest. There in one of these canyons
with scattered houses, barns, and orchards Condor 213 must have spent
the night. It was about 9:40 and I was able to talk on my cell with
Holly at the lookout. She wasn’t picking up signals for any birds.
But my telonics was screaming and I could tell the bird was perched
probably somewhere in one of these canyons. There was barely any
breeze and only a few turkey vultures were out flying. I was content
to stay in this spot until the wind picked up and the bird decided to
move. Finally the wind came and not 10 minutes later at 10:36 I
spotted 213 flying just above the ridge of one of the canyons I
suspected it in. But it only stayed in view for about 10 seconds. I
walked over to the entrance gate to the ranchos and one of the
property owners was leaving and of course was wondering what I was
doing. I let him know that I was tracking a condor and it had
probably roosted overnight in the vicinity. I asked permission to
drive in through the gate. He had no problem with it so I entered.
I found a couple spots with good views of the surrounding area but
was only able to get a distant visual of the bird one other time as
it was making its way to the SE. I would note that I found two deer
carcasses one on the opposite side of the call box on hwy 46 where I
first saw the bird and another fresh carcass of a young buck that
died along the waters edge of a pond on someone’s property inside the
community. By this time I had given up going to Villa Creek,
needless to say, and figured the bird would likely make its way back
down to were it came from, Ventura county. I left the ranchos and
headed back towards 101 stopping along the way at various places to
try and figure out what route the bird was taking. By this time,
11:40 Holly and I had the bird directly between us as I was taking a
signal from near vineyard road and 46. I continued to chase 213,
slowed down only by frequent pullovers to take signals and a classic
stop at In n Out burger. At 12:42 Holly had the bird between Black
mtn and Pozo Summit. The bird was on a mission to get home and
stayed one step ahead of me likely flying directly over Atascadero
and skirting the west side of the La Panzas as verified from
triangulation from the Lookout and myself on Park Hill rd out near
Pozo. I continued to follow to the gate at the end of Pozo Road and
had moderate but inconsistent signals at 1:30 straight up the valley
towards Avenales Ranch. I could go no further and hung out at the
gate marveling at the scenic beauty surrounding me and listening to
the telonics as 213 flew further and further away. As I headed home,
dropping off the telonics at Pozo Station, Holly still had 213 plus
167, 204, and 208 this time towards Cuyama Valley. By 4:45 Holly had
signals from 167, 204, and 208 towards Atascadero. And the cycle
Mike Tyner
Paso Robles

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Hi Notes

Notes from 9/1/03: Picked up 7 birds, total. Here are just the
highlights: The most noteable was AC9. As most of you know, he is the
legendary bird who was the last wild Condor to be taken into
captivity in the 1980s. He hails from Hopper Mt., and made only a
brief trip up our way. Maybe he was escorting the other 3 Hopper Mt.
birds, plus the 3 Ventana birds. All signals were coming from the
same general direction, off toward the Sierra Madre range. The
signals were sporadic and not reaching me all at the same time. This
is just a guess, but perhaps they were together in a loose group and
some went down to feed, as I wasn’t able to keep a signal from most
of the birds for long. The exception was Y216, a 3 and 1/2 year old
female from Hopper Mt. Her signal kept coming my way most of the day,
as it had done last week, Aug 26th.
This being labor day, I had LOTS of visitors! Cars, jeeps, SUVs, pick-
ups, horses & riders, and bicyclist! One group reported seeing ‘The
Bear’ on the road above the campground. I’ve seen tracks and scat,
but neither hide nor hair of the actual bear!
This week, 9/8/03, I didn’t pick up any signals from Condors. As
Mike, Paul, Lisa and Holly also noted, the birds aren’t moving around
much this week.
The weather at the lookout has been outstanding. The nearly full
moon, closely followed across the sky by Mars, was spectacular!
Bye ’til next installment. And hope to see lots of you on Oct 4th at
the Hi Mountain Lookout Open House!

Sunday, September 7, 2003

Sept. 5-7, 2003 - A bear of a time

Hey everyone,
For a change this week, to cover for Lisa who was going on vacation,
I staffed the lookout for the first weekend in September. I had a
great time on Friday with Paul who had been at the lookout since
Thursday morning. With no Condors for the last few days we spent
most of the day trying to identify many of the different named
mountains in the area using various maps. We finally picked up a
bird, 209, midday towards Big Sur. We monitored this bird closely
waiting to see if it would make the run to the south. Sure enough it
did and from the sounds of the radio receiver we were using to track
it with it seemed like it made a close pass by the lookout although
over an hour of scanning the skies with our binoculars did not
produce the bird. Better luck next time. We briefly had two Hopper
Mtn. birds to the southeast and that was it for the weekend as far as
Condors. The weather has been pleasant lately on the mountain in the
60s and 70s with a nice onshore wind which also made for some of the
best visibility I’ve seen since winter. Was able to see the Sierra’s
on Sunday, this time without the snow. Saturday at about 1:30 in the
afternoon while taking some photos of some of the late flowering
plants I heard a rustle in the bushes just in front of me. I backed
off instinctively and was able to make out the brown blunt ears of a
young black bear just 15 or so feet in front of me. I retreated to
the top of the cistern for a better safer view and tried to coax the
bear out with a few funny sounds for a photo but instead the
youngster decided to take off into the oaks. On the drive home not
even a mile from the lookout I turned a corner to find another bear,
same size and color, standing in the middle of the road. Other
highlights of the weekend were my first look at our new mucho grande
picnic table, one of the most impressive tables I’ve ever seen, an
American Kestrel hunting dragonflies, a flyby by a Golden Eagle, an
emergence of flying ants, and the continued presence of tons of
hummingbirds including Anna’s and a couple Black-chinned.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Aug 26-28 Condor Flyby

Had a wonderful three days at the lookout this week. Tuesdays main
objective was tracking the travels of Condor or208 as it spent the
day moving through our county. I first picked up 208 at 320 degrees
from the lookout generally in the direction of Atascadero/Paso
Robles. Tracked this bird as it made its way along the Santa Lucias
at one point probably flying over parts of east San Luis Obispo and
the Cuesta Grade. After getting strong intermittent signals which
were cutting in and out as if on the other side, west slope, of the
Santa Lucias this bird came fast directly towards the lookout. I had
strong soaring signals to the south of the lookout and strained my
eyes looking for the bird down towards Lopez Lake. Suddenly directly
over Hi Valley rock about ½ mile away I noticed about 6 Turkey
Vultures soaring. I grabbed by binos and right in the middle of them
was a huge steady soaring California Condor. Primaries splayed in
full soar steadily circling. This huge bird made the vultures look
like novices as they rocked back and forth with the wind seemingly
out of control. The calm and controlled condor then made its way
towards Pozo staying east of the lookout leaving the TV’s and then
followed the Garcia Ridge to the east and south towards Cuyama
Valley. While all this was going on another bird or209 decided to
move north leaving the southern flock of condors in Santa Barbara
county and choosing the La Panza range as its guide and thereby out
of visible range. This bird stayed in San Luis Obispo county for at
least the next day and a half spending the remainder of Tuesday and
Tuesday night roosting somewhere not to far northwest of the
lookout. All through Wedensday and most of Thursday I continued to
get signals from this bird although maybe further north then the day
before. By now the bird is probably with the handful of birds in Big
Sur. The rest of the Big Sur flock are still on extended vacation
mingling with the southern flock near Hopper NWR.
Birds around the Lookout are becoming more visible feeding on the
ripening coffeeberries. In one bush there were 4 Thrashers and a
Black-headed Grosbeak all chowing down on the sweet berries. The
number of Selasphorus hummingbirds is up with a ratio of maybe 1 to
every 5 Anna’s and man some of them can be mean. Only one solid
Rufuous and only one male Black-chinned. Don’t know what happen to
the tiny gray Costa’s. A Cooper’s Hawk was a nice surprise, they
have been very uncommon for at least the last few months.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Buck Rock Lookout

This past week I was privileged to get to stay overnight and ’staff’
Buck Rock Lookout, perched on a high granite dome at 8,500 ft. elevation
in Sequoia National Forest. I had a brief visit with Kathy Ball, who has
staffed the lookout since 1997 and is President of the Buck Rock
Foundation, an organization devoted to the preservation of fire lookouts
and their historical heritage, and providing the public with educational
The Hi Mtn. Lookout Project seems to work well within these foundation’s
goals. Visit the Buck Rock Foundations website, with photos and more
information about the lookout, at:
Just as I arrived in the early evening for my first time visit to Buck
Rock, after driving through Sequoia NP earlier in the day, Kathy was
unfortunately locking everything up and on her way home, because of a
dentist appointment the next morning. She made the nice offer to allow
me to occupy the lookout by myself, instead of camping out that night at
a local Forest Service campground as I had originally intended. I
climbed the 172 steps on the stairway clinging to the nearly vertical
escarpment, reaching the lookout catwalk just in time to take sunset
photos. The lookout is perched precariously on a granite pinnacle at
8,500 ft. elevation., with nearly vertical rock walls falling away on
all sides just a few feet from the lookout platform, and a dark green
canopy of montane coniferous forest lying hundreds of feet below. The
spectacular views include the High Sierra backcountry of Kings Canyon
and Sequoia National Parks, peaks of the Great Western Divide,
surrounding canyons and slopes down to the lower foothills, and across
the Central Valley the outline of the Coast Range in the far distance.
After dark, the city lights of the San Joaquin Valley glowed from Fresno
to Visalia. Mars rose in brilliance (as it is now approaching its
closest distance to earth in perhaps the last 60,000 years!) and a
quarter moon rose near midnight over the Sierran crest, nearly as bright
orange as Mars due to all the smoke from a large fire burning in the
mountainous wilderness to the east. Meteors streaked across the starry
night sky, and distant lightning flashes lit the sky to the north.
Scampering around the lookout- once bumping into my shoe on the catwalk,
then turning tail and running away- was a bushytail woodrat ( a “life”
species for me). It occurred to me I should go and close the lookout
door in case the large rodent got inside and started gnawing and
creating a commotion indoors all night long. Just minutes later Kathy
called me on the phone to tell me she forgot to tell me earlier about
the woodrat which would come inside if I didn’t keep the door shut!
I was awake the next morning to see the rising sun break the crest of
the Sierras. Visitors that morning included a young couple who live in
Guam, and some mountain bikers, all huffing and puffing their way up the
stairway. A visitor of note in September 2001 was Huell Howser, who
interviewed Kathy Ball and produced a 30 minute episode on Buck Rock
Lookout for his “California Gold” PBS television series.
That morning, before departing for a drive and a hike in the forest
among a Giant Sequoia grove, I studied the maps and practiced getting
compass bearings on geographical features through the sightings of the
fire finder. This is the original fire finder still in use since the
lookout was constructed in 1923. All in all, it was quite an experience
and privilege to get to occupy Buck Rock Lookout!
Kathy Ball has recently put in a lot of time and effort researching Hi
Mtn. Lookout and wrote up the nomination to list Hi Mountain Lookout
under the Forest Fire Lookout Association’s National Lookout Registry.
Kathy has been very supportive of the Hi Mtn. project and continues to
provide important advice and useful information from the perspective of
someone who has years of experience preserving and staffing an historic
fire lookout. Kathy also put us in touch with a forest service
contractor who has worked at Buck Rock and several other Sierra
lookouts, and is scheduling a lightning and safety consultation at Hi
Mtn. Lookout. We will be contracting his labor to get the much needed
work done soon
These connections between Buck Rock and Hi Mountain lookouts spans the
distance from the Sierra Nevada to the Coast Range, in our mutual
efforts to preserve, staff and use our historic fire lookouts in both
traditional and new innovative ways.
Steve Schubert
Volunteer Coordinator, Hi Mountain Condor Lookout Project

Friday, August 22, 2003

August 18-21

Hi all,
Spent half of Monday driving the great dirt roads in the La Panza
mountains. My mission was to post signs, in English and Spanish, at
the major gathering areas for hunters and other recreationists in the
area in an effort to notify the public that condors were using the
area and what the public could do to `Help Save the California
Condor’. I visited the campgrounds such as La Panza, Friis, and
Navajo, parking areas Turkey Flats and Navajo Flats, and the
trailhead to the Machesna Mountain Wilderness near Castle Crags.
Being Monday afternoon there weren’t too many people out except for
two gentlemen camped at La Panza and 3 vehicles, two of which were
hunters who were in search for a buck. Talked to one friendly hunter
who knew exactly what I was doing out there. He knew that condors
were possible in the area and had been in the Hi Mountain area
recently and ran into Kathleen who was also posting signs. I made it
back to Hi Mountain around 9:00pm. Tuesday - Thursday at the lookout
was very comfortable, SW winds were keeping it humid and temperatures
in the 60s and 70s were a nice break from the normally hot weather to
be expected this time of year, even had a few sprinkles on Thursday.
Condors were out daily to the SE on the Sierra Madre, one of their
favorite places to visit while away from the Hopper Mountain NWR.
Had a nice visit from Karen Wood of Friends of Lopez Lake and The
Dunes Center in Guadalupe and also a USFS fire crew from hwy 166 who
were filling in for our local Pozo crew.
Check out the updated pics at the Summer 2003 Interns’ Archive:

Monday, August 18, 2003

More Sierra Madre

Hi all,
Just spent another weekend on the Sierra Madre, this time accompanied by
Anthony Prieto of Santa Barbara. For those of you who don’t know
Anthony, he is a long-time volunteer with the Recovery Program, an avid
hunter, an artist, and a Spanish speaker. He painted the amazing condor
mural on the Hi Mt. Lookout. Anthony and I spent Saturday and Sunday
driving the ridge from Santa Barbara Canyon to Miranda Pines. Though
there were fewer hunters out this weekend, thanks to Anthony’s Spanish
skills, we were able to talk with every group we came across. We were
armed with a new round of USFWS fliers written in Spanish(!!) and had
some great conversations with folks from as far a way as Riverside,
Lancaster, Pomona, and San Bernadino.
Seems as though most of the hunters on the Sierra Madre are aware of the
lead issue and have modified their hunting practices in an effort to
protect their hunting environment. Again, we ran into a few who had
already read Dr. Fry’s report, and again, some were more skeptical than
others. After two weekends on the Ridge, I feel like there are two
distinct subsets of hunters out there. The majority seem to be
exceptionally responsible folks who are already using (some for years
now) copper- jacketed or all-copper loads. Common bullets used by these
folks included Barnes-X, Nosler, Winchester Fail-Safe, Hornidy
Innerbond, and Federal, most of which are hand loaded by the hunter. The
minority of Sierra Madre hunters seem to be those folks who buy the
cheapest, most readily available factory loads for their rifle. These
hunters often had no idea what brand they were shooting, usually pulling
a shell out of their pocket to check the brand name for us. Everyone we
talked to, though, seemed to understand the necessity to bury their
gutpiles and recover their bullets. On a happy note, I noticed that the
trash buildup along the road and at McPherson Gate was dramatically
reduced from last weekend, so someone is obviously cleaning up after
themselves and others out there.
Though we had no condors to track along the Ridge last weekend, I feel
like we made some great connections and most folks seemed happy to see
“the condor people” out amongst the hunt. Almost every hunter who has
used this area for a few years has a condor story to tell. Trips like
this are are great opportunities to connect with hunters, spread the
word, and to let them know that the Recovery Program doesn’t view them
as enemies, but as potential partners. I can honestly say the the bulk
of the hunters we spoke with over the last two weekends on the Ridge
feel no resentment toward the condor and the Recovery Program at all.
They are just as awed by the condor as anyone else and willing to do
what they can to help them along the rocky road to recovery.
Paul Andreano