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


Friday, August 15, 2003

August 12-14 at the lookout

 was at the lookout this week August 12-14th. On Tuesday I only
picked up two birds all day, or208 and or209 both to the southeast
towards the Sierra Madre ridge. I had signals overnight for 208 who
must have most likely been staying the night on the Madre. On
Wednesday I drove up Garcia Ridge road a few miles from the lookout
for some early morning signals. As predicted still had 208 towards
the Sierra Madre as I took signals and listening to a Canyon Wren’s
song. The same boulders the wren called home were also responsible
for not being able to get any further down the ridge as this rocky
section required something with a little more clearance then the
Subaru I was driving. The rest of the day was spent at the lookout
picking up or208, y216, y213, w255, and b167 all towards the Sierra
Madre. I had one birds to the northwest, or204, out towards Fort
Hunter Liggett. I continued to pick up this bird until Thursday when
the bird decided to take the trip south, according to the signal
strength and direction it was probably following the La Panzas.
Could you guess the birds ended up, of all places, towards the Sierra
Madre were I also picked up y213 earlier in the day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Hi Notes

Notes for 8/4/03: Arrived at lookout at 0830 and immediately picked
up signal from OR204. This Condor must have been roosting not too far
from the lookout, perhaps near Huff’s Hole, as the signal was strong,
coming from the southwest. I received signals on and off from the
bird as it flew along the coast, heading in the direction of
Atascadero, until the signal was lost by 1430 in the afternoon. I
also picked up a very brief signal from Y216 south of the lookout,
but lost the signal within 5 minutes. This is a Hopper Mt. bird and I
am assuming it just took a quick trip in our direction and then flew
back home.
Notes from 8/11/03: No signals early in the morning, but picked
signals from two Hopper Mt. birds (W262 & Y213) in the early
afternoon. The signals were weak and lasted only about an hour, so
I’m guessing they flew toward the lookout for a bit and then headed
back home to Hopper Mt. The third bird that I heard from was W222, a
Ventana bird. This bird may have been with the Hopper Mt. birds, as
the signals were from the same general direction (South of the
lookout) and lasted only about an hour.
The weather has been pleasant with a nice breeze most of the day.
Temperatures range from the mid 60s in the morning to the mid 80s in
the afternoon. And as Mike Tyner reported, the Hummingbirds are
FLOCKING to the feeders! Have you ever seen two Hummers share a port
in a feeder? There were 9 birds on one feeder with some sharing
holes. VERY un-Hummingbird-like behavior!
Once again I observed a fire…this one was near Hwy 166 I think.
Lots of fire-suppressent bombers flying by the lookout most of the
day (one dipped it’s wings in a ‘hello’ as it flew by the lookout).
Bye for now,

Seeking info on original Hi Mountain Lookout

Hi to all the Hi Mountain Lookout folks,
As some of you may be aware, Hi Mountain Lookout has recently been nominated
to the National Lookout Register, which is the counterpart to the National
Historic Lookout Register for fire lookouts that are less than 50 years old. In
8 years, your lookout will automatically be transferred to the NHLR. A link
to the web pages of the NHLR follows my signature below. This nomination was
prepared by Buck Rock Foundation president and Forest Fire Lookout Association
(FFLA) director Kathy Ball.
As part of the research for the nomination, I was asked to provide what
historical data I had concerning Hi Mountain Lookout. Many years ago, I had
discovered that the current lookout was built in 1961, having replaced an
lookout that had been built in 1926. I have never able to get any absolute
confirmation as to which standard type of design was used for the original 1926
lookout. My question to you all is simply, is there a picture of the original
fire lookout on Hi Mountain anywhere? I have never seen one, but it is
possible that a picture has emerged from the USFS files somewhere along the way.
a picture could be located, scanned, and attached to an email to me, I could
then determine for certain what type of structure the original lookout had. It
is very likely that the original lookout was torn down in 1961 to make room
for the current lookout, so the picture would probably have to be at least that
The listing of the current lookout should not be held up for lack of the
information I am seeking, but historical information of this sort is always
included in the listing when available. (See other examples by following the
below). You all have done an outstanding job of rescuing this old fire lookout
and putting it to a wonderfully appropriate new use. It is my hope that at
least one of you may be able to help us make this listing as complete as
possible. A good place to start looking would be by contacting the Forest
folks you know to see if they can help locate a picture of the original
lookout. Thanks very much.
Dave Bula
Western Deputy Chairman, FFLA

Monday, August 11, 2003

Sierra Madre Aug 8-10

Hi all,
As most of you know, last weekend was opening weekend for deer season
along the Sierra Madre Ridge. In years past, condors have keyed in on
the hunting activity and visited the area, often being fed by hunters
and/or destroying cars, tents, etc. I spent the weekend driving the
Ridge with Nick Todd, mobile tracking, posting signage asking hunters
not to feed the birds and to bury gutpiles, talking to folks about the
lead issue, and drinking in the magnificent scenery.
Our route took us up HWY 33 out of Ventura to Pine Mtn. From there we
dropped down into Cuyama Valley, up Santa Barbara Canyon to Sierra Madre
Ridge Rd, along the Ridge to Miranda Pines, back down to the 166, up
Bates Canyon, back to 166, up Santa Barbara Canyon again, then east out
Buckhorn Rd. all the way to Big Pine and West Big Pine. WOW! I’ve never
seen any of this country up close and I sure felt lucky to have Nick
Todd as a guide… an amazing orientation to this ancient land of the
Condor. It was great to finally see so many places I’ve read about and
heard Jan and Nick speak so fondly of. Places like Lion Canyon, Miranda
Pines, Hurricane Deck and Castle Rocks, Medulce, Pine Corral and
Salisbury Potrero, Big Pine drainage, McPherson Peak, and the list goes
on. All these historic sites as much a part of the California Condor as
the genes passed on by AC8 and AC9.
Along the way we stopped to chat with several hunters at Painted Rock,
McPherson Gate, and Bates Canyon. Most were eager to talk about the
birds, hunting practices, and the new DFG lead-info insert that comes
with a deer tag. For a detailed discussion about what we learned from
the Sierra Madre hunters, you can visit:
later on today. The feedback we got from hunters alone made this trip
Condor activity along the Ridge was very low last weekend, not to say
they won’t pay a visit(s) as the gutpiles pile up over the next few
weeks. This was one of those rare trips when we truly hoped NOT to see a
condor, and it looks like they stayed clear of the Sierra Madre all
weekend. Our only signals were on Friday (1259-1357) from Pine Mtn, when
we had a group of 3 Hopper birds off of Reyes and Pilato Pks., heading
south. Had decent cell phone communication throughout the weekend with
Lisa, Holly and Mike at the Lookout. Sounds like they only tracked one
Hopper bird to their distant east on Sunday afternoon. By Sunday
evening, all Hopper birds were present and accounted for at the Ranch.
I returned from this trip with a new found respect for all the tenacious
folks who worked to preserve the Condor and this wilderness through the
70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. It’s not easy terrain. Standing on the
cliffs at West Big Pine, I imagined Jan sitting at that very spot 2
decades ago, watching Condors soar on untagged wings above some of the
most rugged back country SoCal has to offer. Someday the birds will
return to these cliffs to nest, and I hope to be there to watch.
I posted some photos of the scenery from this trip at:
Best to all and thanks to USFWS Ventura for helping make this trip happen.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

August 4-7 the big and small (condors and hummingbirds)

Hi all,
This week at the lookout (August 4-7) the weather was phenomenally cool for August. I kept busy tracking 14 condors and adjusting to the flocks increased movements as the birds prepare for the risky
deer hunting season and the bounties (some of them lead tainted) that it provides. I arrived at the lookout Monday afternoon to meet Kathleen who had been there since the morning. She informed me of getting signals from a bird at 0845 in the direction of Huff’s Hole. A signal so early in the morning could only mean that the bird stayed locally Sunday night probably in the vicinity of Huff’s Hole/Lopez Canyon and may have been the same bird Kevin saw earlier in the day while mountain biking the ridge. She continued to track the bird as it moved north throughout the day. Monday night Mars was shining bright orange/red on the eastern horizon after the sun had went down.

Tuesday morning I began picking up signals at 1104 in the direction of Cuyama Valley and by 1357 birds were up and about towards Atascadero/Paso Robles with one bird roosting somewhere along
the Santa Lucia’s towards Hwy 41 and 46 in SLO Co. that night. I continued to get strong perching signals all through the night form this condor until Wednesday morning at 0918 when the bird was back up and flying. Wednesday afternoon at 1300 I began picking up the same bird again and tracked its movements from the Atascadero area across the eastern part of the county over to Cuyama Valley were I lost it at 1623. Surprisingly another bird decided to show up near Castle Crags at 1905 and stayed the night, again giving strong signals throughout the night. Thursday morning had birds moving around in the direction of Cuyama Valley by 0838 and the Castle Crags bird up and flying at 0910. Throughout the morning this bird seemed to remain near Castle Crags alternating between perching and flying (according to the blips on my telonix). I was quickly on my toes at 1310 when signals of this bird were coming in ridiculously strong in the direction of San Luis Obispo. Looking desperately towards Cuesta Ridge trying to get a glimpse of the bird I could not help but notice the 50 plus turkey vultures who were now in the area heading in the same direction towards San Luis. I imagined that the condor must had been mingling with this huge group of vultures as it moved across the county. I continued to track this bird as it moved towards SLO and promptly called Dr. Villablanca for him to see if he could pick up this bird from Cal Poly in San Luis. I got a call back at 1429 and indeed he had picked up signals from the bird and followed it as it moved from reservoir canyon area to lower San Luis/Edna Valley. I continued to receive signals from this bird on the west side of Cuesta Ridge throughout the afternoon.

Hi Mountain is full of Hummingbirds. The diversity this week at the feeders is greater than I’ve ever seen it. 5 species in all with two 16oz feeders providing an endless supply of food for these hungry little birds. In order of abundance: Anna’s (90%), Rufous, Allens, Black-chinned, and one tiny little gray Costa’s. The rufous and black-chinned seem to be the more aggressive. With up to 9 hummers on a feeder at once the food only lasts a little over a day before needing to be refilled.

Other special bird sightings: Golden Eagle & Phainopepla.

Until next week…
Mike Tyner
Hi Mountain Intern (Summer 2003)


Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Notes from a few weekends

Hello Everybody,
Sorry I have not been staying up on sending out information regarding the
weekends I have been there. So here is the past few weekends I was at the
lookout with Lisa and others.
July 18 - 20
This had to of been the most exciting weekend that I have ever spent
at the mountain. The first part of the day was fairly quiet with a lot of
hummingbird activity and a red tailed hawk perching in the cypress tree off and
on. In the distance I could see thunder clouds but did not expect them to reach
Hi Mountain. Around 4:30 am sat. (7/19) morning it began to rain and the
first lightning strike was seen off in the distance past Machesna. Thunderstorm
activity continued to occur throughout the day southeast of the lookout.
Finally Selasphorus hummingbirds started to come around the feeders. That
afternoon the sun came out and the group decided to pick star thistle. Before
knew it a storm came up upon us without any notice and we were unable to get off
of the mountain before the lightning started around us. I myself had never
been so close to lightning before in my life. We watched as a lightning bolt
struck in the vicinity of trout creek and started a fire. Fortunately the fire
put itself out with the help of hi humidity and a little rain. That night I
stayed up and watched the spot where the fire started to make sure it did not
flare up. I did get a couple of pictures of the fire I will soon post.
Another exciting event on sat. was a black bear sighting. The bear was spotted
east of the lookout off of the Hi Valley trail. The thunderstorms subsided
sat. night leaving Sunday to be a pleasant day. Sunday started out fairly
uneventful. A red tailed hawk was perched again in the cypress tree and a
eagle flew by. Lisa went out and collected data with volunteers and we all
pulled more star thistle. As many know later that day the Parkhill fire
started. We were one of many people to call the fire in. Unfortunately we did
get any condor signals over the weekend.
July 27
I was only able to spend Sunday day at the lookout and Lisa could not
be there on Sat. The morning was extremely busy. The first group to arrive
was a group of 6 bikers that continued on down to Hi Valley. Next I had two
more bikers who where very impressed with the deck. A men’s colony guard was
the next visitor and enjoyed his first visit. The last two groups were two men
on motorcycles and three more bikers. I was barely able to take signals at
all during the first part of the day due to all of the visitors but did pick up
one bird for about an hour in the morning in the direction of pine ridge. The
afternoon was uneventful and I did not pick up anymore condor signals.
August 2 - 3
Lisa and I were joined by Amy and Cedrick, two new cal poly
volunteers. Our big project this weekend was to finish painting the inside of
lookout (thanks Paul for starting). This weekend was huge for condors. On sat
picked up 12 different birds throughout the day and late into the evening. We
suspect that they spent the night southeast of the lookout since we picked up
signals early the following morning. We had many of the same birds on Sunday
and some that sounded very close to the lookout. As everybody already knows
Kevin and Mary saw a condor off of the west ridge road. Kevin and Mary also
installed screens on all of the windows upstairs and are in the process of
installing a screen door. The lookout really is shaping up upstairs and
downstairs in the interpretive center. The weather was amazing this weekend and
temperature was very mild.
Holly Messer