Thursday, January 22, 2004

Hi Notes

OK…I’ve been remiss is posting of late, so I’ll play catch-up, beginning with the great news from yesterday’s trip to the top of the world (well, SLO County): I picked up signals from Blk287, one of the newly released Condors in the Pinnacles National Park! This precocious bird jumped to the head of his class by escaping from his holding pen while still at Ventana Wilderness a few months ago. He flew free for about a week before being re-captured and transported to the Pinnacles with the rest of the group of six youngsters and their mentor, Hoi. Having gained this vast amount of prior experience, he has become the ‘Alpha’ bird at the Pinnacles and tends to fly higher and farther than his fellow feathered friends. Just prior to these birds being released (end of Dec.’03, beginning of Jan.’04), we had a scare concerning the whereabouts of AC9, as he had been missing for more than a week. As it turned out, his transmitters had ceased to function. Since then they have managed to capture him (not an easy task as he has become quite good at avoiding the trap) and fit him out with a Satellite as well as a radio transmitter. As most of you probably know, AC9 is the only free flying Condor from the last 22 Condors in existence, taken into captivity in the late 1980s. Needless to say, he is a VERY special bird!

Last week (Jan 12) while at the lookout with a potential volunteer, Donna Bower, and her friend Rick Clack, Rick spotted two mature Bald Eagles perched in a tree between the lookout and Pozo. Quite a
beautiful sight! We also saw a Bobcat darting across the road on the way up to the lookout.

The week before that (Jan 7) I had gone to the lookout with yet another Donna (O’Shaunnesy). We were amazed to see a flock of 175 to 200 Wild Turkeys just passed the Santa Margarita Lake turnoff on the way to Pozo. Once at the lookout, we embarked on a hike to Hi Valley and REALLY enjoyed the hike DOWN. The hike back UP from Hi Valley caused my heretofore under-used hiking muscles to protest vigorously for the next of couple of days. During the winter months there isn’t a lot of Condor activity, as the birds tend to stay ‘home’ in Ventana, Hopper Mt., and now the Pinnacles, most of the time. It is always beautiful at the lookout, with a view of the Sierras to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West on clear days. The weather can be chilly, giving us an opportunity to sport our warmest cold weather togs.

Don’t miss the Condor exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Morro Bay and learn more about these grand birds!

‘Til next time,

Friday, January 16, 2004

Jan 12-15 at the Lookout

It was great to be back up to the lookout after being away for 2 ½ months. The place looks better than ever with the new storm doors, rockwork, pruning, and change of season. Green is coming back to the hillsides and soon they will be alive with all types of flowering plants. Mountain Quail that have been quiet for the past few months are beginning to call again but only very early in the morning before the sun comes up. The birdseed that has been put out on the ground has been attracting a lot of sparrows. A flock of 20+ `Oregon’ Dark-eyed Juncos makes its way to the seed many times a day. From the catwalk you can see and hear the flock coming up the wooded hillsides on their rounds. They will feed for a few minutes and then they will be off, spooked and taking cover in the brush. They are very fearful of coming out in the open. But once a few brave birds venture out then the rest of the flock and other species not associated with the flock will join in on the feeding. Golden- crowned Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, California Towhees, Spotted Towhees, Purple Finches, Western Scrub-Jays, Fox Sparrow, and even a `Slate-colored’ Dark-eyed Junco all take part in the feast. Maybe with all the action at the seed the local Sharp- shinned Hawk will find an easy meal. Not only birds but also small mammals at night feed on the seed as evidenced by the sunflower seed shells downstairs left by the deer mice that still seem to be able to get inside the building. Only a few Anna’s Hummingbirds are using the one feeder that is left out. The birdbath attracts all the birds that visit the seed plus Lesser Goldfinch, Wrentit, and California Thrasher. Although I did not see the latter two using the bath at all for the last few days I was up there. In the late summer and fall they were both constantly using the water. Maybe with the wetter season and cooler temperatures there is less need for them to seek water or maybe they are just getting the water from other locations, or both. Throughout the day I had views off various birds perched on Hi Valley and Huff’s Hole rocks: Red- tailed Hawk, Golden Eagle, Common Raven, an unidentified falcon, and Turkey Vultures. The Vultures sometimes chose to sit on the rock rather than stand. Had brief signals from two condors up towards Big Sur and stronger signals from three condors towards the southwest in Santa Barbara County. Just as I first picked up a signal from one of the birds to the southwest I got a message from a friend who claimed he was almost positive he saw a condor heading north while driving on 101 near Los Alamos 20 minutes earlier but he couldn’t ID it for sure. The direction of the signal I was getting placed the bird 10-15 miles to the northwest of Los Alamos at the closest. So it may either be possible or just coincidence that it was a condor he saw and one I was tracking. Later I picked up a signal for another bird in the same general direction. Maybe the `Condor Country’ tour with the Winter Bird Festival will be lucky enough to spot one.
Mike Tyner