Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Huff's Hole

Yesterday, 4/6/04, Kevin Cooper and I made our annual trip into Huff’s Hole, in the Santa Lucia Wilderness Area below Hi Mountain Lookout. Our group of nine, including 3 of my visiting family from Oregon, cleared the trail of brush and poison oak and made our way into Hi Valley. We cleaned out the soil and organic debris from the Chumash grinding holes near Hi Valley Rock and continued on along its base, where we were alerted to the presence of a pair of territorial prairie falcons by there cak-ing vocalizations. One falcon perched at the edge of a pothole with whitewash- a probable eyrie- located on one of the outcrops between Hi Valley Rock and the Huff’s Hole cliffs- this was the same pothole eyrie where peregrine falcon chicks were cross-fostered with prairie falcon parents many years ago, by Lee Aulman from SCPBRG and Kevin Cooper from USFS.
We reached the green protrero of Huff’s Hole and made our way up to the observation point where last year in May- viewing across the intervening canyon to the cliffs- a resident pair of peregrine falcons had been observed bringing prey into an eyrie. While the rest of the group was sitting down and getting out food for lunch at 12 noon, I arrived at the OP and decided before eating to first scan with my binoculars and search for a perched peregrine somewhere on that massive cliff exposure- no luck, but then…
I found myself saying “Oh my God, there is a condor there in a cave!”. I viewed an orange head and black feathers exposed on the edge of a large depression in the cliffs, more than 1/4 mile distance. For the next 3 hours, we watched with binoculars and spotting scope, and photographed with telephoto lense and by videotaping. Condor B168 was identified by his wing tag numbers and by the telonics equipment that Kathleen Intorf and Mike Tyner used to get a radio signal- he is a Ventana Wilderness Society released bird, a 7 year old male. The condor entered and disappeared into the cave about a half hour, reemerged awhile preening and stretching wings, then took flight soaring above the ridgeline about 25 minutes, sometimes among neighboring turkey vultures. The condor
appeared to be departing to the north above the ridgeline beyond our view, for our apparent last look at it, but then returned up high and swept back and forth above the cliff face. More excitement when B168 was dived on by a red-tailed hawk (Gary Guliazi later spotted the red-tail’s stick nest occupied by an incubating adult, on the cliffface below where the condor had been attacked).
I was videotaping as the condor swept along the cliffs and circling around “Dragon’s Head”, and was pleased for my niece Emily who is gathering information, incluing videotaping, for her high school science project and talk she will be giving on California Condor research…it was dramatic firsthand experience in the field for her, in spite of her great fear of poison oak, ticks and bugs in general! The condor made several more brief flights by the time we departed and took a last look back to the cliffs in the distance at 3pm.
We sweated our way up the exhausting climb back to the lookout on Hi Mountain…a good day had by all. We will now be looking into B168’s other recent radio tracking movements and whereabouts by communicating with the VWS and USFWS condor staff. Monitoring condor activity at Huff’s Hole will continue, where last condor nesting occurred in the early 1970’s more than 30 years ago.
Steve Schubert