Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bittercreek Release

Well, I feel SO lucky to have gotten to be at the “release” (not quite actually) of two juveniles . . .It was amazing and exciting and challenging . . . (I know all the Hopper folks were excited since it has been three years since the last release) I sent a few photos . . .Some are of Dan Tappe & the interns we met down there: Sean, Joe (Cal Poly) & Helen. Also, Wendy Thies & a cameraman were there to do a story for KSBY/NBC TV (to be aired in Oct or Nov) They will make a copy for Hopper of the piece when it’s all edited together . .. John was also doing interviews and will see if any newspaper or magazine wants his first person account of seeing the tagging & planned release . . .

I’ve enclosed a photo of their fly pen (it’s quite large and I think the Ventana one will bemodeled after it) Here’s how it went: Two biologists and two interns entered the fly pen - This of course, caused several of the birds to fly from one perch to another within the pen… They then determined which two male junveniles they wanted to capture. Meghan, Karinne & Kelly probably remember Sean (he was one of the interns at Hopper who had the scope for us to see the roosting condors when we arrived that evening) Anyway, he climbed up the side netting of the fly pen, literally pushed the juvenile off his perch and as he landed on the ground, Dan put a net over the bird. Then they secured the bird in a tight bundle and walked it over to another intern waiting to hold the body. Sean stayed on the head & beak, another intern held the feet . .They came outside of the pen and transferred the bird into a portable “kennel” (like a large dog-carrier) with towels draped over the open screen parts and placed it in the shade.

Then they repeated the capture of a 2nd male juvenile. This time they walked the 2nd bird straight over to a flat area behind a truck where they had a tarp laid down w/ their medical kits set up. Helen (who we also met from Hopper) sat in a chair & held the bird’s body. Sean (seen in pictures w/ pony tail) held the head/beak w/ another intern on the feet and Richard (Dan’s counterpart at Hopper) did the tagging (piercing was a little complicated as the punch didn’t go all the way through and the top & bottom holes can be hard to line up) After attaching the tags/transmitter, they drew blood and put into vacuum-sealed vials that went straight into a cooler . . .they’ll be sent to a lab for testing) Then the 2nd bird was done w/ Dan doing the blood draw and tagging and different interns helping. (one lucky intern was on her second day and this was her first live condor sighting! She was interviewed by Wendy)

One of the MOST thrilling parts for me this day . . .was that as it got to be around 9:30 or 10, as the thermals started, seven of the wild condors including AC-9 showed up and circled overhead, coming in low and landing on the top of the fly pen!!! They hung out there about 50 yards from where we all were: either handling condors or snapping photos watching, learning along w/ the interns learning how to do all the procedures in the briefest amount of time . . .I actually heard my first vocalization as one of the juveniles, complained hoarsely . . .

Then, when both birds were done, they carried them to a part of the pen that is separated from the rest of the pen. One intern (Joe) went into the blind and w/ all of us leaving the area and driving up to the ridge above. At that point all of the wild condors took off from the pen . ..later we could see them eating calf carcases at the feeding site across the canyon . . .When we were in position, via radio, Joe was told to open the “window” trap-door . . . . we watched from the ridge for about an hour (luckily I brought a huge bags of chips & salsa for the starving interns . . .ha,ha) but they just stayed in there on the ground. Later, the wild condors came back and landed back on top of the fly pen . . .

Finally, everyone needed to leave (the KSBY crew had to head back) and we all left. The plan was to leave the “door” open but close it at night. And perhaps put some food out for the next day & reopen the trap again today (Wed.) - I’ve asked Dan and Helen to let me know how it went. . . I hope they find their way out or perhaps, they’ll have to capture them again and take them up to the feeding site to release them . . .

PS Good news was that the CDF has told the Hopper staff that they CAN go back into Hopper (at least during the day) . . .Last week, when they went in, the chick was still doing ok in its cave/nest.

That’s it for now!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

5th Annual Open House and Campout- Event Schedule

Hi Mountain Condor Lookout Project 5th Annual Open House/ Campout
Saturday, October 14th, 2006
Schedule of Activities:

Birding Field Trip 8am-11:30am

Hi Mountain to Hi Valley, Santa Lucia Wilderness Area, Los Padres National Forest. Meet at Hi Mountain Lookout. Habitats: chaparral, blue oak woodland, riparian woodland, rocky outcrops. Strenuous hiking conditions and steep slopes. Bring water and snacks. Some poison oak along the trail. Advanced registration requested: contact Al Schmierer 805-772-2026

Arrival and set up for campers 11:30 – 1pm
Picnic lunch 12 noon - 1pm
Bring your own lunch. The Hi Mountain Lookout Interpretive Center will be open. Information fair with Natural history exhibits, booths, and Condor info. Please sign guest register. Raffle tickets, condor pottery, and Hi Mt. merchandise for sale.

Afternoon activities and field trips 1pm-late afternoon
Welcoming comments and introductions.
Morning birding field trip report by trip leader.
“Hi Mountain Lookout Project Year in Review” and recognition of staff, interns and volunteers- Steve Schubert, Volunteer Coordinator, Morro Coast Audubon Society and Paul Andreano, Project Volunteer.
“Updates on the Condor Recovery Program”- brief updates on 2006 recovery activities from Arizona and California agency staff.
Raffle drawing and fundraiser- prize donations. Event announcements.
“Geographical landmarks- a 360* view from the Pacific coast to the Sierras”- Kevin Cooper, U.S.F.S. Wildlife Biologist.
Condor radio tracking demonstration.
Volunteers training session, practicing with radio telemetry.
Natural history field trip: Geology, native plants and birding. Easy stroll along the ridge top road.
Late afternoon sit down chat with condor biologists and staff…reminiscing about experiences in ‘Condor Country’.
Sunset watch, dinner and socializing. Stove and oven heating are available at the lookout facilities. Participants are encouraged to bring a potluck dish to share. Note: no campfires are permitted for cooking or during the overnight campout, but small propane bar-b-ques are OK.
Evening guest speakers 7pm-??
California Condor research and recovery program topics:
“2006 Field Research Season Highlights”- A slide show and discussion by the 2006 Hi Mt. Interns.
“Arizona Condor reintroduction efforts”- A Powerpoint presentation by Chris Parish, The Peregrine Fund Condor Project Director.
“Lead reduction efforts in the Arizona range of the California condor”. A Powerpoint presentation and discussion by Kathy Sullivan, Condor Coordinator AZ Game and Fish Department.
“Telescope observations of the evening skies”- interactive astronomy presentation with Noll Roberts, a Cuesta Physics student in collaboration with GNAT (Global Network of Astronomical Telescopes).
Optional Hi Mountain Campout
Camping sites are available for Friday and/or Saturday nights for staff and volunteers at ‘Cypress Hill’ near the lookout. Other vehicle camping sites are located on the ridgeline near the entrance gate – views overlooking the Santa Lucia mountains and the coast - and at the U.S.F.S. Hi Mountain Campground, located one mile down the road from the lookout. Picnic tables and outhouses are at the campground- bring your own potable water.
For additional information about the open house event and driving directions to Hi Mountain Lookout, see our website at:
Driving directions and maps are at:
Download/print a copy of the event flyer (pdf) at:

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

5th Annual Open House Press Release

For Immediate Release
Hi Mountain Lookout 5th Annual Open House and Condor Campout October 14-15, 2006
The Hi Mountain Lookout (near Pozo) has been restored as a California Condor research and interpretive center. Come visit the Lookout and discover one of the world’s most endangered and largest birds, the California Condor. The day will include condor tracking demonstrations, native plant and birding walk, a geology talk, potluck dinner, evening slide presentations, guest speakers, and astronomy. Guests are invited to stay the night near the Lookout and take in the amazing views from the coast to the Sierras.
For an event schedule and driving directions to Hi Mountain
Lookout, visit or call Steve Schubert 805-528-6138

Saturday, September 9, 2006

"California Condors back"- by John FitzRandolf

Special to The SLO Telegram-Tribune by Hi Mountain volunteer John FitzRandolph
Posted on Sat, Sep. 09, 2006
For those keeping track of significant dates in California wildlife conservation history, mark April 19, 1987, in bright red ink.
On that day, the last free-flying Gymnogyps californianus — California Condor — was plucked from the wild and moved to a captive breeding program at the San Diego Zoo. Along with 26 other captured condors — all that remained from the estimated thousands who soared the western skies during the last Pleistocene epoch (ice age) 10,000 years ago — that last wild condor was knocking on extinction’s door.
Still, while North America’s largest birds, weighing up to 30 pounds with 91⁄2-foot wingspans, entered the boldest captive breeding program in U.S. history, high-visibility ornithologists, biologists and outdoor experts said it would never work.
Fortunately, those dissenters were wrong, and the condor has subsequently been resurrected, rolling away the stone of doubt for this and other endangered species.
Indeed, first-time visitors making the rocky 6-mile trek through the shallow Salinas River and up twisty Hi Mountain Road to the Hi Mountain Condor Lookout Project west of Pozo are discovering the California Condor Recovery Program is a sizzling success.
Let’s be clear: the chances of seeing a condor circling the Hi Mountain lookout site are slim, albeit the colossal birds do fly near the lookout on their pilgrimages between Big Sur/Pinnacles in Monterey County and Sespe Wilderness/Bitter Creek in Ventura County.
A pivotal point of the recovery effort is to encourage the condors to travel and socialize with other condors.
Biologists and Cal Poly interns use telemetry technology to track the condors’ movements, part of the Hi Mountain daily duties visitors can witness up close, as the birds fly, hang out and eat with other recently released condors.
Ultimately, the plan is for condors to cruise the state, find their own food, meet, mate, lay eggs, raise chicks and become prolific in the same way bald eagles re-emerged from near obscurity to their proud prolific population today. The Hi Mountain portion of that plan utilizes the combined resources of U.S. Forest
Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Morro Coast Audubon Society.
Meanwhile, tentative plans are under way to create a central feeding location in the Santa Lucia Wilderness in San Luis Obispo County; condors from around the state would congregate and share nutritious meals of stillborn calves and fresh-thawed raw rats, mice and rabbits.
(Yes, that’s what they are fed by field biologists in the four release areas.)
As for the current free- flying condors, 28 thrive in the Ventana Wilderness area, 13 call Pinnacles
National Monument home, 22 live in the Sespe Wilderness and Bitter Creek areas in Ventura County and around 60 are in the Grand Canyon area.
Visitors to the Hi Mountain Research & Interpretive Center — on the ground floor of the lookout — have access to an impressive collection of native animal specimens, a Condor egg, feathers and more.
And speaking of impressive, the vistas from 3,180-foot Hi Mountain Condor Lookout are certainly that. On a clear day, looking south, the eye takes in Lopez Lake, Pismo Beach, the Nipomo Dunes, Avila and more; looking west, Santa Margarita Lake is like a little pond in the distance; to the north, Black Mountain, the San Andres Fault (Temblor Range) and some days even the snow-capped High Sierra Mountains are visible.
For camping enthusiasts, the drive up Hi Mountain Road to the condor lookout leads to the U.S. Forest
Service Hi Mountain Campground; ten campsites offer fire rings and picnic tables; it’s first-come, first served and about a mile and a half below the lookout. Other nearby hiking trails and an invitation to the public to attend the Hi Mountain Condor Lookout Open House on Oct. 14 is available online at

Thursday, September 7, 2006


Hi all,
The past couple weeks at the lookout I haven’t tracked many condors in the area. I think I could count the number of signals I picked up on one hand. Although there were few condors in the area the past couple weeks, there were other guests of the lookout- furry ones. I finally saw some bears, two to be exact. They were scampering along Hi Mtn Road between the campground and the lookout, and of course I “heard” the bears later that night just outside the lookout! They were
magnificent creatures, but it was sad to see that they were probably attracted to the area by leftover trash from visitors at the campground below the lookout.
The next time any of you are up at the lookout keep an eye out for the bears near the campgrounds.
Stuart Vik

Monday, September 4, 2006

Last Weekend at Hi Mountain

So this past weekend was the end of my intern and as I drove away I left part of my summer behind. I would just like to say that Hi Mtn was an amazing opportunity and I’m so glad that I was able to partake in it. Ever since my first time to the lookout (fall 2005), I loved the views, the wilderness, and the actual lookout. This summer was a< blast! I’ve met a lot of really interesting/cool people. Whether it was condor biologists or condor visitors or just a drive by visitor, they all will be remembered as one of the best summers in my life. no joke.
I must say, even though I didn’t see any condors from the lookout, going to Hopper and Ventana reassured that what we did at Hi Mtn was an important part of the recovery program.
Highlights of Hi Mtn:
Bobcats running up the road, coyote at the base of the mtn, deer, poorwills at night, baby quail, dense fog setting of the smoke alarm, sitting in the rain collection tank because of the very hot weather, a hummingbird perched on the antenna while I was scanning for condors, hummers in the lookout, my dogs chasing each other around the outside of the lookout, the domestic cat, now named Condi and is doing well at the CP Cat Shelter, rattlesnake that Marcelle almost stepped on during orientation. That’s all I can think about for now.
Hi Mtn. and the experiences that came with it, will always be something I will never forget. As I head back to the East Coast for a mini vacation before school, I can’t wait to tell my family about condors and tell them my summer stories. I look forward to going back to Hi Mtn as much as possible and can’t wait for Open House.