California Condors

November 10, 2019 at 3:10 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) ()

California Condor – Orange 77

I have seen California Condors, mostly from a distance, though I did see some juveniles close enough to read their wing tags about five years ago at Pinnacles National Monument.

Purple 54 and Orange 20

But on Nov. 9, 2019 I was fortunate to go on our tour of the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Southern California where I saw approximately 8 free-flying and 14 captive condors in the flight pen.

Orange 77

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife 2016 report on the California Condor Recovery Program, the total world population of condors is 446, with 166 wild in California, 76 in Arizona/Utah, and 34 in Baja, Mexico.

Blue 28

Of the California population, there are a total of 82 in Southern California (2017 report) and 86 in Central California.

Black 40

Many in the flight pen were captive-raised and were to be released after learning from the older mentor bird how to interact, feed and fly. Some were trapped for medical checkups.

Pink 64 juvenile and a raven at flight pen

The wild birds are often at the pen, either waiting for their mates to be released, or perhaps as support or out of curiosity.

We met a few miles from the refuge entrance and were escorted to the bunkhouse where we carpooled to two observation points. The first one (above) had a view of the flight pen.

Flight pen

We were told that the condors generally become active around mid-morning when the thermals are stronger. Since they are also curious, they flew close to us to check us out.

Unfortunately they were against the light, so their coloration isn’t as clear.

Orange 77
Orange 20

Soaring against the expansive hills was a majestic sight.

Blue 28

We had lunch and then visited a hillside opposite of the first one. The light was much better, but the birds kept their distance. I wish our first visit had been to this side instead when the birds were more curious.

Flight pen.

Juvenile condors have black/gray heads, and attain their full adult coloration of white-underside wings and red heads around age six.

I drove home through one of my favorite places – Carrizo Plain National Monument. After six or seven months without rain, it was barren, a sharp contrast to the lushness of the flower-covered landscape in late winter.

Carrizo Plain- Elkhorn Hills backdropped by Temblor Range

There were hundreds of antelope squirrel holes, and I looked for burrowing owls but without success. I did catch two of the San Joaquin antelope squirrels, a species considered threatened in California.

San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel
San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel

There were very few birds actively foraging. I saw some white-crowned and lark sparrows at the southern end at a spring in an old farm yard, a flock of sagebrush sparrows and horned larks, and a single red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk

There were more birds at the northern end, but by then I was rushing to get home by dark.

It was an exceptional day, and an amazing condor experience. Thanks to our tour guides for giving us this opportunity. Check out the Bitter Creek NWR website to join a future tour.

For more information on the California Condor:

Defenders of Wildlife

California Dept of Fish & Wildlife

US Fish & Wildlife

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Contact:  cindy at cindymcintyre.com

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Desert Birds

March 30, 2019 at 3:06 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife)

The black-throated sparrow is my favorite sparrow, and the first place I ever saw one was at Big Bend National Park, Texas. They are also common in Southern California, too.

This one’s bushy “eyebrows” look quote comical.

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Salton Sea Birds

March 16, 2019 at 6:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, , )

Burrowing Owl male

One of the great joys of living in California four years ago was discovering the burrowing owls at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge on the Salton Sea in Southern California’s Imperial Valley.

On my trip to view the wildflower bloom in the desert, I stopped by specifically to look for them. I was not disappointed.

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Carrizo Plain Winter Birds

March 3, 2019 at 6:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, San Luis Obispo County, Wildlife) (, , , )

Prairie Falcon

Last week’s visit to Carrizo Plain National Monument yielded some nice birds as well as a herd of at least 100 Tule elk about a half mile in the distance.

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Morro Coast Bird Festival – part 5

February 23, 2019 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, , )

Western bluebird male

The Morro Coast Bird Festival in January 2019 featured a variety of trips, many of them centered around the water. However, some of the best birds were songbirds.

Western Bluebird Male

I carry around a very heavy Nikon D750 with a Nikon 200-500mm lens. This is the sharpest lens I’ve ever owned, and combined with a good camera sensor allows me to crop a small portion of the image and still come up with a relatively sharp and minimally pixelated image.

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Morro Coast Bird Festival – Part 4

February 22, 2019 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, , , , )

Heermann’s Gull

My favorite gull is the Heermann’s, which I had never seen until I moved to California. In its breeding colors as shown above, it is a handsome bird, but only spends the winter with us.

Heermann’s gull

I saw quite a few of them at San Simeon during the Morro Coast Bird Festival in January 2019.

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Morro Coast Bird Festival – part 3

February 21, 2019 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Wildlife) (, , , )

Male bufflehead in flight

The Morro Coast Bird Festival was four days of amazing birding in my own “backyard.” Of course, most of the birds we saw were water birds.

Horned grebe

The horned grebe’s eyes are so red they show up in the water’s reflections!

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Morro Coast Bird Festival – part 2

February 20, 2019 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, , )

Brown pelican resting on a light

The Morro Coast Bird Festival held in January 2019 at Morro Bay, California had a huge selection of field trips, workshops, and classes to choose from. I chose two trips in a boat, a walking trip along Morro Bay, and some car caravan trips.

Brown pelican looking for fish

The brown pelicans are coming into their breeding colors, but I had never seen one fly with his huge head dangling down like this one.

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Morro Coast Bird Festival – part 1

February 19, 2019 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Wildlife) (, , , )

Peregrine Falcon on boat yardarm

I treated myself to four days of birding at the Morro Coast Bird Festival in January 2019. Although I chose some trips to areas I was already familiar with, I found it extremely beneficial to go with someone who pointed out birds I had never seen before.

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A Yellow House Finch

February 18, 2019 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, California Central Coast, Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) (, )

Yellow house finch
A yellow male house finch

House finch males are normally raspberry or orange-red in color, but occasionally a male turns up with yellow plumage. I was lucky enough to have one show up at my feeder in Paso Robles, California on Feb. 17, 2019.

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