This past Thursday, June 11, photographer Paul Wellman and I were escorted by representatives from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Santa Barbara Zoo deep into the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, where we got an inside look at what’s being done to bring the endangered California condor back to the wild. It was the first trip in a series of excursions that we’ll be taking to research a forthcoming feature in The Santa Barbara Independent about the state of the condor, which nearly went extinct in the 1980s.
Though we weren’t promised any actual condor sightings, the day turned out to be a surprising success: Just a few minutes into our hike down a ridge, we found ourselves within a few dozen yards of a juvenile condor perched on a dead pine tree. Twenty minutes later, we reached a nest observation post. After watching a hole in the cliff for awhile, we had the unique opportunity to witness a condor pair trade off chick-watching duties. The two flew together for a few turns and the father did a few swoops near our position before he landed near the cave, preened his black and white feathers, sunned his large wings, and eventually hopped in to check out his chick. Later that afternoon, while making a pit stop at the Hopper Mountain ranch house, we also saw another pair of condors flying high in the sky.
Rather than have you wait until the article comes out later this year, we decided to publish Paul’s photos on our Web site today. We hope you enjoy them, and we hope there will be more sightings to come.