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Paul Wellman

Condors in the Hand

Photos of California Condor Checkup Day at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge


On Wednesday, June 24, photographer Paul Wellman and I headed back to condor country, as part of our ongoing research for a future feature in The Santa Barbara Independent on the state of recovery efforts for the endangered species, which nearly went extinct in the 1980s.

Earlier in June, we were able to see the massive birds in the wild, perched atop dead trees, nesting in remote caves, and flying free above the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. This time, we were escorted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, which is located between the Cuyama and southern San Joaquin valleys, a couple miles east of where highways 33 and 166 collide.

This time, rather than seeing the birds in the wild, we watched as biologists from Fish and Wildlife, the Santa Barbara Zoo, the L.A. Zoo, and the Institute for Wildlife Studies gave the condors their regular physical checkups. Among other tasks, the biologists measured the condors’ wings, tested their blood for lead, and repaired their tracking devices before setting them free to fly away.

Rather than make you wait for the feature story to show off Wellman’s shots, we’re publishing them now for your enjoyment.

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