Woodpeckers are popping out of eggs all over the place here at Hastings. With the breeding season in full swing, it's rare to get a day off, and even rarer to get the same day off as someone else. Robin (my fellow Acorn Woodpecker tech) and I somehow managed to swing it one day last month, and we drove down to Big Sur. Here we are in a fallen redwood tree.
Big Sur is a region of the central California coast known for its spectacular views and state parks. Robin is familiar with the area after working there a few years ago on a California Condor conservation project. Her work involved hauling frozen dead cows up mountainsides to feed to the birds, as well as radio telemetry to track specific individuals.
California Condors, members of the vulture family, are huge, ancient birds. They were around when wooly mammoths roamed the earth, and they're still around today, but they're in trouble. Their populations have been declining for centuries, and they became extinct in the wild in the late 20th century. Through captive breeding programs, condors have been reintroduced into parts of their former range (including this area of central California), but there are still only a few hundred California Condors living in the wild. They are scavengers, and among other things, they are at high risk for lead poisoning from ammunition left in the carcasses that they eat.
When I came to Hastings, the California Condor was one bird I was excited to see. They are more common south of Hastings (in Big Sur, for example), but I knew anything was possible. I lucked out one day while sitting in a blind right by the main office, watching an Acorn Woodpecker group. As I focused my scope on a dead tree nearby, I saw a large shape in the distance. It was too big for a Red-tailed Hawk, and as it glided closer over the hill, I could see that the undersides of its wings were partially white. Its primaries stuck out at the tips of its wings like feathers. It was the wrong shape for a Golden Eagle, the second large raptor that immediately sprang to my mind, and the color pattern was not right for a Turkey Vulture.
Then the bird flapped its enormous wings, only once, only downward, with no upstroke, and for the first time I got a sense of the sheer size of this creature I was watching. California Condors can have a wingspan of up to three meters (9.8 feet). That's almost twice my height (I'm 5'2").
I watched as the condor glided over the hill, crossed over the office, and then disappeared behind the trees on the other side. It made no sound that I could hear, but it was magnificent.
I was excited to see more condors in Big Sur, maybe at closer range. Unfortunately, although it was beautiful and sunny at Hastings the morning of our trip, the weather was quite different on the coast.
A dense fog covered the land, and sometimes we could barely see the water.
We met up with one of Robin's condor conservation friends at a roadside pullout and checked in. He had a portable radio antenna and was scanning the area for signals (as part of the condor conservation project, condors are radio-tagged so they can be individually identified and their movements monitored. Condors weren't moving much in the fog and chill, but one bird gave a steady signal, and he was close. We looked around, and after a little while we found him, perched 600 feet down on the rocks below us. Condors are huge birds, but he looked tiny.
Our day was relatively condor-less after that, but we took a hike through a redwood forest and had fun discovering lots of other nature-y things. I felt like a kid playing in the woods, especially when we found the huge fallen redwood tree that I mentioned before. Here's a picture that gives a better sense of the scale. I'm 5'2".
Really, there's nothing like hiking through a redwood forest to bring out your inner child, probably because it makes you feel so small.
We found flowers, bugs, and flowers with bugs in them.
We meandered through gorges, and despite the fog, we found a pretty view at the top of a mountain.
Somehow, even though we spend all day watching Acorn Woodpeckers, Robin and I still stopped to watch a group high up in the redwood forest. We were amazed that they made granaries in what is known to be a very hard wood. We were temporarily miffed that none of the birds seemed to be color-banded, unlike the ones at Hastings, but our attention was drawn pretty quickly by an active nest, parents and relatives flying all around and scrambling to feed the noisy chicks.
After our hike, we returned to the overlook for more condor-searching, but no birds were in the area, and the fog was just as dense as it had been earlier. We did see some other cool things off the coast, though, including my first looks at Pigeon Guillemots, and great views of passing dolphins and migrating Gray Whales.
After a lunch at a favorite restaurant of Robin's and a stop for groceries in town, it was time to head back home. Back to our very own misty hills, greedy woodpecker chicks, and gorgeous wildflowers at Hastings. Back to more tiny little natural marvels, like this Western Fence Lizard basking in dappled sunlight.
Jump to a Post
Welcome to Hawk Ridge
A Massive Migration
A Happy Birdthday
Photos from the Week
Visiting the Banding Station
A Watched Kettle Never Streams
Food, Part 1
The Big Picture
Last Weeks at the Ridge
Belize, Part 1
How to Look at Birds, A Guide (or: Belize, Part 2)
All Creatures Great and Small
Kids and Language, Again
More Photos from France
Food, Part 2
Building Nests in California
Please Do Not Pet the Woodpecker
Condors and Creatures in Big Sur
A Day at Hastings
I am a high school graduate taking a gap year before college. I’m interested in birds, biology, and the natural world, as well as history, foreign languages, writing, and reading.