Friday, April 5, 2013


When I was a young birder, certain birds were legendary for their rarity and endangered status. The elusive (and now apparently extinct) ivory-billed woodpecker would surely top the list, but another famous species was the California condor. By the 1980s its wild population had dwindled to as few as 22, and thus began a massive and remarkably successful attempt to restore the wild population through a captive breeding and release program. There are now over 200 in the wild, and a bunch of them live in Pinnacles National Park. I had looked for them there once or twice before, unsuccessfully, but Aidan and I were fortunate to watch a couple yesterday during our visit.

Aside from the fact that the bird is truly impressive (up to 10-foot wingspan), anyone who was a conservationist and nature buff like me in the 1970s and 1980s must catch their breath at seeing for the first time this rare and fantastic thing soaring high overhead. 

Unfortunately, lead poisoning from consuming ammunition in animal carcasses kills enough of them that the wild population of condors is not sustainable without ongoing and expensive human intervention. If you hunt, don't use lead!

Of course there's lots more to see and do at Pinnacles, including some very fun hiking over the rocks, and a fantastic springtime wildflower display...

Bush poppy:

Cirsium occidentale, known as cobweb thistle for obvious reasons:


And to get to the west entrance, one drives through the splendid Salinas Valley, with its miles of fertile vegetable farms, sleepy little Mexican-American towns, rugged high hills east and west, and on the gentle slopes at the edges, a growing number of pretty vineyards (view south from Rte 146):

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