Posted by: James Wapotich | December 23, 2013

2013: Year of the Condor

Now that I’m caught up somewhat on some of my older blog posts, it’s time to look at 2013 in retrospect. And this year for me is clearly the year of the condor.

In the spring I section-hiked the Condor Trail from Lake Piru to State Route 166, producing 16 articles describing the route. And while out covering the first section I managed to see some condors.

Ironically, the sighting was not along the Agua Blanca, in the wilderness, as I had hoped, but instead was near the dam at Lake Piru. That is, while driving home I spotted a group of birds circling over the dam and pulled over to investigate. In the sky was a dozen condors and just as many turkey vultures flying together.

Lake Piru California Condor

A pair of California Condors at Lake Piru

I was surprised by how alert and inquisitive the condors were. They were immediately drawn to my activity and came over to have look, providing me with some pretty good shots. In the mix were adults and juveniles. Once the condors had their look they moved on.

The next time I saw a condor was at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in August for an article. I went there as part of the tour organized by Friends of California Condors Wild & Free. One of the stops during the tour is an observation site that looks down into Pole Canyon where there’s an active nest. My camera wasn’t good enough to get any clear shots of the condor chick hanging out in the nest, but from the scopes trained on the nest one could get a pretty decent view. Equally compelling is the webcam they have on the site. At the field station we were able to see chick in real time on the computer monitor. They’re hoping to have the webcam live on the internet within the next year, and currently excerpts from the feed are posted on the The Condor Cave Facebook page, which is managed by the Santa Barbara Zoo.

For the condor this was also a good year. In February, The Condor’s Shadow premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The documentary provides an excellent summary of the recovery effort to date and the challenges still facing the California Condor. At the top of the list of those challenges is lead poisoning from lead ammunition. The documentary also aired on PBS in December.

But perhaps this single biggest milestone for the California condor was the passage of California State Assembly Bill 711 in October, which bans the usage of lead ammunition throughout the state, not just in the area’s designated as part of the California’s condor’s current range. This is believed by many to be a game changer in the condor recovery effort, and while some may disagree, time will now tell. Let’s hope that the ban does the trick given all of the work that has been done so far to bring back the condor from the brink of extinction.


  1. James – I really liked these three recounts on the animals you tend to see. They really do happen in clusters. I’ve had many Years of the Rattler and a few recent Years of the Bear. Sort of think that the rarest might be the Year of the Human for much of the backcountry. What are you hoping to have for 2014?

    • It’s been a while since I’ve seen any mountain lions. I had a year, perhaps proving your theory, where I saw three different mountains lions, two near Gibraltar Dam and the third at Forbush.

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