Monday, May 30, 2022

"Decoration Day"

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Small craft warning

She does this sometimes: if she doesn't like the weather in Lincoln, she'll start checking some of our other "hometowns".

J: "Wow, Annapolis has a small craft warning in effect."

M: "That'll be down to the wind."

J: "I suppose so."

M: "Blows away your beads, your yarn, your popsicle sticks and suchlike."

J [after brief pause]: "I don't like you."

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Bison and snow, San Luis Valley

The belated conclusion to our Southwestern trip back in March. New material coming soon...

Friday, May 13, 2022

Condor country

In planning our most recent Southwestern trip, Jessa and I made seeing California condors a priority. Having missed them on several previous occasions, we decided to stack the odds in our favour by giving ourselves some time at the Vermillion Cliffs, from which the current Arizona population originated and where many of the condors are still known to return every evening. 

As it happened, we had our first sighting a couple of hours away, though it took those same couple of hours to realise it. We saw a single condor, slanting across the highway over snow-covered hills near Flagstaff—saw it, and puzzled over it, and ultimately dismissed it with a shrug. I blame sleep deprivation and road-weariness, but I also know it was mainly a failure of preparedness: even though we were on our way to see condors, we hadn't anticipated seeing one there, and so we didn't. In retrospect, however, it was absolutely unmistakable. 

When eventually we arrived at the designated condor viewing site below the Vermillion Cliffs—fully prepared now, if no better rested—we had the place to ourselves, or so we thought at first. But take a look at the sign below, comparing the wingspans of red-tailed hawk, golden eagle, and California condor. Follow the right edge of the sign, continue upward, and notice the white markings on the cliff beyond. That's what falconers and raptor biologists call "chalk" or "whitewash", the dried urates excreted by birds.

Here is the same area through the zoom lens (we love our little Nikon), with five condors lounging on the cliff face.

In this photo, at lower left, is the hacksite from which the Arizona birds were released. At least four and I think five birds are perched on the netting and framework, while another two soar above.

More condors continued to arrive as we maintained our vigil. By late afternoon, with the sun sinking below the ridge behind us and shadows scaling the Vermillion Cliffs, at least a baker's dozen were perched where the original five had been, with an unknown number of additional birds roosting around the hacksite or elsewhere on the Paria Plateau. 

The next day found us at Navajo Bridge, spanning Marble Canyon. There we found more condors idling, and at considerably closer range.

In the moment, we were just watching the condors and taking pictures. With the help of some online resources, though, we were able to assemble a sort of rogue's gallery of the birds at Navajo Bridge that day.

This handsome fellow, tagged T8, was bred at the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise in the spring of 2016 and hacked (released) at the Vermillion Cliffs in the autumn of 2017.

We got numerous photos of T8 in association with R8, hatched at the Oregon Zoo in Portland in the spring of 2015. Although a year older than T8, R8 was also hacked at the Vermillion Cliffs in autumn 2017, so it would appear these two males have essentially grown up together. 

Here is R8 on his own. I failed to notice at the time, but I'd be willing to bet that when he left the bridge for the canyon rim, T8 followed. 

V3 is another young male, hatched at Portland in spring 2017 and released in autumn 2018. His lead photo may be my favourite of the entire batch. 

Whereas most of the condors we saw were perched under the opposite span of Navajo Bridge, V3 was directly below us—and Jessa, who has a healthy fear of heights, leaned out over the railing with her camera to make his portrait. A look at this second photo may give you an idea of the vertigo she braved; you'll have to imagine the river flowing in your peripheral vision (and perhaps stand on a ladder) to fully appreciate it.

How about just a few more, since they were so hard-earned? Condor V3, ladies and gentlemen. 

V5 from Boise was also hatched in spring 2017, but evidently developed a bit more slowly than V3; he was not hacked from the Cliffs until spring of 2019, and even now looks younger, retaining more grey on his face.

Younger yet is XX (I hope and assume he's known to the condor crew as "Doublecross"), hatched in Boise spring 2018 and released autumn 2019.

For all his youth, Doublecross really has the spectral look down.

The real baby of the bridge crew is 9Y, hatched at Boise in spring 2019 and released at the Vermillion Cliffs in autumn 2020.

Moving in the other direction now, to older birds...

Bird 19 is paired with a female bearing tag R5—we did not see her at the bridge—but they have not yet produced young.

Number 9, on the other hand, is a mother three times over. We did not, however, see her mate J3, nor any of their offspring. 

54 and H9, both pictured below, are a mated pair and the parents of a bird we did not see, X2.

Preening sequence? Why not. Condor 54 needs to stay looking good for the missus.

Does this next condor look confident to you? Accomplished? Well, he should. He and his mate R1 (whom we did not see) are the proud parents of an as-yet untagged 2021 fledgling (presumably in the company of his or her mother).

The star of the day, however, was this male whose tag ([something]9) doesn't show clearly in our photos. (And though I got to talk shop with a couple of P-fund volunteers, I neglected to ask.) He and his mate are nesting for the first time—conveniently enough, within sight of Navajo Bridge. Possession of the nest cave was briefly contested—this is unusual if not unprecedented—with another pair which has previously nested in Marble Canyon, but things seem to have settled down and the new pair has an egg. Time will tell if they will be successful—the odds aren't great for first-time pairs—but we wish them luck and long life.

["Hard to get to? That's a fact!"]

They sure do know where to live...

Eventually one bird, then another, and finally all of them in turn, left the bridge and took laborious flight upstream. Laborious, that is, until they reached a certain point over the canyon rim where a thermal had evidently formed. At that point, they found themselves in their true element, expertly and seemingly effortlessly rising over the desert floor, eventually lining out and disappearing into the distance—down to Flagstaff, perhaps—in their quest for their unmoving prey.

["A perfect circle of acquaintances and friends..."]

Condor country, as seen from Antelope Pass vista above Bitter Springs: Marble Canyon/Colorado River, with Vermillion Cliffs/Paria Plateau beyond.

Thursday, May 12, 2022


My fly-fishing experience to date has centered on small spring creeks, Appalachian freestoners, and familiar lakes and ponds. Big rivers, not so much. So my expectations were low, and in my first (brief) attempt to fish the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry, I caught nothing at all.

However, there are worse places to not catch fish.

For Jessa, the cobble field alone was worth the stop.

I hope this angler, on the lower Paria River just above its confluence with the mighty Colorado, had better luck than I. But then, he knows the river, doesn't he?