A condor over Sespe Wilderness in December, 2013. (Return to Whiteacre Peak Or Day of the Condor)
Earlier this month I stood on a ridge along Arroyo Burro Trail gazing from afar into the rocky mouth of San Roque Canyon and remembering times past. A couple of decades ago was the last time I hiked up the canyon. I had no idea back then as a kid that condors once lived there.
Two years ago I had learned from Sandy Wilbur, who led the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s California condor research and recovery program from 1969 to 1981, that long ago they nested in the caves of San Roque Canyon.
“Frank Ruiz took two eggs, apparently both out of San Roque,” Mr. Wilbur told me referring to events around the year 1899, when Mr. Ruiz and Fredrick Forbush raided nests in the canyon. (Historic newspaper story: “Desperate Fight With Condors: Narrow Escape of Santa Barbara Man” (1899)
The Santa Ynez Mountains were apparently once prime nesting habitat. “Willis Griffith claims to have taken 10 eggs out of the various Santa Ynez Canyons,” Mr. Wilbur told me. “I can positively account for six, and know of two more that are probably his, so he may really have taken the full ten,” he said.
Looking into San Roque Canyon I thought of condors flying there, something entirely unknown in my lifetime. How it was 100 years ago. I tried to imagine such a sight, what it would mean if they once again soared over the iconic crags of the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara.
And then a few days after my hike to the top of Arroyo Burro Trail I learned about news of a rare event (hat tip NB). Two weeks prior to my hike a female condor had flown right over the trail and had been circling San Roque Canyon.
More notable yet, she spent the night in the Santa Barbara foothills not far from the city. It may be an overstatement to say that such an event is unheard of, but it most certainly does not happen often. When was the last time?
June bloom. Calochortus fimbriatus, a rare flower, growing along the Arroyo Burro Trail, its barbellate petals combing droplets of moisture from the morning marine layer.
The condor’s flight was recounted and illustrated by “The Condor Cave” Facebook page, which posted the image shown here using Google Earth accompanied by the following brief:
“On May 25th, a two-year-old wild-fledged California condor soared into Santa Barbara County and spent the evening in the Santa Barbara foothills!
Female #717 flew west from the Pine Mountain Club area, through Bitter Creek NWR, before flying south between Los Olivos and Solvang, and into the Mission Canyon area. According to the GSM data, she roosted in a draw below La Cumbre Peak.
On the morning of May 26th, she perched on a cluster of rocks near the Jesusita Trail before flying north past Cachuma Mountain and over Peak Mountain (5,843 ft), the highest point in the Sierra Madre range.
This adventurous condor hails from the Pole Canyon nest territory and is the offspring of sire #237 and dam #255.
While it is not uncommon for condors to venture into the Santa Barbara back country as it is an important part of the species’ nesting and foraging range, it is rare to see them in the Santa Barbara foothills.”
As if taking a gander of a swath of the Los Padres National Forest that may soon be named in honor of the giant vultures, she flew along a length of the Santa Ynez Mountains above the Gaviota Coast known tentatively as the “Condor Ridge Scenic Area.”
The condor made this unlikely flight, of all days, on the day before the “Central Coast Heritage Protection Act” was reintroduced in Congress on May 26. The legislation would, in part, officially establish Condor Ridge.