by Sally Blanchard

It was early 1993 and I was on my way from the San Francisco Bay Area to visit my mother in southern California. I decided to make it a 2 day trip and do some bird watching on the way down. Most of all, I wanted to go to the Los Padres National Forest and see I could see a very special bird that I had never seen.

When I saw a few people with binoculars and scopes at a place to pull over, I knew I was in place where I might see one of these birds. There weren't many of them left in the wild at all. When I got out of the car and walked over to the people, a man looked up and said, "We've been here about an hour and haven't seen any yet." Of course, other bird watchers usually know what you are looking for in a place like this.

A woman pointed to something flying in the distance and we all focused our binoculars on the bird. She said, "Oh, its just another damn Golden Eagle!" Golden eagles are pretty special birds to see so that statement surprised me a bit. I stayed with these people for about an hour and heard similar statements about golden eagles ... we must have seen 4 or 5 of them (maybe the same ones a couple of times) and it was always with disappointment as the bird
 flew closer and we knew it was "just another golden eagle." 

They were heading down the mountain, but I decided to head up the mountain. At another lookout parking area I saw a small bus with several college age students. They had special equipment with them. This seemed promising to me. I stopped and asked them if they had seen one of the birds I was looking for. A few of these birds had been fitted with radio collars and the students from Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) had the receivers. There had been a few beeps but no one had seen any of the birds yet. After about 15 minutes, the beeps got louder and louder which meant one of the birds was nearby. Suddenly from behind us, a California Condor soared over us and it was only about 30 feet or so above us. It was breathtaking as the bird soared without a single wing flap over us and down into the valley. We watched it for some time until the huge bird disappeared behind a hill.

There are people who think that vultures, particularly California Condors are ugly birds. These people would never think that if they had seen these majestic birds soar on the thermals.




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