California Wildlife Photography Workshop Dates Released

There are workshops covering everything from salamanders to sea otters!

There are workshops covering everything from salamanders to sea otters!

In anticipation of next year, I finalized the dates for a bunch of wildlife photography workshops based in California, mainly around Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay Area. You can check out all the info here: http://www.pumapix.com/wildlife-photography-workshops-and-lessons/

Workshop dates are as follows:
February 27th, 2016 – Santa Cruz and Moss Landing, California – Sea Otter Photography Workshop
February 28th, 2016 – Santa Cruz, California – Salamanders of the central coast of California Photography Workshop
May 14th-15th, 2016 – Pinnacles National Park, California – California Condor Photography Workshop
May 21st, 2016 – Santa Cruz, California – Brown Pelican Photography Workshop
August 20th, 2016 – Point Reyes National Seashore, California – Tule Elk Photography Workshop
October, 22nd through November 5th, 2016 – New Zealand – Birds of New Zealand Photography Workshop

Endangered Neighbor: California Condor

California Condor Juvenile Male in Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile California Condor male, Pinnacles National Monument, California

Our most Endangered Neighbor is the California Condor with less than 200 individuals in the wild (There are about 181 in captivity). Like the Sea Otter, the low California Condor numbers are due mainly to historical reasons. Many were shot since they were seen as threats to livestock (sadly not true as they are strict carrion eaters) and for museum specimens. Then, as for so many other bird species, came the problem of pesticides, specifically DDT. It caused their egg shells to be too thin, causing them to break.

Soaring Adult California Condor in Big Sur

Soaring juvenile California Condor, Big Sur, California

Though Condor numbers are on the rise the still face modern day threats:

    • Poaching is still an issue (how is this possible?!?!)
    • Habitat destruction

Dying of lead poisoning due to eating hunter killed carrion that contains lead bullets

Junile California Condor male flying in Pinnacles

California Condor juvenile male flying, Pinnacles National Monument, California

Though these guys are not as cuddly and cute looking as our beloved otters, there are still people who are devoting their life to saving this amazing species. Mainly, the people from the Ventana Wildlife Society‘s Condor Project are responsible for their increase in numbers by managing and conducting a few different projects.

    • They collect thin-shelled, wild-laid eggs and replace them with viable captive-bred eggs
    • They treat lead-poisoned birds

They monitor the safety and health of each condor through radio telemetry

Replacing batteries on radio transmitter on California Condor

Replacing batteries on radio transmitter on California Condor

Monitoring California Condor at Release Site

Monitoring California Condor at Release Site, Big Sur, California

California Condor release in Big Sur

California Condor release, Big Sur, California

Cleaing out Rats in California Condor holding site

They (here Lyla Hunt) also get to clean out the dead rats used as food for the California Condors in their holding pen, Big Sur, California – yummy!

Radio Tracking California Condor in Big Sur

Radio tracking California Condor, Big Sur, California

In fact, the wild flock in central California, aka along the Big Sur coast is a direct result of their dynamic efforts.

Now as always, there are plenty of little steps we can all take to help condors out. Trust me, if for no other reason than this one, you want these guys to survive to see one of them soar near you. Their impressive nine foot wing span is awe inspiring!

So here are the steps you and me should be taking!

  • Adopt a Condor
  • Immediately report poaching activities to the Department of Fish and Game at 1 888 DFG-CALTIP (888 334-2258)
  • Hunt with non-lead bullets
  • Finally, there are limited and irregular volunteer opportunities with the Ventana Wilderness Society (call them at 831-455-9514)
California Condor and Turkey Vulture

California Condor and Turkey Vulture flying, Big Sur, California — oh yeah, there is a size difference 🙂

 

Once in a lifetime California Condor experience

If you spend enough time outdoors eventually you get lucky to have ‘once in a lifetime’ wildlife experiences. We all remember these distinct events clearly and I know I won’t forget any of them for the rest of my life. This last weekend I was lucky enough to once again have one of these completely breath taking encounters.

Jeff Swanson, a good friend of mine and amazing landscape photographer, and I made the trek to Pinnacles National Monument to try and find some California Red-legged Frogs that JK let us know we could find there (thanks again Jake). Since we wanted to be at Bear Gulch Reservoir by sunrise that meant getting up at 3:00am. It was amazing to be the only people at the reservoir, it was completely tranquil and quiet (except beautiful bird calls of course!).

Bear Gulch Reservoir, Pinnacles National Monument

Bear Gulch Reservoir, Pinnacles National Monument

Since we didn’t have much luck finding adult frogs (we did find tadpoles which were awesome) and the light was getting harsher we decided to go for a little hike. First we encountered this amazing valley scene:

Bear Gulch, Pinnacles National Monument

Bear Gulch, Pinnacles National Monument

and then as we were higher up the trail we saw what I was hoping for the whole time while hiking, California Condors!

There were a couple of them perched in a tree so I left my gear with Jeff and went into stalking mode. I was still quite a bit away but got some images with the 100-400 telephoto lens when one of the birds flew right at me and landed on the rocks fifteen feet away from Jeff. I got back there as quickly and quietly as I could, hoping to be fast enough to get some shots but also not too fast to scare the bird away. The juvenile condor then decided it wanted a closer look at Jeff and I so he started hopping even closer (if you have ever seen a condor hop, you know how funny yet powerful it looks). My heart was pounding and my body was shaking from the excitement. I decided to grab some portrait shots while I had the chance, knowing that this was a rare event.

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

Juvenile male California Condor, Pinnacles National Monument

After having taken about 50 images, he decided to come even closer and was within 5 feet of us. I used my landscape camera and lens to get wide-angle views of him. Here is a shot as he seems to check us out.

California Condor in Pinnacles National Monument

California Condor in Pinnacles National Monument

Just to give you an idea how close he is:

California Condor and me photographing it - Copyright Jeff Swanson

California Condor and me photographing it – Copyright Jeff Swanson

Finally, after about 20-30 minutes he decided to take off again. It was absolutely impressive as he spread his 9 foot wings to glide off.

California Condor flying in Pinnacles National Monument

California Condor flying in Pinnacles National Monument

Jeff and I were sitting there for another 10 minutes saying how crazy that really was. What an experience!

Note: I keep using the term he, this is based on his tag that is attached to his wing. It looks like he is a three year old male (his pinkish throat pouch would seem to confirm this as well) born on April 23, 2008. All California Condors are tagged, even the wild born chicks are caught and fitted with a radio transmitter so if you see a bird without a number it is very very unlikely that it is a California Condor. You can find out about each condor’s life on the Condor Spotter site.

What was one of your most memorable wildlife experiences?

Politics and Politicans getting in the way of Conservation

This is not a new event, throughout historical times, politicians have reduced or eliminated the chances for scientists and NGOs to increase their conservation efforts. The latest bill and possibly the one with the most impact comes out of southern California where democrat Joe Baca introduced a bill that would de-list all endangered species (aka eliminate all the protection and funding going towards saving the species) that have been listed on the Endangered Species Act for 15 years.

He declares a species should be listed as extinct if it meats one of a few different options. The first is the previously mentioned criteria of a species being listed as endangered for fifteen years.  Another option is if the species has not been found to have a substantial increase in population size since its initial listing. The third option is that the species is declared as a limited listed species, which basically is defined as a species that may or may not be  present in its range because not all individuals were accounted for at the time of its original listing.

What drives me crazy here is that this bill takes no ecological science into consideration. What about slow reproducing species like California Condors where chicks spend two years with their parents and adults don’t reach sexual maturity until the age of six. This species will continue to be listed as a critically endangered species, let alone as an endangered species for a much longer period of time than 15 years. Should we just stop our conservation efforts now? Based on Joe Bacca’s reasoning we should indeed.

Soaring Adult California Condor in Big Sur

Soaring Adult California Condor in Big Sur

This bill stems from conflicts that have been going on for years between developers and conservationists that want to protect the Delhi Sands Flower-loving Fly and therefor also its habitat which is considered prime real-estate by developers. The sad part is that this tiny bit of land is only 2-3% of the flies historical habitat. Yet even this sliver of land needs to be developed? To me this is pure ridiculousness.

The bigger problem, besides the certain extinction of the fly, would be the extinction of many other species. Species more charismatic than the fly, and species with larger ecological impacts. With their destruction, much of the habitats we know today would forever be altered.

If you have a problem with this as well, please write to your local house representative.