June 21, 2006

A Wish Granted

Ever since I've been old enough to know what a bird is there has existed one species that's remained on my list of things I must encounter in my lifetime...before it disappears forever. One bird that has, in my lifetime, been listed as officially extinct in the wild yet continues to persist when science and even nature itself seem to proclaim its doom. One bird that, more than any other, symbolizes both everything I love and everything I despise about what we humans are capable of.

And yesterday afternoon, only ten minutes after my very first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, I saw one.

I caught just a glimpse of it before I heard someone behind me mention something about a big vulture. Then I found it again, soaring nearly level with me several hundred yards away. I was standing on the edge of the canyon, only inches away from a sheer drop of at least a thousand feet, refusing to look away while I waited for the bird to bank. I wasn't quite convinced of what it was, and no one behind me seemed to think it anything but a common Turkey Vulture. I knew immediately that it wasn't. It was a huge bird, mostly black but dappled with some brown on the back. It's wings were held perfectly level and unflapping. There were only two things it could possibly be, but wouldn't let myself call it a condor...not until I could see under it's wings.

For almost five minutes I kept repeating to myself, "Is it a condor? No, it's just a Golden Eagle. Well, it's primaries are really curving upward...maybe it is. But I can't see any white, yet."
Finally, it soared a little higher, and the instant it became backlit by the blazingly blue sky...it banked, and all doubt vanished. There it was. A wild, free-soaring California Condor riding the thermals over the red cliffs of the Grand Canyon. I almost peed my pants I was so excited.

Several moments later, someone behind me yelled, "Condor!" and suddenly the ledge around me was filled by curious tourists asking each other where to look. I just stood there smiling, part of me wishing I had my binoculars with me and cursing myself for leaving them in my room, while the other part thankful for being able to witness and identify my first condor with nothing by my eyes.

It was a moment I'll remember for the rest of my life.


Janine Renslow said...

Wow pretty cool Paul!! I'm happy you got to see that!! I called & talked to Sonja after I read your blog...sounds like you are having alot of fun while your there!! Give us a call when you get home so we can hear all about your trip!! Love Ya!
Hugs, your favorite sister :o)

kippur said...

Looks like a vulture...


Cool story. I have a red headed woodpecker living in my dieing pine tree! Its not quite as big as a condor but its still pretty cool.
And my mocking bird gave up on including the bull frog call in his repetoire this year.

Let me know how many birds you counted so I can send you money...and who do I make it out too? Im so forgetful when it comes to remembering things.

P. Ollig said...

Oh yeah, I kinda sorta need to make the official announcement about that, huh? Well, I saw 108 species. And the check can be made out to me....erm, I mean "Alaska Bird Observatory."

Cool about the woodpecker. I saw my first one last year at Gettysburg. Although I was disappointed that he didn't hop around and laugh like he did in the cartoons.