The highly endangered — but making a strong comeback — California Condor is a frequent visitor to the Tehachapi Mountains. Local residents get unforgettable views of this giant bird from time to time, and the past two weeks have provided exceptional Condor sightings.
Several Tehachapi News readers were kind enough to call my attention to the presence of California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) in the area, including Erica Schlosser, who was the first to report that her family had seen the enormous birds near their home in the mountains south of Highline Road on Aug. 30, and she took some photos of them in flight.
Thanks to Erica's tip, I went looking for them and spotted several of them circling and then descending to down to land, perhaps to feed on a deer or elk carcass in the area. I told some of my dearest friends, Kerri and Chris Esten, to keep an eye out for them, since they live in the same area.
They didn't have to wait long. On Sept. 1, Chris heard a lot of noise on their roof at about 9 a.m., thought it was ravens and yelled at them. Then Kerri noticed their cat running inside the house from one end to the other, looking outside. Kerri got up to see what the cat was looking at, and there in the yard were the biggest, and formerly the rarest, birds in North America.
More and more California Condors appeared, until there were at least 38 birds in their yard, on the roof, walking on their vehicles, perched on lawn furniture and drinking from an automatic livestock waterer that is kept out for wildlife.
The birds managed to break the water fixture, leaving water spraying all over the yard, so the delighted birds decided to use the spray as a shower and they took baths. Later they extended their enormous wings to dry them in the sun.
Judging by the photos that Kerri took, some of the birds appear to have recently gorged themselves, since they have distended crops. Their leisurely behavior, lounging around for much of the day, also seems more indicative of satiated rather than hungry birds.
And when they left, Kerri notes that they trotted — or perhaps waddled off — walking up the hill away from their house. That is another behavior typical of Condors with their bellies full: they'll spend a lot of time on the ground, and then walk up a hillside so that they can launch themselves from a high vantage point to get airborne more easily.
Many of the birds stayed in the area, because on Sept. 6, John King III reported two dozen of them feeding on Hidden Canyon Drive in Golden Hills. On Sept. 9, Stacey Herrera in Stallion Springs saw and photographed eight different tagged California Condors flying over her family's house.
So these iconic birds continue to forage in the Tehachapi Mountains. Seeing them, either on the wing or on the ground, really is a remarkable and impressive sight. They can be somewhat destructive, since their bills are like very sharp pruning shears.
Kerri notes that the mob of Condors at her house scratched her new car, tried to eat the windshield wipers (an odd but familiar Condor trait), picked at the gasket to the car's sunroof and broke the watering bucket. However, Kerri is quick to point out that she and Chris consider it a small price to pay for the magical experience of hosting a crowd of Condors for the day. These free-flying, hulking birds had never visited their house before and might never again, so they savored the experience.
Keep your eyes open, for our skies are home to some giant prehistoric birds. . .
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.