Some of the most special gifts that symbolize the spirit of
Christmas are those that rise above the turmoil of our lives
and bless us with a sense of hope and joy. They may be extraordinary
rewards or simple pleasures - either may fulfill our souls.
During the month of October I followed the news of Arizona’s
first wild born California condor with the eagerness of an
expectant parent. I vicariously experienced the days of waiting,
the days of watching. I gasped with the biologists, through
their web site postings, as the chick would rush from the
deep confines of its cave to its motionless position at the
precipitous edge of the cave. Stretching out before this bird
was the deep chasm of the Grand Canyon; its nest cave located
high above in a sheer wall of limestone.
Hope lay in its survival. The offspring of two captive-breed
birds that had been released into the wild, biologists were
concerned that the parents might not be experienced enough
to provide for the nestling’s needs. As the days turned
into weeks, the six-month fledging date became closer. The
avian-watching community paced back and forth, waiting for
history to be made on an eight-foot wingspan.
I kept reading the weekly postings on the Peregrine Fund’s
web site. I felt the weariness and exhilaration of the 24-mile
round-trip hike that the biologists followed to reach a vantage
point from which to view the nest site. Though each parent
bird, numbers 123 and 127 as identified by their wing tags,
would visit and feed the chick for a few minutes, there were
interactions of cuddling and face nibbling between the parents
and chick that set my paternal heart aflutter. I even called
the biologist’s to set up a short interview, but really
I just wanted to share in their excitement and joy.
On November 6, the young bird stepped away from its ledge
and “ungracefully circled” to a landing zone some
600 feet below the cave. The parents soon discovered that
their baby had left the nest and they located the young bird
in the canyon below. Though this chick faces a steep uphill
climb to adulthood, one cannot help feel uplifted by the significance
of this event. Historic condor sightings are rare in Utah,
one in 1932 and one in 1872. Though a sighting of female number
149 thrilled a group of birders near Arches National Park
back in the late 1990s, other records are sparse. A lone pictograph
found in Canyonlands National Park, which resembles a condor
in profile, indicates that the birds did occur in this area.
As the cold winds glissade down the face of the La Sal Mountains,
local birders are heating up for the 104th annual Christmas
Bird Count, better known as the CBC. Scouring a 15-mile wide
circle, teams of birders record the seasonal bag of sparrows
and thrushes, ducks and geese. Sponsored by the National Audubon
Society, the count is a nationwide event.
The CBC started as an alternative to the annual “harvesting”
of wild game - he who shoots the most birds wins - and was
a nonconsumptive way to enjoy birds during the holidays. That
first winter, 27 participants counted birds in 25 locations
from Massachusetts to Monterey, California. Together they
counted some 90 species, and this was long before Peterson
or National Geographic Field Guides. Turn-of-the-century bird
watchers were probably a suspect lot, arousing the suspicion
of local authorities.
In 2002, over 50,000 participants in more than 1,800 counts
took to the field to record winter birds. This huge voluntary
effort provides information to better understand the distribution
and population status of wintering birds. This year’s
count in Moab will be December 20, and in accordance with
the Polar Wishes Act, I’ve made my decision for what
I would like for Christmas - a condor soaring high over the
Moab Valley, preferably within the confines of the Christmas
Bird Count circle.
For additional information on the California condors
in Arizona, check out The Peregrine Fund’s web site
at http://www.peregrinefund.org. For information about participating
on the CBC, contact Rick Boretti or Andrea Brand at 259-4050.