One of the things that provides the most fun in our daily search for enlightenment in the natural world is unexpected encounters. My wife and I made one of these exciting and surprising observations last week when we were being herded along with large numbers of tourists in Zion Canyon. I was regretting even coming to the park, since despite its amazing beauty, the over-whelming numbers of tourists severely degrades the experience. In my despair I looked up and noticed three large dark birds soaring along the edge of the canyon walls high above. I looked quickly at these with binoculars and could tell that they were something peculiar since they had very long wings, a short tail, a small head, and a large white area around the “armpit” of the under-wings. This did not match anything obvious such as a turkey vulture or a golden eagle. So I whipped out my camera and shot some photos while Margaret watched the birds. She also noticed the unusual wing colors and we came to the surprising conclusion that these might be and indeed were condors!!! The nice thing about condors is that even a long range and very indistinct observation can be definitive since their field marks are conclusive. So I left Zion Canyon with a great feeling of accomplishment, despite the tourist horde. We later visited a less-frequented area of the park, the Kolob Plateau, and found some of the solitude we craved.
I subsequently looked up condors on the web and found that there are now about 75 birds flying free in northern Arizona and SW Utah derived from birds originally raised in captivity, and a few now breeding in the wild. They are moving into Utah from the Grand Canyon because of food availability and the higher elevations are especially suitable for them. So although this highly endangered species is still far from secure, things are looking up.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA