We arrived this evening in Monterey, on the Pacific coast, a month after we left Boca Chica and the Gulf of Mexico – a mere 1629 miles, as the American Crow flies. It’s great to see the ocean again but, after the desert, it does feel decidedly chilly. Last night we stayed in Merced, with a plan to spend this morning visiting San Luis National Wildlife Refuge. This premier reserve is mainly a winter site for wildfowl and Cranes so we weren’t expecting much. As it happens we saw fifty species, including a good number of State ticks, with the top birds being American Bittern and another Great Horned Owl! Given that we had failed to see California Condor at the Grand Canyon, we decided to execute Plan B and make a slight detour to the Pinnacles National Park, in the Gabilan Mountains. When we arrived, the park ranger told us we had a reasonable chance of seeing one if we were prepared to hike five miles, over very demanding terrain. We had little choice, so set off with decidedly mixed feelings about the whole venture. Less than half a mile out of the carpark we had our first brief view of a lone Condor hurtling across the ridge! Before long we spotted another, then a further two – all eventually roosting on a relatively close rock out-crop. On our way back down the trail I saw six together at on point, with a possible total of ten individuals – amazing! Add to all this the Yellow-billed Magpie, which we saw on several occasions after leaving Merced, made for a truly excellent days birding.
Bird of the day – unquestionably California Condor. Close to the point of extinction by 1987, all 27 remaining wild birds were taken into captivity. A successful breeding programme led to their reintroduction back into the wild from 1991. By December 2016 there were a total of 446 California Condor in the wild or in captivity. A very good news conservation story
Coming a close second, American Bittern – seen at San Luis NWR