A Tale of Two Condors

On July 10, 2018 I saw my last Andean condor wheel above the cliffs as I watched from the patio of the Tambo Condor Restaurant. I now had closed out the world’s condor species. It was not too hard to do because their are only two condor species in the world. But it require making a journey to Quito, Ecuador and then a drive up to Antisana Biological Reserve. They are both large, dark birds that soar in the air so they are not difficult to spot. But their rarity  and their majestic awesomeness make them a much sought after bird.

The two species of condor are only found in the western hemisphere on the continents of North and South America. The western United States is home to the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) and the western part of South America, along the spine of the Andes mountain range, is the domain of the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus).

When I returned to the States I still needed a condor fix and I knew that they were only an hour and a half drive away from my cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

So on August 2, 2018 I left my cabin just before 7:00 AM, my destination was Big Sur.

The Big Sur coast is the best place to see the California condor in California. While most tourists stand by the roadside, facing the ocean, I am usual faced the other way, scanning the ridges for North America’s largest bird.

The best place to look for the condor in the Big Sur area is Grimes Point. It was here in June of 2009 that I saw the most condors I have ever seen.

California condor on the Big Sur coast from Grimes Point in 2009.

June 22, 2009. In this photo from Grimes Point shows an incredible seven California condors!

After birding at Andrew Molara State Park I headed further south. riding the ribbon of road that has been called the most scenic drive in the world. After cutting into a canyon, Highway 1 pulled up out of the canyon and headed south again. At the top was the pullout for Grimes Point.

Grimes Point looking north.

I pulled off at the pullout at 10 AM and began my condor watch. The sky was clear and a low haze was skirting the coast below. There was a southernly movement of swallows and a few turkey vultures soaring up on the ridges. But no condor, not yet.

I looked north at the A-frame house that clung to the point and at 10:05, an adult condor appeared from around the point and flew south below me! It is always amazing to see these large birds in flight and to see these condors in close proximity and from above, is an unforgettable experience!

My second condor species in less than 30 days, California Condor below Grimes Point.

In the less than 30 days I had both species of condors in my binoculars in two very different locations, one at sea level and the other, high in the Andes at 13,000 feet. Almost 4,000 miles separated these to signings but they seemed to bring the world closer together,


Sketch Poetry

Poetry frequently makes it’s way into my journal.

One afternoon I was listening to one of my father’s Duke Ellington CDs, a CD that I had gotten him for Christmas a while ago. My father loved big bands and he saw Ellington, Basie, and Ella as well as west coast greats Brubeck, Cal Tjader, and Vince Guaraldi. It was one of those beautiful February afternoons where the trees have blossomed early and the White-crowned sparrows were singing at the tops of trees to mark out their patch. It seemed to me, and the sparrows, that it was a spring day. As I was listening to Ellington the white-crown in the backyard seemed to be singing with the band so I wrote a poem about it and created a spread.

Duke and White-crowned

Duke takes the intro

as Cootie floats above

muted horns below

Hodges leans into his solo

squeezing every ounce of joy out of his horn

White-crowned counters

and the Rabbit responds

while Sonny Greer keeps time

Long after the strains

of Mood Indigo had ended

and the curtain of dusk has fallen

White-crowned is still singing

the only song he knows

at the top of the berry bush

just outside my window

defining his place in the band

as the day’s heat turns to blue.

I added two illustration as “bookends” to the text, one was sketched from the Ellington CD cover and the other was from a photograph of a white-crowned sparrow.


This spread was about my experience watching California condors at Grimes Point in Big Sur. it was a magical day with about ten condor perched by Highway One. The drawing is based on a photograph that I took and the condor’s massive wingspan seems to span the coastal hills in the background. I wrote a poem about the condor, included underneath it’s wings.


This poem is about my philosophy of nature, that we should not fear nature but embrace it. The poem is dedicated to three of my students as I taught them not to fear the honey bee. During recess on day, I found a bee on the blacktop and I picked it up and showed my students that they had nothing to fear. I then let the bee crawl on their hands and they learned that if you treat nature with respect and acted with confidence the bee will not cease its life by stinging you. I don’t think that lesson is a California State Standard!


This spread was created to illustrate a poem I wrote shortly after my fathers passing in October. It’s really about accepting what life has dealt you and coping with change.