Monday, August 10, 2009

The Beast

The monster stood there facing us. Fierce eyes glared at us with a frightening confidence that it had us trapped. My wife and I shivered not just because of the biting cold that was brought upon by an enveloping fog that was rising from the sea a hundred feet beneath us, but because we are staring at the ugly bare-skinned countenance of the thing in front of us.

Although a deep ravenous cliff separated us from this huge unkempt creature, we dared not move. Behind us the roar of hurtling vehicles warned us of a most gruesome fate should we backtrack even by a mere foot or so. We held our collective breaths as the beast shifted its position and spread its gigantic wings. It leered at us once again then suddenly made a couple of flaps and vanished into the misty air.

The place was at the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) near Big Sur and we had just had an encounter with one of America’s rarest birds – the California Condor! Seeing this magnificent, albeit unattractive bird is an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. It is not unlike seeing Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” in person (or maybe, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”?). And to be able to take pictures of the Condor, would be, shall I say, icing on the cake. Which is rather appropriate inasmuch as it was my wife’s birthday…so we had our cake and ate it too, metaphorically speaking.

Here I was in my precarious position between a cliff and onrushing traffic trying to photograph the condor.

To know more about this magnificent bird (#438 - the bar at the bottom of the tag indicates 400), please visit
Please help support the condors - take a moment to visit the website dedicated to them:

For more (less frightening?) birding blogs and pictures, please visit:


mick said...

What an amazing experience - even though the traffic behind you would be a bit frightening. Did you know the bird was in that location or did you just stumble upon it by chance? Also with all those tags attached is there somewhere that you can find out more about it? (Maybe you can do another post and tell more about it,please?)

Neil said...

Congratulations on the rarity and glad you had cake as well.

Unknown said...

Sweet goodness, what a bird!
And what a position to shoot with that big "Babe" :D

Do all rare birds have those huge number tags in the US?
I first thought it's a stuffed bird in a museum (because of those plates).

gwendolen said...

I always love reading your posts. They always make me laugh (out loud!)

But wow, what a super sighting!

Christopher said...

Wow - just... WOW!

Arija said...

What an encounter!!! WOW, WOW, WOW!
I love those floppy flappy wings.

Rob Ripma said...

Condors are such amazing birds! I saw one a few years ago at the Grand Canyon and was shocked by their enormous size!

Bob Kaufman said...

@Mick, we pretty much had an idea that there are Condors in the Big Sur area, but seeing one was still pure luck.

I have already sent pictures to the Ventana Wildlife Society and inquired about the tags. Still waiting for their reply. I will definitely keep you informed.

Bob Kaufman said...

@Nicole, All California Condors in the wild are tagged so that the biologists can keep track of their whereabouts.

Bob Kaufman said...

Neil, Gwen, Chris, Arija, Rob - thank you all for your nice comments.

Larry Jordan said...

Bob, you have inspired me to seek out the California Condor! What fantastic captures of one of the worlds most rare birds!

According to wikipedia, there are only 172 California Condors in the wild, of the 322 still living. And you found one!

Being born and raised in California, I have been on Hwy 1 several times during my life but not recently. I would love to try to see this beautiful bird, possibly when I go down to the bay area for the Burrowing Owl Consortium next month.

Can you give me a more exact location where you saw this bird? Of course it may be nowhere near where you saw it since they sometimes roam over 150 miles in search of food (carrion). This bird looks like a juvenile so who knows?

You must do another post on this most rare vulture for the International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD 09) and maybe post your excellent photos for the cause of promoting vulture awareness.

Thanks for sharing an amazing day. I love the shot of you along the PCH too!

Kelly said...

Wow! That is an extreme bird. It must have been exhilarating to see one in the wild. I remember not too long ago.... Beautiful photos!!

Bob Kaufman said...

@Larry, we found the condor about 3 miles south of the Nepenthe Restaurant along PCH. There is tiny turn-out area with tall trees alongside. The bird was at the cliff just below the curving road before this parking area.

Anonymous said...

Really awesome looking birds you got there!

Chris Petrak said...

Ah - you have me wanting another trip to California. won't it be great when those birds don't have to wear those big ugly tags because they are completely free and wild!