The first Day on the Land of 2017 saw nearly 50 people who made the two-hour drive from Flagstaff to the Lees Ferry Lodge, located at the base of the Paria Plateau, in the shadow of the Vermilion Cliffs. The group of citizen scientists, NAU and FUSD employees, Sierra Club and Audubon Society members, and many others gathered around 9:30 to meet Chris Parish, the Director of the Peregrine Fund’s Condor Reintroduction Project. Chris runs the center on the Cliffs, breeding, researching, and reintroducing the California condor into the wild.
After the regular group introductions, we drove to Navajo Bridge, the twin crossings across the Colorado River, upstream of the Grand Canyon. There we saw two California condors sitting on the trusses of the vehicle bridge, as we stood on the pedestrian bridge with our cameras, binoculars, and spotting scopes. Chris gave a short lecture on the history, biology, and threats to the massive, ancient birds. With a wingspan of 9.5 feet, it might be understandable that these birds coexisted with the megafauna of the Pleistocene Epoch (Ice Age), between 2,600,000 and 11,000 years ago.
It was cloudy and cold for most of the morning, but right as we were about to go back to the cars for lunch, the clouds parted and the wind picked up: a perfect combination for the two condors we were observing to open their wings and fly! They flew under the bridge to a rock outcropping.
After lunch the group drove back to Lees Ferry Lodge to take a tour of the “Barn,” the Peregrine Fund’s research facility. Chris’ crew performs surgeries and other rehabilitation for the birds here.
The Day on the Land officially ended around 3:30, when the clouds came back and threatened rain. However, when the group split up, so did the clouds. Some participants went home, others drove to the release site down the road, and a third group went out to Badger Point, an overlook on the Colorado River. Northern Arizona has so much to offer, and being there in late March seemed to be the best time to see blooming wildflowers, emerging wildlife, and gorgeous views of the Colorado Plateau.
This Day on the Land was a unique one – not only was it not on either ranche, but it also showed participants a side of conservation not usually seen by the public: collaboration to improve the state of endangered species in the wild. We hope to have more trips like this one in the future, to see wildlife on the ranches or travel to visit another group and see their conservation at work.
Cover photo by Mindy Bell