Sonoran Desert Experience…thru “lens & pen!”
Hi … I’m Cyndy Warnier, the Program & Development Director here at Spirit in the Desert. I am the shutter-bug of the photos you see on our website. I am also a lover of the desert, and along with my husband, Al who also works here and is an arborist, study the desert through my lens as well as through forums to learn about its unique flora and fauna. So, from my “lens & pen”–welcome to a “Sonoran Desert Experience!” Each month I will post an article, with pictures-of course, about life in this beautiful and diverse desert. Birds, mammals, reptiles…even an arachnid or two, plus a variety of plants whose botany is specific to Arizona’s portion of the Sonoran Desert–and all whose existence are endangered. Our registration lobby features many of my photos in a variety of matted sizes, as well as on 5×7 photo cards, complete with blank insides or nice mix of all-occasion prose. You can always “take away a bit of the desert” in my pictures to remind you of your stay at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center.
The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is the largest terrestrial bird in North America. It is black in color and sports a bald head with very few feathers. The color of the head varies from white to reddish purple. The bare head is an adaptation for hygiene since they eat dead and rotting meat and must, for the most part, stick their heads into the carcasses to feed–oh yum! As ugly as their heads may be, nothing is more beautiful than seeing their 10′ wingspan soaring above the Grand Canyon (up to 15,000 feet mind you!) and the Southwest deserts of North America! But their story has been a tough one and is still on-going…the good news is they are coming back from near extinction. With human love and compassion, this giant “avian of the skies” is again flying the way God intended. Here’s a short version from The Peregrine Fund, the most active society that works with AZ Fish & Game making it possible for the Condor to have a comeback “tour!”
California Condors are highly endangered — only 22 individuals remained alive in 1982. The Peregrine Fund started raising condors in captivity at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, in 1993 and three years later began releasing them to the wild at the Vermilion Cliffs release site in northern Arizona in conjunction with AZ Fish & Game. Through captive breeding, release, radio-tracking, and adaptive management, we are seeing real progress toward recovery. On Nov. 11, 2011, the total number of California Condors totaled 397. Of those, 194 were flying free in Arizona, and 37 were in the pre-release pen at Vermilion Cliffs. The wild population in Arizona has produced 32 young since 2003. Research shows that lead poisoning from spent lead ammunition is the principle mortality agent for the condor flock, which forages largely on its own, and we have made advancements in reducing the prevalence and impact of lead. State game and wildlife agencies in Arizona and Utah have initiated mitigating efforts to reduce the amount of lead available to scavengers. In 2008, The Peregrine Fund organized an international conference that focused on the effects of spent lead ammunition on wildlife and humans.
After more than 35 years of flirting with extinction, the California Condor has a success story! The California Condor Recovery Program announced 2015 was the first year in decades where the number of chicks hatched and raised in the wild outweighed the number of wild condor deaths: 14 births to 12 deaths: a sign these pink-faced beauties are on a steady track to recovery. What can YOU do? Respect this bird. If you are a hunter, stop using bullets with lead! The extra expense is good for all God’s creation! The following states have Condor habitats and their stand as of 2018 on lead is: California banned lead completely; Arizona by 2020; Utah by 2019; New Mexico has restrictions; Idaho has done nothing. Many sportsmen and agencies are also helping with lead bullet trade-ins. Sadly, in the new White House, Zinke reversed the ban on lead in National Forests/Parks.
Check the Peregrine Fund website for a releasing at the Vermillion Cliffs in northern AZ. If you ever get the chance to be there and behold the site, you will forever be amazed! Help support the following Cooperating Partners who have helped make this comeback a true reality: Hualapai & Navajo Nations, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Defenders of Wildlife, Phoenix & Los Angeles Zoos, Arizona Game & Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Oregon Zoo, Zoological Society of San Diego, Utah Dept of Natural Resources, Grand Canyon National Park, Jack Hanna Columbus Zoo Society, Liberty Wildlife, The Audubon Society, Kaibab National Forest, The Peregrine Fund, Wild at Heart.