The black bird was huge — nearly waist high — and Saratoga resident Dave Gloss said it was amazing to see.
“We were just hiking up to Medicine Bow Peak when we got word that a California condor was sitting on the rocks at the summit,” he said. “It helped that other hikers coming down told us where to look or we might have missed it.”
Reports a California condor was hanging out at Medicine Bow Peak spread through Laramie’s birding and outdoor community with lightning speed.
Libby Megna, secretary for Laramie Audubon and an ardent birder, said she first got an alert of the sighting at 6 p.m. July 7.
It was through a phone app called E-Bird that sends out alerts when an unusual bird sighting is reported in the area.
“At first I didn’t believe it and then later I saw the photos and realized the person making the post was a well-known birder,” Megna said.
“Once I realized it was a genuine sighting, I notified others and we hiked up the peak the next morning.”
Hiking up Medicine Bow Peak is not a walk in the park. It is a tough climb with three different access trailheads. Megna said she started at Lake Marie, which is 3.6 miles to the Peak and an elevation gain of about 1,500 feet. In other words, anyone who got to see the condor had to earn it.
“It was super exciting when we saw it,” Megna said. “The bird was on a boulder near the summit. We watched it for about an hour before heading back down.”
This condor had a tag on its wing with stark white letters designating it as T2 as well as a radio transmitter. Tim Hauck, field manager for the Peregrine Fund that is involved with California condor restoration, said this particular bird is a juvenile female. She was captive-reared at the Portland Zoo and released March 27 in northern Arizona at the Vermillion Cliffs near the Utah border.
“She is actually Condor 832 but wears a wing tag labeled T2,” Hauck said.
“From the release site in Arizona to Medicine Bow Peak is a distance, as the condor flies, of about 450 miles.”
While such a distance is certainly significant, these birds are made for soaring. The California condor is the largest bird in North America. It has a wing span nearly 10 feet wide and, except for its size, resembles both a turkey vulture and a golden eagle. Adults are black with striking white patches under the wings. They have a naked head and neck that are yellowish orange in adults but, like Condor 832, immatures have dark heads and grayer necks.
Condors were near extinction when the remaining 27 birds were brought into captivity in 1987 in a controversial but successful captive breeding program. Hauck said the number one cause of death for condors is lead poisoning, primarily the result of ingesting spent lead ammunition. The population is now nearing 500 counting both wild and captive birds.
Condor 832 was seen and photographed near Roosevelt, Utah in the Uintah Basin on June 28, only two days after being last recorded via radio telemetry by the Arizona Condor Crew north of Zion National Park. While she has a radio transmitter, biologists must be in range to pick up her signal, so constant tracking is not possible.
This condor is the first confirmed condor sighting in Wyoming. A condor was reported at Flaming Gorge in 1998 but it was just shy of the Wyoming border. An unconfirmed sighting was reported near Alcova in 2005.
Such wanderings by juvenile birds is nothing new. In fact with many wildlife species, juveniles are known to wander and disperse. Hauck said other juvenile condors that have wandered significant distances typically return. That is the hope for this condor since there is no chance she would find a mate in Wyoming.
For now, though, Condor 832 is on the move again and has left Medicine Bow Peak. She was last spotted flying northeast along the ridge adjacent to the peak on the morning of July 9.
For those who missed her, there’s no telling if she’ll come back. However, there is a chance to learn more about the birds at 4 p.m. today.
Chris Parish, Director of Global Conservation for the Peregrine Fund, will be in Laramie to present a talk at the University of Wyoming Berry Biodiversity and Conservation Center.
Magna said the talk will “revolve around endangered species work with the southwestern Condor Reintroduction Program focus and lessons learned that provide insights for greater conservation.”
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.