October 12, 2012

Look! It's a California Condor!

So, we made it to Kovalam in southern India after 33 hours of travelling and are getting settled. We were so bad about posting on the cross country trip due to the heavy socializing that comes with visiting almost every friend and family member we have over a 5 week period. So we'll use the next couple of posts to wrap up that portion of our trip.

One of the greatest parts about the road trip was the wildlife we saw on our drive.

The first thing we were excited to see was the Pronghorn in Bryce National Park. We saw a group of them grazing on the side of the road in Bryce and once we learned more about them realized they are a fascinating animal. It is considered the second fastest land animal in the world, reaching speeds up to 70 miles an hour. It is thought that it evolved this way to help avoid the now extinct North American cheetah. While we didn't see them running it was very cool to learn the history of an animal that I associated with Africa.


We also watched ravens through Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon, but this raven in Bryce (below) was our closest encounter and we watched him overlooking Bryce's hoodoos. The contrast between it's stark black feathers and the red sandstone was really beautiful. They really are impressive birds - it's not surprising that Edgar Allan Poe penned one of his most famous works in their honor.
Some of the other highlights were seeing the Peregrine Falcon and the California Condor in the Grand Canyon. We saw both on the South Rim and got very excited when we saw the California Condor. It is not the prettiest bird, as it looks like a turkey vulture (see below), but it is very rare as there were only about 22 left as recent as 1982. There was an effort to increase the population of these birds and today there are still only 178 in the wild. They have kept 150 or so in captivity to keep breeding the condor and slowly re-introducing them to get there numbers to a safe amount. We really wanted to see this bird on the trip and it became a joke - we'd see a small little robin or an owl and say, "Look! It's a California Condor!" When we did finally see it, we were really in awe. Watching the condor with it's 9 foot wingspan gliding with the thermals above the Grand Canyon was very cool. We had our first major dork moment of the trip where we started high-fiving and jumping around when we saw the condor. We couldn't really get a good pic, but here are a few we found online.

Soaring California Condor over the Grand Canyon

Peregrine Falcon
Photo from Cornell Lab of Ornithology
We also watched a couple of Peregrine Falcons circling high overhead for a while. We were hoping to catch a "stoop". A stoop is when the falcons dive down at 250 mph and clip the wing of another bird so that they can disable it for a kill. The falcons have been reported to go up to 390 mph at higher altitudes, making it the fastest animal in the world. If interested in how the Peregrine can sustain such speeds read here. It's pretty awesome.

Also, in the Grand Canyon, we saw a huge bull elk with a huge rack during the rut, but weren't able to get the camera out in time to take a picture. Luckily, the groups of females and young males were in no shortage, and we saw them often. On the way back to our campground one day, we saw a large group and stopped to take photos. They eventually started making their move to the forest on the other side of the road, so we retreated to our car to watch, and the biggest one came up right behind our car. Steph was hanging out of our window taking a picture of it and it seemed completely disinterested in us. Suddenly, the elk turned its head and locked eyes with her in an annoyed manner - and that was all the warning we needed to put away our cameras and drive off.

Elk in the Grand Canyon - right behind our car
We also saw mule deer in Yosemite, Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon; lizards in each park we visited and even a few larger iguanas in Zion and the Grand Canyon; and tiny (furiously busy) chipmunks throughout each of the parks, particularly the desert areas. In Zion, our campsite was host to giant beetles, bats and tons of ants (we could have done without those) and, in Bryce, we saw buffalo and the Utah prairie dog. And the birds we saw but couldn't identify and/or get photos of were amazing: spurred jays, mountain chickarees, Stellar's jays, and yellow warblers. And we saw a jack rabbit somewhere, but we can't remember where. Outside of the National Park tour, we loved seeing the swarms of hummingbirds at Steph's grandparent's house in Shell Knob, MO, and the osprey and ingrids while kayaking the backwaters where my mom lives in Wilmington, NC.

Some of the animals that we looked out for, but did not see were Black Bears, Desert Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Lions and Rattlesnakes (thankfully, otherwise I would have had to carry Steph while hiking up the Grand Canyon). We really enjoyed seeing the variety of wildlife in our own country as we are about to explore some parks in the next few weeks in India. We'll keep you posted!

And remember, you can check out all of the pictures from our trip here.

No comments:

Post a Comment