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HOPPER MOUNTAIN NWRC: Refuge Week Hikers at Bitter Creek Get Up Close and Personal With Condors
California-Nevada Offices , October 15, 2011
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Hike participants look to the sky, as California condors soar overhead on Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
Hike participants look to the sky, as California condors soar overhead on Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge. - Photo Credit: (USFWS/Ivett Plascencia, 2011)
Michael Woodbridge, Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex Public Affairs Officer, describes Bitter Creek NWR’s connection to the landscape while leading hikers down a trail on the Refuge.
Michael Woodbridge, Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex Public Affairs Officer, describes Bitter Creek NWR’s connection to the landscape while leading hikers down a trail on the Refuge. - Photo Credit: (USFWS/Ivett Plascencia, 2011)

By Michael Woodbridge, USFWS

 

It was 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and a crowd of excited hikers was gathering just inside the gate off Cerro Noroeste Road on Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Warm air currents—thermals—steadily blew up from Bitter Creek Canyon, generated by the heat rising out of the Central Valley more than three-thousand feet below. Above, a clear blue sky told the more than 30 people assembled that it was going to be another beautiful day in Condor Country.

The group included people from Ventura, Kern, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and even a few other California counties. They were all there to participate in a guided interpretive hike at the Refuge, hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex to celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week. The hike was a unique opportunity for visitors to see and learn about California condors and the other wildlife that call the Bitter Creek NWR home, since the Refuge is normally closed to public use. Thirty-two visitors participated in the 3rd Annual Refuge Week Hike.

This year, the hike included interpretation about the Refuge by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) staff and refreshments provided by the Friends of California Condors, who sponsored the event. In addition to California condors, participants learned how Bitter Creek NWR fits into the larger conservation landscape in the foothill ring of the southern San Joaquin Valley. The Bitter Creek hike is one of many Refuge Week events taking place during the second week of October on national wildlife refuges throughout the United States. Since refuges are located in every state and most U.S. territories, a majority of Americans can find refuge events within an hour’s drive of their home.

The hike followed a dirt path from Cerro Noroeste Road down to the edge of Bitter Creek Canyon. As the group made their way down the hill further into the Refuge, a few condors were spotted circling far off on the horizon. A few minutes later, just as the hikers were approaching the canyon edge, a pair of condors appeared to the north. To the delight of the group, the condors, soaring gracefully on thermal air currents, came closer and closer to where the group stood. Within a few minutes, the two condors, joined by a few ravens, circled nearly overhead. Oohs, aahs, and gasps could be heard, as cameras with lenses as long as a person’s arm clicked away, capturing the enormous black and white wings outstretched above. A few people were moved to tears, as they saw for the first time in their lives this iconic bird in the wild.

California condors were once on the brink of extinction. By the mid-twentieth century, condor populations had dropped dramatically, and by 1967 the California condor was listed as “endangered” by the federal government. In 1982, only 23 condors survived in the world. By 1987, all remaining wild condors were placed into a captive breeding program. Thus began an intense recovery program to save the California condor from extinction. Since 1992, when the Service began reintroducing captive-bred condors to the wild, the Service and its public and private partners have grown the population to approximately 400 birds. In California, there are more than 100 free-flying condors in the wild.

Hike participants included bird enthusiasts, members of the Friends of California Condors and others. Leading the hike were Public Affairs Officer Michael Woodbridge and STEP Office Automation Clerk Ivett Plascencia. All the hike participants left Bitter Creek with fond memories of condors, fantastic pictures, and a deeper knowledge of how national wildlife refuges contribute to wildlife conservation.


Contact Info: Michael Woodbridge, 916-978-4445, michael_woodbridge@fws.gov



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