California condors at Zion

Last week I got an email from a Brazilian conservation group asking for permission to use one of my images as part of the graphic design for a book cover (in Portuguese only!). Of course this was OK, since I explicitly waive the copyright of the images I post to Wikipedia and the web, but still I had to sign a copyright form… it’s surprisingly hard to give stuff away! The request reminded me, however, of one of the more surprising wildlife encounters I’ve had, with Californian condors atop Angels Landing. I’d come to Zion National Park, in Utah, purely for a hiking and photography trip. One of the classic hikes in Zion is Angels Landing, a short but steep ascent of a fin of rock that juts out into Zion Canyon. It’s famous for the vertigo inducing exposure of the final stretch.

Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Angels Landing, Zion National Park

I’d done this hike with my brother way back in 1999, but on reaching Scout Landing this time there was something different to see… a pair of enormous black birds circling against the sheer cliffs of Angels Landing. At the time I wasn’t sure of the identity of these birds, but in fact they were California condors, one of the most endangered species in the world. In 1982 there were just 22 individuals left alive. After a successful captive breeding program things are better now, but still there are only about 200 living in the wild. About 70 live in Utah and Arizona, and they’re fairly often seen both around Angels Landing and near Lava Point.

Condor against the Zion cliffs

Condor against the Zion cliffs

On reaching the top of Angels Landing, the condors swept by repeatedly at amazingly close range. The frames below are only slight crops of images shot at 200mm (on an APS sensor camera, so 320mm equivalent). Truly an amazing sight!

California condor, Zion

California condor, Zion

Tagged condor, Zion National Park

Tagged condor, Zion National Park

This kind of chance encounter is why it’s hard to leave equipment behind. You might not think a telephoto lens would be needed for a landscape photography excursion in Zion, but on this day I was very pleased I had it on me!

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