Condor sanctuary may offer enhanced public access
By Alex Wilson 11/23/2011
Managers of Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge along Ventura County’s northern border rarely offer public opportunities to visit, but that could change in coming years.
It’s currently open for an annual nature hike marking National Wildlife Refuge Week and occasional special events, but a new comprehensive management plan could lead to daily access.
My wife Dawn and I recently took the nature hike and saw huge condors soaring overhead, which resulted in “oohs” and “ahs” from the other hikers. We also learned about the important role volunteers play in the recovery program managed from the Ventura office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Volunteers monitor nests from a distance and take careful notes about condor chick activity. They’ve helped raise the success rate of nests from less than 40 percent to about 70 percent.
Public Affairs Officer Michael Woodbridge says volunteers see how adult condors carry tiny pieces of trash back to the nest and feed them to chicks, which sometimes need to be rescued to have them surgically removed. “Sometimes, if we have volunteers out there, they notice that the chick is being lethargic and not moving around very much,” says Woodbridge.
Camarillo resident Bill Langford has been volunteering for about six years and loves the solitude of the Los Padres National Forest, where he also sees many other species of birds, deer and bobcats. He’s happy to play a role as a citizen scientist. “It’s a nice quiet time to go out here and just enjoy yourself and help with the research project on why some nests are having failures, and doing my part in making California condors a fully recovered species,” says Langford.
Watching birds for hours on end is not boring, as some people might think, according to Langford. “Actually, at times it’s very busy. You don’t have much time to think about other things because there’s so much action going on with the chick, especially at this time of the year when they’re just about getting ready to fledge,” says Langford.
California condors are North America’s largest bird species with wing spans of more than 9 feet. “They’re so much fun to watch fly when they’re soaring. I’ve been very fortunate to be on top of hills and have them soar right over the top of me. You can just hear the whoosh, because the air is going through the wings,” says Langford.
“A lot of birds are fun to watch, but these are kind of special because there were so few of them and now they’re coming back and making a recovery,” says Langford. “It’s kind of neat to be part of the program that’s helping ensure that this species will make it.”
The volunteer program is a partnership with the Santa Barbara Zoo, and there are usually training sessions near the start of each year.
The draft management plan for three refuges managed from Ventura will be released early next year. Meetings will be planned where people can provide input on what kinds of new recreational opportunities they’d like to see.
Increased visitation to the Hopper Mountain Refuge north of Fillmore could pose challenges because it’s accessed by privately owned oil company roads. Creation of a birding trail at the Bitter Creek Refuge is being studied to help demonstrate the objectives since a public road runs through it.
“People can go walk on the trail, have some interpretative signage there and let people learn about the refuge and condors,” says Woodbridge. “Hopefully, they’ll spot one when they’re out there.”