Thanks to Sony I was able to hike to the top of Pinnacles National Park and photograph the Endangered California Condor with the Sony a1 and the Sony 200-600mm Lens. I like bringing awareness of the endangered birds which are the largest wild birds in North America. They were on the verge of extinction and are slowly making a come back through the tireless efforts of several organizations including the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho; The Los Angeles, San Diego, and Oregon Zoos; and the PeregrineFund.org. It is no easy feat to climb up to Pinnacles with a backpack full of photo gear, but well worth it. These majestic birds are inspiring and I look forward to photographing them again and again. You can find out more about the California Condors at PeregrineFund.org and Condorspotter.com and https://www.nps.gov/articles/california-condor-recovery.htm
Today on The Slanted Lens we are out here at Pinnacles. This is a great National Park if you want to see Condors, and I do. California Condors were almost extinct and I have to tell you it was a true honor to be able to photograph them. I have thought about them and read about them since I was a teenager. It’s just very exciting to be able to see them in the wild and be able to photograph them. I have followed condors ever since I was a little kid and the time that it hit only 25 condors and I thought “Oh my word, we have to save the condors.” Now they’re up to about 350. They’re all tagged, not all of them, but most of them are tagged. They have radio receivers.
I’ve just always been fascinated. I really wanted to see them in the wild and to photograph in the wild. And so I called Sony and I said, “Hey, send me an a1 and send me a 200- 600mm lens at f/5.6-6.3 and I’m going to thunder off the mountain and I’m going to try to photograph condors.
So then we called Forrest Galante, he’s a guy who has a show over on the animal planet. We photographed him for SKB cases and he said, “Hey, you got to go to Pinnacles.” And so we headed to Pinnacles. He kind of told us where to go and we’ve been up there now four times. I’ve been up to the top three times. I’ve been up to the top photographing the condors. And I’m just going to talk about, kind of the journey and some of the things we did. And what I packed in my pack and just some of the things that happened along the way. So let’s get to some of those things right now.
I brought an SKB backpack and you know the SKB backpack is not a backpacking backpack. It’s a camera bag. And it’s really meant more for urban or short trips, day trips, that kind of thing. But this is a pretty long hike. It’s two and a half or three miles to the top. And I carried too much stuff. I had a ton of camera stuff in my bag which made it pretty difficult. Let’s take a look at exactly what was in my bag.
Here the very first thing is I carry in this front pouch for quick access, only the essentials, and that is toilet paper and a Ziploc bag in case I need to do something in the woods and I don’t want to leave it behind. I also have some wipes in here and that’s kind of that. I like to have that on the front so I can get to it really quickly.
I do have a bungee cord here. This bungee cord goes around my big down jacket. I always carry my down jacket even in the summertime, well not in the summertime. But just about any time I think it might get cold at night or when I’m hiking and I get really wet. I sweat and my back gets wet. The minute I stop, I throw that down jacket on. It cuts the wind and keeps me from getting cold.
Then I have my photo pro tripod. I love this Go-max tripod. It’s very lightweight. I carry that with me. And then over here I have a bottle of water and a little, it’s an old Tamrac lens pouch, I have some snacks in my lens case.
Okay, I carry my stocking hat. I carry my two sets of gloves or my set of gloves. I carry my Horizon camera so I can get a black and white film shot. I love having my Horizon camera with me. I carry cards, extra cards. It says C-200, but it’s not. I shot one, two, three cards up there today. I carry a headlamp so when it gets dark I have a way to get out. I then have extra batteries, my Sony batteries. I have a lens here. I’ve got the 200- 600mm, the a1 and I also carry the 28- 75mm. This is the G2 Tamron. And the reason I carry this is because I can just do kind of landscape kinds of things with that lens. Whereas with the 200-600mm I’m really doing long kind of really telephoto stuff. So then on top of that I’ve got a light meter for my Horizon camera. I’ve got a strap if I want to put a camera around my neck. And then I have my landscape filters. I’ve got my polarizer here, the Nisi polarizer. I’ve got my two grads, the soft grad, the three stop and I got the reverse grad. Then I’ve got a filter holder. Then of course I’ve got the rings in here to be able to put those onto both of these lenses. So I’m getting on both these lenses.
I also have a small pig in here and I’m not sure why there’s a pig in here. But this, I’ll tell you why. Because this pack felt like a big pig carrying it up the mountain, that’s why. It weighed so much and the straps were killing me. That’s one thing I learned. I would not do this again without a backpack with a good waist belt. It really, I’d like a camera backpack like this, but I want a good waist belt so I can have that take that weight off my shoulders and get it onto my hips. When I backpack, that’s always the case. So I knew better, but I didn’t do it.
So, camera settings. Camera settings are a struggle when you’re in this kind of situation. I started out the first night trying to do aperture priority. I played with that a little bit and it just didn’t work. So I went to manual with auto ISO. It was a perfect setup for this. So I went to 3200th of a second with the shutter so I can freeze the action because the birds are flying around. And then I went to, I opened up the aperture all the way so it’s f/6.3 most of the time because I’m on 600mm. But when it got late in the day and we shot a lot of them later in the afternoon, and then the first two days were pretty cloudy, that was a struggle. Because now I’m getting up into these long ISOs. So I start shortening the shutter, getting it down to like, you know, 125th or 250th of a second if they’re sitting. But then if I try to go to 1000th or 2000th of a second if they’re flying you can’t freeze them. You just can’t freeze them. You got to get up higher into the 4000th of a second or 3200th of a second.
Just some fun facts about condors. They were down to like 25 birds at one point in the United States, well in the world. But with some diligent people working hard to bring them into captivity to breed them there and to reintroduce them into the wild they’re now up to almost 350. So it’s a great day for them to be able to grow and to once again establish themselves. They fly huge distances. From Pinnacles they fly all the way over to the ocean to eat dead animals that wash up on the beach. So that’s pretty amazing. That’s like a few flaps of their wings and they’re at the ocean. I think it’s like a two-hour drive. Anyway, it’s pretty amazing, the area they cover. Huge wingspans, almost seven feet. They just soar. They need those thermals to come up and to pick them up and let them soar. They’re pretty amazing to watch.
So let me introduce you to some condors by number. Meet condor #700. It has a green tag with just a zero on it. But that’s the green tag series of 700 and he is 700. So he’s zero and he’s part of the Pinnacles flock. He was hatched at The World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho on May 3rd 2013. He attempted two nests with condor #678. But unfortunately both failed for unknown reasons. And #678 passed away in 2020. He’s currently paired with number 726 and he has seven biological siblings. His parents are #61 and #70. So there’s a little history on 700.
So let’s meet 700’s companion, #726. Her name is Little Stinker. She’s part of the Big Sur flock. She was hatched at the San Diego Wild Animal Park on March 18, 2014. She’s named after an aerobatic airplane from the 1920s because she’s pretty aerobatic.They say when she was in captivity she would do all kinds of crazy aerobatics in the cage including sometimes smacking into the wall and jumping over the other condors. But now she roams freely all over the Pinnacles area to the Big Sur area. And she has 35 siblings and she’s paired with number 700. Her parents are #20 and #157.
So here’s condor #825, so pink tag with 25 on it with black lettering. She’s part of the Pinnacle’s flock as well. She hatched on April 17, 2016 at The World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. Again, she has 17 siblings and her parents are #309 and #69. She flew all the way down to Bitter Water immediately after her release instead of staying in Pinnacles like most young condors. So she likes to travel evidently.
Now let’s meet condor #827, that’s black lettering on pink. He’s part of the Pinnacle’s flock. He hatched on April 20th, 2016 at The World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. It quickly acclimated to the wild after release, taking flights and roosting high in the trees along with other members of his flock. He has 11 siblings and his parents are #48 and #97. There you go, there’s #827.
Finding them was a little hard. You just really have to be out there. There’s just no substitute for being up there a lot and walking around and looking. I did kind of realize this. I would be in the middle of the High Peaks Trail and I’m asking the hikers both directions, “Did you see anything in that direction? See anything in that direction?” until I get someone who goes, “Yeah, there are a bunch of them just down in the corner.”And so I would walk down there. So I may have walked three miles to get to the top and three miles to come back, or a little less than that. But I walked back and forth on the top all day trying to follow where the condors were at.
All right, let’s wrap this up. What have I learned? I’ve learned one thing, that I really enjoy doing this. And I’ll do it again. I super loved doing this. So I’m going to go out, there’s going to be a condors 2 and a condors 3 as we go out. The second thing I learned is that I got to have a backpack with a belt to get that weight off the shoulders. I also threw some things out of my pack after I had hauled them around. It just didn’t make any sense. I was carrying two and three cameras. So I just got down to one camera and my film camera. And that was a much better collection to haul up and down the hill. I also learned that it’s just a matter of, you’ve got to just be out there, spend time and I think evening and morning obviously are much better times to find them.I had much better luck evening & in the morning. When they soar during the day they’re so high it’s pretty hard to get to them most of the time. But sometimes they’ll come down, kind of do a flyover and I can get a couple shots like that. It was pretty interesting. So that’s it. I hope you enjoyed this. I hope you met some condors and found that interesting. I think I’m a huge fan of one of the ugliest birds around. So you’re going to see more of that bird in the future. So keep those cameras rollin’ and keep on clickin’.
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