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 Close encounter with a condor

Giant, rare California condors spend part of the year in southern Utah.

Lynn Chamberlain
Lynn Chamberlain has been a professional outdoor photographer for over 30 years. His photos frequently appear on the DWR website and in a variety of publications. He lives in southern Utah and is the Conservation Outreach manager for the DWR's Southern Region.

AS A WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER, I am always looking for an opportunity to get close to wild animals. Several years ago, when rumors started to fly about California Condors frequenting the Kolob area near Zion National Park, I decided to investigate and see for myself.

California condors are extremely rare — there are only about 390 alive today.

The first time I saw them, I found five mature birds near a mountain cabin at the present viewing site. They were perched in the top of a tree and on the nearby rocks.

I took several photos and was just admiring them when I heard the rushing of the wind coming from close behind me. I instinctively ducked as a giant pair of wings passed no more than two feet over my head. I can still remember feeling the air pressure change, which caused me to lurch forward slightly as the condor passed by.

It was a mature bird with a wingspan of over nine feet, and it landed on the fence not more than 30 feet in front of me. I got several close photos, and the experience left me with a feeling of awe for this very special bird.

Since that time, I have viewed and photographed condors many times. I have watched them as they perform aerial ballets for the crowds that gather to see them on the Day of the Condor and — since this is not a scientific writing — I can tell you that I am convinced they enjoy putting on a show for people. I think that bird was intentionally messing with me when it flew so close over my head.

With a wingspan of nearly 10 feet — and a body that's four to five feet long — the condor is the size of a small car.

Because of that first experience, I feel a tie with condors and I love to share these birds with others. Hopefully, anyone who sees them in flight comes away from the experience feeling a stronger link with wildlife.

Come join us this year on June 18 for the annual Day of the Condor. We will be watching the birds from 8 a.m.–noon at the Kolob viewing site, just 21.5 miles north of Virgin, Utah. It’s a great opportunity to see and experience one of the rarest birds in the world.

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