A Start to Beatnik Birding: California Coast Beginning at Big Sur

by Bryce W. Robinson

California Condor- Gymnogyps californianus

I left the desert the other day, and set my heading west. My plan is to take the PCH, highway 1 as far north as I desire. So far the journey has been phenomenal. Truly phenomenal, for I cannot describe in words the sights I have seen and the feeling that they have stirred. My main focus for heading through Big Sur was to see the monsterous California Condor. The other night I camped on the southern end of the area known as Big Sur. I had not seen many birds, but I certainly was pleased with the place I called home for the night. I looked out my tent to an ocean view.

Looking north in Big Sur

I had yet to find the condors, but I knew that I had plenty of time to search. I hit the road with wanting eyes. I told myself that the top priority above any else was to find the condor. I couldn’t help my urges to stop and take in the scene as I wound along the cliffs of the ocean front. My mind had let go of its preoccupation with finding the condors, for the distraction of the scenery was too much.

My eyes caught a glimpse of orange as I wound a corner coming upon a roadside grove of tall conifers. I was in disbelief. Immediately my mind registered the possibility that I had already found my prize. Sure enough, sitting atop a tall tree, overlooking the endless pacific, were two of the largest winged creatures I have ever seen.

California Condor- Gymnogyps californianus

The two birds were very tolerant of me and my camera. I watched them as they sat preening, content with the passing cars and occasional passersby. After nearly an hour, one of the birds left the tree, soaring slow and strong towards the coast. Nearly five hundred feet below the road, the bird landed on the sand. Through my binoculars, I saw a number of birds gather around a large corpse. Gulls and Turkey Vultures yielded their meal to their superior. Every bird backed away as the condor fed upon a decaying elephant seal.

California Condor- Gymnogyps californianus

California Condor arriving at Elephant Seal carcass.

I didn’t expect such a sight for my first time with the California Condor. I noticed another bird below, too large to pass for a vulture. Indeed a juvenile condor soared along the beach. Three condors seemed overly generous for my diligent effort, but I would not complain nor squander the opportunity. I remained for a great deal of time.

The road called to me, and soon I answered. Pulling from the place where I first met the condor, I looked ahead to a long road forward with many birds to come.