Rare sightings, with an asterisk

If you were in the San Gabriel Mountains a week ago, that fluttering sound you heard might have been a California condor -- or a gaggle of birders in hot pursuit of a life-list asterisk.

Internet birder chat rooms came alive on March 18 with a report of condors in an accessible spot above Tujunga.

As sightings increased, birders hastily arranged expeditions along Santa Clara Divide Road near L.A. County Fire Camp 9 above Sylmar.

“I wanted to see one living in the wild, and it was really exciting driving there,” said Tom Miko of Claremont.


He sighted a bird wearing a white 39 tag at 200 yards (condors bred in captivity wear tags that label them by letter and number).

Groups of younger, more adventurous birds have been occasionally straying from their usual Ventura County environs to the San Gabriel Mountains, said Jesse Grantham, biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The birds are typically 1 to 3 years old, and not in breeding pairs, said, he said.

“Sometimes, six or eight birds will go over there, hang out and roost in some trees,” Grantham said.


All this excitement, veteran bird-watchers noted, came despite the fact the condors involved were not born in the wild, which disqualifies them from inclusion on a birder’s life list.

The California condor, the continent’s largest native bird, has a 10-foot wingspan and can soar for miles.

Reports of sightings have dwindled since the flurry around March 21.



Christopher Reynolds