Big Sur, Condors and Point Lobos in the Moonlight

Posted by on Oct 6, 2012

 Magic of Point Lobos Photography Competition and Gallery Exhibit

Randy recently won two awards at a juried photography competition, the Magic of Point Lobos. His awards were for Best of Underwater and Best of Wildlife. All of the winning images and some additional images chosen by the judges were invited to take place in a gallery exhibition at the Carmel Art Institute with the opening reception being held on September 28. So Randy printed up his images and on September 28 we headed for Carmel for the reception.

Magic of Point Lobos Gallery Opening Reception

Magic of Point Lobos Gallery Opening Reception

We had a great time at the reception. There were lots of really beautiful photos taken at Point Lobos State Reserve displayed, many of the photographers were there and there was finger food to munch on and wine being poured freely. We ran into some friends there who also had photos in the exhibit and enjoyed talking to them about how more underwater photographers needed to enter and eventually a bunch of us went out to dinner at the Bahama Island Steak House.

California Condors in the Wild!

We were spending the night with our friends Nancy and Scott at their house in Prunedale, and later that night we were talking about what we were going to do the next day before heading to the Moonlight Walk at Point Lobos. Scott mentioned that he had never seen a condor and our adventure was decided upon. The next day we would pack a lunch, hop in the car and head south along Hwy 1 to find condors.

Condors are related to turkey vultures and are still on the edge of extinction even after some extreme measures were taken to help them to survive. In the late 1980’s all the wild birds were captured and breeding programs were started in various zoos. Years later Fish and Wildlife biologists began to release birds born in captivity into the wild. Today the population is almost 300 birds, up from a low of 27! Some of the huge birds (approximately 125) are living along Big Sur, at the Pinnacles and in Ventura County and some live in The Grand Canyon and a few in Baja California. They aren’t easy to spot in the wild but along the Big Sur coast is one of the best areas to find them.

And we got lucky, we found some condors! They were a few miles south of the Big Sur Inn soaring above highway 1 at a place known as Grimes Point. The fog was still hanging around and would drift in and out sometimes hiding the condors and their turkey vulture cousins from us. The condors are the most graceful and ugly birds I have ever seen. They soar effortlessly on huge wings marked with striking white feathers when viewed from below. But their featherless heads are wrinkled and pinkish red with a small sharp beak, ugly!

California Condor Soaring Over the Big Sur Coast

California Condor Soaring Over the Big Sur Coast

After spending some time marveling at the condors and trying to get some photographs we decided to head down to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to have lunch. We then walked out to the McWay Falls vista point where you can look down at the waterfall and protected cove on one side and north along the wild coastline on the other side. Rocks stained bright white with bird droppings rise out of the blue-green water with waves splashing over the rocks. Patches of kelp float in the water.  It is a beautiful place and I encourage everyone who is driving up or down the coast highway along Big Sur to stop and walk out to the point. It is an easy walk and fully accessible.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in the Moonlight

Back at Point Lobos we had some time before the Moonlight walk event so we went for a hike. Later, when we arrived at the event we found tables set up with sandwiches, salads and desserts as well as soft drinks, water and a local winery was pouring wine. After dinner Chuck Bancroft, retired Point Lobos ranger, led us out on the new Bird Rock trail. He read poetry at stops on the trail from a book on poetry about Point Lobos by local poets. Randy and I were trying to take long time exposures and slowly fell behind the others. This turned out to be a lucky thing because most of the hike the moon was hidden by the fog. But while we were at the most distant point all by ourselves the moon finally came out of the fog and lit up the rocks for us. Up to that point it had been really hard to focus as it was too dark for autofocus to work and looking through a tiny viewfinder and focusing manually at night can be difficult also. But having the light from the moon helped and we got some interesting images!

Guided Moonlight (and spotlight) Walk at Bird Rock, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Guided Moonlight (and spotlight) Walk at Bird Rock, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

Most of my images ended up being a bit soft but it was a lot of fun! A gallery of the images from the weekend is in my Recent Images gallery.


More information on Condors and Point Lobos:

 Ventana Wildlife Society
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve