California condor spotted in San Mateo County

After an absence of more than a century, a majestic raptor once on the verge of disappearing from the face of the earth has returned to San Mateo County.

Officials with the Ventana Wildlife Society said a California condor flew into the county on May 30 — the first verified sighting of a condor in San Mateo County since 1904.

Known as “Lupine” or “Condor #597,” the society said images of the female condor were captured on a motion-activated camera on private property near Pescadero.

Lupine — released into the wilds of the Big Sur coast in 2013 — was tracked on a flight that took her from Pinnacles National Park into San Mateo County.  She returned to the park — a trip of more than 100 miles —  two days later.

Kelly Sorenson, Ventana Wildlife Society’s executive director, said of the journey:

“Not only is this the first sighting of a condor in San Mateo County in 110 years, but it is an exciting new range expansion into an area that could support condors in the wild.”

The condor’s stop in Pescadero brought it within a few miles of the county’s rugged coastline, including nearby Ano Nuevo State Park, a potential feeding stop for the birds.

Sorenson explained:

“The coast is really important for condors today because of the abundance of marine mammal carcasses for them to eat, and it will be interesting to see if additional visits by condors to San Mateo or Santa Cruz County occur in the future.”

The California condor — the largest flying bird in North America with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet — was on the brink of extinction less than 20 years ago.

The return of the giant raptor to San Mateo County is yet another remarkable step in its recovery.

In a last-ditch effort to save the the bird, wildlife officials say the lone remaining California condor alive in the wild was captured in 1987.   It was brought to a breeding facility in Southern California where 26 other condors were being cared for.

It was hoped — though unclear at the time — that by raising young condors and releasing them into the wild, the species could be saved from extinction.

Now there are more than 130 condors in the wild, and young condors raised in captivity are being released into the wild every year.  Still, their recovery is described by experts as “tenuous.”

Sorenson said:

“While there is much to do to ensure the long term safety of condors in the wild, it is clearly possible and we’re on the right track.”

If you think you may have seen a condor, you can contact the society at CondorSightings@ventanaws.org.

Be sure to include date, time, condor numbers, photo if one exists and any other details about the sighting.


John Marshall is an SFBay editor and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio.  Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.

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