Explaining a mysterious death

The headline “Rare Condor’s Fall from the Sky Remains a Puzzle” appears in the Fresno Bee newspaper for 26 May 1965. The article explains:

The condor’s mysterious death was witnessed Sunday by G. B. (Jerry) Coigny … He said it was making low circles about 50 feet high when it stopped flying and plummeted to the ground.

Here’s the story, as told in a government report and other publications.

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Sighting reports in News from the Bird-Banders

News from the Bird-Banders was a monthly newsletter first published in 1926. This publication of the Western Bird Banding Association was a venue for amateur and professional ornithologists to share information about their studies of bird movements and survival.

I will note the (limited) efforts to band California condors in a future post. In this post I share reports of condor sightings that appeared in News from the Bird-Banders in the 1930s-1950s. With one exception, these reports are excerpts from the minutes of meetings of the Western Bird Banding Association.

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Flying observations

Lynn Farrar contributed this report to American Birds in 1974:

Two [California condors] were seen from a jet airplane over Hollister Apr. 16! They were less than 1000 feet below the ascending jet and were apparently undisturbed. Calculations indicate they may have been flying as much as 15,000 feet above sea level.

At the time of this sighting there were only 30-some condors in the wild and Farrar’s 2 birds were a considerable ways north of their prime habitat. Fortune was with Farrar on that flight.

In the rest of this post, I note 2 older reports of seeing California condors from the air.

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Place-specific check lists from the 19th century

Birders are listers. For some who are interested in birds, check lists are about keeping track of the birds they have (and haven’t) seen. For others, these lists are about monitoring and understanding the diversity of birds.

Lists are available for all the world’s bird species and for just the species found in specific places. Place-specific check lists are available for the birds found in states and provinces, cities and counties, parks and forests, and mountains and islands. For example, Theodore Roosevelt kept a list of the birds he saw in Washington while he was president.

There is something haunting about coming across a species in a place-specific check list when that species is no longer found in that place. There is also a sense of hope when a species long gone from a place has returned. But having either of these experiences — feeling haunted or hopeful — depends on the existence of records, such as check lists, from the past.

This post is a brief look at 9 place-specific check lists published in the 2nd half of the 19th century. All these lists include only minimal notes about each species. And all these lists include the bird we now call the California condor, a species that was not found in any wild place during the years 1987-1992. Some of the check lists are for places where the condor has now returned and some are for places where the condor is no longer found but could return some day.

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