Condor Watch

Mauro and I headed out to the field today, driving past an epic ridgeline before arriving at out little basecamp. We spent the next 2 hours (or was it three?) tying tons of tiny little nooses to the net that formed the trap. Which was fine at first but got worse and worse as the heat rose. The idea is that the King Vultures will walk around on the net when they go for the bait and get their feet stuck in the nooses. Once we were done, we set the bait, a pile of cow guts that had been cooking in the sun. Then the waiting got started.

While we waited, we (quietly) headed over to the King Vulture Rookery, where Mauro counted about 15 birds and collected feathers (from the ground) while I tried my hand at using binoculars as a zoom lens. After about half an hour and upteen tries, I finally got a decent shot. I woke up out of my photography trance and joined Mauro by the stream. Watching him work, I realized field biology is often very much like a World of Warcraft quest:
"Follow the trail south to the river where the King Vultures sleep. Collect as many of their feathers as you can (drop rate - 15%) and bring them back that we may learn about their kind." EXP 5000 (low level).

We checked the trap on the way back, and ate lunch on a table mauro made while he was bored on another outing. There's a lot of waiting in this job.

But that's alright, because the waiting takes place in a beautiful forest, and gives you time to do things like go down to the river and bathe. Mauro told me the bridge over the stream I bathed in used to connect Veinte de Noviembre (the ejido we're working in, named after the date of the Mexican Revolution of 1910) to a neighboring ejido. The other community had started stealing timber out of Veinte's land so in response Veinte cut them off by blowing the bridge. Nowadays, it is only passable on foot or on a bike, and makes a great place to sit and enjoy a cool breeze.

We didn't catch anything, no surprise since Mauro has yet to catch one of these creatures, even though he's been at it for months! But it was a beautiful day nonetheless.

On the way back, Mauro and I started talking about how unfortunate the King Vulture's name is. Think about the words 'Condor' and 'Vulture' for a second.* If you're like me, 'Condor' brings up images of a majestic bird soaring off of a cliff, of Californian and Andean efforts to bring a natural wonder back from the brink of extinction. 'Vulture,' on the other hand, brings up images of a roadkill and garbage eating scavenger that circles overhead as you die of thirst in the desert.

The difference is pure perception, but hey, so is the stock market. Since the "King Vulture" is a sister species to the California Condor and a distant cousin to the Common Vulture, why not call it a condor? I had been thinking of "Mexican Condor" as a better name, but Mauro suggested something better - the Mayan Condor.

Let the name switching battle begin!


* We had this conversation in Spanish, but the words 'Condor' and 'Zopilote' have similar connotations to their counterparts in English.
** Some more pictures that didn't make it into the text:

Another binocular-zoomed shot of the Mayan Condor.

The bridge no longer supports cars or trucks, but that's the idea.

The creek where I took a bath. 
Sometimes this place looks just like Virginia in the Spring.

1 comment:

canyon wren said...

as to the name switching, it is a common thing. you are only talking about the common name, which is a lot easier to switch than the G. sp (pretend that's underlined, my computer skills are lacking)

there is a pine tree in california and oregon that used to be called the digger pine..... which some how is no longer called that, and the switch was because " digger" referred to a native american tribe, and was a "disrespectful" term. so, though no one used the word in reference to the people, and few knew of the alleged origin of the name "digger pine", the tree now has the undistinguished common name of "grey pine".

i'm all for the mayan condor.