The 16 juvenile California Condors released in the Pine Mountain-Rocky Butte region above San Simeon over the past three years are soaring with their 9-1/2-foot wingspans, exploring coastal areas. That's exactly what the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) hoped for when they released the giant, endangered birds in San Luis Obispo County in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
The VWS also manages the flock on the Big Sur coast and in the Pinnacles National Park — roughly 83 condors.
Three of the San Simeon juveniles were recently spotted hanging out on Hollister Peak, an encouraging sign that the California Condor Recovery Program is succeeding in its goal to offer these birds a second chance.
California Condors were very near extinction in the mid-1980s until the last 22 birds were captured and brought into a captive breeding program.
They have recently been seen — thanks to GPS units attached to their wings — flying as far as the Gabilan Mountain Range north of San Jose and south to Vandenberg Air Force Base and elsewhere, including Hollister Peak.
“San Simeon is going to be a stop for all the condors,” VWS Senior Wildlife Biologist Joe Burnett said. “This is one of the big goals, to basically have an area that is adopted by all the birds. Condors are very social, so they follow each other around.
“So just by habit, the San Simeon birds will lead them here (in the next few years)."
In time, juveniles may pair up and nest in the craggy caves well above San Simeon, Burnett said.
Los Osos resident Richard Neidhardt, a volunteer at Pinnacles, got word that condors had been seen on Hollister Peak, so he drove along Canet Road south of Highway 1 and spotted the birds on the west side of the peak, well below the summit.
“They messed around on a dome-like area, then they began flying; they’d land for a bit then take off again. It was really cool — a thrill,” he said of the encounter on Easter weekend.
Another juvenile condor was seen earlier this year in a pine tree on Lodge Hill in Cambria.
The VWS asks Central Coast residents to report any sighting of condors by calling 831-800-7424 or by visiting wentanaws.org.