As regular readers know, this blog primarily concerns our life in the Alaska Range, but we will take the blog afield as occasions warrant. And as a previous entry alluded, a lot of our 2011-12 winter peregrination involved unhappy, unpleasant or at best tedious work in the lesser-48, but we also inserted a lot of fun into those seventeen weeks and 21,000 miles. One such time was the full day spent in Zion National Park. For one of us, it was a first time trip and a New Favorite amongst national parks; for the other, it was a lesson that the memory of an undergraduate geology trip to “yet another red rock slot canyon…ho hum” of so long ago was finally smothered during a glorious winter day in one of this continent’s single most wondrous geologic spectacles.
Many of you, however, either have been to Zion or seen a relative’s photos of it or at the very least, have access to any number of National Geographic-quality images of this southern Utah masterpiece. This post, then, foregoes my attempts at images like those. I will instead treat you to two other sorts: sometimes, another view is warranted. Even a third.
#1. As a preamble, Jenny effectively did not believe me when I slammed to a stop and yelled “Wolf!” After all, although wolves have been reintroduced to a number of locations in the lesser-48, Zion is not one of them and there have not been – before our trip – any such sightings in or near the Park. But I ask you please to trust me this photo is not altered or enhanced in any way:
BLACK WOLF IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Can you see it? Click the image to enlarge
So. That photo was of course for fun, and I did take careful note of the date and time of day, and of course location, as the exact sun angle is extremely critical for the effect. I hope you agree it was well worth a second look.
#2. This next set of photos is, on the other hand, absolutely on the up-and-up. Many of you know I have been a birder my whole life…and then some. As you will see, it is with some humility that I present this bashful tale.
On returning from a small hike some ways up the Zion Canyon, I noticed two birds perched atop a promontory. It was quite a tall cliff….the birds were far off…but they did look large. “Well, that’s very nice,” I thought to myself. AND shared with my novice-birder wife. “A pair of golden eagles.” The only large birds on a January 5 in Alaska that might have been in mating attitude would have been great horned owls, or perhaps great gray owls, but I surmised that at Zion’s latitude perhaps golden eagles also mate and breed that early. Leaving Jenny on the trail, I hurried back to the truck, mounted to my camera body the only telephoto lens I had brought – a 400mm f5.6 Sigma, and took some shots. It is not a great lens, and not really adequate for bird photography, but with the good resolution the Nikon F700’s sensor can provide, I thought it would be a worthy way to pass the time before Jenny caught back up to me.
HORRIBLE SHOT OF A PAIR OF “GOLDEN EAGLES” IN ZION (not!)
Tiny dots on skyline in center of photo….hardly worth enlarging….
Well. I certainly know, and should have been aware, that size can be quite deceptive. Especially at long distances. More especially from below, looking up. And most especially amongst birds. But I thought of none of that as I filmed the birds perched, and, both individually and jointly, soaring. After taking a number of photos, I put away the camera and brought out my binoculars.
In flight, magnified to resemble binocular view
Vultures are NOT eagles…..
Ummm….oops. Eagles do NOT have naked heads. What a dingbat – I’d mistaken a pair of vultures for eagles. Now a turkey vulture is a large bird, but it is nowhere near the size of a golden eagle. When I had seen them circling their pinnacle, they sure looked large to me…so I made a C-minus mistake of Birding 101, and jumped to my aquiline conclusion without adequate observation.
WRONG ONCE. BETTER LOOK AGAIN…..
Back in Paxson, and a fine way to take a break from shoveling all that snow was to edit a few thousand travel photos. When I got to the ones of Zion, eventually I also started looking at those
eagles vultures. Who needs to take up disk space on pin-prick-size shots of vultures? Toss ’em. Of course, “everyone” knows that turkey vultures aren’t fully black, but have a two-toned appearance from below.
Wait a minute…
Something was not right.
Turkey vulture’s tonal pattern is black in front, light in rear.These birds show themselves to be fully black at the trailing edge of their wings, plus tail. The front of their wings shows white (and not “light”, either). They have the pattern of the turkey vulture completely backwards.
Now, the only birds in North America you’re likely to see with that white/black underbody pattern are the pileated woodpecker and the crested myna. And nobody is going to mistake those species for what is shown in these photos.
There is one other bird that shares that patterning, however.
It is a Code 6 bird. This is the term the American Birding Association gives to the most difficult-to-see birds of all: “Unobservable“. That is a euphemism for “extinct“. But one Code 6 bird has, in effect, come back from extinction, and that is the massive, the colossal, the glorious California Condor, one of the planet’s aerial leviathans. Unbeknownst to me, this most gigantic of all North American birds has successfully been reintroduced to Zion National Park, and it was two of these that I mistook for
golden eagles turkey vultures.
The Oh. My. God. moment…
Not a golden eagle. Not a turkey vulture. And DEFINITELY not a pileated woodpecker or crested myna!
Everyone makes mistakes. Hunters here mistake grizzly bears for wolverines; hoary marmots for grizzlies; snowshoe hare for polar bears! Birders – expert birders, beginning birders – all misidentify. Oftentimes the mistake is uncaught or unchallenged. But this error is one I am not at all embarrassed to have walked you through.
And, while the Park employees already would have known about the condors…. until they read this blog they don’t know about the wolf in their midst.