Those following the progress of the eight California condors released by the Yurok Tribe in the Redwood National and State Park last year can talk to a condor exert at the annual Hathkapasuta River Celebration. The event will be held – rain or shine – at the Illinois River Forks State Park from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. this Saturday, June 24.
Hathkapasuta, a free family-friendly festival, offers arts and crafts activities for children, the All Species Parade, the crowd-pleasing Recycled-Raft Race and a wide array of nature and natural history displays, as well as vendors offering their wares..
Live music by the Frankie Hernandez Band and Sunrise and the Starseed Experience promise to get people dancing; and several food vendors will be on site. The Illinois Valley Arts Council craft booth and the Wildlife Images Bus with live animals are just two of many popular attractions for kids.
“Each booth has a conservation and education theme related to the river, fish, animals, the forest, or will have a Native American focus,” said co-organizer Suzanne Vautier. “We’re all about helping people explore our region’s interconnected natural resources and inspiring them to care for the environment that we share with so many unique lifeforms.”
One highlight will be the Yurok Tribe’s California condor booth where Chris West, the senior wildlife biologist who oversees the Yurok’s condor program, and some of his staff, will be on hand to talk about the tribe’s ongoing efforts to repopulate the region with the critically endangered birds – who with a nearly ten-foot wingspan, are the largest flighted land birds in North America.
With only a few dozen condors hanging onto survival in the 1980s, a highly-cooperative breeding program was launched that brought zoos, government agencies, universities, tribes and nonprofit organizations together to save the species from extinction. Now, there are over 500 condors alive – with more than 300 flying free in western United States and Mexico!
But the birds still face major challenges. Condors were recently in the national news because 21 birds from the Arizona-Utah condor population died from the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus.
“HPAI is definitely in our region as well. It has shown up in turkey vultures and common ravens and there have been confirmed deaths,” West said.
Spearheading the Northern California Condor Restoration Program, the Yurok Tribe released eight condors in 2022 and these birds were all recently captured for their annual health checks. Thankfully they’re all healthy.
However as HPAI is “highly contagious” the Yurok Tribe has been fundraising to facilitate construction of isolation pens “in case any of our birds catch it. We need a safe space to quarantine the birds and provide good medical care and we just don’t have the space for that right now.”
“We recently learned about a condor pair, where the female, Traveler, had to be captured last year to be treated for lead poisoning,” Vautier said. “So she was gone for over two months. What nobody knew at the time was that she had left an egg behind. Now, just recently, a chick showed up with its father, Shadow, at Pinnacles National Park. Obviously Shadow sat on Traveler’s egg and cared for the hatchling until Traveler was released again. These are amazing beings.”
Lead poisoning, a leading cause of their near-extinction, is still the number one threat to wild condor survival. West, also a hunter, is keen to educate the public about helping condors (as well as many other wildlife species that likewise ingest carrion) by switching to non-lead ammo.
“It’s all about education,” West explained. “In the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona, there’s now 90% compliance on the voluntary use of non-lead ammunition.”
Condor enthusiasts are gearing up for excitement as four more young condors are expected to arrive at the Yurok’s Release Management Facility in August, where they’ll be housed in a large flight pen while becoming habituated to their new homelands. After a month or so (weather and health issues permitting) the four will be released to join the eight free condors now flying the northern California skies.
So when might condors be spotted in Oregon?
“Some of the birds are really moving around the landscape a lot,” said West, who monitors their progress via tracking devices, mounted on their wings. “There’s one spot they hang out at that’s 20 miles away from the release site. Thinking about how close the forests are to our small communities’ kind of makes it all real. The condors have flown over my house! They’re going to spread out within the area pretty quickly.”
Hathkapasuta is put on by the Cultural and Ecological Enhancement Network (CEEN), an Illinois Valley-based nonprofit organization that hosts programs designed to enrich sustainable connections between the people and the lands they live on, co-organizer Tim Mondragon explained.
The Recycled Raft Race, which will take place mid- to late afternoon, has two divisions: youth, ages 10-15; and adult, 16 and up. Rafts must be handmade and powered by oars and paddles.
“Motors, inner tubes and inflatable kayaks are not allowed,” Mondragon said, “the race is all about creativity, ingenuity and having fun!”
The Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conservation District will set up their ‘Stream Table’ which educates people about the Valley’s watershed.
The Coyote Rising Giant Puppets will be milling about the festival adding more fun and magic to the mix and the troupe will also help facilitate the ‘All Species Parade’ in the early afternoon. They provide extra costumes for both adults and kids to utilize.
Nieca Wright, from the Tolowa Dee Ni Nation, will demonstrate making glue and traditional brushes from soaproot. “Wright has a lifetime of experience,” Vautier said. “She’s been doing this since she was a little girl, so this is an amazing learning opportunity.”
The Mountain Lion Foundation also comes to update people on how this important keystone species is faring in this region. Free give-away items and kid’s activities can be found there as well.
“There’ll be a raffle with great prizes donated by local businesses who want to thank the community for their patronage throughout the year,” Mondragon said.
For more information call Mondragon at 541-291 -8860.
Learn more about the condors on the Yurok Tribe’s website, and enjoy the action on the live condor cam: www.yuroktribe.org/yurok-condor-live-feed. Donate to the ongoing Yurok fundraising effort or learn more about the Northern California Condor Restoration Program at https://www.facebook.com/YurokCondors.