A BLACK CONDOR DIPPED her featherless head and flapped her wings, straining for height. Another vulture drifted in front of her, forcing the condor to climb higher in the crowded wheel of circling birds. The condor struggled, her body weak from having little to eat over the past month. The sun had yet to crest the hilly peaks to the east, but already, dozens of bald- headed condors had taken up stations high above the mist-shrouded valley below. The other vultures were hungry, too. The birds flew without calling to each other. Only the sound of their massive wings working laboriously in the humid air marked their passage.
Long-tailed shrikes darted between the condors, refusing to settle in as they twisted and banked among the larger, slower birds. When this sport became dull, a shrike ventured down to the roof of the mist, skimming along its rolling surface and kicking up a cottony spray in its wake. It darted to and fro wherever the mist churned and a hole appeared to open, but it was never fast enough to dive through before it closed.
Shadows passed over the condor and she turned her attention from the shrike. The wheel was breaking apart. The reason flew several hundred feet above. Three pairs of green-breasted eagles had been drawn by the waiting flock. The condor tensed. She was significantly larger than the eagles, but the birds of prey were aggressive and unpredictable. Hunger made the condor brave, and she kept to her course. The other condors settled in behind her and the wheel resumed its slow rotation.
When the eagles showed no sign of attacking, the condor allowed herself to look down again and quickly spied the shrike flying inches above the undulating whiteness. A large wave of mist surged upward momentarily before collapsing, pulling down the mist around it and creating a gaping tear in the otherwise uniform surface. The shrike chirped and dived toward the opening. It managed to penetrate several feet before the walls of mist closed in around it. The shrike’s chirps grew frantic as it twisted and tried to fly back out. Its wingtips brushed the mist and were instantly tangled in wispy skeins that stuck to its feathers. The shrike flapped harder but only succeeded in becoming more enmeshed. Its wings were still beating as the mist closed over it and the condor lost sight of it. The condor kept an eye on the spot where the shrike had vanished, but the bird did not reappear. Read more…