California Condor Recovery Donation

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My love for birds came long before my love of photographing them; it started in 1999 while installing solar equipment on mountain peaks above Big Sur, California. The site is highly restricted and the people I accessed the site with had such a deep passion for condors, birds, and wildlife, and luckily it was infectious. I'm forever grateful.

California Condor Recovery Efforts - Winter of 1999

Graham Owen, Owner of GO Solar Company designed, donated and installed two solar electric systems deep within the rugged Ventana Wilderness area of Big Sur California, to provide power for surveillance cameras, radio transmitters and a telephone repeater. This combination of high tech equipment allows for remote surveillance of the condor sanctuary and the ability to transmit images to the refuge base camp as well as to zoos and schools via the internet.
Magnificent California Condor
California Condor
The California Condor reintroduction program is succeeding in providing a safe and secure future for this magnificent raptor. With a wingspan of over nine feet, the California condor soars on thermals and updrafts for distances over a hundred miles at a time. Condors lay only one egg each year and by the age of 5 or 6 the bird will be ready to find a mate, to bond with for life. During the breeding season, condors search for nest sites in mountains like those of Monterey County.

coastline of Big Sur California
Condors flying the coast of Big Sur California


box Base Camp Installation

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The field site and surrounding wilderness is highly restricted to ensure for unhindered establishment of a highly endangered species. Joe Burnett, Condor Field Supervisor for the Ventana Wilderness Society directed this solar powered surveillance and communication system installation. The installation involved mounting one system in the condor reintroduction flight pen area and had to be installed under cover of darkness, so as not to desensitize its inhabitants.

Joe Burnett
Joe digging the hole for the solar equipment pole

The electricity required for the base camp monitoring equipment is generated by four Siemens SP-75 watt solar panels. An additional Siemens SM-46 watt panel was mounted to supply power for a 12 volt light in the bunk house. These systems have to be reliable and effective and are only accessible by a few individuals because of the remote and inaccessible location. As usual a solar Path Finder proved invaluable in determining the least shaded location for the solar panels.

Graham Owen
Clean quiet solar power

Enough electricity is stored to allow for the continuous and uninterrupted supply of power even in the event of five days of inclement weather. Two lockable boxes contain four Concord 100 Amp hour sealed batteries. The ProStar 30 Amp solar charge controller displays the battery voltage, solar panel current and load current. All circuits are fused with DC fuses which are readily available locally.

Batteries, terminal block, fusing and charge controller
Solar battery containers and controller

box Condor Flight Pen Installation

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The solar equipment installed next to the condor flight pen was installed at night, to avoid human contact with the birds in this area. With the expected arrival of a new pair of condors from the San Diego Zoo on 12/18/00, the solar powered radio telemetry video monitoring system had to be completed before the site was off limits to humans, otherwise it would have been necessary to delay this project for a year. When new birds arrive they spend three to six months in the flight pen for a period of intense physical and social development.


A condor's view from this flight pen is a view of the breathtaking surrounding steep canyon. The raptor's natural habitat challenged the agility of the team. The panels, batteries, aluminum battery container, equipment and tools had to be carried down to the edge of a cliff in the dark of night. This was a fun and challenging installation, the team worked all night, with nothing but flashlights, in the rain on the side of a slippery hill with a 45-degree slope and temperatures in the mid 30's. A small telephone pole used to train birds not to perch on power lines was the best location to mount the solar equipment. The solar equipment now powers a surveillance camera and a wireless transmitter.


Images from the surveillance camera are transmitted to the base camp monitoring system. This information is then transmitted from the base camp to the internet.

condor flight pen
Condor flight pen, actually much larger than it appears
night fall in the condor sanctuary
View from the flight pen at dusk
Dave Greathouse wiring panels in the dark
Wiring panels together before the hike


 inside the bunk house
Monitoring condor activity from the base camp
 condor survellance equipment
Condor base camp power distribution panel
 condor flight pen camera
One of the flight pen cameras
(top of photo)
 flight pen solar panels
Solar and radio telemetry equipment


box Testimonials

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Hi Graham,

I just wanted to drop you a quick e-mail to say thanks for the great job you did for us and for all of your help. This project would not have been possible without you. I especially appreciate the QUALITY of your work. It's nice to know there are still people like you who take pride in what they do.

You'll be getting two separate letters of thanks in the mail in the next few days.

Dave Hadden, Terra Focus 12/19/2000


Hi Graham,

We haven't forgotten about you. Your solar installation continues to work flawlessly. The Ventana Wilderness Society condor release crew has used the video monitor for many months without any problems and has NEVER had any down time for lack of charge or storage capacity; even after long periods of overcast. Great installation.

Every time we go up to the site to work, we are grateful for the very professional, bullet-proof installation you did for us.

Dave Hadden , Terra Focus 12/17/2001


Testimonial from US Representative Sam Farr

Sam Farr testimonial page 2

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