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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
1 - 15 January 2003
Sophie Osborn — in California Condor Restoration    ShareThe New Year began on a high note with the return of Condor 249 from his convalescence at the Phoenix Zoo. Condor 249 had contracted lead poisoning during his sojourn on the west flank of the Kaibab Plateau in November and December of 2002. After finishing his chelation treatment and passing the metallic fragment that he had ingested, Condor 249 finally had been given a clean bill of health and was cleared to come home to the Vermilion Cliffs. A heartfelt “Thank you!” to Dr. Katherine Orr and her dedicated staff for restoring our young condor to good health.

To give him some time to readjust and reacclimatize to the elements and the activities at the Vermilion Cliffs, we placed Condor 249 in our release pen upon his return on the evening of January 3. Exhibiting the incredible feistiness and irrepressible energy that has so endeared him to us, Condor 249 spent the next two days anxiously pacing and flapping around the enclosure. He seemed eager to take to the skies once again. On the morning of January 6, we opened up the release pen and Condor 249 shot back into the wild! A total of 33 condors were once again soaring over Arizona.

During the first half of January, most of Arizona’s condors remained at the release area, resting, playing, feeding, and flying over the Vermilion Cliffs. For the older birds, courtship activities also continued to predominate.

To our surprise, Condors 119 and 122, one of last year’s two breeding pairs, spent the first week of January at the release area as opposed to the South Rim, where the two had investigated nest caves in December. We could only hope they were storing up fuel for an upcoming nesting attempt! Then, on January 17, Condor 122 left the release area and went to the river corridor. To our dismay and confusion, Condor 119 stayed behind.

We need not have worried. On January 9, Condor 119 left the release site and soon found her wayward mate in the vicinity of Soap Canyon (one of the many Grand Canyon tributaries). After spending two days in this upper section of the Grand Canyon, the pair finally went back to the South Rim. On both January 12 and 13, crewmember Roger Benefield watched Condor 122 display to and mount Condor 119. Over the following two days, Roger once again saw the pair perched in the entrance to last year’s Battleship Cave. It looked like the search for a suitable nest site was on again!

Meanwhile, the second of last year’s breeding pairs, Condors 123 and 127, spent much of the first half of January out of view in the Grand Canyon. They appeared to divide their time between the vicinity of Plateau Point (visible from Grand Canyon Village) and Phantom Ranch, as well as nearby areas on the north side of the Colorado River. Unfortunately, we were unable to document any cave searching activity by this pair, though it is probable that courtship displays by Condor 123 to Condor 127 continued throughout this period.

Our new pair, Condors 134 and 149, maintained their solitary vigil in the Tapeat’s Canyon area on the northwest flank of the Kaibab. They were joined for a few days by Condor 136, but otherwise remained apart from the other condors. On January 7, Arizona Game and Fish Condor Biologist Andi Rogers and Grand Canyon National Park Raptor Biologist Chad Olson braved the elements and the slick, snowy roads and managed to get out to an area where they hoped to be able to get a glimpse of Condors 134 and 149’s activities. To their delight (and ours!), they were able to see one distant condor displaying to another on a far-off point. Based on the radio-transmitter signals that Andi and Chad were receiving, the birds indeed appeared to be Condors 134 and 149. While nesting in this area would make it nearly impossible for us to monitor them closely, we nonetheless all hoped, for the birds’ sake, that they would chose this spectacular, remote spot for their first nesting attempt.

Courtship activities among our “quad,” which consists of Condors 114 (a male), 126 (a female), 133 (a female), and 162 (a male), were as convoluted and confusing as our breeding pairs’ were straightforward. Both males appeared to be most interested in Condor 133, though Condor 126 invariably accompanied the group and was occasionally displayed to by each of the males. Whether Condor 133 preferred Condor 114 or Condor 162 remained a mystery since she appeared to garner and respond to both males’ attentions. To make matters infinitely more complicated, it seemed that Condor 114 and Condor 162 had not quite yet resolved their “issues” with each other. They frequently displayed to one another. Condor 114 seemed far more interested in Condor 133 than in Condor 162, but whenever he tried to display to her, Condor 162 would charge in, break up the interaction and usually mount Condor 114! Was Condor 162 interested in Condor 133 and showing his dominance over Condor 114 or was Condor 162 actually interested in Condor 114? Although we fervently hoped the group would divide itself into two pairs, we couldn’t begin to guess how this bizarre scenario might resolve itself.

In addition to engaging in bouts of displaying and mounting, all four members of “the quad” spent increasing amounts of time on the southwest corner of the Paria Plateau (on the same cliffs as the release site). They appeared to be investigating a cave that opened up at the base of a large fissure in the rock. Over the next few weeks, we hoped to confirm that they were focusing on this particular cave and perhaps discover how a “quad” might evolve into two pairs, or perhaps a trio, or maybe even something altogether unexpected!

Until next time …

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