Chris Parish— 19 July 2004 — in California Condor Restoration ShareI will begin this happy update by reviewing some history. Remember that sometime near the middle of March, veteran crew member Eddie Feltes and his coworkers noticed a change in the behavior of Condors 114 and 149 at a cave on the face of Vermilion Cliffs. It had already been established that these condors were showing great interest in one another as well as the cave. Had Condor 149 laid an egg? The behavior of the male and female certainly suggested that they were taking turns incubating, although the distance and angle to the cave entrance made observations difficult. Based on the date we first observed this behavior, plus countless hours of more observation, digging through literature, phone calls to the captive breeding folks, and many crossed fingers, we figured we might soon have a chick.
So finally, on Friday, 9 July 2004, when Eddie was stationed atop the Paria Plateau at our release site with only a few free-flying birds to monitor, he yielded to his curiosity and took a long, patient look. With his spotting scope, he observed female Condor 149 perched in the nest cave. Fighting an urge to look away and attend to his field notes, he began to notice something else in the nest cave, and with further scrutiny he was able to make out a gray-headed chick standing tall next to its mother, flapping its downy wings. Eddie had joined the ranks of the very few to discover a wild-hatched nestling California Condor. You may recall last year when former Field Manager, Sophie Osborn and National Park Service biologist Chad Olson witnessed wild hatched Condor 305 in the Grand Canyon for the first time. Let us hope the latest confirmed chick, Condor 348, will follow Condor 305’s lead and fledge successfully. Congratulations to all!
The other nesting pair (Condors 119 and 122) continues to tend its nest cave at the South Rim. Despite having a younger chick (estimated by adult behavior), Condors 119 and 122 have spent less time tending to their nest in the Grand Canyon nest than have the Vermilion Cliffs’ pair. Continued visitation however still leaves us very hopeful that all is well. Condor 349 should be about 56 days old, whereas Condor 348 (at Vermilion Cliffs) should be around 67 days.
The cohort of 2003 continues to be the focus of our monitoring efforts. Young Condor 300 made her way to the South Rim for the first time on 13 June 2004. Each time this sort of thing happens, crew members gear up to keep a close watch on these young explorers. Condor 300’s journey included Kaibab Plateau, Marble Canyon, Navajo Bridge, Colorado River, and the edge of Page, Arizona. Traveling so many miles in such a short amount of time was a great first for this young bird. However, the frequent stops in close proximity to humans and human-related structures were steps in the wrong direction. This came as a shock since Condor 300 had been one of the best behaved of her cohort. Multiple hazings and hours of close observation nearly led to the decision to recapture her, but just then she began behaving herself.
One should realize these young condors exploring on the wing have every opportunity to get into trouble, as we call it, but despite such blips on the radar, their inquisitive nature is precisely what leads to success in finding carcasses in the wild. For example, Condor 296, anther first year female, made her way to the South Rim for the first time on 7 June 2004 and was soon observed feeding on a nonproffered carcass.
On 17 June, we began trapping for West Nile Virus (WNV) vaccinations, lead testing, DNA sample collection, and transmitter replacement. By mid July, only one case of WNV had been documented in Coconino County, but to play it safe we have vaccinated every condor that we have been able to trap again this year. We thank Dr. Jeff Chang with the Center for Disease Control for allowing us to take part in administering the experimental vaccine.
It is amazing to think that we are now in the thick of the summer field season. Observations from the crew and satellite data continue to confirm the condor flock’s extensive travels throughout the northern Arizona–southern Utah region. To date we have observed and documented travels southwest into the Lake Mead Recreation Area, north towards and beyond Cedar Breaks National Monument, and to the northeast beyond Lake Powell.
Take a look at the June movements of Condor 304, as revealed by satellite-based telemetry! Condor 304M was released 20 March 2004 with Condors 296F, 299M, and 300F. On 25 May 2004 we were able to trap and affix a special GPS transmitter that is actually lighter in weight than the conventional transmitters we have been using since the project’s inception. The transmitter works by recording its own GPS location several times during the day and then beaming the accumulated data to a satellite array. We receive an email every evening with the new information on condor movements. Right now, we have eight birds with the new transmitters, and by mid-fall we expect to double that number. While the GPS transmitters do not take the place of conventional transmitters – the latter are essential for close monitoring – the satellite data directs us to areas of condor focus, e.g., feeding sites. Among other things, we can find and examine carrion items that might have presented a risk of lead exposure.
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