Thom Lord— 9 August 2005 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings, Notes from the Field (NFTF) readers! With July temperatures frequently reaching well above 100 degrees in much of northern Arizona, the condors spent a considerable amount of time at higher (and cooler) elevations throughout the month. In addition to the birds’ continued use of the Grand Canyon and the Kaibab Plateau, a large group established their annual presence near Utah’s Zion National Park. An initial group of about eight birds in the Zion area had increased to more than twice that by month’s end. The condors continued to exhibit their proficiency at foraging for food by finding a number of wild carcasses in each of the regions they occupied.
Certainly the most interesting of these carcasses was one found on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. On 4 July, crewmember Vincent Frary tracked a group of 13 birds along the rim of the canyon to a spot near Grandview Point. After speaking with a Park Service biologist, Vince was led to a mountain lion carcass that had been killed by a car a few days prior. Vince was able to confirm that all 13 birds had full, visible crops, indicating that they had fed well. Although the fate of this particular lion was unfortunate, it was interesting to see the birds find a food source upon which we had never before documented them feeding.
The day before Vince found the mountain lion, another exciting event took place as Condor 342 made his way to the Grand Canyon for the first time. Regular NFTF readers will remember that Condor 342 is a wild-fledged chick from a nest near the Vermilion Cliffs release site, about 50 miles away from the South Rim. He stayed in the park for only one night before returning to the release site, but subsequently seemed to become quite comfortable with the trip, returning to the Grand Canyon three times throughout the month.
Condor 342’s wild-fledged counterpart, Condor 350, soon followed suit in an equally impressive first for our wild-fledged birds. On 23 July, I received a report from the North Rim’s Interpretive Ranger office that Condor 350 had been spotted with its mother, Condor 119, on a ledge near the North Rim. This in itself wasn’t abnormal for Condor 119 or Condor 350, but by the next day, Condor 119 had flown to the northern end of the Kaibab Plateau, finding and feeding upon a horse carcass that other condors had located a few days prior. Being a wild-fledged bird, Condor 350 does not yet have radio transmitters attached, so we are currently relying on visual observations to keep track of the bird as best we can.
Because of the report I had received the previous day, I suspected that Condor 350 might still be with his mother, and went to investigate. I quickly located Condor 119 high in a ponderosa pine tree above the horse carcass, perched near a number of other condors, but I saw no sign of Condor 350. I went back to my truck in order to minimize disturbance to the birds that were there, and Condor 119 quickly flew above me and landed in a nearby tree. When I focused my binoculars on the branch where she had landed, I saw two pairs of condor eyes peeking back through the dense clusters of pine needles. With a bit of maneuvering around the tree, I was able to confirm that the second set of eyes did, in fact, belong to a tagless, black-headed juvenile—Condor 350. Although we had observed all of the wild-fledged chicks in Arizona feeding on carcasses that we had placed, this was the first time that we had documented a wild-fledged condor finding a wild carcass.
As the two wild-fledged condors in Arizona continued in their progression toward complete independence, both of the pairs that bred this year continued to ready their chicks for their own fledging. Both nests seem to be progressing well, with the parents’ behavior just as expected at this stage of rearing, and no evidence of any problems. For now, we’ll continue to look forward to seeing two new wild chicks take flight from their respective caves in just a few more months.
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