Thom Lord— 3 November 2005 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings, Notes from the Field Readers! October was an extremely busy month on the Condor Project, for reasons both expected and unexpected. Fortunately, the project crewmembers and volunteers proved well up to the tasks at hand, and it turned out to be an exceptionally productive month for the project as well.
We began October with a much-needed rebuild of our release site flight pen. The construction project added holding capacity for the ever increasing number of captive-reared birds that we receive each year from our Boise breeding facility, as well as reinforcing the pen against the often extreme weather atop the Paria Plateau. The addition appeared to have the birds’ approval, as they headed directly for it upon being released into the pen. As with the treatment facility that I mentioned last month, all of the construction work that was done on the flight pen was accomplished by Peregrine Fund biologists (many working on their days off) and project volunteers. We again owe a debt of thanks to longtime project friend David Wall for his expertise and hard work.
Almost immediately after finishing the flight pen rebuild, we tagged and placed transmitters on three new birds (Condors 329, 343, and 346) for release. On 12 October, these three, along with two birds that had been held temporarily in captivity, joined Arizona’s free-flying population. The new releases seemed to take quite well to their newfound freedom, integrating nearly seamlessly with the existing flock. This release brought the wild population in Arizona up to 60 birds, including this year’s two nestlings.
This year’s nestlings were the next source of great news in October, with crewmember Vincent Frary making the difficult 24-mile round-trip hike into the Grand Canyon in an attempt to observe the chick there. To everyone’s delight, Vince was able to see the chick, now Condor 392, and described it as appearing active and healthy. The other chick, Condor 389, was seen numerous times throughout the month, and also appears to be developing normally. It is possible that at least one chick will have fledged by the time I write the next Notes from the Field, but both should have fledged by the end of December.
Near the end of October, we were finally able to accomplish something that we had set our sights on nearly one year earlier. On 24 October, Vince confirmed that Condor 350, an untagged wild-fledged juvenile from last year, had arrived at the release site. As the bird had established a regular pattern of returning to the release site to feed, and was still untagged going into our most crucial time of the year (hunting season), we decided to attempt to trap it. We set up to trap that night, and caught Condor 350 the next morning. Crewmember Frank Nebenburgh and I tagged, bled (for lead testing and DNA analysis), and vaccinated the bird for West Nile Virus, and released it again that evening. Condor 350 roosted at the release site that night, and stayed through the end of the month, feeding and interacting with the rest of the flock. We all breathed a sigh of relief when Condor 350 was finally tagged, as we will now be able to use radio-telemetry and GPS data to track that bird’s movements as we track the rest of the flock. Although it was awe-inspiring to have an untagged wild bird in our free-flying population, the information we gain by being able to track each of the condors is invaluable. And, if things go as we expect, we should have two more untagged free-flying birds in the population very soon . . .
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