Thom Lord— 5 December 2005 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings, Notes from the Field readers! I ended last month’s NFTF with the good news that we had trapped and tagged wild-fledged Condor 350, and explained the importance of having radio-telemetry and GPS available to track the condors. Unfortunately, Condor 350 illustrated that point all too well early in the month of November.
After we tagged Condor 350, the bird stayed near the release site, feeding occasionally and interacting normally with the other birds in the flock. On 4 November, however, veteran crewmember Eddie Feltes noticed that Condor 350’s radio signal was in an odd location, away from the release site and the other condors, and hiked in to check on the bird. He quickly found Condor 350, who seemed to be fine. When the bird attempted to fly, however, Eddie immediately realized that something was wrong with one of its wings. Eddie called crewmember Jim Willmarth for assistance, and the two were able to capture Condor 350 and transport it to our treatment facility in Vermilion Cliffs. We immediately took an x-ray of the affected wing, and saw a clear break in one of the bones. After consulting with Dr. Kathy Orr of the Phoenix Zoo and Dr. Pat Redig of The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, the decision was made to send Condor 350 to The Raptor Center for possible surgery. Eddie and Project Supervisor Chris Parish left in the middle of the night to get Condor 350 to Phoenix for the next flight to Minnesota. Condor 350 spent the rest of the month in the care of the staff at The Raptor Center. We’ll probably never know what caused Condor 350’s broken wing, but the bird is doing well and is expected to make a complete recovery.
On the same day that Eddie and Jim captured Condor 350, Chris and I were accomplishing a necessary, if less enjoyable, task. We had lost contact with Condor 291 in October, and hadn’t seen or received a radio signal on the bird for a period long enough to cause us concern. On 2 November, Chris checked Condor 291’s radio frequencies from a plane piloted by project friend Grant Gray, and was able to pinpoint the transmitter’s location precisely enough to allow us to try to access the bird from the ground. After a day and half of scouting by foot, we saw Condor 291 at the bottom of a 600-foot canyon. Unfortunately, the bird was dead, but we were presented with an immediate problem: we had to somehow get down there. Knowing the cause of each bird’s death is invaluable in making management decisions and preventing deaths in the future, so we immediately began making plans to get to the bottom of the canyon. We eventually solved the dilemma by hiking upstream until we found an access point to the bottom, hiking three miles in the water back down to the bird, then back up to the access point. We made it back to our truck just as the sun set. We were exhausted and soaked, but satisfied that we had done what was necessary to gain as much information about this bird’s death as we possibly could.
The condor crew spent the rest of November occupied with two primary tasks—trapping and testing birds for lead poisoning (as this was the middle of hunting season, the time of year that we see most incidences of lead exposure), and nest-watching in anticipation of the fledging of our two wild-hatched chicks. Both pursuits proved worthwhile later in the month. We were able to verify significant lead exposure in at least four birds, and treat them accordingly before they showed any negative effects. The most exciting event of November, however, came on the last day of the month. On 30 November, crewmember Vincent Frary witnessed the historic fledging of wild chick, Condor 389, the fourth wild-fledged chick in Arizona since the reintroduction began here. After a few stumbles on ledges near its nest cave, Condor 389 took the plunge and soared to a location approximately 50 meters below the cave. Arizona’s other wild-hatched chick this year, Condor 392, appears to be ready to make the leap very soon as well, although it hadn’t yet done so by the end of November.
Even with the injury of one condor and the death of another, the probable addition of two wild chicks into Arizona’s free-flying population exemplifies the ability of this species, with a bit of our help at the outset, to persevere well into the future.
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