Thom Lord— 2 June 2006 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings, Notes from the Field readers! May was another beautiful month in northern Arizona, with warm, sunny days and springtime winds providing the conditions that suit foraging condors perfectly. The Arizona population took full advantage of the favorable weather, with even the most inexperienced birds in the flock traveling extensively throughout the condor range and locating an abundance of wild food. On the Kaibab Plateau alone, we documented groups of birds feeding on carcasses of a cow, a mule deer, and even a bison, which we had never before observed. In addition to the heavy utilization of the Kaibab Plateau by a large percentage of the population, several condors began regularly visiting the Zion region of southern Utah again.
Perhaps the most notable traveler in the group was wild-fledged Condor 389, now about one year old. Condor 389, one of the youngest in the Arizona population, made the 100-plus mile trip from the release site to the Grand Canyon and back a number of times throughout the month of May. In addition, the young condor showed up at Navajo Bridge and at various places on the Kaibab Plateau. Condor 389 was joined in each of these locations by a number of others, both young and old, and spent a steadily decreasing amount of time with its parents. Condor 389’s counterpart, wild-fledged Condor 392, also seemed to be spending very little time with its parents, and was increasingly spotted flying and perched near other birds in the flock. Unfortunately, it is still impossible to determine exactly how far Condor 392 is going, as we still have not yet been able to trap the bird to attach tags and transmitters. Based on what we have been able to observe, however, we expect Condor 392 to make the trip from the Grand Canyon to the release site very soon.
We went into May excited to see what would become of the two active condor nests in Arizona, as both eggs were expected to hatch early in the month. In Condor 158 and Condor 133’s nest on the west Kaibab, it became increasingly clear that the egg was not going to hatch, even though the breeding pair continued to incubate it steadily. They persisted in the incubation throughout the month, over thirty days past the date on which we expected the egg to hatch, and long after there was any hope that it would. It was a bit disappointing that we didn’t get to see Condors 158 and 133 raise a chick this year, but it is not uncommon for pairs to be unsuccessful in their first breeding attempts, and we look forward to seeing them give it another shot next year.
With the failure of Condors 158 and 133’s nest, we were left to focus our nest-watching efforts on the one remaining active nest, that of Condors 187 and 136. We could not see into this nest, so we paid particular attention to the behavior of the breeding pair. Their behavior revealed nothing out of the ordinary until near the end of the month. On 24 May, however, both birds left the cave, flew together for most of the afternoon, and roosted at the release site. If our hatching calculations were correct, we knew that this did not bode well for the possibility of a chick, as a chick would still be too young to spend a night alone without a parent. So, shortly after dawn the next morning, senior crewmember Eddie Feltes and I entered the nest cave to determine exactly what had become of the breeding attempt. Unfortunately, rather than finding a healthy chick, we found an intact egg, weeks past its calculated hatch date. As with Condors 158 and 133, it was a bit disappointing not to have this chick to look forward to, but the rest of the condor population will keep us plenty busy until next breeding season, which is again just around the corner!
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