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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
July - August 2007
Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration    ShareThe summer months of July/August have come and gone, leaving behind some long periods of extreme heat followed by heavy thunderstorms. Here in condor country we kicked off the month of July with a happy homecoming, returning five-year-old Condor 270 back home from his stay at the Phoenix Zoo.

Some may recall from our April NFTF, Condor 270 was trapped and taken to the zoo to rehab a broken leg from an unknown incident in late April. He was able to heal up just fine under the great care of the Phoenix Zoo staff, and on 3 July I was asked to come and pick him up for transfer back to the Vermilion Cliffs. Upon first seeing him, I immediately noticed that his leg still had an awkward angle, unlike the square stance of a healthy bird. Dr. Roberto Aguilar of the Phoenix Zoo reassured me that Condor 270 was all healed up, just a bit crooked, but ready for release.

Evan Buechley releasing Condor 270
Evan Buechley releasing Condor 270
I hauled him back to our flight pen near the release site so we could observe the bird from our blind and be sure he was eating right, holding his ground during socialization with the other condors in the pen, and giving us every indication that he was not hampered by the crooked healing of the leg. Under close observation our crew was reporting that Condor 270 was hopping up to perches, active at carcasses, and showing no signs of the leg getting in the way when tearing at a carcass or approaching younger birds in the pen. So after two weeks in the pen, crew member Evan Buechley and I set out to release Condor 270 back to join the wild, free-flying population. We placed a new conventional transmitter on one wing, and a GPS unit on his other, allowing us to monitor his daily travels very closely to be sure the bird adapts back into the population despite his two month absence and previous injury.

As expected, post release had him staying local at the Vermilion Cliffs release-site for several weeks. On 22 August, he took his first major flight, covering nearly 150 miles in a day and a half. He headed west over the Kaibab Plateau and explored the rugged canyons that stitch the southwest border of the Kaibab National Forest to the Grand Canyon; then headed north to join 25 other condors that were foraging and roosting in the Kolob region of southern Utah, and immediately soared back south along Paria Canyon the next morning, and eventually coming full circle to the release-site atop the Vermilion Cliffs.

Nest cave wall of Condors 210 and 134.
Nest cave wall of Condors 210 and 134.
Another highlight of July was our first visual observation from the valley floor of the wild-hatched chick of condor pair 126 and 114 in the Vermilion Cliffs (June NFTF). On 11 July I was out training newly-hired crew member Maria Dominguez below our release-site and showing her major areas of condor activity, when I set the spotting scope on the active nest cave—a grey, downy figure was wing begging and trying to make male Condor 114 feed the hungry 36-day-old nestling in the entrance of the cave. Not a bad first day on the job—being able to see one of seven wild produced condor nestlings that has hatched since we began reintroducing condors to the region back in 1996.

The month of August had us tracking our greatest number of condors at any one time (42 of the 55 bird population) up in the Zion region of southern Utah. As we have seen in recent years past, each summer more and more birds join for the first time, an already established free foraging population of condors in the area. With an ample and consistent food supply, and the near perfect topography for soaring condors, we expect this trend to continue and have had to dedicate a major portion of our monitoring to this region.

All through these past few summer months we have been monitoring the assumed nesting activity of female Condor 210 and male Condor 134 in a remote canyon in Grand Canyon National Park. Both birds exhibited, and continue to exhibit, model behavior for breeding condors. They are covering great distances in daily forage patterns that always lead back to this secretive nest site after leaving a carcass. After a handful of attempts at locating the root of this behavior, all involving rigorous hiking and extreme temperatures, we were narrowing the potential cave location down to a general area based on signals received from the parent birds while down near the canyon.

Wild-produced condor chick from Condors 210 and 134.
Wild-produced condor chick from Condors 210 and 134.
On 9 September, crew member Tim Hauck was finally able to catch a first glimpse of the wild nestling! After a long hike down into the canyon to our assumed observation point, Tim patiently waited for one of the parent condors to fly in and show him the location. Once he received his first blip on the tracking receiver, indicating female Condor 210 was soaring in, Tim was able to cover some more ground and now track the bird which was assumed to be visiting the nestling. After glassing the expansive wall of rock that the signal was coming from, Tim was able to spot a cave high on the wall that had noticeable white-wash and a black and grey figure sitting motionless near the entrance to the cave.

Once at a closer location with a clearer view from above, Tim set up the scope and observed a healthy 133-day-old wild produced condor nestling. The cave is in an ideal location- high up on a wall that is situated in a very remote and undisturbed canyon. The nestling looks to be in great health based on feather development and overall size. So now the month of September will have our crew observing and anticipating the growth and successful fledging of the seventh bird to have been produced in the wild by this released population. Until next time…

Vermilion Cliffs
Vermilion Cliffs

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