Eddie Feltes— 18 June 2008 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings NFTF readers! The hot summer temperatures have arrived, and the wandering tendency of the condor flock has increased as the birds expand ranges in search of food. We are already seeing many birds making the 150+ mile round-trip journey up to southern Utah for apparent “scouting” missions in search of the abundant domestic sheep herds that are just starting to be brought back up on the mountain for summer grazing. In fact, newly tagged wild-produced Condor 441 has already made the lengthy trip north on three separate occasions. We determined this via radio telemetry tracking by our field biologists on the ground. Condor 459, the other wild-produced bird from the 2007 season, has also been tracked foraging with other birds all over the Kaibab Plateau, not yet making the long trip north with the others.
Our 2008 nesting season is looking to be the strongest yet since the first releases of our program took flight back in 1996! Based on close observation by our field crew, we believe that four of our five active nesting pairs are tending to and feeding chicks. The first time pairing of 133F/187M has been very attentive to their nesting site, as well as veteran pair 127F/123M also deep in the Grand Canyon. Both pairs are routinely making visits back to the nest caves after leaving a carcass with a full crop, and then leaving to roost for the evening nearby- indicating that the egg has indeed hatched and the feeding of a chick is taking place. The same behavior has been observed from the pairing of 195F/158M in the Vermilion Cliffs. To date- no visual confirmation has been observed of any of the chicks, as this usually happens as age increases and the young birds become more mobile in the nesting cavity.
The veteran pairing of 126F/114M is due to see a hatching of an egg around 20 June, as both birds are regularly switching out on incubation duty. That just leaves the mystery pair of 234F/280F, also deep in the Grand Canyon. Crew member Evan Buechley has had a personal interest in this pairing, as he was the one who initially brought it to my attention that something may be going on with these two birds after noticing drastic changes in telemetry signal locations of the two. Despite my constant questioning and doubting of the odd situation, Evan continued to research this pair by looking up past roosting locations, photographs taken, and tourist observations at the South Rim that all lead him to a potential egg laying date, which in turn gives us a potential hatching date to look for definite behavioral changes that would indicate the hatching of the egg. Sure enough, behavioral changes have been observed that suggest these two birds are now feeding a youngster somewhere in the red-wall of the Grand Canyon. I say “somewhere,” because despite a lengthy and arduous hike into the canyon to try and locate the nest cave, Evan was unable to witness one of the birds entering or leaving the location. He did, however, receive the constant blip of a telemetry signal toward the suspected nest cave location of the pair during his trip down there, so we have a starting point for the next mission to try and find this odd and unsuspecting pair’s location. At the time of writing we are waiting for lab results to re-confirm the sexes of the two birds, as studbook sexes have been proved wrong in the past for the species. Until next time…
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