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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Spring 2009
Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration    ShareGreetings NFTF readers! Our field crew has been extremely busy releasing and monitoring condors both new and old, before the heat in the northern Arizona desert makes both activities more and more difficult for both field crew and young condors. Since my last NFTF posting, we have cleared out our flight-pen and released an additional six condors out to join the population. We have also documented behavior suggesting the successful egg-laying of five total pairs this breeding season.

Condor 210 sunning on top of the release pen.
Condor 210 sunning on top of the release pen.
I would like to start off with an update on missing three-year-old, Condor 404, which I left off in my last posting with our suspicions of her mortality from being missing for several months during the crucial lead trapping season. Just three days after the NFTF were compiled and posted, Condor 404 showed up alive and healthy to our release-site, where she was trapped the next day, tested for blood lead level, fitted with a new radio transmitter, and then released immediately with a clean and perfect bill of health! This young bird, still having a functioning transmitter while missing, was able to evade our tracking via radio telemetry for nearly three months; just going to show that these released and hearty birds are surviving and integrating just right with minimal contact from our biologists on the ground.

Breeding activity has been right on track for what we expected with regards to pairs that should exhibit attempts this season. The second year pairing of 253F and 223M did in fact recycle and lay another egg on 9 April 2009, after their first attempt failed due to the egg breaking. They did choose a new nesting site, in a new nest cave, several miles down river from the first attempt in the Marble Canyon stretch of the Colorado River corridor; in a very quiet, secluded canyon of sheer rock wall. The pair incubated solidly for several weeks, then both vacated the area on 16 May 2009, heading for the release site together several miles away, giving us indication that the nesting attempt had failed. We decided not to rappel into this failed cave as we normally would, due to the logistics of the cave location and the stage in the egg cycle that would only reveal a broken egg or Raven predation; being unable to get a visual inside the cave, makes the reason for failure unknown. Hopefully the third time is the charm for this pair, and they pull off a successful nesting next year.

The third year pairing of 195F and 158M has resulted in failure as well, as expected, due to the close proximity to the release site and all of the activity around the egg, thus disrupting incubation periods. Both birds vacated the nest together on 10 May 2009 and headed for the Kaibab Plateau several miles away to forage together; behavior that should not be observed of a pair that should be tending to a chick that should have hatched on or around 1 May 2009. While I was already in the blind monitoring the free-flying birds feeding atop the Vermilion Cliffs, I decided to take a quick rappel down to the cave and search for clues of failure, finding a rotten, and broken un-hatched egg sitting on the porch of the shallow nest cave. We are all hoping that this pair chooses a nesting site further away from the release site next year, ensuring greater chance of success.

Condor 280 sunning above the river.
Condor 280 sunning above the river.
The second year pairing of 280F and 234M has produced an egg based on behavior of the pair in a new nest cave deep in the Grand Canyon interior. We believe female Condor 280 laid an egg on the night of 22 March 2009, based on GPS data from Condor 280 and monitoring from our biologists on the canyon rim. This pair showed very promising incubation switches and spent a great deal of time in or near the nest cave housing the suspected egg; then on 26 May 2009 both birds left the site and traveled together to the release site and staying for roost—giving us definite indication that the egg had failed.

And now for the good news in condor breeding for 2009! Our newest pairing this year, that of first season pair 210F and 122M, is looking to be right on track by the behavior of the pair’s travel to and from feeding sites and switches in presence of monitoring—indicating the pair is actively feeding a condor chick that should have hatched on or around 7 May 2009. At the time of writing, two of our biologists are backpacking into the canyon to try and catch a glimpse inside the cave from afar on the opposing wall of the deep canyon. Stay tuned for next month’s NFTF to learn what our biologists were able to observe upon their return.

Last, but definitely not least, is the most experienced pairing of fifth season breeders 126F and 114M in the Vermilion Cliffs. Both birds have been exhibiting textbook behavior that would lead us to believe a chick was being tended to, both in feeding behavior and attentiveness around the immediate vicinity of the nest cave. And sure enough, biologist Neil Paprocki was able to catch our first ever visual of the healthy young condor in the cave entrance, while observing through a high powered scope from the House Rock Valley floor. We believe the chick to be 39 days old at the time of Neil’s sighting on 26 May 2009, and all looks good from the distance of observation. This is the third bird produced in the wild by this pair since they began breeding as a pair in 2005.

Newest released condors integrating into the flock.
Newest released condors integrating into the flock.
As I stated earlier, our crew has been very busy releasing and monitoring newly released birds constantly all spring. Since my last writing, we have released a re-release bird, female Condor 327, on 9 April 2009 that was being held for some time for behavioral reasons. We also released first time releases 388M and 391F on 30 April 2009. And our last release of the season took place just last week on 20 May 2009, when we opened the gates for first time releases 426F, 453F, and 454M; thus clearing out our flight-pen atop the Paria Plateau enabling us to do some routine maintenance and cleaning of the pen before we transfer and move in more birds to be released from our facilities in Boise, Idaho later this summer. In total, we have released 13 condors since 14 February 2009, with 12 of those being first time releases; these newest releases, plus the addition of our newest confirmed wild chick, gives us a total population of 75 condors free-flying over the skies of northern Arizona and southern Utah.

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