Eddie Feltes— 5 May 2010 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings NFTF readers! The melting of snow in condor country is welcomed by an amicable sigh from our field crew, as winter moved out and the spring months settled in. We have been monitoring our newest releases, condors 442F and 484F, very closely since their initial release back on 6-March-10. The 15th annual public release was met with less than favorable weather, as high wind, rain, and snow all passed through on release day causing me to make the call to close the release-pen atop the Vermilion Cliffs early and try again the following day; a decision made to lessen the chance of mishap as bad weather always opens up avenues of misfortune when you mix low visibility, young condors in their most critical time for survival, and hungry coyotes on the prowl in twilight seeking out that next meal. On 7-March-10 both birds took flight from the release-pen into the perennial wind of northern Arizona in spring. The high wind really intensified the following week, making flight and roosting ability for these two new birds very tough, but our vigilant field crew put in the observation and work necessary to see that they survived night after night. Our observations led us to realize that 442 just wasn’t quite ready for the unfamiliar high wind/flight combo, and her will to stay grounded in the wind, even at night, left me with no choice but to trap her and curb any chance of falling victim to coyote predation; so we trapped and placed her back in our flight-pen to hold until September when she will be released into more favorable weather conditions. Condor 484F handled the weather just the opposite, navigating perfectly in flight and roosting very comfortably in safe zones up on the cliff wall away from ground dwelling predators; and to this day she is doing great integrating into the wild flock allowing us to shift our observation to pairs that are currently nesting.
The first pair to nest this season was the veteran pair of 126F and 114M in the Vermilion Cliffs, laying our earliest recorded egg on 14-Feb-2010. This pair is exhibiting behavior observed by our biologists that suggests the egg has hatched on or around 12-April-2010, and both birds are tending to the assumed chick daily. Our second pair to commit to nesting, that of the first season pairing of 296F and 162M, has begun incubation in a cave a few miles east of 114M/126F, and we believe they laid their egg on 10-March-2010. Both birds have been switching out in incubation duties perfectly, and are approaching a hatch date near 6-May-2010. Although first time nesting events are rarely successful in our wild population due to infertility of eggs, or inexperience in incubation, we have recorded a first year pair hatching and fledging a chick in the past, so we remain hopeful with fingers crossed that this pair pulls it off. The third pair to nest was that of 195F and 158M, who have incubated but not hatched eggs in the three previous seasons. This pair hinted at a lay date of 12-March-2010 by 158M showing up to our release site independently, instead of the constant pairing displayed during this time of year.
The 5th confirmed nesting is that of a trio involving condors 241F, 193M, and 243M. These two males have been jostling for position to possess sole breeding rights to female 241 over the past few years, and based on observation, we believed 193M had finally succeeded, as the pair began incubating 241’s first documented egg on 2-April-2010 in a small canyon on the east Kaibab Plateau. Then just a few weeks into the incubation cycle, 243M was permitted to incubate the egg, and all three have been sharing duties ever since. We are expecting this attempt to end up unsuccessful, but we are presently waiting and observing to document the outcome. And lastly, we are suspecting the previous pairing of 210F and 122M to have begun incubation on or around 26-March-2010, based on behavior and movement patterns by the pair, but our access to observation points to better gauge this suspicion has been halted by snowpack preventing access to the extremely remote nesting location. A recent backpacking trip by biologist Neil Paprocki revealed a dropped transmitter from 122M, so due to his “stealth” status, the incubation inside the suspected cave of previous use has not yet been confirmed.
This past winter we had experienced a significant amount of lead exposures, and recorded mortalities for our population, and now I would like to report on a major story of success, teamwork, and perseverance that makes me proud to be part of this recovery effort even during our most frustrating of seasons. On 5-Jan-2010, we were doing routine trapping for blood lead testing following the hunting seasons, and were hauling birds to our treatment facility daily. One bird in particular, 14-year-old condor 133F tested at a high level on our field tester, indicating her lead level was greater than 65ug/dL. So along with 6 other condors that all tested high that morning, we kenneled her up and hauled her down to our treatment facility at our house. Just a few days into treatment, I began to realize something just wasn’t right with 133.
To learn more about Dr. Orr and her non-profit veterinary practice, Liberty Wildlife Rehabilitation Foundation, please visit the following link: www.libertywildlife.org.
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