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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field

"Notes from the Field" provides frequent updates and pictures from our biologists and students who are working in the field or at our headquarters, the World Center for Birds of Prey.

Found 25 entries matching your request:

California Condor update summer 2011

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Here on the condor crew, we all revel in anticipation of that next major feat that these birds accomplish, or that profound next step in condor biology that we hadn't thought of, but may have just witnessed for the first time while wandering the hills of the high desert observing this species. Like the first egg laid in 2001, the first wild-fledging in 2003, the first condor nest located in an ancient Anasazi ruin back in 2005, or.. .well I could go on and on, but I won't. Despite all of these exciting things that we learn from this under-studied and reintroduced species, what always sticks- are the hardships. How many birds were lost, or how many nests failed, or how many birds were treated for lead-poisoning this season are the usual topics of conversation; and rightfully so. Lead is the one major roadblock that is halting a complete recovery of this species. There are always other avenues of species recovery that may need more exploration, but when we are talking California Condor, just about every aspect of this project is in some way, shape, or form related to managing around lead poisoning. In this past year we have recorded our highest losses of free-flying condors to date, with almost all of them due to lead poisoning. And for those that went missing during the months of highest lead-exposure- the harsh winter months following the big game hunting seasons, lead is a major suspect for those mortalities.

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California Condor Recovery Project

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers! After a large lapse in writing, I would like to apologize for the lull and ensure that regular updates are sure to be more frequent thanks to our new NFTF setup on our website. To briefly pick up where I left off in my last writing, I would like to summarize the season’s nesting outcomes. After all the dust settled from our research and searching for possible new nesting pairs and their locations all season, we ended up with only one confirmed chick hatched. The reliable pairing of 126F and 114M in the Vermilion Cliffs hatched young condor #558 on 12 April 2010. Since we were still releasing birds during that time and since the nest cave location is so close to the release site, our monitoring of that nest was very reliable. Throughout the summer months, the pair was exhibiting perfect behavior suggesting the raising of a healthy chick. As the summer progressed, our visuals of the nestling were more frequent, and then daily, as it aged and developed in mobility and curiosity around the immediate vicinity of the nest cave porch. Then on 20 October 2010 veteran biologist Shaun Putz observed the chick several hundred meters away from the nest cave and now taking short flights in the area along the cliff wall; a successful fledge! At the time of writing, 558 has been a little more active in flight, but no major flight distances have been observed yet. This marks the 11th wild-produced condor to successfully fledge since our releases began in 1996.

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Spring 2010

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings 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.

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September-October 2009

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

With the big game rifle seasons well underway in northern Arizona and southern Utah, we see a major shift in foraging behavior of the condor population. The majority of the domestic sheep herds have been moved off the Kolob range down to lower elevations for the winter, and aside from some stragglers that will remain, the primary food source for condors in Utah becomes hunter-killed deer and elk remains. The archery hunts of September provide the birds a great, clean food source, and although limited, they found plenty of gut-piles to scavenge throughout the month of September. And then as October arrives, the rifle seasons provide significantly more gut-piles as well as un-retrieved wounded animals.

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August 2009

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

As the summer months begin tapering off, the wild condor population is treated with a new source of food in the rugged backcountry of the region—deer and elk carcasses and their gut-piles that are added to the ecosystem by the first archery hunts of the year. We have already documented a handful of archery gut-piles that were fed upon by the birds, in just the first few days of the start of the archery hunts. This is a great, clean source of food for the wild population that the birds really seem to favor over the whole carcasses that need to be worked upon to get through the tough hide, although we have found a few whole-carcass sites that have had birds camped out on for several days so far.

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June/July 2009

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Sheep in Kolob meadow
Sheep in Kolob meadow
The summer months in the high desert of northern Arizona and southern Utah have instilled the usual behavioral changes that we witness each year around the same time- the shift in foraging range into the higher elevations of southern Utah. By mid June, the majority of our population starts to gradually make the “scouting” flights up north to the Kolob range in search for presence of the abundant domestic sheep herds that are brought to the area of private ranches for summer grazing. Once enough sheep are localized by the birds, they start to key in on the fragmented herds, knowing that food is going to become available daily as sheep mortality starts to initialize.

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Spring 2009

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings 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.

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February - March 2009

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers! The warm and windy weather has moved into northern Arizona, signaling a change in season as winter weather fades and mild, gusty air sweeps across the high desert. With this change in season, our crew has changed gears as well, shifting from population trapping to releasing new, inexperienced condors to boost numbers of this free-flying population. We concluded our winter trapping of the entire population in early February, allowing us to change transmitters, administer a field test of blood-lead values for each bird, and treat individuals as necessary. To date, we have had contact on all but two individual condors, 13 year-old male Condor 134 and young three-year-old female Condor 404 are presumed to have not made it through the winter.

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Winter 2008

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers! The holiday season of 2008 has had our field crew on their toes managing the wild population of condors all throughout northern Arizona and southern Utah. Young Condors 383 and 384, our newest releases during my last writing, were doing perfectly for a few months, and then some bad luck struck for male Condor 384 in early December. Both birds were feeding, socializing, and roosting without flaw, enabling us to release out a few more new birds into the wild population. Then on 7 December 2008, while monitoring atop the Vermilion Cliffs at our release site, crew member Maria Dominguez noticed mortality signals from Condor 384’s transmitters. Immediately she hiked out and tracked down one signal to a transmitter that was still attached to just a wing remaining in the sand. She then placed the disheartening phone call and gave me the news. Just moments later we tracked down the other wing, several hundred meters away from the first, and then analyzed the scene to reveal what had happened as the undisturbed sand told the story—coyote predation while the bird was on the ground. This was an unfortunate loss, but still is the first natural predation mortality suffered since 2002.

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September-October 2008

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers! Our newest releases, Condors 383 and 384, have been doing great. Both birds have needed minimal monitoring from our field crew since the first week they were out as free-flying condors. Just after my last NFTF posting, young Condor 384 made it to our proffered feeding site and cropped up, and she has made a healthy routine of it ever since. This was a huge sigh of relief, enabling us to dedicate the majority of our monitoring to the rest of the population as the fall hunting seasons approached.

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August-September 2008

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers! The summer months have come to a close and our crew has been busy monitoring the condor population and preparing for the upcoming fall hunting seasons. The archery deer hunts have concluded on the Kaibab Plateau, as well as in the Kolob region of Southern Utah, providing the condor population with another great food source as offal piles are scattered throughout the forests capping off a successful archery hunt.

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July 2008

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Nest cave of Condors 133 and 187.
Nest cave of Condors 133 and 187.
As the dust settles, and the 2008 breeding season for the condor project winds down, we now have a pretty good idea on which pairs have succeeded in hatching a young condor chick. I say “pretty good idea” because one of the current active nest caves in the Grand Canyon has such a small opening to the inside of the cave, we are unable to get any sort of visuals inside to confirm a young condor. But based on behavior, both Condors 133F and 187M are still visiting the inside of the cave daily, always with a full crop of carrion. The visits are quick, usually only lasting a few minutes, and then they depart from the small opening.

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June 2008

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers! June has been a fairly standard month as far as condor activity goes during the summer. The wild flock is covering immense distances as the birds forage daily for new carrion carcasses that dot the landscape of condor country. To date, our total number of birds tracked in the Kolob region of southwestern Utah has topped 31 birds, which is about average for this time of year. This region will see an increasing amount of birds roosting and foraging there as the summer months progress. GPS tracking, as well as conventional telemetry tracking by biologists on the ground has led our crew to several carcass locations that the flock has been feeding on, mainly domestic sheep in Utah, and mule deer on the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona.

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May 2008

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings 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.

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April 2008

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

April 2008 has had our crew on their toes and ready for anything. This eager and willing attitude stems from the behavior of the wild birds and the excitement of what may lie ahead as we manage an ever increasing and an always intriguing population of condors. In the past month we have trapped and tagged for the first time our two wild-fledged birds, trapped almost our whole population for blood lead testing and transmitter changes in just two weeks, tracked and recovered a condor with a severe wing injury, and monitored four (but most likely five) active nests across the condors expansive range here in Northern Arizona. To say it has been a busy month is an understatement, but this kind of busy is what our crew lives for!

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March 2008

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers! The month of March has been a productive one for the project here in Arizona. To date we have had five females lay eggs, we released four new condors into the wild population, and we were able to catch the first visual on wild-produced Condor 441 since September 2007.

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January/February 2008

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers! Our field crew here in Arizona concluded the 2007 season with an amazing effort in making sure that the whole free-flying population of 61 birds was alive and accounted for. For the first time in a handful of years we made it through, what is always our most trying period, without having a single mortality concluding the fall/winter months. This is a period when we document our highest annual rates of lead exposure in the condor population by testing blood lead levels in the field, and treating birds as necessary. Although we did still have to treat a large portion of our population for varying levels of exposure, we rang in the new year with good spirits and high hopes for the upcoming breeding season, which is currently in full swing.

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December 2007

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

We closed out the month of November with eager eyes focused on the new Vermilion Cliffs’ chick, Condor 459, that was looking ready to take a first flight daily. But this active behavior continued, and currently continues, well beyond the assumed six-month fledge period when wild condors usually take to the wing. What separates this bird from all of our other timely fledges from the past, is the amount of structure in the immediate surrounding of the nest cave. The wall is filled with several large ledges, sandstone pinnacles, and steps that harbor the excitable behavior of this bird, as well as the close proximity of the release site that is giving the youngster frequent feeding from the two parent birds (male Condor 114 and female Condor 126), keeping the desire to travel and forage with mom and dad at a minimum. The young bird has been observed flapping and climbing all over the area, but no major controlled flights have been observed to date.

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October 2007

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Each September we get a glimpse of what lies in the autumn months ahead, as condor foraging behavior progresses on the Kaibab Plateau and in the Kolob region of southern Utah. We see use of travel corridors increase and utilization for roosting and foraging spikes up dramatically during the month of September. This behavior shift in the condor population maintains a constant increase as we enter October, and comes to a peak in November, before the snowfall buries their foraging range.

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July - August 2007

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

The 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.

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June 2007

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

The May NFTF concluded with a hint of speculative hope for the Vermilion Cliffs pair; hope in anticipation of Condors 126 and 114 pulling off their second successful hatching of a wild-produced chick. Based on close observation and cognizant eyes from our field crew to recognize nesting behavior, we had a good idea when the pair should be showing the presence of a hatching chick from the depths of their nest cave. And as expected, by the end of the first week of June we were sure the Vermilion Cliffs nest cave was housing a very young condor. Subsequent behavior of the pair post-hatch date strengthened our assumptions, with both birds venturing out to forage (mainly to the release site due to close proximity with the nest cave), and then immediately returning back to the darkness of the cave; indicating urgency in feeding a needy condor nestling. This routine behavior continued for the following three weeks, with no observable changes or reasons for concern.

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May 2007

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Vermilion Cliffs Nest Site
Vermilion Cliffs Nest Site
Greetings Notes from the Field readers! The warm air and steady winds that usually blanket northern Arizona during the month of May, sure showed up in 2007, allowing consistent routine flight travel and optimal foraging conditions for the condor population. The flock has been free foraging on wild bison carcasses and mule deer on the north Kaibab Plateau, elk south of Grand Canyon National Park in the Kaibab National Forest, a bighorn sheep ewe in the Grand Canyon, and domestic sheep and cattle carcasses north of the release site in southern Utah. It is this bountiful food supply, as well as the 90+ degree days that make condor viewing so difficult at the release site in the Vermilion Cliffs. It is not uncommon to have only a handful of the 56 free flying condors roosting at the proffered-food site during this time of year. But if in the area, bring a high powered scope just in case; on average there have been 15-20 birds present throughout the month of May.

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April 2007

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers, April 2007 has had our field crew working hard tracking condors as they start to actuate into their summer foraging patterns. We can always bet that come April/May the flock will start to expand in both range of flight, as well as time spent away from the release site. This change in seasonal movement is attributed to the increasing temperature that allows for more efficient soaring conditions, and the return of the condor’s most useful ally in locating carcasses to feed upon- the turkey vulture.

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March 2007

Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration

Greetings NFTF readers! As always in condor country, March of 2007 has been a very active month both for the wild population and the field crew monitoring them. This, due in part to the intense breeding behavior of older birds in addition to crew having new birds to monitor from our recent annual release.

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