Eddie Feltes— 4 November 2009 — in California Condor Restoration ShareWith 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.
I personally took part in this cycle and witnessed it from both sides, as biologist and hunter during the southern Utah rifle deer hunt. I had drawn a tag to hunt in the same range that the condors use to forage during the deer seasons, and while hiking and hunting in the hills, I saw condors patrolling the skies alongside Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures, all covering miles and miles in search of that next fresh meal. And although I was using non-lead ammunition in my rifle, a large number of hunters that I had come across and chatted with in the field were doing otherwise. Fortunately the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has been making major moves to launch a free non-lead ammo system and education campaign that will give hunters in the Southern Utah condor range an opportunity to redeem free non-lead ammunition and take part in playing a major role in wildlife conservation success by limiting lead availability to wildlife during their hunt. Funding is being secured for the program to launch in fall of 2010, and I really look forward to the results.
During the same deer hunt that I was participating in, biologist Evan Buechley had tracked several birds to a full deer carcass that had an apparent gunshot wound in the shoulder. Parts of the deer were heavily scavenged, and after collecting data and recording every bird in the immediate area that may have fed on this carcass, Evan buried the remains. Events like this are crucial during this time of year, and having experienced biologists on our crew to track and collect these data impacts condor success and enhances survival immensely. Within two weeks we were able to trap and test the first bird to return to the release site that was known to have fed on Evan’s found deer carcass, and young Condor 414 tested high for blood-lead exposure, and is currently being treated with daily chelation therapy in our treatment facility.
Over the past two months we have made three different trips backpacking down to the nest cave observation site of Condors 210F and 122M, in hopes of getting some observations of chick 527, but all three trips have turned up nothing. We are certain that if still alive, the chick is no longer in the nest cave, and if fledged, the bird is not in the immediate vicinity of the nest cave wall. These factors alone left a concerned outlook on Condor 527’s fate, but I still did not rule out the fledging of the chick to another nearby location, as both parent birds were still hanging out in the area during all of our trips.
Grand Canyon Park biologist Rosa Palarino made another trip down to get some observations, and Rosa did not receive one signal from either parent bird during her four-day trip. And in following the movements of both Condors 122M and 210F, we are certain that both birds stayed in Utah for eight days straight together last week, making any hopes of Condor 527 still being alive fade drastically.
During the last of the slow weeks winding down at our release site, with the majority of our population free-foraging in Utah and on the Kaibab plateau, we decided to squeeze out one more release before the trapping season hits full tilt. On 2 November 2009, we released first time releases Condors 466M and 485F from our Vermilion Cliffs’ release site. Both birds were hatched and raised at our breeding facility in Boise, Idaho in spring of 2008, before being transferred to us for release. And currently they are doing great as new free-flying condors. Stay tuned to the next NFTF to see how these new birds are managing integrating into the already wild population…
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