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California Condor Camera
Reintroducing the California Condor to Big Sur

THE Condor Camera
The Condor Cam
Nancy Fillipi & Steve Walker at the camera station
Nancy Fillipi (left) of Oakland Zoo and Steve Walker of Camzone at the camera station
Joe Pifer of Camzone installing equipment
Joe Pifer of Camzone installing equipment
Steve Walker of Camzone installing solar powered Condor Cam
Steve walker of Camzone installing solar powered Condor camera

About the Camera
The Condor Cam, sponsored by FedEx, is the first camera to capture live streaming video of endangered free-flying condors. In conjunction with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ventana Wildlife Society has been releasing condors on the central Coast in Big Sur since 1997 and currently monitors a flock of 60+ condors in collaboration with the National Parks Service (Pinnacles National Park). A majority of condor conservation work takes place in very remote, wild backcountry areas. For the first time ever, the Condor Cam will give viewers the opportunity to be there with Condor Biologists and see what they observe on the frontlines of. The Condor Cam project was initiated in 2012 by Ventana Wildlife Society, Oakland Zoo, and Camzone. Trey Kropp of Wilderness Wireless joined the team in 2013.

The Location
The Condor Cam is located at the Ventana Wildlife Society's Condor Release Site in Big Sur, CA. The pan-tilt-zoom camera sits on a grassy ridge in a very remote canyon along the Big Sur coast at approximately 2800 feet (elevation) and approximately two miles from the Pacific Ocean.

The Installation
The condor release site is located in the deep wilderness where there is no electricity or internet. Steve Walker and Joe Pifer of Camzone selected a waterproof pan tilt zoom camera and also designed portable solar stations to provide power to the camera and other equipment. Prior to the final installation of any equipment, we needed to know if we could establish an internet link to the camera site. To receive an internet signal this far from civilization, it would have to be relayed via a nearby mountain top and originate from somewhere in Big Sur. This is where Trey Kropp of Wilderness Wireless came in to help. He came up with a possible solution. He set up a series of antennas that would relay the signal from a Big Sur private residence, where a T1 internet line was secured by Oakland Zoo, to an antenna at the Mountain top relay location, and then down to another antenna at the camera site. Trey conducted some initial tests that indicated that the signal would connect, but the quality of the video feed via this internet signal was still in question. We felt we had enough to push ahead with the final install, so in mid September 2013 the webcam team assembled to install the webcam system, and did it only two days. Now for the moment of truth, everything was in place, but would it work? This had never been done before, so fingers were crossed tightly. Camzone powered up the camera and it connected! Mission accomplished!!

A Critical Tool for Biologists- What you see is what they see
You, the viewer, can now see condors through the eyes of Ventana Wildlife Society's Biologists. Biologists use this camera as a critical field management tool to monitor wild condors. Throughout the day, VWS Biologists will move the camera to areas of the highest activity and try to identify as many condors as they can, which helps us to help condors in the wild. All condors are tagged with one or two color/number wing-mounted tags for identification in the field and radio transmitters for detection via radio signal. Juvenile and adult condors are easily distinguished by head color- Juveniles have dark heads and adults are bright orange. For more information about the individual condors visit My Condor.

Biologists place out multiple supplemental carcasses (stillborn domestic calves) each week at the release site to provide the condors with a clean (non-lead) food source. Lead Poisoning from ingestion of spent ammunition in game/varmint carcasses is the current leading cause of death for condors. The supplemental carcasses will be a common focal point of the camera because Biologists can observe multiple condors gathering in one area at the same time. Other species, like Golden Eagles, will also visit the supplemental food from time to time and be seen on camera.

Biologists will also focus the camera on the release pen, the structure visible down slope and left of the rock pool. The release pen is not only used for releasing captive-born condors, but it is also used for recapturing wild free-flying condors for lead testing and/or transmitter replacements. The metal-roofed structure in the rear left area of the release pen is the observation blind. Biologists will enter the blind pre-dawn and exit after dusk to avoid detection by the condors. Once inside, they can view captive/wild condors through one-way mirrored windows and/or operate the trap doors to recapture or release condors.

Another area of condor activity is the rock pool. Here the condors gather to bathe, to drink, or to just bask in the sun with wings spread open (sunning). Condors can exhibit more playful behaviors when bathing, so be sure to stay tuned to see one of their regular condor "pool parties"!

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