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Rain!!! March was full of rainstorms in Big Sur, adding the green blanket to the hill sides that usually sets in over the winter months here. Several deluges lasting 2-3 days each converted our brown landscape and it was interesting to see how the Condors handled it. One would think that the birds in the flight pen would naturally move under the overhanging ledge to shelter themselves during stormy weather, but from watching these four pre-release birds we have found they prefer exposure to the elements.
There are even observations from the Oregon Zoo captive breeding program detailing that Condors will have icicles hanging from their tails foregoing the heated rooms available to them. These are very hardy birds and they are made to face the elements boldly. Curiously, with all the wet weather, several Condors were seen visiting the hides and bones of left over, dried-up carcass remains. Upon lengthier observation, it turned out these birds were picking through leftovers that had apparently been rehydrated from the recent rains. Another great display of condor resourcefulness!
We have several new nests to report for the Big Sur coast. We have at least two pairs currently incubating eggs and two rearing chicks. Two of these pairs are experienced parents, Condors #167 and #190 (who, interestingly, switch up nest sites for the first time ever this year), and Condors #219 and #310. The third couple, Condors #351 and #418, is a new pair on their first egg!!! Our field staff also found that Condors #251 and #222 tried to recycle by laying a second egg this month, but like the first egg, its shell was too fragile and immediately cracked and broke inside the nest. Sadly, this pair is finished for the 2014 nesting year.
That's it for now… Until next month ~
February broke the unusual dry spell that has cursed California this winter. Two storms each delivered ~7 inches of rain to basecamp and the Big Sur coast. Good enough to finally green the local slopes this winter, but not enough to put a dent in the amount of water needed to get our state out of the severe drought we're in. We are crossing our fingers that there will be much more rain to come in the rest of the season.
This month, we celebrated the installation of a second internet camera on our release slope. This web-cam is placed on the lower slope and allows viewers to see our pre-release birds in the flight pen and the free-flying Condors that come visit them regularly. The official public debut of this operation will be in early March, coinciding with the celebration of our release of Condors #631, #646, #650 and #652 (view profiles at www.mycondor.org).
Partway through the month, the VWS staff fitted this pre-release cohort with their new patagial transmitters and ID tags. Now all four juveniles have purple vinyl tags with the last two digits of their studbook numbers printed in white text. These Condors are almost ready to be released into the wild. They seem ready and excited to join the flock!
Meanwhile, egg-laying season has just started here on the coast!! This is the time of year we confirm which birds are newly paired and if established pairs will nest again. Halfway through the month, #242 and #171 surprised everyone by preferring each other's company. It appears that they may be in the process of pair-bonding, but we have not been able to confirm their status yet. We hope this will be a new established pair since 242 has been a longsuffering bachelor and 171 had her mate die last year. We also have suspicions about a new Big Sur redwood nest between Pinnacles released Condors #351 and #418 who were detected frequently in the same area around nesting time last year…
Unfortunately, during a nest check for #251 and #222, VWS staff discovered a crushed egg. This fragmented egg shell was documented, and replaced with a fake egg in the hope that the two will adopt it to start their incubating cycle. This would allow for VWS biologists to replace the fake egg with a fertile egg from the zoo when hatching time comes. By employing the management technique, we help ensure viable nest opportunities with fostered chicks for the parents who might not otherwise have the chance; a stop-gap measure that has helped nests susceptible to egg shell thinning in the past. The pair didn't take to the fake egg this time, but biologists are optimistic the pair could "recycle" and lay a replacement egg this season. Keeping our fingers crossed!
Until Next Time,
The New Year has started off very well for Big Sur Condors. After both being treated at the LA Zoo for lead poisoning, Condors #444 and #340 were released back into the wild on January 4th. We were pleased that they recovered so quickly and are back out just as breeding season is swinging into gear. VWS staff has been paying close attention to the GPS signals for our breeding birds, watching birds on the web cam, and observing them around Big Sur to see if we will have any new pairs this year. So far, almost all of our mature Condors have been in on the action displaying and copulating. Even a few of the sub adults, like Condor #559, have been observed picking up tips from the older pros trying to emulate courtship behavior. All in all, we have high hopes that our flock will continue to naturally expand this year with more fledglings.
This month we helped the Central Coast flock get a jump start on expansion by introducing four new pre-release birds to the flight pen! Condors #631, #646, #650, and #652 arrived in Big Sur just after New Years Day. So far they seem to be adjusting fine to their new surroundings. They will remain there until they are officially ready to join the rest of the flock in the wild. From our web cam, wild Condors can sometimes be seen perching on the flight pen or sticking their heads through the mesh to the inside where they can investigate the newcomers. This is when we often trap a mentor to stay for several weeks with them inside the pen. The socialization that occurs during this time of investigation is foundational to the successful integration of the new birds into the flock.
If for some reason new birds are socially ostracized by the free-flying Condors the chances that they will survive are narrow. In the wild, the high level of parental investment both adults show their chick usually ensures its social inclusion in the hierarchy. Since pre-release birds do not have this help from their parents we design our release strategy to compensate for this as much as possible. We are really excited to have Condor #646 back in the mix and ready for release after she was removed from a nest in 2012 along the coast due to a broken wrist. She is all healed up now and getting ready to join her parents again in the flock! Get to know our latest arrivals' histories here My Condor
In the middle of the month, we established another new feeding site. In collaboration with the Big Sur Land Trust and Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, we now have two Condor baiting stations in the coastal mountains just south of Carmel. This is part of VWS's strategic plan to expand Condor foraging and nesting throughout the entire Big Sur coast range from Carmel to San Simeon.
Along with help from a member of Parks Department, VWS field staff put in a hard day of work setting up fencing and carcass anchors at our latest coast-ridge feeding installment. There are many large and beautiful redwoods near this untapped foraging habitat that we hope will one day be used for nesting. Our field biologists have observed Condors feeding on natural wild carcasses relatively near this site, so we anticipate the Condors will find it soon and begin to occupy the northern habitat available to them.
Toward the end of the month, our full time field staff was hired for two days of Condor monitoring at powerline site in Big Sur. The power line utility once again threw their weight behind Condor conservation by replacing a dangerous stretch of power lines with more condor-friendly insulated lines. Condors were particularly vulnerable to this line since it was not insulated and posed the threat of electrocution. Now, thanks to all hands on deck, the line is insulated with "tree-wire"; slightly thicker gauged lines that cannot electrocute the Condors and are more easily distinguishable to the birds.
Finally, we were sad to see Robin's tenure on the crew come to an end this month. Robin's positive outlook and deep commitment to this project has been instrumental since starting with us in May. It's been a long haul and her contributions on behalf of helping Big Sur Condors fly high will surely be missed. We wish you all the best Robin on your future endeavors!
Fly on, friends~
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