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Condor Reintroduction
Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field, December 2007           

Condor 171 in full flight
Condor 171 in full flight
In memory of Centennia - she will be remembered
In memory of Centennia - She will be remembered

Two Condors soaring with the moon
Two Condors soaring with the moon

Happy holidays from the condor crew. We certainly hope 2008 brings as much excitement as 2007 did for the Central California recovery project. The condors are closer than ever to a wilder flock.

During the month of December, our Redwood chick “Ventana” (or #444), took a huge step with her first sustained flight from the nest area. In the middle of the month she was observed gliding above the Redwoods just down-canyon from the release area. If weather permits, in just a few weeks she could be flying in thermals with her parents. We are definitely excited and anxiously awaiting her arrival to the release site.

On a sadder note, “Centennia” (or #429), our cliff fledgling, disappeared early in the month. The day prior to her disappearance, Centennia was observed trying to elude the aggressive attacks of a juvenile Golden Eagle near the nest.  The young eagle made physical contact with Centennia, but she appeared to be unscathed from the skirmish.  Shortly after the attack she flew off to the Northeast and hasn’t been seen since.  If she were still alive her parents would surely be by her side or she would have returned to the nest by now.  Almost a month has passed since her last sighting and we presume she is deceased from an unknown cause.  Even though this is a sad turn of events, 168 and 208 stepped into history by fledging a wild chick for the first time in over 100 years in Big Sur…a truly incredible feat for first-time parents.  On the upside, 168 and 208 are already showing positive signs that they will give it another go and nest again this coming February/March. 

The flock is doing extremely well in Big Sur. The birds are observed every day along the coast looking healthy and flying strong. The winter season brings pair formation and courtship displays which we are diligently watching for and observing. Hopefully a few of our pairs will lay an egg in this spring and we will have new fledglings next fall.

Finally, we are improving base camp by finishing the flight pen and other much-needed maintenance around our camp. During the month the crew helped make a final push on the flight pen and finished painting the blind. The crew would like to thank Jeff (Volunteer) and Cathy (VWS Staff) for making improvements to our beloved base camp cabin. They did a great job and the cabin will be a much warmer place to sleep this winter thanks to their efforts! 

Brett Stauffer
Intern Biologist

Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field, November 2007

Condor 219 is returned to the wild
Condor 219 is returned to the wild

Onlookers get an eyeful
Onlookers get an eyeful

Condor fundraiser was a huge success
The Condor Fundraiser was a huge success

The days are becoming shorter, and the air is a little cooler, yet it is still sunny and gorgeous out here on the Big Sur coast. Currently, both of our condor chicks have fledged and are taking advantage of the pleasant weather by exploring their surroundings and slowly building up their flight confidence. The cliff nest chick, 429 (“Centennia”), has been observed gliding and circling, while riding thermals to gain elevation; she has even been seen flying in and out of her home canyon! Meanwhile, the redwood nest chick, 444 (“Ventana”), fledged sometime around October 22nd and has since been seen in the crown of several different trees near her nest, oftentimes interacting with her parents and flapping her wings. We fully expect to see her gliding around her canyon soon enough.

November has been a very busy month for us, as we are now in the post-hunting season trap-up period, where we trap each of the birds in our flock and test their blood for dangerously high levels of lead and replace any dead or inactive radio transmitters as needed. We have already captured and processed six birds (four from Big Sur and two from Pinnacles), all of which were found to be healthy and were re-released YouTube - Condor Release in Big Sur, CA. We will continue to lure condors into our facility for processing throughout the next few months until we have insured the health of each individual in the Big Sur flock.

The following day after this first trap up, we held a fundraising auction where several items were put up for bidding to raise money for our organization. The opportunities to re-release four Big Sur condors were individually put up for bid, and the winners got to open the kennels and release the condors out onto a nearby grassy slope. With each release all the attendees were provided with the close-up spectacle of seeing a condor take flight. Overall, the fundraising event was a complete success!

The condors, being the curious beings that they are, have been keeping themselves busy along the Big Sur coast. About ten condors found a free meal up above Grimes Canyon. Further inspections revealed that they had found a large black-tailed deer, which had seemingly died of natural causes. Just to be safe, the remains of the deer were recovered by Field Staff and are currently being analyzed to determine if it contained any Lead toxin. The condors have also been seen on the shoulder along Highway 1 along the coast…If you come across any of these condors, do not approach them; if possible, flush them with loud noises. If the condors become too comfortable around people, they will be at a much higher risk of getting injured along the freeway or eating something that could be harmful to them. By keeping the condors wild, we will greatly increase the chances of them surviving into the future.

December will involve more trap-ups and extra feedings to ensure that the condors are getting enough Calories to keep healthy as the weather continues to cool down.

Patrick Wingo
Intern Biologist

Notes from the Field


3 Condors Captured and tested for lead
3 Condors captured and tested for lead poisoning
Helicopter transporting PG&E work crews
Helicopter transporting PG&E work crews. Note person hanging below the helicopter
New high power wire with Bird Diverter
New high power electric line with bird diverter
New High Power electric line with Bird Diverter
New high power electric line with bird diverter
Condor chick at 5-months old in Redwood Tree.
Condor chick at 5-months old in Redwood Tree.

Notes from the Field, October 2007

Ventana Wildlife Society’s Cliff nest and Redwood nest continue to create milestones for the Central California flock. In late October, Seasonal Biologist Mike Tyner, found our Redwood chick (Ventana or 444) had fledged and was just above the ground in a small snag next to the nest tree. He immediately became worried because the new fledgling was only 8 feet off the ground, barely out of range of a potential ground predator. Mike stayed the rest of the day and even camped out to ensure Ventana’s safety. The following day, Ventana climbed onto a moss-covered shrub 12-15 feet off the ground. Nevertheless, the fledging has presented a problem with viewing the bird and not disturbing it or 167 and 190, who routinely feed her in the area. Likewise, the Cliff nest fledgling (Centennia or 429) has continued to develop her flying abilities. She is gaining more confidence every day in gliding; however, her landings are not nearly as graceful as her parents. Her parents, 168 and 208, are still very diligent about feeding her and even chasing out Golden eagles from the nesting territory.

On a down note, we recovered the body of condor 356 in Big Sur this month.  We suspect lead poisoning or West Nile Virus may have played a role in her untimely death and we are still awaiting results from her necropsy. This was an unexpected turn for such a strong and promising young condor…she will be dearly missed by our field crew. 

On an up note, October also brought other exciting events…an open house at Hi Mountain Lookout and a film crew from the Jeff Corwin Experience. Hi Mountain Lookout, a historic fire lookout east of Paso Robles now used by Cal Poly students for condor tracking, entertained visitors for an open house in early October. For a day, Ventana employees and USFWS workers listened to presentations on the Geology and native plants of the area. Various people also gave tracking demonstrations for condors.

In late October, Jeff Corwin and his film crew filmed us handling Condor 236  (a 7-year old adult female who we hope will pair and breed in Spring 2008). The crew recorded the whole process from its wrangling to its blood work. Jeff Corwin even jumped into the mix by showing his handling skills. Ventana thanks Mr. Corwin and his crew for a wonderful day.

Pacific Gas and Electric wrapped up its Condor Protection Project on the Anderson Canyon Power line.  They completely replaced the old wire with a new insulated copper core wire that will prevent condors from being electrocuted.  They also finished adding visual markers (bird diverters) for the condors.  This line has claimed the lives of three condors from our Big Sur flock over the last ten years and we are pleased to know it is now a condor-friendly power line. 

Brett Stauffer
Lead Intern








Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field, September 2007

Ventana peers out of the Redwood tree nest
Ventana peers out of the Redwood tree nest
Condor 168 fends off a Golden Eagle
Condor 168 fends off a Golden Eagle
Condor 168 defends food from a Golden Eagle
Condor 168 defends food from a Golden Eagle
Condor 168 and 208 feeding
Condor 168 and 208 feeding

Late this month, while crew member Brett Stauffer diligentlywatched Centennia in her cliff nest, he noticed something he had never seen before……Centennia had left the nest!!! The condor chick, now 6 months old, took her first flight from the nest on September 26th.  She crash landed near the base of the cliff, and was joined by her mother shortly thereafter. This is the first condor fledgling in the Big Sur Condor program, and the crew is very excited : - Condor chick makes first flight. Wild condor chicks are extremely important to the reintroduction process, and we couldn’t be happier that the first flight was normal and the chick is safe. Monitoring will continue of this nest while the chick remains in the area, then we anticipate her meeting the rest of the flock at one of our feeding sites. 

We entered the redwood nest early this month to examine Ventana and attach a radio tag to her wing. She weighed 17.8 pounds and was developing normally. Ventana is one month younger than Centennia, and we will expect her to fledge in late October. Watch the latest footage from the nest entry California Condor Redwood Nest: Part 4.

Condor 242 was also re-released this month after being treated for high lead. 242 had the highest lead level in the history of the Big Sur program, and she spent one month at the LA Zoo undergoing life-saving treatment. We were very excited that he recovered successfully and has reunited with the flock. We would like to give a big thanks to the Los Angeles Zoo Keepers and Veterinarian staff for their unwavering support and care of sick or injured condors. 

The addition of the motion sensory camera at one of our remote feeding sites has really paid off this month. We were able to identify several condors that were accessing this site, as well as amazing confrontations between adult condors and other scavengers. This site is the preferred feeding area of condor pair 168 and 208 (parents of condor chick, Centennia). Condor 168 was photographed twice fending off the attacks of a very formidable Golden Eagle. This camera will be a vital tool in the future to identify successful feeding sites, and understand territories amongst the condor population.

Sayre Flannagan




Notes from the Field
Notes from the Field, August 2007

Summer is winding down and the month of August came and went all to fast. From long hot and buggy days out at the cliff nest blind to the cool shady seclusion of the redwood nest things are moving along smoothly as we wait in anticipation for the two condor chicks to fledge in the coming months.

Condor 190
Condor 190
Mike Clark
Mike Clark from the Los Angeles Zoo climbs to the Redwood nest
Condor chick, Centennia, receives a physical exam
VWS Biologists
VWS biologists and LA Zoo personel weigh Condor chick.

First to leave the nest will be Centennia sometime in September. She has reached full-size, replacing most of the downy feathers she had for insulation as a baby with a set of juvenile feathers much like those on full-grown condors. Much of her time is spent on the ledge outside the nest cavity stretching, hopping, flapping, and peering out into the rugged Ventana Wilderness waiting for her diligent parent condors to bring in a crop full of scavenged meat. When the adult arrives at the nest the chick begins wing-begging to stimulate the parent to regurgitate the stored food in its crop. The food can contain meat from items such as still-born calves, rabbits, and rats that we have placed out for the birds as a lead free food source, or a sea lion, deer, or pig meat from carcasses the parents have found on their own.

On August 7th we made another entry into the redwood nest to administer blood tests and check on the progress of this yet to be named chick.  One month younger than Centennia the redwood chick is still growing in its juvenile plumage. The redwood chick is as active as any condor I’ve seen in the confines of its cavity within the trunk of the giant redwood.  Soon it will be able to climb up and perch on the ledge of the cavity and in October it will fledge and likely fly to a nearby tree taking small flights or ‘baby steps’ until it can follow the parents around with it’s 9 and 1/2 foot wingspan and learn to be a self providing condor of its own.

Deer season began this month so we are a little on edge, to say the least, not wanting the chicks to be fed meat which may be contaminated with lead from rifle ammunition. All it takes is one carcass or gut pile containing lead fragments in it to potentially poison an entire flock of feeding condors. By using non-lead ammunition hunters can eliminate the threat that leaded ammunition posses to California Condors and other scavenger species. See Ventana Wildlife Society Lead Links or for information on non-lead ammunition. Condor 242 spent the better part of this month recovering from lead poisoning at the Los Angeles Zoo and will be returning to Big Sur in September. Condor 245 from the southern California flock was also being treated at the same time for lead poisoning but did not recover and died at the zoo, a huge loss to the California flock.

The next couple months will prove to be some of the most exciting times for Ventana’s Condor program as the chicks leave the confines of their nests and head out into the great wide open which is Big Sur condor country.

Mike Tyner,  VWS Biologist

Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field, July 2007

After receiving word that some of the central California flock fed on a pig carcass near Pinnacles National Monument, the VWS condor crew sprang into action this July.  Wild pigs are numerous in the grasslands surrounding Pinnacles and many are shot with lead ammunition.  The carcass fed on by the condors was no exception.  This poses a potentially fatal threat to condors that feed on these lead-filled carcasses, and it is necessary to trap and test those birds exposed as quickly as possible. We have spent the month of July trapping the condors seen at the pig carcass and testing their blood for high lead levels.

Several of the birds tested were indeed high in lead, and one condor, 242, had a record high level of 610 mg/dl. (As a reference point, the human threshold for lead is 10mg/dl.) Condor 242 and two additional condors, 306 and 318, were subsequently sent to the LA Zoo for intense chelation therapy. This process involves twice per day injections of Calcium EDTA into the bloodstream which binds to the lead, enabling the condors to pass the lethal toxin from their bodies. An x-ray revealed condor 318 still had a small fragment inside his digestive tract, which he eventually passed through.  Fortunately, we were able to detect the lead and treat the birds successfully before it was too late.  Lead poisoning continues to be one of the greatest threats to condors in the wild today.

The VWS crew also entered the Redwood Nest this month to examine the chick in the nest cavity.  Biologists from US Fish & Wildlife Service and Santa Barbara Zoo assisted VWS biologists in handling the 72 day old redwood chick, and she weighed a healthy 13 pounds!  We are holding a Naming Contest for the redwood chick at our website through August 31, so place your vote now.  We also kept a close eye on the Cliff Nest with the help of the Pinnacles condor crew.  The cliff chick, named “Centennia” (in honor of the first chick to hatch in central California in over a century) continues to flex her wings outside the nest cave and is much more visible now, providing lots of excitement for nest watchers.  It is very rewarding to spend time watching these chicks grow up, and picturing the day when these young birds take their first flight from the nest.

Sayre Flannagan

Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field, June 2007

Condor Chick inside Cliff Cave Nest
Condor chick in cliffside cave nest
Condor Chick being weighed in a bucket
Condor chick being weighed in a bucket

The month of June has come and gone with a number of exciting developments for the nests and the wild flock. We are getting daily visuals of the chick at the Cliff Nest and the Redwood Nest. The Redwood chick is especially playful-sticking her head out, flapping her wings, and stretching them as well. Ventana biologists will enter the Redwood nest in July because micro-trash (broken chips of plastic PVC pipe) was found during the West Nile Virus vaccination. Luckily, we may have found where the parents (167 and 190) collected the white PVC fragments and cleaned it up very quickly.  We replaced the PVC with natural bone chips, which is what condors typically ingest for the their calcium needs and for those of their chicks.  The PVC fragments found in the Redwood closely resembled natural bone fragments and we believe this may have been a case of mistaken identity by the pair. 

The Cliff Nest was free of micro-trash during the West Nile vaccination.  The cliff chick has also been venturing out of the cave and spreading her wings this month.  While visuals remain scant, both girls continue to entertain us with their youthful energy.  

Biologists at Ventana Wildlife Society and Pinnacles National Monument are trapping birds in the wild flock to change radio transmitters and test birds for lead exposure. On two separate occasions Biologists from Pinnacles observed birds feeding on pig carcasses shot with lead ammunition. Let’s hope these condors stay lead free.

We would like to thank the following condor volunteers for their extreme dedication and hard work during the month of June- Olga Lansdorp, Linda Kincaid, and Richard Calhoun.

Finally, A BIG THANKS to all of you that voted for Ventana Wildlife Society this month in helping us WIN the on-line Patagonia Contest!  

Sayre Flannagan  

Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field, May 2007

Joseph Brandt rappelling cliff face
Joseph Brandt rappelling cliff face
Condor 190 in Redwood tree
Condor 190 in Redwood tree

The condor crew is keeping a close eye on the two wild chicks we have this spring…and it is a new and exciting adventure!  In early May, Joe Burnett, Joseph Brandt (US Fish & Wildlife), and I were taken to the Cliff Nest via helicopter to perform a health check on the 30 day old chick. Burnett and Brandt rappelled 150 feet down the 300-foot cliff face to the nest and inoculated the chick for West Nile virus. The chick weighed a healthy 4.2 pounds and appeared to be developing normally. The crew couldn’t have been happier!  We continue to monitor this nest regularly to ensure the parents keep up the great care for their chick.

In mid-May, while I was watching the Redwood Nest, I noticed 190 tending to the chick as I saw her poke her head out of the cavity.  I left the nest and about 30 minutes later I heard from Jessica Koning that a sea lion had washed up about 30 miles north of my location. I rushed in my car to witness the sea lion feeding for myself, and guess who beat me there…190!  This mother high-tailed it all the way up to the food before I could even get there, just to feed her chick. Now that’s dedication!

Sayre Flannagan, Wildlife Biologist

Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field, March/April 2007

There have been many exciting things happening in the condor world that are keeping us busy-too busy to even write updates!!

The discovery of the first active condor nest in Monterey in over 100 years was discovered in late February, which set the crew in action.  In early March, a team of biologists entered the nest to extract the fertile egg and replace it with a dummy egg during the incubation period. A constant watch was kept on the nest site throughout this time, as we observed the pair (male 168 and female 208) switching out every 3-4 days. A normal pair invests equal time incubating their egg, and this pair seemed to have the pattern down.  In early April, we re-entered the nest and removed the dummy egg and replaced it with a hatching egg and around April 8th, our first chick was hatched in the wild!  We are continuing our surveillance of this nest throughout the chick’s development and anticipate its first flight from the nest around September. 

We also discovered another egg in mid-April laid by female 190.  She and her partner, 167, had attempted to nest in this redwood cavity last season with no luck, but this year produced an egg! We again replaced the egg with a dummy, and plan on replacing it in May with a hatching egg. This will make two Big Sur chicks for the 2007 breeding season-how exciting!!

Besides spending time observing the nests, the crew is also monitoring the rest of the flock, including many Pinnacles’ birds. The two flocks have truly melded now, thus expanding the range of these flocks. We are happy that these birds are spending more time exploring the vast Ventana wilderness, and interacting with each other.  The release at Pinnacles this April will also add 5 more condors to the central California population, now totaling 46 condors!!  What an amazing recovery these birds have made when you consider that in 1981 there were only 21 of these amazing creatures left on our planet! 

Sayre Flannagan

Condor ID tag
All California condors released by VWS are given identification tags placed on their wings so that field biologists can monitor their individual progress. The wing tags, also known as patagial tags, have different colors based on the date of their release: Blue - December 12, 1997; Yellow - January 30, 1999; Orange - March 4, 2000; White - April 5, 2001, Red - December 12, 2002, Black - December 19, 2003. Individual condors are identified by the first letter of the color (or first two letters, in the case of Orange-tags), followed by a number. For example, Y92 is a yellow-tag and Or99 is an orange-tag. The last two digits of the condor identification number appear on the wing tags.

In-flight species comparison chart

In-flight species comparison chart - Print a copy to take with you when looking for condors

Notes from the Field, February 2007
Big Sur received some much needed rain this month, and beautiful green hillsides will soon be dotted with vibrant orange poppies and purple lupine. The condors are also enjoying the beauty of this region, flying up and down the central coast daily. Breeding season is in full swing and we are beginning to see a lot of unusual behaviors. The crew has observed many courtship displays and copulations, indicating that many of these pairs may lay an egg this year!

Thanks to our friends at the Santa Barbara Zoo, we are now finishing the final touches to our new chick-rearing pen. We did a lot of painting and net-raising at base-camp, and had a lot of fun! We are so excited for all of the research possibilities that our new pen will provide, and are anxious to be able to have birds reared in this pen.

March will be a very exciting time here for the condor crew, and we hope everyone is looking forward to it as much as we are. Being the peak breeding month, we will expect to see some interesting behaviors and perhaps an egg!! Hopefully we will be able to report some good news in next month's update.

Sayre Flannagan

Notes from the Field, January 2007
Big Sur has enjoyed some unusually beautiful, cold weather at the beginning of 2007, and the condors are taking full advantage. We have had some very interesting movements this month, birds traveling farther and more frequently than before. The post-hunting season trapping came to a close this month, as we were finally able to catch female 208 and test her. We also used this opportunity to outfit all of our potential breeding pairs with GPS tags, to gain more knowledge on where these birds are exploring during this time.

The nice weather seemed to also kick breeding instincts up a notch, as we observed several advanced breeding behaviors. We currently are observing four potential pairs, including the pair that attempted to nest in 2006. They all seem to be spending more time with their mate, and we are seeing courtship displays and copulations! What an exciting time in the condors' world!

The crew is still finding time to chip away at the consolidated rearing pen, and we are making excellent progress! A volunteer crew came up this month, and we began the final stages of the pen. We are looking forward to holding chicks next year in this truly beautiful and natural holding facility. Meanwhile at base camp, the crew has also been working on improvements to our cabin, and we are happy to say we are staying nice and toasty up there during this cold weather!

Sayre Flannagan