October was eventful and celebratory for us in Big Sur this year! We have had several new and exciting developments occur and the air is finally crisp at night, laced with the beauty of fall colors and the smell of fresh fallen leaves. If you have never been to Big Sur in the fall, now is the time to schedule a condor tour with VWS!
The one black mark on this month's calendar was not detecting Condor #501. She hasn't been signaled or spotted for over a month now. #501 is one of our few precious wild fledged Condors in the flock. She has a black tag with a white # "1" and a transmitter on her right wing. PLEASE keep a look out and let us know if you or someone you know has seen or photographed her within the last month! On that note, we are still sad to say that #194 has not returned either, (see previous field notes).
Meanwhile, Fall Trap-Up has finally come to an end in Big Sur. Read what a journalist from the SF Chronicle wrote about our work this month.
While we were wrapping up that busy season, we also worked hard to introduce our CONDOR CAM to the public. This is the first web-based video camera to capture a live streaming view of wild Condors ever! Thanks to our partners at the Oakland Zoo and Fed Ex, we were able to situate the camera in a perfect viewing location at the top of our release slope. Now viewers from all over the world can share the experience of watching birds from the Central California Coastal flock bathe, feed fly by and interact. Here is the Press release . One word of caution for the faint of stomach: Condors are obligate scavengers and when they feed on the dairy calves we provide in front of the camera, it's not something you may want to watch as you sit down in the kitchen. Nature can be a little "gutsy" at work sometimes, if you know what we mean! Still, it's fascinating to watch these magnificent birds do just what nature intends for them - to clean up the leftovers and finish off an entire 80 pound still-born calf carcass in less than an hour! These are the most efficient members of the clean-up crew! (Not surprisingly, we have also been seeing golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures on the cam lately). It is also interesting to piece together their complex social hierarchy at work around a feeding event. In many ways Condors are much like us when it comes to socializing around a shared meal- dating, arguing, sharing, debating and just having fun together - it's all there!
In another new development, our hats are off to the historic passage of Assembly Bill 711 in the state on October 11th! As you may be aware, this bill requires the use of non-lead ammunition when taking wildlife across the state. We are extremely gratified to the last several decades of hard work researched, published and now translated into a law that will safeguard the health of our communities across the state. Although the new requirements will be phased in over the next six years and probably take much longer to fully implement as a cultural practice, it is still great news for Condors.
Furthermore, at the tail end of the month we established a new feeding site on the north edge of Big Sur near Carmel Valley. With a crew of six, it took us half a day of hard work to set up fencing, perches, and an anchor for carcasses (with some singing and laughter along the way to help keep our strength up!). The site is located further north than the northern most territory of our breeding Condors, so we are hoping that after they find and start using it more consistently that a new pair will emerge and be inspired to establish a new territory there expanding the flock's range north by taking advantage of all the amazing, untapped foraging and nesting habitat available.
Fly on friends! Until next time-
The Big Sur Condor Crew
As usual, the month of September held many up and downs for the Big Sur Condor Crew. We were terribly disappointed and saddened to find Condor #167 and Condor 190’s chick deceased in its nest. We had high hopes for this chick and are awaiting the results of its necropsy. In addition, Condor #194 has now been missing for over 80 days. He has a red tag with a white number “94” on each wing with a transmitter. Please let us know if you or someone you know has seen or photographed him within the last couple of months.
We held two tours for attendees of the Monterey Bird Festival in the middle of the month. We got to see quite a few condors on both days, so we were glad we could share the condor experience with them.
VWS held its annual Feathers in Flight event, a California Condor Benefit, at the beginning of September. It was hosted at a gorgeous property in Big Sur, where guests could participate in a live auction, silent auction, and raffle. Big Sur’s own Reveille String Band set the mood for a lively and cheerful event while local falconers showed off their birds. Guests got to sample “10 SPAN" wine, a portion of the proceeds directly supports VWS condors. By the end of the afternoon, VWS raised $40,000 for condors, tying our previous record for the event! A big thanks to everyone who attended, sponsored, or contributed: your support helps ensure a positive future for the condors on the Big Sur coast. However, our special guest “Dolly” stole the show! Dolly is a California Condor who lives full-time at the Los Angeles Zoo now due to an irreparable wing injury she sustained as a nestling in the wild. She remained patiently perched with her trainers from Los Angeles Zoo, Mike Clark and Jenny Theule, while guests came up to greet and admire her. This was her big debut in central California as an ambassador condor and she was absolutely dazzling. A huge Thank You goes out to Los Angeles Zoo; they provided VWS with a tremendous amount of support this year.
We started our Fall Trap-Up of lead testing for the flock at the end of September. At first, the condors were extra cautious (they even spooked when a gust of wind blew up a dust devil) and were not cooperating at all: our field crew spent a full 24 hours in the blind over the span of two days! Much to our relief, we were able to trap the first 4 condors on the third day. Disappointedly, Condor #219 and Condor #525 tested high for lead and sent to captivity for life-saving chelation treatment. Get well soon! If you’re hunter, you can help reduce lead exposure in condors and other wildlife by using non-lead ammunition on your next hunt, please make the switch.
The final install of the condor cam took place at the end of the month. Ventana Wildlife Society partnered with Oakland Zoo, Federal Express, CamZone, and Trey Kropp of Wilderness Wireless to accomplish this incredible feat. Viewers will soon be able to watch a live video feed of wild condors at our Big Sur-based Condor Sanctuary and Release site. We have plans to launch the cam on our website next month, so stay tuned!
We started this month out hopeful that the mortality string the central coast Condor flock has been experiencing would come to an end, but our hopes were diminished the second week. Male Condor #313 was found dead by the Pinnacles Park Condor crew. Male Condor #313's previous mates didn't have much luck either: Condor #303 died from lead poisoning in 2009 and #312 died in April of this year just after she laid an egg in their first nest together.
Condor #313 was paired with Condor #375 for several years prior to his nest with #312 this year. Interestingly, during their courtship season #375 was trapped and had lead toxicosis. We immediately sent her to the zoo for help. With her lengthy disappearance for treatment though, Condor #313 ended up re-paired with Condor #312! While this time out for chelation therapy may have saved #375's life, sadly the lives of her mate and #312 were not spared this year. Now Condor #375 is the lone survivor of her territory near the park. And while we hope she will re-pair and breed next year, we also have to hope that she will get lucky with a new mate in a new territory.
Not to add insult to injury, but in further bad news, as of the end of August, Condor #194 has been missing for over 50 days. It is starting to look like he may not be on vacation, but may now have been permanently removed from our flock from an unknown cause. He has a red tag with a white number "94" on each wing with a transmitter. Please let us know if you or someone you know has seen or photographed him within the last couple of months! Thank you!
Last month, five condors were taken to the Los Angeles Zoo for high lead scores (Condors #209, #400, #418, #448, and #460). We are happy to report that all five were treated successfully and released and are once more flying free in the wild.
Meanwhile, we were very happy to see that Condor #167 and Condor #190's chick was doing very well during the 90 day nest entry. In fact, the chick weighs more than some adult condors! Its parents must be bringing it food items with a lot of calcium for growth, such as pieces of bone and seashell. Trash can sometimes be mistaken for these items and, statistically, chicks are at the highest risk of trash ingestion during this stage of life, so be extra vigilant to pick up yours or others' trash when hiking, walking, biking, or driving the coastline! The chick's down has been steadily disappearing and being replaced by flight feathers, so it is at an awkward stage in terms of appearances. We still find it adorable.
This month we hosted our last Eco-week program. Three lucky students and one local artist got a behind-the-scenes view of our field operation, participating in the sweat and dirt required to keep Condors flying high in Big Sur. On this adventure we planted 13 young Buckeye trees around our field station - a legacy that will embellish our sanctuary with fragrant flowers for wildlife and people to enjoy for generations to come!
This year our Eco-week interns got plenty of opportunities to get their hands dirty caring for the earth as they learned about the critical role ecological restoration plays in building resilient communities through deeper awareness and a shared sense of place. We're grateful for their contributions, knowing that the seeds of connection we planted in their hearts will grow right along with the young Buckeyes that they planted for us- reciprocity inspired by Condors! Sign up to receive our e-newsletter to stay tuned about eco-week opportunities for next year. Thanks for a great summer of Eco-weeks everyone!
In other exciting news, 470 made a trip down south as far as Pismo Beach in the middle of the month! This beach is 120 miles south of his home territory in Big Sur. We're not sure what drew him down there, perhaps a marine mammal carcass, but either way it must have been an exciting exploratory trip for him! At the end of the month, a number of Condors found a sea lion carcass that had washed up along the Big Sur coastline. Big Sur Condors #204, #559, #569, and #665 were there for the feast, along with Pinnacles-released Condor #463.
Fly on, friends!
The Big Sur Condor Crew
July started out with Condor #171 finishing off her treatment for coming in with a "high" lead score last month. Despite the temporary setback, Staff at LA Zoo brought her back to good health and we were able to release her back to the wild during the first week of this month. We are sure that her mate, #194, is glad to have her back in the flock. Other good news we received at the beginning of the month is that the blood work came back from Condor #663, (the wild-fledged chick from a remote nest that evaded us and flew without tags last year), and he's a boy!!
Unfortunately, July was no exception to the Condor death toll that has been mounting in the Central Coast flock this year. Un-paired male Condor #332, an older Pinnacles released bird, was found dead by the Condor Crew on a ranch outside the park. Fortunately, his carcass was found and retrieved in good condition, despite the 100+ degree temperatures the Salinas Valley has been experiencing, so we have high hopes that the forensics lab will have enough data to determine his cause of death ~R.I.P. 332~.
Halfway through the month our crew observed Condors #251 and #222 spending less and less time at their nest. Field Supervisor David Moen conducted a nest check to determine the status of the chick only to find that young Condor #708 had died inside the nest cave. Hopefully the necropsy results will inform us about what happened to this spry, 60 day old, Condor chick and 251 and 222 will be able to make it through this blow- especially after the loss of Condor #306 last month ~R.I.P. 708~.
This month we also hosted the second week of our professional development "Ecoweek" program; the first all-female cohort! All five young women were from difference parts of California and working in or studying different aspects of conservation. The 2013 cohort is turning out to be an amazing group and we are honored to share our work with them and grateful for their passion to help birds.
In other news, Condor #194, an old coastal male of Big Sur, has been missing since July 12th. We hope that his transmitter is just malfunctioning, or that he is visiting some old friends in Southern California, but it seems very odd that he would disappear shortly after his mate #171 was released and not show up after this long of an absence. We don't want this to be more trouble in paradise, so we are doubling our tracking efforts for him and hoping he will return home soon. He has both of his red patagial tags in place with the large white number 94 on each for identification. Please let us know if you or someone you know has seen or photographed him lately.
On July 24th, "Super" Intern, Robin Jenkins, captured three Condors in our walk-in-trap that had been "stealth" with malfunctioning or broken transmitters for quite some time! Along with those three, she also captured five others that needed health checkups, all in one morning! Unfortunately, after processing the birds, it was discovered that five of the seven had lead scores that came in "high", or >65 micrograms per deciliter, ensuring a quick kenneling of each and a trip straight to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment. We can only hope they do not turn up with any lead fragments in their stomachs that they may have swallowed, which would complicate matters severely for them, (Condors #209, #400, #418, #448, and #460). Get well soon guys!!!!
There is no other way of saying it, June of 2013 was a depressing chapter for central coast Condor Recovery efforts; yet another reminder of how vulnerable these beautiful birds are and of the survival challenges Condors face on a daily basis. We started out at the beginning of the month excited and hopeful about the future of all the new additions to our flock, however that hope was dampened early on.
During a routine nest observation at the beginning of the month, it was determined that Condor #194 and #171’s chick was no longer in its cliff ledge nest. This and the presence of Turkey Vultures near the nest warned us that not all was right in their canyon. Upon further inspection the chick’s remains were found below the nesting cliff- we were not able to determine the chick’s cause of death.
During the second week of June, both Condors #335 and #306 were found dead within days of each other. The causes of death will not be determined until after the results come in from a full analysis. Condor #664 was routinely seen with his mother, #306, up until her death and this sight and her presence will be missed by local residents who got to know her. Despite this tough loss the two remaining birds of the nesting trio, male #251 and female #222 have continued to care for the current chick despite not having #306’s help and we have high hopes that they will be able to do an excellent job. Go #251 and #222!
Towards the end of the month, Condor #400 was observed spending more and more time away from her nest. At the 30 day nest entry we were unable to find any signs of her chick, a sad loss to the local ranchers who were excited to learn they had a Condor nest on their property providing us with routine updates on nest attendance. With the loss of her mate followed by the loss of her chick, it will must be a difficult and puzzling time for #400 right now, but we hope that she will re-pair and breed again next year in this marvelous territory with huge cliffs.
There still has been no Condor action at the Grey Whale carcass. This month the tide pulled the dilapidated, old, yellow whale carcass back into the tide line just before the kelp beds. It is now free- floating south along the shore in a phenomenon described by Field Supervisor David Moen as, “weird and wacky- a floating seafood-buffet.” We are continuing to monitor the carcasses’ progress in hopes that it will move back on shore and provide the condors a whale of a feast.
Until Next Time,
The Condor Crew
May Madness is in full swing here in Big Sur. This month marked the beginning of the spring “trap up” season for the flock and so far we’ve had a disappointing start. We ended up sending half of our first trapped batch of Condors to the L.A. Zoo for chelation treatment due to several coming in with “high” lead levels, or levels that register above 35 micrograms per deciliter and so need emergency treatment. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the rest of the flock will not test so high for lead.
This month while handling Condor #477 during trap up, our Field Supervisor, David Moen, noticed #477 had 2 barely visible fox tail seeds lodged under the nictitating membrane of his right eye. He and Executive Director, Kelly Sorenson, quickly intervened to carefully remove of the grass seeds. Afterword, #477 was able to be released with full use of his eye and without further stress.
Early in the month, the Big Sur coastline was visited by the fresh carcass of an adult female Gray Whale. We have been monitoring Condor activity in the area hoping to catch members of the flock feeding on the whale, but so far there has been little interest shown other than the presence of Turkey Vultures. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates if anything changes.
We had several pairs successfully hatch eggs this month. The trio (#215, #222, and #306), Pair #167 and #190, and the new pair #345 and #400 have all successfully hatched chicks. The nest of the newest pair at Pinnacles National Park, #340 and #444, unfortunately failed very late in the egg stage for unknown reasons. We were hoping that they would recycle, but they did not show signs of laying a second egg.
In a sad turn of events, male Condor #345 was found dead by the Pinnacles Condor Crew on private property shortly after his chick had hatched. The cause of his death will remain undetermined until a necropsy is performed and we eagerly await the results. The good news is that when Condor #345 did not return to relieve his mate at the nest after 11 days, Condor #400 left to forage but she returned and did not abandon her new chick. We have been keeping a close eye on her to see how she handles caring for their new chick on her own. So far she seems up for this heroic task and seems to be doing a great job. Go 400!
This month we also welcomed two new interns, Melissa Clark and Robin Jenkins who will be assisting us on the project for the next six months. Melissa is from Grass Valley and has just graduated from CSU Chico and Robin is a new graduate from Oregon State University- both are excellent additions to the Central Coast Condor Crew.
Until next time,
~The Big Sur Condor Crew
This month served to remind the condor community that these birds still face incredible risks in their daily lives. We started the month with high hopes that newly-paired condors 312 and 313 would have a successful nest this year. Instead, the nest was checked in early April and found to be abandoned; at the time, we couldn’t ascertain what had caused the nest failure. A few days later, however, condor 312 dropped out of contact and was not picked up on telemetry for over a week. On April 10, Pinnacles reported that the bird’s carcass had been recovered near Pinnacles National Park. Lead poisoning is a very strong possibility for 312’s death, but the official necropsy is still pending. This would help explain the nest failure; 312 would have been unable to tend to her nest in such a weakened state. This wouldn’t be unprecedented, female condor 303, former mate of 313, died from lead poisoning while tending to a chick at this nest territory in 2009.
Although 340 and 444, another new pair, had started to incubate an egg in February, Pinnacles staff found that both birds were being signaled further and further away from their cavity. A closer inspection of the nest on April 17 found that this nest had failed, most likely after the egg hatched. Pinnacles condor crewmembers will continue to monitor the pair in the hope that the birds find a new nest site to “recycle” and raise another egg.
In better news, the nests in Big Sur have been more stable this season. 171 and 194 have welcomed a foster chick into their care after incubating a dummy egg for about a month. In the days following the chick’s hatching on April 17, the nest observers have seen the chick’s wobbly movements and its first feeding by a parent. We hope that this chick, now known officially as 686, will join our flock as a fledgling in the fall. Already the little bird is growing and is now the size of a small quail!
Although the egg of 222 and 251 was found to be infertile, a nest entry on the 12th of April deposited a dummy egg for their care. The adult birds have been seen going into and out of the cavity since then and we’re pleased to report that the pair is continuing to incubate the artificial egg. We’ll wait for an egg from one of the breeding centers, but we expect that this pair will raise another chick this year if all goes smoothly.
We’ve been observing 190 and 167 attending their nest for the past month or so, but it wasn’t until the 25th of April that the condor team was able to confirm the status of the egg. Joe Burnett and David Moen ascended to the tree cavity to “candle” the egg; this technique involves placing a light source beneath the egg to see if the embryo is visible. If nothing is seen, the egg has not been fertilized and a dummy egg is replaced for the parents to incubate. 190 was flushed and continued to monitor all interactions with her egg with anxious interest. Fortunately, the egg is fertile, and 190 was allowed to settle back on her egg.
Two additional condor nests (pairs 219 & 310 and 345 & 400), both located deep in the Big Sur Backcountry, are steadily moving along. Monitoring these nest sites in the field has been difficult due to their extreme remoteness, and, as a result, we tend to rely more heavily on GPS transmitters to monitor nesting activity. Based on the most recent GPS transmitter data, it appears pair 219 & 310’s egg has hatched; and that pair 345 & 400, our newest pair, and seventh documented nest attempt of the season, are incubating an egg. In summary, thus far, we have documented 7 nest attempts in central California this year and only 2 have failed.
In the middle of April, the condor crew welcomed two visiting biologists, Mark and Chris, who work for the Yurok Tribe and are scoping out the feasibility of releasing condors in northern California. The biologists surveyed the Ventana base camp and our procedures for caring for the flock before heading back North. The team hopes that there will be condors soaring in northern California in the next 5 years.
In the last week of April, the green hillsides of Big Sur turned brown in the sudden heat that has swept the coast. Fire will be a concern this season, and we hope that the flock will weather the drought.
It is with great pride that we have finally released our two captive birds, 597 and 615. They are now the newest members of the Big Sur flock and we look forward to seeing them soaring above the ridges of Ventana Wilderness. 597 chose to enter the double-door trap, or DDT, on the 14th of March and was emancipated with a “soft release.” Instead of forcibly capturing or corralling the target with hand-nets, this method gives the bird more flexibility and less stress when it enters the unencumbered world of free-flying condors. 597 chose to give the team a lesson in tracking as she caught the breeze and flew down the canyon from the get-go. It was over a week before the bird was seen again, but 597 was observed feeding and socializing with other condors on the release slope at the end of March. We have high hopes that she will become accustomed to flying and living on the coast.
The other captive bird, 615, had lost six of his tail feathers due to unusual wear and tear in the flight pen. The loss of these feathers made flight impossible and special treatment was required before his release. Mike Clark came up from the LA Zoo to give the condor a special batch of new feathers with a falconry technique known as “imping.” Mike attached specially-prepared feathers with pieces of wood and glue to 615’s feather stumps to fashion a new tail for the bird. At base camp the next day, 615 was let out into the world and he took to the release slope with confidence and spunk. He immediately marched up the slope and spent the rest of the day socializing with the other birds and observing his new surroundings.
We have several new nests to report for the Big Sur coast: the condor trio consisting of 222, 251, and 306 have been seen entering the cliff cavity at Partington Canyon. Joe Burnett climbed up to the nest cavity on the 22nd of March and confirmed that the egg is present and the nest is active for the season. In addition, a condor was finally viewed in the cavity at Anderson Canyon on March 29th, indicating that 190 and 167 have started to incubate an egg for this year. The McWay nest was reported as failed on the 16th of March but the condor team was able to rescue the nest before the pair gave up for the season. Joe Burnett and David Moen climbed into the cavity on the 18th of March and deposited a dummy egg which 171, “Traveler,” accepted as her own. By replacing the crushed egg with a dummy egg, the team hopes that we can introduce a live egg at a later date. This ensures that a condor is raised in the wild, far more natural than raising a chick in a captive facility. Thus far, both 171 and 194 have been seen incubating the “dummy” egg, indicating that they are still committed to their nest this season.
The warm weather has brought butterflies and flowers to the coast and the Ventana Wilderness, but the meniscus of our rainfall meter hasn’t reached the average level of rainfall for the area, yet. In time, hopefully the skies will bring more rain but for now the hillsides and meadows have shown new shades of green as spring settles across Big Sur.
Condor nesting behavior alone would’ve guaranteed that February was never without a dull moment for the Ventana field crew. Yet, a more accurate synopsis would have to include delightfully warming temperatures, curious and ever-challenging condor behavior, and an industrious trail and facilities maintenance work party with our partners at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
We started February observing atypical behavior from 167 “Kingpin,” the oldest alpha male of the Big Sur flock. Despite his high status, 167 was repeatedly flushed off of carcasses by less dominate birds, like 171 and 199, but not by younger, 400-series birds. This provoked our curiosity as well as our worry. Uncharacteristic behavior from condors may represent hard-to-notice internal injuries, including our worst-feared scenario, lead poisoning. In lieu of trapping a long-time breeding adult and potentially interrupting a nest in the process of being established, we continue to keep a close eye on 167, watching in case his condition appears to worsen.
This month we received great news from Pinnacles National Monument, who recently gained National Park status. On the 14th the Pinnacles crew confirmed that Condors 340 and 444 have a nest with their first egg! This perfectly appropriate Valentine’s Day update marked the first confirmed nest for 2013! As mentioned in the previous post, this newly confirmed pair, 340, or “Kun-Wac-Shun,” and 444, “Ventana,” is quite a “power-couple,” each bringing their own ‘firsts’ with them for central coast Condor history: the first Condor hatched in the Oregon Zoo and the first hatched in the wild in Central California. Although first eggs can often have issues with infertility, we’re crossing our fingers for good news from this pair for rest of the season!
Furthermore, just shy of two weeks later, we had a thrilling update of our own. Condor 194, or “Whalewatcher,” was seen brooding on an egg confirming the fist coastal nest for the year! His mate, 171, “Traveler,” wasn’t far away the entire time, watching as he repositioned it with his beak and adjusted his incubating position over the egg. With these two confirmed nests in Central California, nesting season has officially kicked-off. We anticipate more nest sites will become active as new and old pairs settle into their cave and redwood homes. This is always an exciting time of the year to see how things shape up with our nesting pairs.
Back at our field site, two
big developments kept us busy when we weren’t focusing on the wild flock. First, we hosted the Santa Barbara Zoo (SBZ), to assist us with our on-going facility projects. The SBZ has a small Condor crew but they play a vital role in the program collecting field data and helping out partners like us from time to time. We greatly appreciated having their extra hands to camo-paint our trailers, restore our trails, maintain our water lines and deconstruct our former flight pen that burned down in the massive Basin Complex fire of 2008. A big thanks to those guys for all the major work they helped us achieve!
The other news from our field site is that we attempted to release one of our young captive Condors, 597, into the wild after several long months of being socialized in our flight pen. We attempted a “soft release” which requires her participation, but she refused to willingly leave, requiring that we continue our efforts in March. A soft release is much less stressful to the bird and, thus, the preferred method to directly handling the bird to let it go.
February was jam-packed full Condor news and we’re pretty sure March will be too!
Until then-The Condor Crew
January has brought the blanketing cold of winter interspersed with the warmth of the summer sun. With the variability in the weather, we’ve found that local song birds have oddly begun singing to stake out their territories for the coming breeding season.
Winter is a time for maintenance. Typically during this period of low condor activity we send in our optic equipment to get cleaned and refurbished, we take our field vehicles in for safety inspections and tune ups, and we work on trails and domestic upkeep. This month included pruning back the trail to one of the coastal canyon nest sites in preparation for future nest observations and entries. The nest tree was entered briefly to conduct safety checks on the climbing system and inspect the nest cavity in anticipation of an egg in the coming months.
Male condors have been displaying in greater numbers recently; Condors 345 and 340 in particular have been eager to find a mate, so we’re hopeful that more nesting pairs will form this season. “Kun-Wac-Shun,” Condor 340, has been seen courting Condor 444, “Ventana,” this year. As you probably know these are both very special birds. Ventana is the first Condor to hatch and fledge as a completely wild and free Condor in the Central California flock. It remains to be seen if they will form a pair bond, but if they do decide to nest together this year it would be a power-couple in the making with two major firsts under each of their belts- first Condor hatched in Oregon and first Condor hatched in the wild in Central California. Let’s all wish them luck!
We trapped a number of birds this month, including 311, 345, 194, and 501. New transmitters and tags were finally attached to 501, who has been “stealth” for over a month and a half and has eluded our trapping efforts. We were relieved to find that none of the birds trapped in the new year had high lead levels; fortunately they were trapped, processed and released all on the same day! With the recent Condor lead deaths (298 and 318) last year, it’s critical to test blood lead levels, especially with nesting season fast approaching since a lethal dose requires immediate evacuation to the LA Zoo for chelation to remove the toxins. Thus far, no birds have had to be treated and we’re crossing our fingers that it stays that way as long as possible in 2013.
Our quest continues to capture the elusive, untagged fledgling from last year’s most remote backcountry nesting territory: 209 and 236’s chick 663. This bird was finally seen on the release slope after 49 days of no observations on the 23rd. As 209 and 236 continue to aid her acceptance into the larger flock, we hope we will trap 663 for new tags and a radio transmitter soon. 664 took her first flight to the release slope this month and continued to grow under the close watch of 306 and 251! 665, has also been doing well, although he has not decided to leave his natal canyon yet.
These winter months continue to bring slippery roads and rock slides. While tracking Condors coming around a big turn on Hwy 1, they found a car flipped around and smashed blocking traffic in the on-coming lane. They were the first responders and waited with the shaken driver that they found sitting by the side of the road while the ambulance arrived. She seemed alright, but it was one more vivid reminder to us all to drive carefully even as you enjoy the views! Before you head to Big Sur, always check out the latest on Highway 1 closures and other activity at the Cal Trans web site- http://www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi
Until next time- be safe in Big Sur and enjoy the Condors!
The Condor Crew