Central Coast California Condor Count= 70+ free-flying and six active nests (*June 1, 2015)

May 31, 2015

May 2015 Condor Field Notes

Greetings from Coastal Condor Country!  

We have moved our Condor Field Notes to our Blog page, so please be sure to come back here for our monthly condor updates. Thank you! 

May has been another productive month for the condor crew, as we move from spring to summer.   We started the month by welcoming Darren Gross and Chris Carlino onto the Big Sur Condor Crew! Darren has previous field experience tracking New Zealand Falcons and Chris comes to us with experience helping Sandhill Cranes.  These new interns will be responsible for releasing this year’s pre-release cohort in San Luis Obispo County as we expand the condor population south along the coast.

Condor at Sunset (Photo- David Moen)
We are now at the “beginning” of fire season and in the middle of the month our partners at Pinnacles National Park witnessed a fire near their condor flight pen.  Safety protocols require that any birds in flight pens potentially threatened by fire be immediately released, so despite having recently trapped “Blue Curls”, Condor 583, she was set free and without any transmitters on!  Her moment to fly without her tracking hardware was short lived however.  Only a few days later she was trapped in the Big Sur flight pen and because she had a low lead-blood score now roams free with working transmitters!    

Condor 799 (Photo- David Moen)
This month we had another nest surprise!  A ninth nest of this 2015 season, was identified for the central California flock deep in a Big Sur canyon.   It was discovered on the 17th after the chick had hatched.  We estimated the chick to be 10-12 days old. This chick was assigned the very last number in the 700 series, 799!

In opposite news, we had three nests fail this month. Unfortunately, 351 and 418’s giant redwood nest along the coast fizzled out as we noticed their attendance pattern change mid month. Additionally, Pinnacles National Park reported that 340 and 236’s nest inside the Park had failed, following on the heels of  405 and 525's nest failure.  Unfortunately, we have no plausible clues as to why these nests failed, but we do know that they were all first time pairings, so maybe next year they will have more success.   With these losses and our newly discovered coast nest, we are now following the progress of 6 condor nests in Central California.        

David with Condor 773 during health check
Meanwhile, we did a 60 day health check on 251 and 222’s chick, who now has the studbook number 773!  This chick was feisty during its handling inside the nest cave and all assessments showed healthy and robust development of this young ball of fluffy, gray and white down- colors which also help it blend perfectly into the urate-streaked sidewalls of its nursery cave.   

Chris Carlino and Melissa Clark with 769 "Mystery"

Condor 615 tested low in lead

Finally, our spring trapping has started in Big Sur.  So far we have trapped 8 birds, including "Mystery", and all of them had low enough blood-lead scores to be released- so we are off to a good start! 

Until next time, 
VWS Condor Crew

March 31, 2015

March 2015 Condor Field Notes

Bald eagle and condor
Bald Eagle and condor share a meal
Big Sur coastline socked in
Big Sur coast socked in 
Biologist Melisa Clark
Biologist Melisa Clark scanning for condors

470 at the entrance to nest
470 perched outside nest tree

The engine is running at full power here in Coastal Condor Country and with all that is happening this is clearly one of the busiest seasons yet for us and the flock. Between routine facility maintenance, monitoring flock movements, locating nests, checking on eggs and keeping up with proffered feedings, each week keeps us running on all cylinders during springtime!

March started out with the exciting news of two new nests along the coast! We are now up to a total of 7 nests in Central California, making it the largest nesting year since Condors first started breeding here in 2006. This is a real milestone for the program- one that we hope the flock continues to build upon.

The first nest we located this month belongs to Condors #204, #470 and #534  affectionately known as "The Grimes Trio" since they are seen at Sea lion Cove near just south of Grimes Canyon regularly. It is a bit strange that the two males associated with this trio are father and son (#204 and #470), but apparently that is just fine with #534 since they have both been seen sharing incubation duty.

The second nest we found also seems to belong to a trio, including Condors #242#171 and #317. While we confirmed that two eggs were laid inside this difficult to reach cave nest, we have yet to confirm if they are fertile or if there is a male associated with the nest. If there is no male, it could be our first nest on record with just two females. We are planning to check the viability of these 2 eggs and proceed to explore ways to assist this nest if needed.
Double egg in nest cavity
Double egg nest cave

In the middle of the month we checked the fertility of #351 and#418's egg in burned out cavity ~200 feet high inside a massive, old growth, redwood. The egg was fertile and looked very healthy! So a big thanks to David Wong and the Pinnacles crew for their climbing assistance and big congratulations to these new aspiring parents. We wish the pair well!

Meanwhile, during the time that we placed a dummy egg in #251and #222's nest cave, a pipping egg at the LA Zoo became available for us to place in the nest and this pair now has a baby foster chick under their care! The first chick of all the nests this year.

We had tremendous support for our work party near San Simeon this month to prepare for our new release site as we expand into San Luis Obispo County. We will be releasing up to 7 Condors there this year and we're very excited about this long awaited opportunity! Our staff size will be increasing with two new internship positions that will be responsible to care for the pre-release birds at this site. So, with hard work, much patience, and depth of vision, little by little this site is coming together.

That's it for now, thanks for your support- until next time! 

VWS Condor Crew

December 31, 2014

December 2014 Condor Field Notes

Condor #718
Condor #718
Condor #697
Condor #697
Condors # 351 & 418
Condors #351 & #418

Mystery Condor
Condor 745
Condor 745

Unfortunately, this month there was a Condor mortality. Similarly to this time last year when Condor #451 died, Condor #664 has now passed on. After being less than 12 hours away from “no health mishaps” for the last month of the year, on December 31st wild fledged Condor chick #664 (“Poppy”) died in the arms of the Pinnacles Condor Crew when she was being transferred out of the Park. The staff said her behavior appeared consistent with poisoning due to her lethargy, but we will know for sure after her necropsy examination is completed.

Each Condor is a special individual with a life-history and personality of their own. Condor #664 was unique because she was one of only 10 wild fledged chicks in the Big Sur flock- (and she was also rare as a female, since there are more males in the flock). She also had an unusual upbringing that has not happened in the flock before- she had three parents.

#664 was incubated, fed, and raised by Condors #251, #306 and #222. Her biological parents (Big Sur Condor #251 and Pinnacles Condor #306) were determined only after using genetic testing and as it turned out, Condor #222 was a great surrogate mom. The two ladies never showed jealousy over the attentions of #251 and all three Condors #664 took excellent care of “Poppy.” R.I.P. Condor #664, thank you for gracing our skies and contributing to the recovery effort.

Ironically this month while the Big Sur flock lost a wild fledged chick, it also gained one. A very young and wild Condor mysteriously showed up at basecamp the last week of the month. We have a suspicion that Condors #209 and #231’s are the parents.

You can imagine how excited we were when we found this bird hanging out with another newly arrived chick Condor #745, from parents #219 and #310. These two seem to be about the same age and appeared to buddy-up together as new arrivals, only this “Mystery Chick” was very obvious because it did not have any tags on its wings! Two previous times in Big Sur we have had chicks fledge from an undetected nest in the back country and show up with its parents unexpectedly. Male #209 happened to be the father of all three. His nest territory is in a very remote and inaccessible location, so VWS Biologists are left to ponder until a chick arrives. Best Christmas present ever! The mystery arrival was assigned a studbook number - #769! The story made national news- check it out here. We will keep things posted as we get more details.

Meanwhile, Condor chicks #729 and #753 continue to hang out in their natal territories and we expect them to show up at basecamp anytime. So far they both look good and seem to be in great health. This is the time of year that pairs start courtship and unmated birds decide whether to start a pair bond. So, we have started to see our first rounds of display events from various males. We will keep a close watch on this to see if any new pairs form in Big Sur.

It was a bitter sweet ending to an overall good year - one wild fledged chick lost and one gained. That’s how it goes while the lead wild card is still a threat out there. Here’s to hoping the others continue to dodge it as we work harder in 2015 to reduce lead and encourage more use of the Big Sur Coast.

~VWS Condor Crew

September 30, 2014

September 2014 Condor Field Notes

Biologist David Moen tracking condors
Biologist David Moen tracking condors in Big Sur.
Biologist Joe Burnett prepares blood sample for lead testing
Biologist Joe Burnett prepares blood sample for lead testing
Condor #190 at her nest
Condor #190 at her nest

Condor #753 with his new wing tag and radio transmitter
Condor perched in rain
Condor perched in rain
Condors socializing at bathing site
Condors socializing at bathing site
  “As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can".”— John Muir

This month we finally had the opportunity to be versed in the “language of storm,” as John Muir would have put it. September brought the first rains to Big Sur in almost 6 months, albeit light ones as compared to our powerful winter storms. The equivalent amount of rainfall had not touched this parched land since the end of April. It lasted for two days, but unfortunately we are still only at 25% of the average rainfall for this time of year.   What a relief is was to experience heavy coastal fog and steady drizzle though. The marine layer made it inland past Salinas Valley all the way to Pinnacles National Park, taking the sting out of the normally sweltering temperatures there!

Other than coping with the wet weather this month, the Big Sur flock has been buzzing right along without incident. Condors #204, #470 and #534 have been seen regularly in their coastal haunts foraging at Sealion Cove and soaring over Grimes Canyon. We continue to detect the usual suspects at the release site and the northern most feeding station camera trap continues to pick up hungry Condors. Condor movements have continued stretching south in recent weeks beyond Pitkin’s Bridge and past Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.  Condors continue to forage inland as well and that only increases their likelihood of eating a meal tainted with spent lead ammunition.  Case in point…Condor #317was picked up on a tourists’ camera feeding on a dead coyote on a private ranch in eastern San Luis Obispo County this month and posted to You Tube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E25jIG1AFwo#t=193.  

Most coyotes are depredated by ranchers, we can only hope this one was taken with a non-lead bullet, otherwise 317 could be in for a world of hurt.  As the days continue to grow shorter it is likely that these further flights and remote feedings will start tapering off, but it is very encouraging to see Condors using more of the northern and southern coastal foraging areas where the lead risk is much lower.

Additionally, filed biologists have confirmed that at least one of the three Condor chicks out there has fledged recently!  Condor #219 and #310’s chick, #745, took his first flight on the 20th. Meanwhile, Condors chicks #753 and #729 continue to mill around their nest ledge and tree cavity, exploring rocks and branch perches close by. This exploratory behavior indicates they are not too far from their first flights as well! They are very likely to fledge in October, keep an eye out for any green tagged condors. We are planning out fall trap up then, so we will have an update on both of these developments at the end of next month.

Thanks for watching out for the big birds everyone!  
Until next time,
The Big Sur Condor Crew  

April 30, 2014

April 2014 Condor Field Notes

April 2014 Condor Field Notes

Condor #167 egg and micro-trash found at nest
Condor #167 egg and micro-trash found at nest
Condor #729 checkup
Condor #729 checkup
Condor #729 chick checkup
Condor #729 chick checkup
RIP Condor #400
RIP Condor #400
Once again, it has been an eventful month in Central Coast Condor Country! We have completed our 2014 releases, we have started spring trap up, and we're in full swing with nesting.

After exploring the southern Big Sur range for almost two weeks after her release, Condor #646, aka "Kodama," finally decided to follow Condor #208 north and head back to the release site to eat!! Upon her arrival she quickly found other birds her age and headed straight for an open spot at a carcass. After a young Condor is released one of the first success "benchmarks" we look for is that the bird feeds relatively soon and begins socializing to integrate into the flock. We could not be more proud of her!

Shortly after Condor #646 returned to our release site, we released her fellow cohort member #631. The crew decided to name him "Zephyr," which means, "a west or a light wind." We named him this because of the short, meandering flights he took during the couple of weeks he went exploring before his return to the release slope. After taking it all in for 19 days (and making VWS biologists a little nervous in the process) Condor #631 finally made it back to our release site to feed and get to know other Condors. He seems to be adjusting well to his new life, and we wish him well in his transition.

On the very last day of this month, we released the rest of our pre-release cohort: Condors #650 and #652. They were released together so that neither of them would be left alone in the flight pen, something a social species like Condors would not appreciate. The crew has named Condor #652 "Ferdinand" after the bull in the children's book Flowers for Ferdinand. This is a very appropriate name for him because he is a particularly large Condor (his release weight was 21 lbs!) and he has a sweet disposition. His release went very smoothly. Instead of flying off, as 646 did, he turned and hiked straight up the release slope to a feeding area with other birds, seemingly stopping to smell the flowers along the way. Condor #547 hiked half way down the hill to greet the new comer and seemingly escort him up to where the others were feeding! He accepted the kind gesture and they both went to feed!

Condor #650 was released several hours later, and the crew has named him "Zenith." This name comes from his first flight, which was immediately toward the "Pen Cam" and straight up to get a view of his surroundings. We wish these boys the best of luck on their way into the wild! 

In other good news, we have even more new additions to our flock. After monitoring the nests of Condors  #219 and #310 and #168 and #208, we were determined that both pairs have hatched chicks! Towards the end of the month, VWS, Pinnacles National Park (PNP), and LA Zoo Condor staff made a joint effort to enter these two nests to check on the health of the chicks. Both chicks appeared healthy and growing normally. Welcome to the flock Condor #739 and Condor #729, we are excited to see you growing up!!!
Regrettably, we suffered the loss of Condor #400 this month in nearly the same way that her mate died last year around this time. VWS staff first noticed she was not acting normal while hanging out at the release slope to feed and socialize. She had a "sluggish" look; her wings were flailing and she had a hard time standing up straight. Soon she was flushed by other birds to a lone tree where she wobbled and perched for about 12 hours. We tried to cut our way through the Chaparral to her with a long hoop net, but by the time we got close she flew off and headed directly to Pinnacles National Park.

After several days of close monitoring by Park biologists they were able to capture her on the ground and transport her right away to the LA Zoo care facility. Her blood lead value was at a severely toxic level and X-rays showed she had metal fragments in both her crop and stomach. Although she received a blood transfusion within days, she was unfortunately too sick to take it and she died a day later. We are incredibly appreciative of the LA Zoo staff for trying to save her life- a routine story all too familiar. We will miss you Condor #400 thank you for your time with us- R.I.P.

The end of this month marks the start of the spring trap up season. Wish us luck!

Until Next Time, 

VWS Condor Crew